Grim times on the Marvel super hero front in “Captain America: Civil War.”
It’s the Avengers (well, most of them): guilt-ridden, conflicted and turning against one another.
Their heroics in past adventures have brought them into disfavor with the public. The collateral damage attending their world-saving exploits against the villainous likes of the terrorist Hydra organization and the rampaging robot Ultron — smashed cities, mass casualties — have the world demanding that the brakes be put on these too-powerful do-gooders.
Leading the guilt-ridden Avengers faction is Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.). Sickened by what he perceives as having been the misuse of his megacorporation’s high-tech weapons, he’s now out of the arms manufacturing business and is buying into the need to restrain himself and his colleagues.
Resisting a push to make “enhanced” persons answerable to United Nations oversight is Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans). He’s of the “can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs” school of super hero behavior: Fighting for the greater good sometimes gets a few good folks killed.
Team Tony vs. Team Cap. Choose up sides, enhanced people, and let the fighting begin.
If all this sounds a little familiar, it’s because it’s essentially the same basic plot as “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Only with a lot more characters. And greater depth. And better writing. And, eventually, humor.
It’s the humor, arriving late to the proceedings, that saves “Civil War” from the curse of “Why so serious?” which sinks “Batman v Superman” like a torpedo below the waterline.
“Civil War” has 12 major characters: “Avengers” movie veterans Iron Man, Cap, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Vision (Paul Bettany), Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen).
New to the mix is Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman). Also, familiar to Marvel fans but new to Avengersworld is Ant Man (Paul Rudd) and — oh for crying out loud, him again? — Spider-Man, in his third on-screen iteration. This time he’s played by young Tom Holland. And it just so happens that, almost single-handedly, the kid rescues “Civil War” from its near-oppressive solemnity.
Showing up more than halfway through picture’s nearly 2 1/2-hour running time, Holland’s Spidey brings a disarming geekiness to the party. He’s awestruck at being recruited by Stark and discomfited by Tony’s sarcastic dismissal of his homemade Spider suit as a “onesie” and his mocking, “So, you’re the Spiderling. Crime-fighting Spider. You’re Spider-Boy?” In the first scene between the two of them, Downey makes a welcome return to the sardonic bantering that turned Iron Man into a superstar of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Sensory overload from fight scenes and chases is delivered throughout, which is expected in superhero movies. And the battle between the two super factions that’s the centerpiece of the picture is a showstopper, leavened with humor thanks to the antics of Ant Man and Spidey, the latter of whom cheerily tells Cap he’s a “big fan” just before the two do battle.
Working from a script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, brother directors Anthony and Joe Russo, who previously directed 2014’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” handle their massive ensemble like elite-level orchestra conductors. Each character gets his or her fair share of screen time, and the many subplots — Cap’s Avengers-fracturing loyalty to his troubled buddy Bucky being the main one — are connected up in such a way that each reinforces the picture’s central premise.
Who emerges as the winner of this “Civil War”? The audience. The picture delivers in a big, big way.
Captain America: Civil War
☆☆☆☆ out of 5
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Chadwick Bozeman, Anthony Mackie, Elizabeth Olsen.
Directors: Joe and Anthony Russo.
Running time: 2:26.
Rated: PG-13, for extended sequences of violence, action and mayhem.