The latest “Captain America” entry prefers internal conflict over global catastrophe
It’s a strange day in the Marvel Universe when the major battle isn’t against some world-ending entity, some galactic malevolence with unfathomable powers. Instead, in “Captain America: Civil War,” the focus turns inward, with clashing personalities and conflicting ideas of freedom and safety providing the major sparks.
That may seem a bit high-minded for a series about a century-old soldier who’s better known for punching his way out of a tough spot. But by combining the more earnest pulp from “The First Soldier” and the high-octane action from “The Winter Soldier,” Marvel delivers us an action film that questions the beliefs and ideals these heroes fight for.
But don’t worry: You’ll get your fair share of action, too. In fact, “Civil War,” the third film in the “Captain America” series and the “I’ve lost track” entry in the overall Marvel continuum, is an entertaining blast of frenetic battles from start to finish. Whether it’s a major head-on sequence on a tarmac between friends who no longer see eye-to-eye or a chaotic chase scene though the streets of Vienna, “Civil War” doesn’t lack for the explosions to which we’ve become accustomed.
The film, directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (the pair behind “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”), continues to lay out the internal struggle at the core of the Avengers (and “Captain” films in general): How much freedom are you willing to give up to be safe? This dilemma kicks off a year after the events of “Age of Ultron,” as Steve Rogers aka Captain America (a returning Chris Evans), Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Sam Wilson aka Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) try to prevent a biological weapon from being stolen out of a lab in Lagos. They succeed, but a great cost: To stop one of the Avengers from being harmed, a group of innocent bystanders dies.
From there, the film’s central tension manifests: The leaders of the world will no longer tolerate the Avengers being free-lance, ignoring nations’ sovereignty and doing as they see fit (which, for the most part, results in lives being saved, not that it matters). So, they draft the Sokovia Accords, a treaty meant to place the superheroes under the control of a United Nations committee. They would no longer have the autonomy to operate freely; instead, their actions would be dictated by the committee.
You see the problem?
The issue, as in the previous two films, seems clear-cut to the Captain. He won’t give control of his morality, of his great strength, to just anyone, especially a group of leaders whose agendas are likely to change. The Cap would prefer to follow his own sense of right and wrong. This belief clashes mightily with Tony Stark aka Iron-Man (Robert Downey Jr.), who has taken the losses stemming from the Avengers’ epic battles to heart, blaming himself and the others for those who died. He see the oversight as a necessary evil, one that can add order to all the chaos.
What follows inspires the film’s title, as each Avenger present chooses a side, about half with the Captain and half with Iron-Man. But if that weren’t enough, political drama transpires with the bombing of a group of diplomats. The culprit, it seems, is the the Winter Soldier aka Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), having surfaced after years of being in hiding. His return to the fray, accused of murdering scores, strikes to the heart of Captain America, his best friend from a century ago.
The remaining scenes, including some of the best action ones, follow, pitting one group of Avengers against another. Some new faces (Black Panther, played by Chadwick Boseman, and Spider-Man, played by Tom Holland) join the fray, along with familiar faces from the series (Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, Paul Bettany’s Vision, Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man and Don Cheadle’s War Machine). Each member picks a side, adding a touch of intrigue to who will side with whom in the end.
(As a side note, the after-credits scene reveals that Spider-Man, whose solo adventures belong to a different studio, will return in the future. Black Panther also will have his own movies.)
The fights are well staged and paced, serving as gorgeous fodder (and sometimes actual substance) between the dialogue scenes. Watching the film in 3-D can be a bit gratuitous, especially with some of the CG, but the film most holds up visually. The hand-to-hand combat is by far the most impressive, as is par for the course with this series.
For those looking for some laughs, while the core of “Civil War” centers around some heavy themes, the comedic bits almost always hit the mark. The little touches of levity go a long way in such an environment, which crosses between an office comedy and an political drama.
In the end, “Captain America: Civil War,” despite have far too many heroes flying around, is one of better entries in the Marvel pantheon. Well-acted, well-paced and well-delivered, its themes of security and moral righteousness come across as intriguing rather than condescending. The leads in Evans and Downey Jr. provide a steady anchor for a cast of more than a dozen Avengers, a need source of stability as we enter the “Infinity Wars,” slated to start in 2018. (“Doctor Strange,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch, is next up, hitting theaters in November.) Its ending, a cliffhanger without much tension, does offer reason to be excited to see what comes next. It’s probably safe to say, however, that the Cap will lead the way.
Four “This is why we use our words” stars out of five.