Starring Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. Rated PG. Now playing.
It is a tradition in comic books for heroes to fight each other, often during first meetings when good/evil orientations are not clear, or under the influence of some mind-boggling spell or brain serum. It makes sense to do this once in a while, to show the comparative power levels to fans, and give the writers a break from having to come up with new villain fodder.
In this, the 13th episode in a pulp serial of Marvel movies launched by 2008’s Iron Man, the needling tension between alpha heroes Captain America and Iron Man becomes overt.
They have to pull their punches, because they are good guys, so the cost of their battle is really counted in broken alliances and hurt feelings. It’s a credit to the creators and performers assembled by Marvel that a crisis between adventurers in colourful spandex and plastic feels earned, authentic, and gripping.
The plot is serviceable. If 2011's The First Avenger was a tribute to World War Two movies, and The Winter Soldier (2014) was a conspiracy thriller, Civil War is a murder mystery. A bombing shocks the world, and all signs point to Captain America’s friend Bucky (Sebastian Stan), now a brainwashed assassin trying to break his conditioning. Bucky has done even worse crimes, but this time he’s innocent. So who did it? And why?
It’s also a political film, for a comic-book movie. It’s about accountability, responsibility, and unintended blowback of well-intended interventions. These were the same points that Batman v Superman tried to make before it flew up its own behind with bad dialogue and grimdark portentousness. The Marvel version offers better stunts, fight choreography, character surprises, and even a touch of humour, but it is treading some of the same narrative ground.
What might really have separated it would be a full war, where the fighters did not pull their punches. But then, they would not be good guys in a movie suitable for kids. That would be real life, which is suitable for so few.