Captain America: Civil War Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johnsson, Sebastian Stan. Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday citywide.
His name might be in the title, but Captain America: Civil War is only nominally a Captain America movie. Really, it’s the latest chapter in the ongoing Marvel mega-saga, with a dozen different super-powered heroes crowding the narrative. Following up on last year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron as much as (or more than) 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Civil War sets up a battle between factions of heroes led by Captain America (Chris Evans) and his fellow Avenger Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), who disagree on whether the Avengers should submit to government oversight.
The core dispute between Captain America and Iron Man is thematically rich, and the filmmakers (directing brothers Anthony and Joe Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, all returning from The Winter Soldier) handle the concept of heroes battling each other over the right way to help humanity much more effectively than the recent Batman v Superman. At the same time, the thematic concerns of Marvel movies tend to be fairly superficial, and the best thing about Civil War is not the way that it explores competing moral philosophies, but the way that it throws together a bunch of badass superheroes and has them pummel each other.
Midway through the film, as Captain America has gone rogue in order to clear the name of his buddy, brainwashed super-soldier Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), the two main heroes gather up their respective allies and engage in an epic showdown in an empty airport that’s one of the best action sequences in any Marvel movie. The filmmakers clearly understand the unique strengths and weaknesses of the various heroes, and they depict them smartly and distinctly over the course of the fight.
The movie sort of peters out from there, especially as it focuses increasingly on the villainous Zemo (Daniel Brühl), a shadowy figure who turns out to be possibly the least interesting bad guy in a series of movies that has major trouble coming up with worthwhile antagonists. As with Age of Ultron, Civil War is full of setup for future Marvel movies, although at least in the case of new additions Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland), both poised for their own solo adventures in the next couple of years, that setup promises something entertaining down the road.
As the movie reveals more about the true origins of the rift between Captain America and Iron Man, though, its deeper themes lose some of their significance. Civil War hinges on tearing the coalition of Marvel superheroes apart, but it’s hard to feel the impact of that schism when the movie’s real purpose is building up what comes next.