Marvel’s latest superhero epic is an enjoyable feast of action, humor and ideas.
Does any of this sound familiar? Two iconic heroes duking it out over two-and-a-half epic hours. Angsty agonizing over collateral damage. Cameos from multiple costumed crusaders, just to make sure we’re suitably hyped for the next 10 movies. Luckily,Captain America: Civil War is packed with the one ingredient its rival superhero smackdown Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice lacked: joy.
Which isn’t to say Civil War is happy-go-lucky. This is a film about the violent end of a friendship and the moral questions that come with free will. No, this is the kind of joy that comes with crafting characters people can relate to, with just the right moment for a tension-breaking gag, a pause for reflection or a rousing speech. It’s the joy of making a movie for and about people.
We find our heroes at a crossroads. The earth-shattering events of Avengers: Age of Ultron have left the authorities— and many of the Avengers—questioning their role in world affairs. Enter William Hurt’s politician with an ultimatum: Submit to UN oversight, or cease all crime-fighting activities. Ridden with guilt, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) agrees, but Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) isn’t sold, especially since the first order of business is to eliminate his childhood friend turned crazed assassin, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan).
None of this is especially original, but it’s rich material for character conflict, and that’s what Civil War cares most about–not just between Captain and Iron Man but between dimension-benders Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany), old friends Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and newcomer Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and basically everyone. But there’s also some light relief in the form of Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and a nerdy teenage Spider-Man (Tom Holland).
Directors Joe and Anthony Russo juggle all these elements impressively: For every awkward franchise requirement, there’s another that slots effortlessly into place. Holland’s introduction as Peter Parker is one of the sweetest scenes in the series. A nagging sense of incompleteness means that Civil War isn’t quite as satisfying as the first Avengers (it’s all building up to Infinity War in 2018). But overall, this is Marvel at its best: a pacey, intelligent supersized blockbuster and a rousingly fun night out.