The latest Marvel movie title is something of a misnomer: Captain America: Civil War is less a Captain America story than a sequel to The Avengers, both in tone and scope. That should please rabid Marvel lovers waiting to see their favorite heroes betray and fight one another for a sprawling two and a half hours, and general audiences might have fun too, provided they can keep all the characters and storylines straight.
The movie picks up a year after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, with Captain America (Chris Evans) and his new band of Avengers recruits tracking the terrorist Crossbones (Frank Grillo). Things get explosive in trying to subdue the villain, and the vigilante-ish Avengers come under scrutiny. Sec. of State Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt, returning to his character from the all-but-forgotten The Incredible Hulk) chastises the group of heroes, and proposes they sign on to a superhero registration act of sorts, in which they vow not to use their abilities without permission from the government. Meanwhile, the mysterious Zemo (Daniel Brühl) seeks to lure Captain America’s old friend Bucky, the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) out of hiding to gain access to some vital information.
Captain America: Civil War suffers from one of the same issues as Batman v. Superman a month ago: too much plot, and too many characters. Civil War does, however, manage them in a better way. Every character gets at least a moment or two to shine, and plays a role in the action. The story meanders through funerals, flashbacks and one fight scene after another to tie Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) and the other heroes into the main action, but never feels tedious, owing to a fine script by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. The action scenes, however, nauseate from overuse of a shaky cam. Directors Joe & Anthony Russo never want to let their camera stop moving, which makes even quiet scenes dizzying.
If it sounds like Captain America himself plays a minor role in the plot, that’s because he does. In terms of character and screentime, Downey’s Iron Man carries more dramatic weight than Steve Rodgers ever does. Evans & Stan’s decades-old bromance never quite registers, and indeed both find themselves upstaged by new characters like warrior-superhero-king Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), or returning faces like Vision (Paul Bettany). Vision’s budding romance with Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olson) has far more impact than the Cap-Bucky friendship, and indeed, Bettany exudes far more charisma than Evans or Stan, as does most of the cast. As a result, Captain America gets lost in his own film. It doesn’t help matters that Evans’s make-up makes him look blotchy and unhealthy in almost every shot, and his harido looks more like hairplugs than the real thing. I don’t mean to say the actor actually is unwell or wearing a toupee, but the movie makes his character look that way!
Civil War also makes the much-hyped addition of Spiderman to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, embodied with admirable vigor by Tom Holland. The movie makes the odd choice of giving him a robotic leotard with telescoping eyes, I suppose to make the character more expressive in costume. It’s a mistake: Holland has enough energy and personality to convey emotion without animated eyes, which only make his character look more cartoony. Moreover, the obvious CGI make-up applied to make Holland look fair and smooth skinned, like Evans’s own, wreaks of Hollywood overproduction. Peter Parker shouldn’t look like a movie star; he should look like an average teenager! Marissa Tomei has a fine turn as the flirtatious MILF incarnation of Aunt May, which, along with Holland’s performance, hold a lot of promise for future outings.
Despite these quibbles, Civil War makes for the best Marvel outing since The Avengers stormed theatres in 2012, and offers a fun time at the movies for audiences. Given the Marvel track record, surly fans still grousing over the level of violence or character inconsistencies in Batman v. Superman will likely overlook those same mistakes here. The problematic Civil War comic arc which served as the basis for the film gets a total makeover in its cinematic adaptation, which unfortunately loses the one thing it did have going for it: a real ethical dillemia. Whereas the comics tried to examine the real question of a superhuman registration act, the film uses it more as a reason to have almost all the Avengers stuff a Captain America movie. For that reason, Captain America: Civil War at its best offers a fine Avengers sequel and entertaining time at the movies. At its worst, it utterly fails its titular character by adhering to the Marvel formula of action and teasing the next movie in the series, as embodied by the final words to light the screen: “Spider-Man will return.” An odd afterthought, given that Civil War is supposedly Cap’s story.