“Captain America: Civil War” is pop music perfection. It’s alive and dynamic, broadly appealing yet seemingly custom-made, and tinged with enough crude truth to keep it from becoming a staple in a JC Penney changing room.
The film captures the Avengers in a fairly uneventful period of their careers, in that the baddies are more of the breaking and entering variety, rather than the devastating and exterminating variety. During a somewhat routine mission, an incident occurs, which draws an intellectual line the sand for the team of heroes. However, politics are only the hilt of the conflict, whereas the blade is formed from something far more personal.
These blockbusters go down a dangerous path, as they feel compelled to up the stakes with every film, resulting a continually absurd and disorienting amount of destruction. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is a repeat offender, but “Civil War” wisely acknowledges its past transgressions in its opening act, and proceeds to repent. The film understands that clashing ideologies are a stimulant to clashing bodies, not a distraction, and that will always be infinitely more interesting than buildings falling over.
The dynamic of forfeiting a villain to have the heroes turn their wagging, self-righteous fingers toward each other—which we’ve seen twice this year already, in “Batman v Superman” and season 2 of “Daredevil”—proves to be far more interesting than the alternative, or maybe it’s just that new-concept smell. First of all, there is no clear favorite, for we all know that Captain America will triumph over whichever idealistic criminal that has the misfortune of capturing Cap’s attention; but when he’s going up against another hero, the manual on comic book etiquette might as well be written in Mandarin.
Just as “The Revenant” was preceded in reputation by its bear scene, much has been made about the airport sequence in “Civil War,” and rightly so. It’s a primary-colored explosion of unpretentious, kinetic, comic book glee. Unlike the set-pieces of other films, which are something akin to being trapped in a barrel of monkeys—and not the fun kind. The action has a sure sense of place, as well as the imagination of a child not yet old enough to know what’s possible and what’s not.
At this point in the game, Robert Downey Jr. can inhabit Tony Stark just as effortlessly as Stark can inhabit Iron Man while Chris Evans exudes the qualities of a disillusioned Captain America, who—after the events of “Winter Soldier”—is essentially an overachieving Boy Scout who just found out his scoutmaster has some dark secrets. The returning supporting cast all work, and weave in and out of the story appropriately. Among the new editions are Black Panther and Spiderman, played by Chadwick Boseman and Tom Holland, respectively; both bring a distinct flavor to the pot, and while their inclusion isn’t necessary, it’s welcome nonetheless. If it seems like there’s a lot of characters, there are; the film juggles chainsaws in this department, and while it’s not always the smoothest act, skin is never broken.
As is an MCU tradition, the villain, Zemo (Daniel Bruhl), is rather weak. His motivations are coherent from a story-telling perspective, but unsatisfying even so. However, the film never puts too much weight on the character, and he merely exists to bring forth the true villain. It is a shame, nevertheless, to bring in a great talent such as Bruhl just so he can flip patties.
A welcome breather from Earth-threatening aliens and audacious robot armies, “Captain America: Civil War” is an effective character-building exercise donning the cowl of “tent-pole action film.”