It’s another month, which means we get another movie where the comic book heroes of my childhood beat the crap out of each other. This time, it’s Steve “Captain America” Rogers (Chris Evans) and Tony “Iron Man” Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), who are at odds over whether the Avengers team should step down from fighting evil doers or continue to charge ahead. Both Rogers and Stark have opposing Avengers on their side, which leads to an all out rumble. I guess a civilized conversation would be out of the question.
A great deal is made of how the massive amounts of destruction the Avengers have created resulted in more lost lives and destroyed real estate than overall glory. That makes this more of a companion to the similarly dreary Batman v Superman–Dawn of Justice than any Marvel movie. Both dwell on philosophical and social views on superheroes… sorry, I dozed off for a second.
Directors Anthony and Joe Russo are clearly going for a feel similar to Paul Greengrass’ Jason Bourne movies but only get the washed out look and shaky cam right. While this is a far better Marvel movie than Avengers–Age of Ultron, it lacks the consistent wit and focus of any of theIron Man films.
Late into Captain America: Civil War, Bucky Barnes, the immortal Winter Soldier and friend of Rogers, asks if his life is really worth all the trouble. Considering how the story is mostly about members of the Avengers disagreeing over the fate of Barnes, it’s a loaded question. The answer is no and it’s one of the biggest problems with this film and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Bucky Barnes is such a nothing character. Whereas Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie mostly make an impression in their thinly drawn roles (more glorified sidekicks than anything crucial to the story), Sebastian Stan’s take on Barnes is sleep inducing.
While Stark was more of a side character in the previous Avengers vehicle, Downey Jr. is front and center here and he’s excellent. While Evans’ forever bland Cap’n is the headliner, Downey Jr. is the core ingredient. Yet, in a big way, the movie is stolen by Tom Holland’s Spider-Man. Holland is charming and the inclusion of the character is as funny and refreshing as Downey Jr.’s scenes with the actor. The other giant saving grace is the superhero throw down on an airport tarmac. It’s yet another massive fight scene but the tone is comical and the sequence delivers everything you’d hope.
While much has been made of the “civil war” amongst the Avengers, there’s no real tension to their opposing views. During battle, it’s obvious that they all really like each other and are one “Can’t we all get along?” away from hugging it out.
Thinking back on this movie, I mostly recollect dozens of scenes with actors in costumes punching and kicking each other in the face. There are also actors standing around and spouting exposition (or, in one odd scene, making paprikash) but mostly, this is a punch-a-thon. The climactic fight, in which three core characters genuinely attempt to kill one another, has the only emotional resonance in the film.
Despite a large ensemble of great actors, only a few really shine. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow is mostly on hand to show off some cool fight choreography, Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man is badly underused and Chadwick Boseman’s debut as the Black Panther is striking but as shoehorned into this movie as Aquaman was in “Batman v Superman.” There’s also Daniel Bruhl, barely registering as the central villain, and Elizabeth Olsen, whose Scarlet Witch has been upgraded from barely there to marginally interesting. For a movie this long, the cast should have had more to do.
Overall, Civil War is long and depressing and not in a way that’s enlightening. Stark and Spidey are the saving grace.
Two and a Half Stars
–originally published in Maui Time Weekly