FILM REVIEW – CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. With Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie. Written by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. Directed by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo. Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of violence, action and mayhem. 146 minutes.
There was a time when Hollywood’s latching onto to the “Marvel Universe” seemed very clever. There were movies featuring the various superheroes individually with teases for what eventual became “The Avengers” (2012). It worked. Four years later, though, it’s getting a bit tiring. In order to fully appreciate CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR you will need to have seen all three “Iron Man” movies, both “Captain America” movies, both “Avengers” movies, and “Ant-Man.” Being familiar with “Spider-man,” “Thor,” and “The Hulk” wouldn’t hurt either. If you’re devoted to these characters, then this is second nature, but with each new entry requiring knowledge of so much back story–and there are many more films in the pipeline–it’s beginning to seem a little bit like homework.
Here’s the new story: The Secretary of State (William Hurt) informs the Avengers that while some see them as heroes, many others see them as vigilantes. It doesn’t help that in their latest adventure, which opens the movie, the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) protects Captain America (Chris Evans) from a bomb, inadvertently blowing up a building and killing a lot of innocent people. The solution is an agreement by 117 nations that would place the Avengers under the authority of the United Nations. For Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) this is the responsible course of action. For Captain America, it is unacceptable. Thus when Zemo (Daniel Brühl), the film’s villain, activates Bucky/the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), the heroes are divided as to whether to take action or get authorization.
The rest of the film focuses on the conflict between Iron Man and Captain America, and the various heroes who align with one side or the other. Thor and the Hulk are absent from the proceedings, but we get not only Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Vision (Paul Bettany), all from last year’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” but also Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), and the newest Spider-man (Tom Holland). For the experts there’s also Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), the niece of Agent Carter–who knew Captain America in the 1940s,as well as Iron Man’s father (played by John Slattery). For extra credit, look for Marvel elder statesman Stan Lee in a cameo as a delivery man.
Does it work? It’s a fast-paced movie for something running almost two-and-a-half hours. It raises an interesting question only to put the thumb on the scales on the wrong side (note which hero gets the film’s title), and then resolves the immediate story only to leave the larger issues hanging for movies to come. It’s sure to please those who beat up on “Batman v. Superman” because it mixes lots of quips in with the action, the moralizing, and the tragic revelations.
So enjoy what is, believe it or not, the kickoff of the summer movie season. And take notes. There are more than a dozen additional movies in the Marvel Universe already scheduled over the next four years.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.