Calling a clash among the dozen or so of them ‘civil war’ is just the kind of preposterousness the Avengers claim to be disowning this time. Still, in a film that makes a half-decent effort of exploring the boundaries super-heroes must operate within, that clash is the best part in two-and-a-half hours where things blow up or come raining down.
And yet, you must ask, for someone should, why are they fighting exactly? Resting on a premise only a little less flimsy than the disastrous Batman vs Superman, Civil War does talk about the collateral damage caused by super-fights and the guilt the Avengers bear for it. However, why the disagreement over whether this means that the Avengers must bind themselves to the United Nations (this argument led by Iron Man) or if that would entail giving up their autonomy (as debated by Captain America) can’t be solved without more collateral damage is never explained. Leaving you with the suspicion that pitting them against each other is the whole idea of Civil War, and the villainy, even if played by a nicely subtle Bruhl, a disposable sub-plot.
Put that aside, and Civil War is as competent a montage as Marvel has been mounting lately, without breaking any new grounds.
It is 1991, and Barnes (Stan) is being turned into a winter soldier. Soon he is sent off to steal a technology that makes him even more lethal than he already is.
Shift to present-day Lagos, where Steve Rogers/Captain America (Evans), Sam Wilson/Falcon (Mackie), Wanda Maximoff/Scarlett Witch (Olsen) and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Johansson) are chasing a villain in a crowded Lagos (Nigeria). Things go bad, and just as a building blows up, a guy whom he is in the process of killing tells Rogers that the whole thing is linked to his childhood buddy Bucky or Barnes.
The Lagos mess returns to haunt the Avengers soon. They get a visit from a grim Secretary of State Ross (a mis-cast William Hurt), who tells them the world can’t really be expected to keep tolerating a couple of “US-based” “enhanced individuals” “invading sovereign boundaries” at will (now they say this!).
Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey Jr) willingly accepts Ross’s idea that they sign an accord submitting themselves to UN mandate, having been accosted earlier by a woman who lost a son during the Avengers mission in Sokovia. Rogers disagrees, and the Avengers are split on the matter.
When things go bad, they go really bad, and this superficial divide comes to the fore in ways that are more comic than serious. While the comic tone is welcome given how much violence, without any real blood, is playing out on the screen, a touch more seriousness perhaps could have done the film some good.
Still, Downey Jr is again in sublime form as a finally-ageing Stark, wrestling doubts about whether he is in the right. Evans doesn’t quite lift his role to the same level.
Two actors with the minimal of screen time, new addition Tom Holland as a very young Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Paul Rudd as Scott Lang/Ant-Man, steal the show in the airport intra-Avengers clash that is the money-earning sequence of this film. Giving them company is T’Challa/Black Panther (a good Chadwick Boseman), whose father died in a blast suspected to have been set off by Barnes.
It’s only when they are winding up at the airport does someone point out, “This is not the real fight.” That would be million of miles away in Siberia, where Zemo (Bruhl) is biding his time.
However, really, does it matter? The line most repeated in Civil War, by everyone concerned, just before they throw another punch, is, “This guy is not gonna stop.”
Make it these guys.
Star Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony MacKie, Don Cheadle, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Daniel Bruhl
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo