The Marvel war party presses on, overrunning the multiplexes this spring with Captain America: Civil War, a movie so stuffed to the gills with characters that naming it after Steve Rogers’ alter-ego is a bit of a misnomer. Rather than unifying to fight against a common enemy, the Avengers are fractured. One faction, led by Captain America (Chris Evans), doesn’t want to answer to the government, while the other, headed by Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), feels responsible for the bystanders who have died during past battles. It doesn’t really make too much sense and the sides feel randomly drawn, but at least we get some really cool fight sequences when all our heroes have a go at one another.
Clashes featuring superhero-on-superhero action have long been a staple of the Avenger wing of the MCU films. The first Avengers movie felt more like a Capcom video game than an actual film of substance. This is why Captain America: Winter Soldier stands as one of the better films in the MCU. Instead of figuring out innovative ways for Thor to battle the Hulk, directors Anthony and Joe Russo crafted an action movie dedicated to just one character and the moral quandaries that come with protecting a friend who has clearly done wrong. The Russo brothers are back in the director seats again, but Civil War feels much more akin to Age of Ultron in its multifarious characters, plots and locales than the focused narrative of Winter Soldier.
I’ve always taken issue with the scenes of mass destruction that rip through comic book films, usually at the climax. So many landmarks and buildings have been destroyed, yet we never feel the human cost that comes with so much devastation. In Civil War, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely predicate their story on the innocents who become collateral damage when superheroes and villains fight. When the US government mandates that the Avengers adhere to the United Nations, Captain America worries that kowtowing to bureaucrats will destroy the Avengers. Tony Stark, however, wracked with sadness after more civilians are killed in a botched operation in Lagos, wants to work with the UN.
Enter Captain America’s old friend Bucky (Sebastian Stan), the Winter Soldier, who has been brainwashed by the Russians to do horrible things. With his loyalty torn between the Avengers and Bucky, Rogers chooses to go rogue in an effort to clear his friend’s name. Tensions escalate and then it’s all-out war as a litany of Marvel heroes show up to fight one another. For some reason, we don’t get Thor or the Hulk, yet Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and the new Spider-Man (Tom Holland) join the melee. At least new hero Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) is here for a reason, and Holland’s spirited performance gives us something to look forward to next summer when Marvel reboots the Web Slinger’s franchise yet again.
Though Civil War teases a climactic battle with five fearsome new villains, Markus and McFeely never follow through with this new threat. Instead, the climax comes when Rogers and Bucky must battle an enraged Iron Man. The Russos definitely know how to stage an action scene, yet the final showdown is a bit of a letdown, especially when the hinted-at melee against these five new villains never materializes. But who cares, right? We want to see folks like the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) go at it rather than some nameless baddies.
It all comes back to that climactic fight where the Avengers try to kill one another at an airport. It’s a no-holds-barred throw-down where each character gets to flaunt his or her superpower. Yet, like everything in these comic book movies, there is absolutely nothing at stake. Even when one character plummets to the ground, you know he isn’t toast. There are too many different franchises involved to kill anyone off. And even if they did, how many movies would it take for them to be resurrected?