CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. I've made no secret of my base-level disinterest in the Marvel Cinematic Universe nor my growing concern that said universe, in its ever-widening, sun-blotting expansion, will soon consume all available funding and creative energy available in mainstream movie-making, to the exclusion of any content non-Marvel. Overstrong? Maybe. Paranoid and borderline delusional? Certainly. But looking back over the cinematic landscape of the last decade, these movies are beyond-dominant features, landmarks on a geological scale. Some of them are undeniably fun and, as a rule, they share a formidable level of detail and polish, intimidatingly A-list casts and superlative effects and stunt work, as Civil War does. They also reek of self-importance and false gravity, both crippling Achilles' heels for movies born of the funny papers.
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) is, in a way, the best and worst example of this trend. It showed tremendous potential, with its retro flavor and grab-bag of throw-back comic book tropes. But it forgot to have fun with those elements, instead corrupting them with an awkward forced seriousness and dismissal of its supporting characters. As we've since learned, though, that movie was really just a springboard to the Avengers franchise. It introduced us to Cap (Chris Evans) and got the billion-dollar ball rolling, which is all that matters.
So now we arrive at the third entry in a Captain America trilogy. (Where one draws the line between a Captain America movie and an Iron Man movie and an Avengers movie eludes me.) Having destroyed most of an Eastern European capital in defeating Ultron, some of the Avengers are taking a well-earned breather, hopefully thinking about what they've done. Thor and Bruce Banner are nowhere to be seen. Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is playing at being domesticated. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is dialing back his arms manufacturing, focusing instead on funding student research grants and attempting to process his grief at the decades-ago loss of his parents.
That leaves the lion's share of the global policing to Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) and a capable B-team, that in the opening is tracking a robbery crew in Lagos, Nigeria. Our heroes manage to capture their quarry before they can get away with a super-bug from an infectious disease laboratory, but it comes at a significant cost. The collateral damage destroys an apartment block, killing dozens of innocents.
Meanwhile, after presenting a sizable financial gift at M.I.T, Stark is confronted by a woman whose son died as a result of the Avengers' battle with Ultron in Sokovia. This revelation brings Stark's burden of grief to critical mass, so when the Avengers are presented with a U.N. accord sanctioning them and dramatically limiting their autonomy, he's all in. This puts him at loggerheads with Rogers, who bridles at what he perceives as fascistic dictates. And so begins the advertised conflict, with the rest of the Avengers forced to choose allegiances in the face of yet another apocalyptic theat.
As with Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), Joe and Anthony Russo direct here with a surprisingly pleasant balance of action and political commentary. A conversation about the repercussions of superhero actions in context is long overdue, and the Russos handle it gracefully, subtly couching it in terms of real-world geo-politics, without proselytizing. The nuance of a meditation on power and restraint is tempered, of course, by a great number of explosions and a constantly growing roster of super people, but its mere presence somehow feels like progress. As does the arc of the Captain America trilogy: What started as the weakest aspect of the Avengers juggernaut has grown into its most sophisticated, contemplative one. Civil War is still awfully long, perhaps over-burdened with characters and plot points and lighter on humor than I'd like, but these are all trademarks of Marvel that I've come to accept. As much as I'd like to see some of the vast fortune being spent on these movies redistributed, I can at least take some solace in the fact that good work is being done. This is a well-made, satisfying action movie, a superior entry in the Marvel canon and a promising start for some potentially exciting new characters. PG13. 147m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
— John J. Bennett
For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
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