Review: 'Captain America: Civil War'

The latest installment in the Captain America series is crowded but never bloated.
GOOD VS GOOD: In 'Captain America: Civil War,' superheroes go toe to toe with the bad guys and each other.

Playing the noblest American of them all, Chris Evans is easy to underrate. As in previous installments, Captain America: Civil War shows the World War II hero, frozen and revived for our complex times, as a touching and skeptical immortal.

Our Captain could also be seen as a symbol of the U.S. government's unilateral actions in foreign affairs. But the Russo brothers' terrific action opus addresses directly what Batman v. Superman hinted at. It's the most expensive, entertaining movie anyone's made about blowback.

A squad of The Avengers are in Lagos, Nigeria, preventing the theft of a vial of ebola-like serum. During the ensuing, epic shootout, the powerful telepath Wanda (a hypnotically pretty Elizabeth Olsen) saves Captain America's life but accidentally kills a dozen bystanders. An international outcry builds on top of the anger at the aftermath of the Balkan catastrophe, seen in Age of Ultron. The Secretary of State (William Hurt) announces an international accord in which the Avengers will be leashed by U.N. restrictions.

A weary Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.)—the vincible meat inside the shell of the Invincible Iron Man—urges his fellow heroes to sign. Captain America has his doubts. In between them is Natasha, the Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson, given much more screen time than she had in Ultron). In Vienna for the signing of the accord are representatives of Africa's Wakanda, the only source for the super-powerful ore vibranium. They are King T'chaka (John Kani, unforgettable from Master Harold...And the Boys) and his son T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman).

What happens next demonstrates why a king and his heir should never travel together. A terrorist attack is seemingly carried out by the Winter Soldier, formerly known as Cap's wartime buddy Bucky (Sebastian Stan). Pressured, the Avengers crack. In hiding, watching the fissures, is the mysterious Zemo (Daniel Bruhl).

It's a long, rich movie, neither too jokey nor too ponderous. Stark's own self-satisfied bluster doesn't hide his sorrows. His right-hand woman Pepper has left him. He has troubles that he's willing to spill in public. At MIT he demonstrates his newest invention. It's a holodeck-like therapy machine, in which a simulacrum of the young Stark copes with his WASP-y parents (John Slattery and Hope Davis).

This satisfying adventure is rich with the things Marvel comics always did best: critiquing the consequences of power in explosive, four-color form. Even this moralizing can be parodied, though. When Iron Man's armor is infiltrated by Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), and Stark demands to know who goes there, the tiny intruder quips: 'This is your conscience speaking...'

Everyone has grown here: Anthony Mackie's Falcon and Don Cheadle's Rhodes are nobody's sidekicks. The action scenes are flawless, including a sequence where Cap wrestles a helicopter like a bulldogger taking down a steer. He and Bucky escape from a SWAT team using the cops' own rappels as if they were trapeze wires. At an air and land battle at a German airport, the crowd of superheroes doesn't seem like excess. It's not like the directors are trying to sell us the toys after we see the movie. It's like they're having a good time playing with them.

Recruited by Stark, Spider-Man ends up at the airport fray. The bright young Tom Holland (Billy Elliot) brings delight to the role, missing from the dim, serious recent Spider-Man films. (Stark is dismayed by Peter Parker's enthusiasm; there's a witty moment where he tries to figure out whether or not he ought to pat the kid on the shoulder.) Boseman is terrific as an avenger in both senses. Clad in a vibranium suit of armor with retractable claws, his Black Panther is more than worthy of a spin-off.

The touches of romance, visible in the high humidity of Johannson's glances, are as involving as the battles. You get to travel a bit—Berlin's Spree River, the Lagos marketplace, stormy seas, icy dungeons and a stopover in Cleveland. Going for escapism, a crowd is given something to ponder. The question of what to do with 'unlimited power and no supervision' isn't just The Avengers' problem, it's America's.

Captain America: Civil War
PG-13; 147 Mins.

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