“Captain America: Civil War” is for every little kid who ever bashed one action figure into another while saying “Pew! P-Pew! Kapow-shuh-WOOOOSH!!”
In other words, it’s nearly perfect.
This latest installment of Disney/Marvel’s never-ending Avengers saga succeeds in all the ways recent superhero movies have failed. It’s weightier than “Ant-Man,” tighter than “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”
And even though it hits so very many of the same story beats as DC/Warner Bros.’ dour “Batman v Superman,” “Civil War” is enjoyable. It even manages a hero’s mommy issues without provoking eye-rolls.
The story picks up several months after “Age of Ultron.” Captain America, aka Steve Rogers (aka Chris Evans), is leading his squad of Avengers into Nigeria against a team of bad guys out to steal a biological weapon. In the process, a bomb destroys part of an office building and the workers inside.
(Note to Cap: Update the Avengers’ #squadgoals to keep innocent corporate drones alive.)
Enter the United Nations, which wants to micromanage the Avengers. Cap says no. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) says yes. Sides are drawn. Battles are fought. Many grown men in the audience reflexively start making “Pew! P-Pew!” sounds under their breath.
What’s refreshing about “Civil War” is the absence of mustache-twirling bad guys. The motivations of each character — even “villain” Zemo (Daniel Bruhl of “Inglourious Basterds”) — are good. Even though the big airport Avenger fight is a doozy, the battles are as psychological as they are physical. And there are real stakes involved for every hero. Midway through, it’s obvious that no matter how the film ends, it’s destined to change the game for the chapters that follow.
The actors are just as impressive out of costume as they are in tights (or, more likely, CGI). Holland gives Peter Parker the right mix of awestruck geekiness, and Boseman projects so much regality as Panther’s alter ego, the Wakandan Prince T’Challa, it’s easy to forget his character has often been derided as “the black Batman.”
(And, if you’re wondering how our Kansas City Avengers fare, fear not, true believer. Don Cheadle’s War Machine becomes an important plot point, and Paul Rudd’s tiny Ant-Man makes a giant contribution. ’Nuff said.)
Even though this is ostensibly the third Captain America movie, the real star here is Downey.
Before “Iron Man” in 2008, you’d find few elementary-schoolers who’d heard of Tony Stark. Now his red and gold helmet adorns swimming suits, pajamas and iPhone cases.
But in “Civil War,” Downey deftly turns Stark almost 180 degrees, making him, for the most part, the antagonist. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo also manage to rein in Downey’s rambling sarcasm, which occasionally derailed the second and third Iron Man movies. He’s on point at all times.
“Civil War” isn’t without flaws. It occasionally drags, especially in the first third. There are many characters to track. Cap’s revelation in the final act comes out of nowhere. And we’ve probably seen Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) wrap her super-thighs around the neck of one too many hapless bad guys.
But the film is reverent to the comic books yet not slavishly devoted to them. The Russos understand not only the characters but also the medium in which they’re working. (Yes, we’re talking to you, Warner Bros., DC Comics and “BvS” director Zack Snyder.)
There’s no attempt to make “Captain America: Civil War” something “mythical.” It’s simply an action movie with comic book roots, something that will inspire kiddos to make sound effects in backyards and backseats for many years to come.
To reach arts editor David Frese, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @DavidFrese
Rated PG-13. Time: 2:26.
3-D or not 3-D?
The 3-D is totally unnecessary. Save your money.