The Marvel universe continues to expand, but in the wrong direction. Captain America: Civil War runs two hours and 26 minutes, and very little happens.
We can quickly summarize the script from Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley. Dismayed at the burgeoning ranks of the superhero Avengers and the destruction they cause, the United Nations establishes protocols to govern their rules of engagement.
Right away, the deck is stacked. It happens as well in those movies set in the DC universe with the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel: The movie makers use CGI to throw Batman, Superman, the Avengers, whoever, into titanic battles, slaughtering innocent bystanders by the thousands and turning our heroes into heedless killer vigilantes. Then they put them on trial for being heedless killer vigilantes. We’re expected to forget that Batman, or Superman, or Captain America, didn’t really commit all that mayhem; the guys who made the movies did, and they did it because it’s what their audience wants to see.
But back to those U.N. protocols. Some Avengers agree that constraints are needed, and they meet in Vienna to sign on: Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Don Cheadle). Others refuse, distrusting government regulation and wishing to preserve their prerogatives: Captain America (Chris Evans), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd). The stage is set for a superpower showdown, a sort of comic-book-geek version of fantasy football.
There are some wild cards in play. Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt), formerly an army general implacably opposed to the Incredible Hulk (missing here), is determined to bring the Avengers to heel. Meanwhile, a shadowy terrorist named Zemo (Daniel Brühl) schemes to sow discord and destroy the Avengers from within. And a last-minute recruit to Iron Man’s team is Spider-Man (Tom Holland). The lively, chatty Holland is the movie’s only real surprise, and a pleasant one; he promises to revive the Spider-Man franchise after its ill-advised fling with the creepy-crawly Andrew Garfield.
Captain America: Civil War is a full hour too long and so redundantly destructive it begs for U.N. protocols on superhero movies, but at least it’s cheerful about it. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo have their limits, but they remember what The Dark Knight’s Christopher Nolan seems to have forgotten, and Man of Steel’s Zack Snyder probably never knew: These movies are supposed to be fun. The comic book audience gets its money’s worth, and almost every touch, right down to creator Stan Lee’s obligatory cameo, is met with affectionate chuckles.
But a word of advice if you’re more accustomed to living in a universe not named for a comics conglomerate: When you finally stumble out of the theater, you might want to de-nerdify. See an Ingmar Bergman film. Listen to some Bach. Read some Tolstoy.