Captain America: Civil War


Episode 13 of the very popular show “Marvel Cinematic Universe” is titled “Captain America: Civil War,” but it’s really more of an Avengers episode than a Cap episode, except that Thor and Hulk aren’t around. The rest of your favorites are here, though, plus the guy with the arrows.

The internecine conflict within the Avengers arises from the world’s reaction to the collateral damage that occurs every time the Avengers save the world. Those climactic, destructive battles that have felt kind of repetitive and exhausting in some of these movies? Well, the people in the movies are starting to get tired of them, too. After what happened in Sokovia at the end of “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” the United Nations has drafted the Sokovia Accords, under which the Avengers would need U.N. approval before doing anything. And if the Avengers don’t agree to these terms? Then the Avengers are criminals.

Somewhat surprisingly, Tony Iron Stark Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is onboard with this. He feels guilty about the death toll in Sokovia, especially after being confronted by the mother (Alfre Woodard) of one of the victims, and he believes the team needs oversight to maintain the public trust. Capt. Steve America Rogers (Chris Evans), on the other hand, believes the Avengers should remain independent. What if the U.N. sends them on a mission they don’t agree with? Or refuses to send them on one they feel is urgent? “We may not be perfect, but the safest hands are still our own,” says Capt. Rogers.

The whole thing blows up when a meeting of the U.N., uh, blows up. The culprit appears to be Steve Rogers’ old friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), aka Winter Soldier, brainwashed and reprogrammed as an assassin. But Capt. Rogers thinks Bucky is innocent (of this, anyway) and wants to find him before the authorities do, as the authorities intend to kill him. That’s exactly the kind of off-mission endeavor the U.N. was talking about, and Tony Stark leads the faction that aims to stop Steve Rogers and HIS faction from circumventing the law.

And that’s basically it: a team of good people is split by an ideological disagreement. It’s a smooth, simple conflict, easy to understand and succinctly explained by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s screenplay. Of course, like a soap opera, the movie must also address some of the individual characters’ story lines, and it has to set the table for the big Avenger-on-Avenger battle that will inevitably be its climax. That’s how a movie with such a smooth, simple conflict grows to be 146 minutes long, with the first 45 minutes serving as prologue.

So it takes a while to get going, but once it does, it’s a blast. On Captain America’s side are Sam Falcon Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Wanda Scarlet Maximoff Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), the guy with the arrows (Jeremy Renner), and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), fresh from his successful solo debut and starstruck to be working with Captain America et al. Over on Iron Man’s side, he’s got Lt. War Machine (Don Cheadle), Natasha the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), the thing that sounds like J.A.R.V.I.S. but is called Vision and is an all-knowing sidekick butler (Paul Bettany), and two newcomers: Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), an African prince whose father was killed at the U.N. bombing and who dresses like Catwoman; and Spider-Man (Tom Holland), a high school kid that Tony Stark picked up somewhere.

When the two sides finally come to blows, it’s every bit as fun as you’d like a war between superheroes to be. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo shoot the action logically and coherently (i.e., you can tell what’s going on), and they make good use of the variety of personalities and superpowers involved. Since the combatants only want to thwart each other’s plans and not KILL each other, we’re able to enjoy the action as pure physical spectacle. It’s not a battle so much as a scrimmage — and scrimmages are fun.

The new Spider-Man (who “Marvel Cinematic Universe” is pretending is the first Spider-Man because those other five Spider-Man episodes were in a different series) is a much-needed breath of fresh air, an eager, outgoing kid who’s delighted to be playing in his first match. (Ant-Man is similarly enthusiastic, proving yet again that Paul Rudd makes everything better.) Spidey is integrated seamlessly into the group — would that the missing characters’ absences could be explained as un-awkwardly as Spider-Man’s presence — and the Russos do an excellent job hinting at a rich backstory for Black Panther despite his limited screen time.

Captain America doesn’t get as much attention as you might wish from a movie with his name in the title. He’s part of a team now, and not arrogant enough (coughIronMan) to turn the focus on himself unnecessarily. What I’m saying is that I think Captain America would be OK with being a co-lead in his own movie. He’s a good guy like that. We’ll see what the rest of this season of “Marvel Cinematic Universe” has in store for him.

B (2 hrs., 26 min.; PG-13, some profanity and the usual superhero mayhem.)