We've seen enough Bat-mannequins by now to agree that the greatest superhero power of all is personality.
Captain America: Civil War offers that commodity in bulk, through amusing superheroes we know by electromagnetic heart, plus shrewd samplings of others, allowing Disney to see who clicks for next-phase Marvel universe expansion.
More about that later.
This movie feels like the fanboy event we've been sold before that wasn't delivered, epically constructed and briskly paced. More than any previous Marvel adaptation, Civil War conveys the comics' light touch amid somber circumstances. In a bold stroke, those circumstances are of the heroes' own making.
At the core of Civil War is the collateral damage of saving the world, the unseen bodies in buildings and bridges collapsed by well-meaning superhumans. By extension, our gleeful voyeurism of all this CGI destruction is questioned. Sides must be picked, in a superhero family squabble.
Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America (Chris Evans), leads a contingent of emerging franchises believing might makes right, justifying any means of fighting evil. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is having a crisis of conscience, after one unilateral mission's particularly tragic outcome. He agrees with a United Nations accord restricting the Avengers' activities, requiring approval before zipping into action.
Parallels to real-life moral and ethical dilemmas are Marvel's key to relatability, from teen angst to nuclear threats. Cap's hawkish perspective and Tony's sense of compromise can be viewed as allegories for a number of social and political schisms. For all of its fantastic embellishments, Civil War contains more humanity in a single confrontation than Batman v. Superman in its entirety.
Of course, there's a villain (Daniel Bruhl) to vanquish but he feels extraneous, an unnecessary distraction from an emotional main event. As Civil War proceeds, an awareness grows of how much Marvel lore is packed into these trilogies, ensembles and cameos. Wisecracks and serious notes alike are underscored by that familiarity, feeling intrinsic rather than intruding simply to propel a plot.
Stark's arc over the past eight years is particularly rich, from brash playboy genius to introspective hero. Power and responsibility have taken tolls on Tony, that the screenplay doesn't strain to convey. Downey gets the idea across by tamping down Tony's spark, a wearier wise guy. It's Cap's movie solely by virtue of its title, and Iron Man's in terms of carrying the story.
At a juncture when franchises justifiably fall apart through defections and dead ends, Marvel's catalog appears to be finding a second wind. The in-fighting design of Civil War enables the introduction or expansion of newer heroes, some readier than others for a solo showcase, or in the case of Paul Rudd's Ant-Man, a second chance.
In that regard, the breakout star of Civil War is Marvel's prodigal superhero, Spider-man, back in the fold after decades of stringing for other studios. It's a relatively small part but everything about Tom Holland's portrayal seems so right. For starters, he's the adolescent Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield couldn't fake, geeking about meeting Avengers. Bonus points for bringing along Marisa Tomei as a younger, sunnier Aunt May for Tony to hit upon.
Civil War isn't perfect. One scene between Vision (Paul Bettany) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) stops the movie in its tracks. They and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) are still cipher personalities. Action set pieces staged by sibling directors Anthony and Joe Russo remain too frenetically in-your-face to completely register. An extra millisecond between edits here and there is all clarity requires.
But that's just being picky, and this is no time for that. Not with so much action fantasy fun on the line. Captain America: Civil War paves the way to Marvel's next phase of superhero adventures, and the future looks bright, indeed.
Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.