There’s a “for fans only” feel to the latest “Avengers” movie, “Captain America: Civil War.”
A talky, often ponderous exercise in comic book movie elephantiasis, it overdoses on characters, old and new, sometimes not even bothering to name them.
The script has a villain with a point of view and motivation, though the “Civil War” of the title seems more a plot necessity than anything anyone thrown into conflict on screen actually believes in. And the villain is nobody we can sink our teeth into.
The film lacks Joss Whedon’s light touch with that script, Jon Favreau’s whimsical way with the characters or Joe Johnson’s lump-in-the-throat pathos behind the camera.
And there’s something unsavory about the absence of fanboy punching bag Pepper Potts, more precisely the actress playing her (Gwyneth Paltrow). She’s kicked out of Iron Man’s life in a manner that screams “pandering” or at least “market research.”
“We’re on a break!”
That said, “Civil War” makes for a watchable parable about infighting, hubris and all-powerful “enhanced” personalities who never ever can admit they were wrong. It’s about the limits to absolute power and the consequences of “avenging.”
A parable of America in the drone era of the endless “War on Terror”? Yeah, maybe. A Marvel riff on “The Incredibles”? Most certainly.
The “Winter Soldier” (Sebastian Stan) is still out there, Hydra’s last assassin, and is supposedly behind a bombing at a U.N. meeting. Captain America (Chris Evans) alone is sure his former childhood pal has been set up.
Bureaucrats (William Hurt, Martin Freeman) are all about reining in The Avengers, whose brawls have been cool to watch, but with a body-count and collateral damage only now being brought into question. Iron Man Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and War Machine (Don Cheadle) are reluctantly willing to accept some limits and responsibility for their “very public mistakes.”
Cap and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and the unidentified Scarlet Witch (tarted up Elizabeth Olsen) are too high-handed for that. Their sense of certitude has them hunting for answers.
And this African prince (the wonderful Chadwick Boseman of “42”) resolves to don his own “enhanced” superhero suit (Black Panther) to avenge his father’s murder in that U.N. bombing, with or without help.
Meanwhile, this odd Putin-esque presence (Daniel Bruhl of “Rush”) is piecing together old Hydra manuals, digging into the Soviet-linked work that led to The Winter Soldier, pulling the strings.
“I want to see an Empire fall.”
Flashbacks foreshadow where the past — a younger (digitally de-aged Downey) Stark recalls his last conversation with his parents (Hope Davis, John Slattery) — ties into the present. We bounce from Vienna to Berlin, Washington to Cleveland, with every city ID’d with huge, portentous titles.
All of which brings the SuperFriends, um, Avengers, to a breaking point, a “Whose side are you on?” rupture.
And that’s where “Civil War” finally finds its sense of fun, dragging in much of the rest of the Marvel universe so that they can all fight it out. Iron Man summons up his Marvel favorites. Captain America has his own superheroes up his sleeve.
Co-directors Anthony and Joe Russo are no better at comedy than they were back with “You, Me and Dupree.” The film’s pacing is slow, thanks mostly to a script that has all these waypoints to hit to reach its title-decreed destination. It takes a good hour and a half to really get going, not that there aren’t a few (action sped-up) fights and chases before then.
They’ve made a film claiming life-or-death consequences for uses of force (Alfre Woodard is given half-a-scene to make that point), without the guts to deliver those consequences. They’ve introduced a villain with a real Magneto-sized beef with the world, but the script and Bruhl never let us see that.
They’ve split up the Avengers with no more thought than they gave the other bone they tossed the fanboys with the removal of the GOOP gal.
“We’re on a BREAK.”
As shown by “Batman v. Superman”and earlier “Avengers,” comic book movies have morphed into the ensemble era with a sense of their own gravitas, with screenwriters determined to freight them with analogies to the state of America and the world. It works here about as well as it did with the Bat and the Man of Steel. Only this series — A”Captain America” movie without the heart, or an “Avengers” movie without the comic sizzle? — strains to find its footing in either tone.
What might be lost without a Whedon, Favreau, Johnson or others of like mind, is a sense of fun, the real marvel of Marvel. And if you’re not having fun with guys and gals in tights and capes, what is the point?
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Cast: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Elisabeth Olsen, Don Cheadle, Daniel Bruhl, William Hurt, Paul Bettany and Chadwick Boseman.
Credits: Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. A Marvel Studios release.
Running time: 2:26