An aura of vaguely topical importance is as vital to a superhero-franchise movie as a merchandising deal. Captain America Civil War is a pause for a few moments of chin-scratching thinking about whether a group of genetically advantaged, highly weaponized individuals should be brought under the supervision of the United Nations.
More seriously the movie glances at some of the moral complexities of modern warfare. The designated good guys are responsible for the deaths of innocents, and the question of their accountability hovers over the movie and sets its plot in motion.
Captain America Civil War movie reveals more than its predecessors an essential truth about the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s not so much a grand science-fiction saga, nor even a series of action-adventure movies; as a very expensive, it perpetually renewed workplace sitcom. This crowded reasonably enjoyable installment in the Avengers cycle reveals more than its predecessors an essential truth about the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
New characters are added as the seasons wear on. Cast members are replaced. The thing gets a little baroque and tests the boundaries of coherence, but we keep showing up because it can be pleasant, in a none-pressure, low-key kind of way, to hang out with these people as they banter and squabble and get the job done.
In this episode, based on a run of comics written by Mark Millar, some of the usual crowd is missing. No Hulk. No Thor. No Nick Fury. The newcomers include Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), whose first solo adventure is prophesied during the final credits, and a young Spider Man (Tom Holland), whose solo adventures are the property of a different movie studio. There are a lot to list out, and my space is limited. Captain America Civil War is like the last number at a big benefit concert where a mob of pop stars squeezes onto the stage to sing. Some performers sing a whole verse. Others shake maracas for the cause and stare off into the middle distance.
The Russo brothers are better in directing dialogue than action. The early chases and fights are hectic, stroboscopic messes, evidence less of the innovative power of digital effects than of the creative fatigue they can induce. It’s difficult to see exactly what’s going on, but you’ve seen it before anyway, so it hardly matters. People and vehicles are tossed around. Buildings blow up. Glass shatters. It all serves a cumbersome and not very original narrative.
However, there are some good action, and the best part of the movie is the six-on-six rumble at an airport, in which two teams of costumed co-workers, with a few ringers in the mix, face off to work out their issues. The battle is entertaining precisely because the stakes are relatively low. No planets, cities or galaxies are in peril, and you can enjoy the spectacle without any of the usual action-movie queasiness about invisible and extensive civilian casualties, and there is a solid, satisfying physicality to the effects. That’s true of the climactic as well, though the mood is grimmer and the sense of personal grievance more intense.
Captain America Civil War does not in any way transcend the conventions of the genre. On the contrary, it succeeds because it doesn’t really try. The dialogue is peppered with movie and pop-cultural references, and there is even a sly joke about the proliferation of “enhanced” battlers of evil and world-threatening events. Captain America Civil War movie seems aware that it risks wearing out its welcome, which would be disastrous, given that Marvel and Disney have already locked in release dates into the next decade.