I’d stand on a chair and scream “Spoiler Alert!” but I’m not sure I need to. So bombastic and oppressive and tedious did “Batman v Superman” prove to be with audiences that the huge death at the end of the movie excited no commentary when the film came out and, somewhat incredibly, still hasn’t. We poor suckers in the audience were so happy to have done with it and escape the theater that I still haven’t encountered a single discussion or even tweet about such an immense moment in American pop mythology.
The awfulness of D.C. Comics’ all-thumbs attempt to set up the Justice League in the movies was nothing but good news for Marvel Comics’ “Captain America: Civil War,” which is close to everything that “Batman v Superman” wasn’t. It will, I think, be thought of as something of a reward for everyone who managed to sit through “Batman v Superman.”
In the superhero flick scheme of things, it’s isn’t nearly as good as a Chris Nolan or Tim Burton Batman movie (Nolan’s Batman movies were megamillion-dollar art films), but it delivers everything we cheerful audiences go to comic book movies for – including, praise be, humor. And that is due, in no small measure, to its terrific writing team, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley, whose smart and witty scripts are of special interest to us on the shores of Lake Erie because one of them – Markus – is an old St. Joe’s boy who grew up near the corner of Starin and Parkside avenues (disclosure: Markus is a family friend).
Superheroes are battling each other in Marvel’s new film, too, just as they were in D.C.’s movie. In fact, there are teams of them: Captain America, and his childhood buddy, the Winter Soldier, with Hawkeye and Falcon vs. Iron Man, Black Widow and War Machine.
Somewhat incredibly, there is a morally viable issue dividing these Avengers and making them bounce each other off walls and large, jagged pieces of machinery. If you have ever wondered why it is that all of this thundering, annihilating superhero havoc takes place with minimal subsequent interest in urban devastation and loss of life, “Captain America: Civil War” actually cares enough about that very matter to construct a plot around it.
“Batman v Superman” pretended to do that, too, but it didn’t really give a flying fig. It just wanted Cape Boy and the Son of Krypton in his red and blue P.J.’s to square off without Marquis of Queensbury rules. All that collateral damage is the major issue here.
Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) is PO’ed about it all. So, it seems, are 117 other countries around the world. So they hammer together the Sokovia Accords, a U.N. resolution that, from now on, there would be international oversight of these lawless “enhanced” vigilantes against evil.
Iron Man Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) – soaked in all manner of guilts – agrees with it. So, reluctantly, does the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson).
Captain America (Chris Evans), of course, is an old-fashioned American individualist. He knows that there isn’t much point in being a superhero unless you’re free to do whatever you jolly well want whenever you jolly well please.
Pardon my dust here, but this, it seems to me, is actually an interesting question to be pursued in a big, zillion-dollar superhero extravaganza that isn’t also afraid to throw an occasional wisecrack around. (The obligatory Stan Lee cameo comes at the end when the venerable old comics maestro delivers a crucial bit of mail to the Avengers and asks whether one of them is named “TONY STANK.” Much merriment at Tony Stark’s (Iron Man’s) expense ensues.
Since the beginning of our species, we’ve been fighting tooth and claw with each other for the right to push other people around with impunity that’s been guaranteed by sanctioned authority. All of this, of course, takes place after the reset button of “sanctioned authority” was significantly pushed in the 1960s.
There are a whole lot of superheroes in this baby, including some new ones – Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), for instance, who, in his civvies, is actually the king of Wakanda. New to this context is a teenage Spider-Man (Tom Holland), recruited by Stark and shooting out webs and hero worship in every direction.
Ant-Man gets a wonderful moment to show a whole new side of his skills that is a lot of fun. If, like me, you spend the whole movie waiting for the Big Green Guy (Mark Ruffalo) to lend his bulk and hulk to matters, forget it. He’s nowhere to be found – a mistake, I feel. If I’d been allowed a seat at Marvel’s story table, I’d have militated for an unbilled Big Green Climax to the film.
Similarly, the villain of the piece is Daniel Bruhl as Helmut Zemo, who seems awfully babyfaced and underpowered to be the focus of all the accidental unification of the battling heroes. He’s not very impressive.
It’s not a great superhero fantasy but it’s a good one – genuine fun, thank heaven. When it isn’t brawling and blowing things up and cracking wise, it’s actually worrying out loud about a lot of things comic book movie audiences actually think about every now and then.
When movie people need to fight May sweeps weeks programming on network TV, they need serious ammunition at movie houses, you know? They now have it.
3 stars (Out of four)
Title: “Captain America: Civil War”
Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Don Cheadle
Directors: Joe and Anthony Russo
Rating: PG-13 for comic book superhero action and a tiny bit of language
Running Time: 146 minutes
The Lowdown: Avengers split when 117 world governments demand oversight of their doings.