This latest addition to the Marvel perpetual movie franchising machine is actually a better movie than the last Avengers outing and I can’t help but wonder if the absence of both Thor and The Hulk – two of the more ludicrous Marvel characters – has something to do with it. Notwithstanding these absences, Captain America: Civil War is, in every other way, an Avengers movie. In fact, the whole movie is about the Avengers as a collective, the collateral damage that resulted from the events that played out in previous Avengers films and moves by the authorities to make the group accountable for their actions and answerable to a higher authority. A battle of egos ensues, with Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) adamant that they should remain completely independent, while Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jnr) sees merit in the proposal to operate under the auspices of an international accord ratified by more than 100 countries. It sounds very highfalutin for a superhero action film, but rest assured that the political and philosophical elements take a back seat to the action.
Following a showdown in Lagos, Nigeria that resulted in the deaths of eleven people, the Avengers (well most of them anyway) are summoned by Stark to a meeting with Secretary of State Thaddeous Ross (William Hurt), who delivers the ultimatum that divides the group. When an explosion rips through a meeting of world leaders gathered to sign the accord, Bucky Barnes (aka Winter Soldier) – is implicated and Captain America doggedly sets forth on a mission to exonerate his friend. Tensions between the two sides – Iron Man, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Spiderman (Tom Holland), Vision (Paul Bettany), War Machine (Don Cheadle) and newbie Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) on one side, with Captain America, Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) on the other – culminate in a showdown at an airport that, whilst ludicrous in the extreme, is still far more restrained than some of the scenarios in previous films.
Amidst the chaos there are moments of humour, with the sardonic Stark leading the way, his visit to the home of Peter Parker/Spiderman one of the more amusing moments, even though Marisa Tomei is reduced to nothing more than Parker’s ‘hot’ Aunt May (a far cry from the more homely take on the character from the likes of Rosemary Harris and Sally Field) in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her moment. It is always disconcerting to see quality performers is such insignificant roles, with the likes of Martin Freeman, John Slattery, Hope Davis and Alfre Woodard amongst those who flitter into the narrative with very little to do. Emily VanCamp fares a little better with a more substantial part as Sharon Carter (her surname is significant), with German actor Daniel Bruhl (Rush, Woman in Gold) as Zemo, the obligatory foreign bad guy.
There are moments when you think that this is going to delve deeply into issues around responsibility and accountability, with the Avengers as a metaphor for those military forces who swoop into various locations around the world, ostensibly in an effort to do good, but whose actions often result in catastrophic consequences for those caught in the crossfire. Unfortunately, directors Anthony and Joe Russo opt to shy away from exploring the issue in any profound way, instead focusing on the frenetic action sequences and revealing the myriad connections between various characters and events of the past, trading on the history built up in previous films. The action scenes are shot in a really exciting way, with innovative camera positioning and movement, impressive effects and imaginative teamwork from the characters. Yes, we get some insight into the personal beliefs and motivations of the characters and their principles of engagement but, when they are unable to communicate these, they beat the living shit out of each other instead, which isn’t a particularly positive message to deliver about dealing with ideological difference. As such, Captain America: Civil War is everything we have come to expect; big dumb fun. Those unfamiliar with the preceding films may lose their way a little in joining all the dots, but everybody else should find this a satisfactory, if somewhat superficial, cinematic experience.