Captain America: Civil War movie review - business as usual in the neverending Marvel story
Midway through the press screening of Captain America: Civil War, I found myself envying a tightly-knit group to my right who seemed to be having a much better time than I was. They were Marvel fanboys, no doubt, that much maligned species of super-enthusiast that lives for these Avengers-related events, and must find the long gaps between film releases intolerable.
While I found myself wondering how much this cinematic fireworks display had cost, and how much longer it was all going to last, they gasped and chortled as though witnessing some miraculous mash-up of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Citizen Kane. They seemed positively transported: if only I could have joined them.
This is, to get our facts straight, the third Captain America film, and the 13th instalment in the Marvel cinematic universe. Captain America is of course an Avenger, and has also appeared alongside Thor, Hulk and Iron Man in two massively successful action spin-offs.
I rather liked the first Captain America film, First Avenger, which explored Steve Rogers' origins as a seven-stone 1940s weakling who's turned into a chemically enhanced superhero after submitting to a secret government experiment. He kicked Nazi butt before getting cryogenically frozen.
In Winter Soldier, he woke up in the present day (imagine his confusion - what is a Kardashian?) to do battle with a brainwashed Soviet sleeper assassin, and joined forces with the Avengers to save the world at least twice. But in Civil War, trouble's brewing.
Cap (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) are in Lagos hunting down a gang of super villains when their operation goes wrong, leading to numerous civilian casualties. The Avengers (not all of them - Hulk and Thor appeared to have previous engagements) are summoned by US Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt), who insists that change is necessary.
The Avengers must now agree to sign an accord submitting themselves to UN oversight: they will henceforth only engage after being given a UN mandate, and their combat actions will be subject to scrutiny. While Iron Man (Robert Downey), Black Widow, War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Vision (Paul Bettany) are in favour of the agreement, Captain America believes the Avengers should remain autonomous, and is backed by Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Falcon, Scarlet Witch and the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). A nasty spat seems inevitable, and things get worse when a terrorist bomb kills dozens at the Avengers' treaty signing ceremony in Vienna, and Winter Soldier appears to be the culprit.
Captain America: Civil War rumbles busily towards a confrontation between Cap and Iron Man, but that fistfight is perhaps the least interesting bit of this frenetic, hyperactive and intermittently enjoyable film. You can't say it's badly made: in fact the special effects, character arcs and one-liners are interwoven so skilfully that they purr at times like the pistons of a Rolls Royce engine.
Cap himself is a bit of a bore, an upright stiff who's totally upstaged by Robert Downey's mouthy and staggeringly arrogant Tony Stark. In the film's funniest scene, Stark pays a visit to Peter Parker, (Spider-Man), and makes fun of his arachnid "onesie".
It's slick alright, but also soulless: worst of all, it is not a standalone movie. Fans of the Marvel universe have dressed up the interconnected nature of these films as "long-form storytelling", but that's just a fancy way of saying that none of these stories ever actually ends.
There's always a teaser for the next film, always a link to the last, and that means it's not really possible to sit down and watch this without having seen all the others. So it's not really cinema at all, just huge screen episodic television.
- Also out this week: Movie reviews: Demolition (2*), Son of Saul (5*), Atlantic (4*)
Captain America: Civil War (12A, 147mins).