Well, whaddya know? You really can stuff too many superheroes into a 2½-hour movie, make them fight each other, throw in some mommy issues and, despite a muddled plot, actually leave audiences thrilled and hungry for more.
“Captain America: Civil War,” the Gallant to “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’s” Goofus, is unabashedly, peel-your-jaw-off-the-sticky-floor entertaining.
This isn’t about Marvel vs. DC. It isn’t fun vs. brooding. It’s “well worth the price of admission” vs. “why did I even bother?”
Essentially “The Avengers: 2.5,” “Civil War” finds its heroes at odds with each other and, increasingly, with the public at large.
Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) are on a mission in Nigeria when a nearby office building is inadvertently destroyed. Cap, aka Steve Rogers, and Scarlet Witch, Wanda Maximoff to her friends, immediately recognize the horror. It’s one of a handful of moments of emotional heft in what’s otherwise a joyride of a movie.
The final body count reveals 11 Wakandans were killed, which attracts the attention of Wakanda’s Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), who spends his downtime protecting his country as the masked hero Black Panther.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), meanwhile, is confronted by a State Department employee (Alfre Woodard), who slaps a photo of her dead son, a victim of The Avengers’ battles in Sokovia, to his chest. Guilt trip, ticket for one.
So when the Secretary of State (William Hurt) presents The Avengers with the Sokovia Accords — a proposal backed by 117 countries that would place the heroes under the authority of a United Nations panel — Stark is the first to sign up. “If we don’t do this now,” he explains at one point, “it will be done to us later.”
No longer the good soldier, Rogers isn’t having any of it. He doesn’t want to be sent to fight for something he doesn’t believe in — or be prevented from fighting for something he does. “It’s run by people with agendas,” Rogers says of the U.N., “and agendas change.”
The tension between the two has been building since 2012’s “The Avengers.” With the fault lines exposed, all it takes is another devastating attack blamed on The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), aka Rogers’ childhood friend Bucky Barnes, for the team to split down the middle.
Bucky’s a tragic figure. Over the decades, his Swiss-cheesed brain has been reprogrammed more often than a secondhand DVR. But at some point, Rogers is going to have talk to Dr. Phil about his codependency issues.
I don’t care how many girls they hit on together at Rockaway Beach 80 years ago. Rogers needs to realize that Bucky’s just going to keep trying to kill him and everyone he cares about, and he needs to cut his losses.
Unlike the “Batman v Superman” brawl that was just off-putting in its brutality, the six-on-six, heroes-vs.-heroes slugfest in “Civil War” is simply delightful. Sure, it’s mayhem. But it’s cleverly orchestrated, character-building mayhem. It’s also unexpectedly hilarious. There’s no slapstick, no wacky hijinks. But the action is complimented by a handful of solid, genuine, character-based laughs.
The word “character” keeps popping up because the returning “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” team of directors Anthony and Joe Russo and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely actually seems to care about making these people more than just guys and gals in funny outfits. A 10-second confrontation between Falcon and Bucky in a tiny car does more to develop those characters and reveal their relationships to each other than was accomplished during the entirety of “Batman v Superman.”
“Civil War” also deftly continues to develop “Avengers: Age of Ultron” newcomers Wanda and Vision (Paul Bettany) during some quiet moments while bringing Black Panther and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) into the fold.
Holland’s webslinger is easily “Civil War’s” best surprise. He projects a genuine sense of awe and wonder in the presence of the other heroes. And, despite holding his own in the action scenes, he comes across like a nervous kid — which is exactly what Peter Parker should be.
Holland’s chemistry with Downey is off the charts. And Downey is terrific in his brief scene with Marisa Tomei, who offers a whole new take on Peter’s Aunt May. All of this bodes extremely well for the trio’s return in 2017’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”
Sure, one of “Civil War’s” subplots is a bit of a dud. And it peaks about two-thirds of the way through, but that’s to be expected following one of the most sublime action scenes you’ll see all year.
The whole thing is so much better than the similar “Batman v Superman,” it’s almost unfair.
But it isn’t about Marvel vs. DC.
It’s about solid storytelling vs. brazen marketing.
Contact Christopher Lawrence at email@example.com. On Twitter: @life_onthecouch.
Movie: “Captain America: Civil War”
Running time: 146 minutes
Rating: PG-13; extended sequences of violence, action and mayhem
Now playing: At multiple locations