Captain America may have the title in Captain America: Civil War, but it’s really a mini-Avengers film, and Chris Evans, stalwart as Cap, shares the screen equally with Robert Downey Jr., Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, in a tiff that ends up destroying a lot of stuff. This is the thirteenth film in the MCU, or Marvel Comics Universe, the longest geek opera in history, which I’m startled to read is laid out at least until 2028, which will make Wagner’s Ring Cycle seem like a coffee break.
And this is a long film. But I was never bored, and was quite engrossed, and marveled at how directors Anthony and Joe Russo managed to get so many characters and plots into a film while, at least to me, making perfect sense. As I was watching I asked myself if this would be the first superhero film nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. A night’s sleep has cured me of that fantasy, but the film is a rousing entertainment and will please anyone who grew up, as I did, reading Marvel Comics.
The script, by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, touches on something that comic book films have been accused of–showing mass destruction without the consequences. We’ve all seen buildings destroyed in these films and may have wondered, “how many innocent people just got killed?” Well, this film deals with that question. Secretary of State (William Hurt, reprising his role as Thunderbolt Ross) presents the Avengers with a choice; sign an accord that makes them agents of the U.N., or retire. Downey is all for it, as he was the won who built Ultron, who destroyed a whole city, in the last Avengers’ film. Captain America is against it, as is his sidekick Falcon (Anthony Mackie).
Touching off the war of the title is a bomb exploding in Vienna, killing the king of Wakanda, an African nation. Videotape shows that is Evans’ old friend, now the former Hydra assassin Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) who is responsible. Evans believes in his friend, and we learn quickly that the real bad guy is named Zemo, and played by Daniel Bruhl. When the film reaches its climax we understand he went to a lot of trouble to get Captain America and Iron Man to beat the snot out of each other.
But that’s a long way off. Sides are taken, and new characters are introduced, most prominently The Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), the new king of Wakanda who wears a cat suit and has some vicious claws. He is after Stan because he believes he killed his father, and doesn’t really care about the Avengers’ argument.
There are more characters–the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany), who in the comics got married and I think they’re going in that direction in the films, even though he ends up imprisoning and cooking for her. (Interestingly, I believe that though Olsen is credited as the Scarlet Witch, she is never referred to as that, and neither has Johansson ever been called the Black Widow). Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and War Machine (Don Cheadle) area also on hand.
The major action piece is full-blown battle at an airport when I counted ten heroes, five on a side (the Hulk or Thor are not involved). We even get Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), who introduces a new power, and the reboot of Spider-Man (Tom Holland, who makes Tobey Maguire seem ancient when he played Peter Parker). The Marvel history gets skewed here, as Downey Jr. somehow figures out who Spider-Man’s secret identity is and outfits him with a better costume, when we all know that Spider-Man predates Iron Man. Harrumph.
Anway, this battle royale is a lot of fun, with Holland really laying on the “gee whiz” factor (so does Rudd) with lots of quips and even a reference to The Empire Strikes Back. But, like any rough play, it’s only fun until somebody gets hurt, and one of the heroes gets seriously injured.
Captain America: Civil War strikes a great balance between gravitas and humor, which the D.C. films struggle with. There is some serious stuff here, such as when Downey Jr. is approached by a mother (Alfre Woodard) whose son died as collateral damage in an Avengers fight. Downey Jr., who is the best casting in the entire MCU, has never been better, still quipping (my favorite is when he calls Stan “Manchurian Candidate”) but also also expressing the character’s inner sorrow (he’s just split from his flame Pepper Potts, normally played by Gwyneth Paltrow, whose contract ran out). Evans plays a much less nuanced character, but he is terrific, and the film is full of cameos, such as Martin Freeman and, amazingly, Marisa Tomei as Parker’s Aunt May. In the comics, Aunt May was drawn as an elderly women, and the film character has progressed from Rosemary Harris to Sally Field to Marisa Tomei. At least we don’t have to see Uncle Ben die again.
By the end, when Cap and Iron Man are bludgeoning each other over and over, I got a little weary of it, but overall this is just another astounding success in the MCU. I actually looked at the next films scheduled, and just hope I can live that long. I’ll be 67 in 2028, so chances are good. Fingers crossed.