By Tyler Hicks
There’s an early scene in Captain America: Civil War where Vision, an all-knowing superhero portrayed by Paul Bettany, points out that Tony Stark’s 2008 declaration of “I’m Iron Man” set off a chain reaction that led to countless maniacal villains emerging from the shadows. Yet, regardless of the obstacles and bad guys they overcome, the Avengers make the same mistakes.
Vision’s comment seems like both a critique and excuse, as if the writers are using the wisest guy in the room to apologize for the franchise’s inability to find new creative terrain. After all, the Avengers have dominated the national culture ever since Robert Downey Jr. graced movie screens as the arrogant Stark eight years ago, yet the films feel staler than ever. Civil War is no different.
While the film has its merits, the latest Marvel film feels even emptier than another recent superhero duel.
The film begins with Cap and company chasing down bad guys in Africa. When the situation goes awry, the government reconsiders the legitimacy and logic of an unchecked Avengers team, and decides to ratify the Sokovia Accords.
These accords, named after the country that the Avengers inadvertently destroyed in the lackluster Age of Ultron, make the Avengers employees of the U.S. government, restricting them from acting without federal approval. Iron Man is on board, Cap is not, and, because one of the most powerful guys on the planet is really bad at hide-and-seek, Cap’s pal Bucky is still on the loose.
When Bucky finally surfaces as the alleged perpetrator of a UN bombing, Cap’s loyalty to his old friend further strains the star-spangled man’s unsteady relationship with Iron Man. Thus, another superhero vs. superhero battle is born, and while Marvel’s Civil War may be naturally more enjoyable and fun than DC’s recent Batman v. Superman, both films suffer from tonal inconsistencies and a lack of logic.
Now, a lack of logic may seem like a requirement in any comic book movie. In fact, a lack of logic is fine and even recommended, as long as it applies to the laws of physics and common sense—I mean come on, it’s obvious that Clark Kent is Superman.
But in Civil War, it’s the so-called heroes and geniuses that are illogical, not the science. While it’s endearing to see Captain America go to incredible measures to ensure Bucky’s safety, it’s ridiculous for him to allow for hundreds of people to die so that his brainwashed pal can avoid some prison time. Furthermore, Tony Stark continues to let his ego and pride make decisions for him, when I could’ve sworn he outgrew those mistakes three movies ago.
When both heroes are entrenched in their stubborn, contrarian ways, it’s hard to see why we should root for either of them. Luckily, a smattering of other superheroes receives their fare share of the spotlight, offering enough distraction to keep the fun going.
The talented Tom Holland makes an impressive, spot-on debut as the new Spider-Man, and Chadwick Boseman (Jackie Robinson from 42) is a terrific addition as Black Panther. Plus, Paul Rudd brings the laughs as Ant-Man, and, oddly enough, the typically dour Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is one of the film’s bright spots whenever he’s on screen.
You could excuse the script for faltering under the weight of so many characters, but the writers do well by structuring all of the arcs so that they complement the larger story. The acting also complements the arcs in play here, as every performer does a capable job regardless of the size of their role (sorry, easy Ant-Man pun). But no matter how hard Evans and Downey Jr. try to sell the story, their charisma can’t make up for the plot’s artifice.
Just like Batman and Superman, the two men are easily duped into multiple hours of needless combat, and we are easily duped into buying the hype. Is it fun to watch? Yes. But, as Bucky says near the end of the film, “I’m not sure I’m worth all this.” Me neither—though he meant the violence, and I mean the price of admission.