We’re a dozen films into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and, even if your heart is sinking at the prospect of superhero movie following superhero movie until the crack of doom, it’s hard not to be impressed by the care, craft and sheer pizzazz with which Marvel Studios and its Disney backers are developing the series.
Canny picks of filmmakers has been a big boost, as sure-footed directing duo Anthony and Joe Russo prove with Captain America: Civil War. Picking up story threads from their last outing, 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the Russo brothers deliver another round of extravagant action, chewy ideas and whip-smart quips as events drive a schism in the ranks of the Avengers.
Things begin to go pear-shaped when star-spangled superhero Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) and colleagues Natasha/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Wanda/ Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) try to bring down a bunch of terrorists in Lagos, Nigeria. They foil the bad guys, of course, but not without inflicting immense collateral damage.
The fallout is a ticking-off from William Hurt’s disgruntled US Secretary of Defense – “You’ve operated with unlimited power and no supervision. That’s something the world can no longer tolerate” – followed by the drafting of an international accord (the Sokovia Accords) that will place the Avengers under the oversight of the UN.
A weary Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) is in favour of signing up, but red-white-and-blue Captain America – superhero embodiment of American exceptionalism – still believes the Avengers should be allowed to go it alone. “I know we’re not perfect, but the safest hands are still our own,” is his judgement.
There’s much to ponder over here, but the real point of this conflict is to manoeuvre the film’s various players towards the showdown indicated by the title. To this end, the screenplay (by Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely) contrives a bout of carnage in Vienna for which Captain America’s childhood friend turned mind-controlled assassin, Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) gets the blame. Before long, the battle lines are drawn with Captain America and his allies squaring up against Iron Man and his team.
As that overblown dud Batman V Superman recently proved, when irresistible superhero force meets immovable superhero object things can get boring pretty quickly. The Russos don’t entirely avoid that trap – yes, vibranium shield does clash and clang with titanium suit – but, for the most part, they keep the action nimble with timely injections of humour, much of it provided when newcomers Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Spider-Man (young English actor Tom Holland, previously seen in The Impossible, How I Live Now and In the Heart of the Sea) get involved in the fray.
Indeed, Holland’s enthusiastically nerdy youngster, flinging his webs with joyful glee, is so winning that even the most ardent Marvel sceptic will experience a tiny thrill at the promise of next year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Certificate 12A. Runtime 147 mins. Directors Anthony Russo, Joe Russo