Captain America: Civil War

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How can there be so little to say about a movie that tries—so hard—to do so much? Perhaps because Captain America: Civil War, the latest Marvel cash cow, is an overstuffed and altogether unnecessary movie that throws so much at us that the only word I could summon during its 147 very long minutes was “enough.”  Trust me when I tell you that despite its occasional diversions and professional packaging, you have seen this all before.

Captain America: Civil War, a polished prefab of franchise pastiche is the latest generic Marvel outing featuring, once again, the venerable Avengers put through the usual paces by a movie with appropriated political allusions and a surplus of characters and action. Yet for all the high concept, someone forgot to write a single character worth caring about. To fanboys, it will hardly matter.

Not much has happened since the last installment (Captain America:Winter Soldier), which accounts for the new picture’s purely de riugeur premise: world citizens are frustrated by collateral damage from the Avengers’ many exploits—destroyed cities, explosions, mass destruction and death—leading the U.S. Secretary of State (William Hurt, who should be in better movies) to present the troupe with a United Nations agreement calling for a moratorium on their cavalier exploits, which have apparently just destroyed half of Nigeria.

This contrived dilemma—delivered with a straight face—sets up a clash between Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans, letting his t-shirt do the heavy lifting) and Tony Stark/Ironman (Robert Downey Jr., on autopilot, much like his character).  While straight-arrow Rogers is surprisingly skeptical of the treaty, billionaire Stark hops aboard after being chastised by the great Alfre Woodard (who has no business lending her talents to a movie like this) as the mother whose son, a peaceful humanitarian, died in the melee that was Avengers: Age of Ultron. Really.

While Thor and The Hulk are sorely missing from this installment, Captain America: Civil War compensates by introducing a new character, Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), who has cool claws but one would be hardpressed to understand exactly what his other powers are; and yet another version of Spiderman, this time played by the gifted young actor Tom Holland (The Impossible) with an effortless charm that further exposes how labored the rest of the picture really is, particularly when the second half devolves into nonstop action set-pieces.

Capably assembled by directors Anthony and Joe Russo, the sequence being touted ad nauseum involves the “civil war” between Avengers factions at the Berlin airport where, to our delight, Paul Rudd makes a brief appearance as Ant-Man, which is much less about him and all about the franchise’s need to show off how many characters it has amassed.  Not surprisingly, this is a “war” in which there are no superhero casualties, and for all the ballyhoo, the sequence has little wonder to it, though it is heavy on thuds, crashes, jolts, jokes and fast edits, all which produced guffaws for the preview audience.

If this is your type of thing, and you are genuinely interested in “characters” like Vision (Paul Bettany, typically fine), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and the rest battling it out over a phony baloney premise—then have at it. But at this point, the entire Marvel machine is showing its cracks, particularly in the performances of Downey and Evans, who bring absolutely nothing new to this movie.

The globetrotting plot—you know, the kind that announces “BUCHAREST” and “BERLIN” with blaring music crescendos—juggles a dozen superheroes but wastes its best in show performers, namely Sebastian Stan returning as the Winter Soldier, again awakened from his Manchurian state (which the film has a laugh about) by an off-the-shelf Euro-baddie played by the great, slumming Daniel Bruhl in a throwaway role.

For two and a half hours it is all bit much to take, and there is frankly nothing clever about awkwardly shoehorning very real spoils of today’s war on terror into a movie about fantasy characters who beat each other to pulps and then get up with nary a scratch; there is never anything at stake.

Overlong and indestinguishable, Captain America: Civil War—for those of us not in the fanboy camp—is a great example of low-stakes, slick product filmmaking. It’s time to admit that Marvel superhero films (with the exception of this year’s Marvel-ous Deadpool) have devolved into a stasis of little more than templated marketing.

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