An hour into Captain America: Civil War, I felt nostalgic. A part of me yearned for the good old days when superheroes tried hard to conceal their identities and their superior invincible selves. Those masks added to their charm. Back then, the world was so much simpler. A super villain embodied great evil, and we all cheered for the greater good. With great power came great responsibility, but now with super powers come headaches, a big fat migraine for the world at large.
Civil War begins with a fight. Bombs are detonated. Buildings explode. Mind is blown. One of those. Captain America aka Steve Rogers aka Cap (Chris Evans) saves the day with his buddies, but only sort of. Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olson), of Avengers: Age of Ultron fame, starts displacing the impact of a bomb with her witch-like sorcery, but this stunt doesn’t end well. Nearly a dozen Wakandan humanitarian volunteers are killed. The world will of course not stand for this. The Avengers do a good job of saving us, yes, but innocents die when they get all zealous and gung-ho.
Precocious children sometimes do need to be taught a lesson, and the rulebook they’re given looks gargantuan. The text of the Sokovia Accords is at least a few thousand pages long. All of 117 countries have signed up. They mean business. The Avengers, they decree, will have to answer to the whims of a United Nations panel. (So, a Cap America film finally makes the UN pertinent. Hmm.)
Interestingly, the otherwise iconoclastic Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) is all up for this plan. Even more surprisingly, the ever-righteous Captain America isn’t. He wants agency. Iron Man wants accountability. They weren’t the best of chums in the two Avengers films, but this time, they’re playing a game that has some serious consequences. The cult of the superhero is at stake. Tony brings out Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Vision (Paul Bettany). Cap raises the game with Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd). Stark’s trump is Spiderman (Tom Holland).
When Stark is luring a bumbling Peter Parker, he asks, “Ever been to Germany?” Spidey answers, “I can’t go to Germany.” “Why not?” asks Stark. “Because I have homework,” replies Spiderman. (Chortle. Chortle.) There is one thing that Civil War does well – laughs, but what its more than a dozen characters sadly lack is a credible arch that could propel both them and the narrative forward.
Despite all his sanctimony, what made Captain America’s last two solo outings – The First Avenger and Winter Soldier – a treat to watch was the empathy that the sometimes annoyingly patriotic hero was able to encourage. In Civil War, he and his bevy of Avengers are reduced to pawns that will all deliver and receive blows, without anyone having to suffer any real consequences. They are friends after all, and friends, like kids who play with little plastic figurines, do somehow want the good guys to survive. The film’s stellar cast is a treat to watch, but what Civil War suffers is a problem of plenty. Daniel Brühl, for instance, plays the villain Zemo, but his talent seems entirely wasted. Too much Marvel makes Civil War interminably long. You’d be forgiven for stifling a yawn.
Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was a bitter disappointment. And though Anthony and Jose Russo have given us a far better film with Civil War, they have unfortunately fallen prey to a similar folly. Their invented realism (the UN, talk of collateral damage) is only an excuse for their characters to look mean and kick some booty. The Christopher Nolan brand of gritty is not everyone’s cuppa tea. Though nothing about The Dark Knight was simplistic, it did keep things simple. Batman = Good. Joker = Bad. A bad guy to hate again… I think that’s who we all need.
Rating: 2.5 stars