Spoiler Alert: The Avengers are out to kill … each other! Hell, it’s all there in the title — Captain America: Civil War. Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America, again played by the most excellent Chris Evans, heads up one faction. Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, in the person of the estimable Robert Downey, Jr, leads the other. “I’d like to punch you in those perfect teeth,” says Iron Man to the Cap. Ouch.
The issue for these paragons of Marvel branding is collateral damage. Look at the mess these comic-book weapons of mass destruction left at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Buildings toppled. Property destroyed. Civilian casualties. The Secretary of State (William Hurt, radiating Trump-like bluster) declares this will not stand. The United Nations demands accountability. Surprisingly, Iron Man agrees. The Cap, ever the rugged individualist, does not. Let the games begin.
Wait — what? Fanboys buying a ticket to an Avengers smackdown are going to be lectured on the evils of vigilantism? Isn’t the damage purely digital? Did Marvel suits learn nothing from DC Comics when the dark cloud of pessimism hung a cinematic pall over Batman v Superman? Relax. Once the sermons die down, the action intensifies without letup. Pow! Pow! Pow! You only have to pick sides. Are you Team Iron Man or Team Cap?
It always comes down to who has the coolest gadgets. The Cap — all praise to Evans for bringing a charming quirk to this retro straight-arrow — has that wicked shield, plus the support of Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd). Iron Man — all praise to the quip-ready Downey — has that bracing wit that can cut through any and all script grandiosity, plus War Machine (Don Cheadle), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Vision (Paul Bettany) and the young Spider-Man (a scene-stealing Tom Holland). The Hulk and Thor are no-shows.
Nobody can figure out what’s going on with T’Challa, a.k.a. Black Panther (a terrific Chadwick Boseman), except his hate-on for Bucky Barnes, a.k.a. Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), the Cap’s BFF except when the brainwashing kicks in and the Winter dude turns lethal. Iron Man calls him “the Manchurian Candidate.” Nice one. But for sheer villainy, there’s no one sneakier or more dangerous than Zemo (a sly, hissable Daniel Bruhl).
Kudos to the Russo brothers, Joe and Anthony, for directing the hostilities for maximum impact and without neglecting character. Their thundering epic is also smart, snappy, politically savvy and blessedly fast on its feet, a neat trick pulled off by screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who have been with the series since 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger. Is it hypocritical for a popcorn movie to condemn violence while reveling in it. You bet. That’s kind of rule No. 1 in Hollywood. The third chapter in the Captain America franchise is more like a third Avengers movie with the climactic airport battle pulling out all the stops as both teams — decked out in their best comic-book drag — gather on the tarmac to kick ass.
Sure, it’s too much and way too familiar. But an emotional subtext bleeds into the kill zone. The conflict between this broken family of Avengers probably won’t be resolved till the upcoming two-part Avengers: Infinity War, which the Russos will also direct. Meanwhile, Captain America: Civil War brings the fun, the fierce and the fireworks. Summer, we have liftoff.