Thursday, May 5, 2016

Review: "Captain America: Civil War"

"Captain America: Civil War” delivers everything you expect, and little more.

Oh, it’s a fun movie, with a grim undertone, the main attraction of which is we get to see super-heroes square off into sides and smack each other around. Marvel Comics did this from their very inception 50+ years ago because they knew fans loved to argue about who would win in a fight between two favorites, such as the Thing and Wolverine.

(Uh, the Thing, of course! H’doy!!)

This is the sort of movie that hits its marks, gives you the gleeful battles between supes, but doesn’t really challenge our expectations or raise the stakes. It belongs in the second tier of Marvel movies, along with both previous “Captain America” films.

The setup is based on a huge storyline Marvel did a while back that essentially engulfed all of their titles, in which the government decided to register and control all super-powered beings. Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) headed up the different factions, one in favor and the other opposed.

For narrative cohesion and budgetary purposes, here the civil war is restricted to just the Avengers and a few new recruits. (Hey, even a $200 budget and a 2½-hour running time can only encompass so much.)

Cap, being a law and order sort, would side with the government, you’d think, and freebooting billionaire Stark is a natural fit to lead the rebels. But it actually goes the other way, and directors Anthony and Joe Russo, plus screenwriters Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus -- all holdovers from “Captain America: The Winter Soldier -- spend a lot of time mapping out the psychological battle of wills between the two men.

Too much, really. If the movie has a flaw it’s that it’s too much talkie-talkie and not enough punchy-punchy. Though there is plenty of the latter, to be fair.

The plot is just a series of excuses to set up conflict. It starts with the premise that people worldwide are enraged by the innocent bystanders who have been killed while the Avengers were busy saving the world from one intergalactic threat or another. Many, including the U.S. secretary of defense (William Hurt), seem incapable of adding up the millions who otherwise would’ve been killed.

Stark, who’s been wobbly on staying in the super business, quickly signs on, while Cap trusts in the Avengers to make the right choices rather than bureaucrats. Sides quickly form up, with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and the Vision (Paul Bettany) going with Stark and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) sticking to Cap.

(The big green guy is conspicuously absent, other than a brief shout-out, and Thor’s neither seen nor heard of.)

Three-on-three’s not really a very exciting fight, so other characters are pulled in, including Iron Man knockoff War Machine (Don Cheadle), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), fresh off his own movie, and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), fresh out of retirement.

The new guy on the block is Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), an African king with a feline super-suit. The new-ish guy is teen webslinger Spider-Man, now rebooted for the third time, with Tom Holland taking over the role of nerdy high-schooler Peter Parker. Both fellows will soon headline their own solo pictures, so you know they’re not in any serious danger.

The action centerpiece of the movie is a full-out battle between the two sides on an airport tarmac. It’s more about egos than anger, and with all the quipping we get the distinct sense punches are being pulled. Ant-Man plays an unexpectedly outsized role in the fight.

The bad guy’s a bit of a low-key dude, a non-super guy played by Daniel Brühl, who holds a lot of cards up his sleeve. He soon gains control of Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Captain America’s old war buddy, who had his mind seized by villainous forces long ago.

I enjoyed “Captain America: Civil War,” even if they’ve micro-sized the conflict for easier audience consumption. I wouldn’t call the movie lazy, but it seems to start with a presumption of limits -- places characters won’t go and things that aren’t going to happen. This movie entertains, but never surprises.

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