If Captain America: Civil War feels more substantial than most Marvel movies, it’s probably because it’s driven by a serious modern-day issue: accountability. After the ever-expanding superhero crew destroyed the fictional country of Sokovia in last year’s Avengers: Age Of Ultron, the U.N. wants them to be moderated by a governing body. Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) leads a faction of Avengers who agree to being regulated, while Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans) heads up a group who oppose the move.
This deftly sets up the “civil war” of the title, which intensifies when Rogers’ friend Bucky Barnes aka Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) is accused, perhaps wrongly, of committing a terrorist act. Stark wants to bring in Barnes for punishment, but Rogers is convinced his friend is innocent and sets out to protect him. Suddenly Iron Man is pitted against Captain America not just ideologically, but practically, sparking an fiery Avengers vs. Avengers battle that rages until the film’s finale.
Along the way, sibling directors Anthony and Joe Russo (who also helmed 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier) do a better job of juggling a massive cast than Joss Whedon managed on Avengers: Age Of Ultron. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Martin Freeman’s new bureaucrat character Everett Ross are frustratingly under-used, but the Russos smoothly introduce two new Avengers due to star in their own movies: Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther is grief-ridden and intriguing, while 19-year-old British actor Tom Holland makes a promising debut as a younger, more giddily enthusiastic Spider-Man than recent incarnations played by Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield.
The Russos’ action sequences are supremely gripping, especially a nerve-shattering scene in which it looks as though super-strong Captain America might have his arm ripped off as he tries to pull down a helicopter during take-off, but it’s the tighter plotting and constant sense of conflict that makes this a superior superhero movie. At 147 minutes, Captain America: Civil War is probably a bit too long, but it has enough tense head-to-heads and eye-popping fight scenes to override the odd drop in momentum.