Now that comic book movies are almost a permanent fixture at your local cineplex, film goers are getting a steady diet of them in a never-ending buffet. And like all buffets, it’s pretty great at the beginning, but by the end of the meal, you feel bloated and gross. One could say something similar about “Captain America: Civil War.” For the first part of the film, there are a lot of compelling moments, some very inventive action sequences, and moral questions about the death and destruction wrought by superheroes in the name of keeping the world safe from the bad guys. By the end, though, it’s not clear what the main course of the meal is since the table is scattered with a hodgepodge of dishes.
Part of the problem with “Captain America: Civil War” is that there are just too many characters. Even though Captain America is supposed to be the center of the story, there’s a lot of time spent on the other superheroes like Iron Man, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, and Falcon (and later Black Panther) that the film tends to lose focus. Seems every time the next big sequence is being set up, there’s another superhero joining the fight. Tucked into the action are really two major conflicts. One is the blow back by mere mortals in the aftermath of the epic battles between the superheros and the super villains (battles that occurred in earlier films). The second conflict is the growing rift between two factions of the superhero group. Is it really a civil war or just a big disagreement between the superheroes? Whatever the case, the clashes between Team Captain America and Team Iron Man doesn’t seem irreparable. The contention surrounding superheroes curtailing their fights with the bad guys because of collateral damage by friendly fire is less interesting — even though this is the major arc that seeks to resolve itself. Watching our super pals get all broody over being managed by government rules isn’t all that sexy, but it does raise the level of the narrative up from just prolonged fight sequences (a la the last 20 minutes of “Man of Steel”) to showing the toll these battles take not only in lives, but in the costs of rebuilding cities devastated by the actions of these “enhanced” beings. I’m not an expert in every comic book movie that’s been released, but it seems “Captain America: Civil War” is the first to make the case that super heroes lead to super problems when it comes to maintaining a society free from such large-scale destruction.
Back in the days of Irwin Allen films like “The Poseidon Adventure” and “The Towering Inferno,” all-star casts were manageable because many in the all-star line-up were killed off in Act I and II — leaving a smaller core group of characters the audience could keep track of (and care about) by Act III. “Captain America: Civil War” has the opposite problem. More and more characters are introduced throughout the film to the point where by Act III, it’s difficult to care what happens because we know they all survive. I suppose it’s a novel idea to flip the standard narrative a bit, but one runs the risk of fraying the story. And so it goes for the last scenes of the film. The story has taken us through the wringer with a number of storylines and battles that when we’re finally pointed to the resolutions of the conflicts that are supposed to matter, it’s met with a kind of a shrug.
All the great “Wham! Boom! Pow!” effects are there. The editing is tight, and the film is expertly photographed by Trent Opaloch. Alas, and just to beat a dead horse here, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely screenplay lost the plot and no amount of directorial skill by Anthony and Joe Russo could keep “Captain America: Civil War” from losing focus.