Sooner or later the producers of these Marvel films were gonna have to reckon with the thousands of Third World lives lost whenever one of Iron Man’s concussive burps leveled downtown Kinshasa again. In Captain America: Civil War, it’s Lagos that feels the fury of Avengers assembled as they fight Cap’s brainscrambled enemy Crossbones, who’s bent on doing something or other. When the characters aren’t kicking, punching, shooting pulse blasts, and pummeling people with shields, the movie comes to a dead halt. After about an hour into this farrago I couldn’t tell which side I was supposed to root for; when it’s over Captain America: Civil War emerges, like Bucky’s Trent Reznor bangs, as a graceless and tacky piece of globe-conquering filmmaking.
A year after defeating Ultron, the Avengers are at it again in Nigeria, attempting to prevent Brock Rumlow from stealing a super serum. But the Scarlet Witch gets carried away: her telekinetic powers destroy a building containing aid workers. Furious at the publicity, Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt, who looks the part so much that his mom should’ve named him Thaddeus) informs the team that the United Nation’s newly passed Sokovia Accords (don’t ask) will end the Avengers as a private agency. Tony Stark/Ironman (Robert Downey, Jr.) has no problem; Captain America, though, won’t have it, hence the “civil war” part of the title. Meanwhile Helmut Zemo (Inglorious Basterds‘ Daniel Brühl), looking foxy without the pink and black mask and tiara combination I remember from my youth, gets to Bucky before Cap does. Thanks to a string of gibberish trigger words, Bucky is reconstituted as Zemo’s slave, although these words sound eerily like much of the film’s dialogue.
But no one cares about Zemo. What audiences came in the millions to watch was the Avengers pounding their comrades into meat sauce. This happens much later in Civil War at the Leipzig airport, presumably because Germany has a lot of white people and everyone hates Germans so no one will mind a demolished central European airport. The newest faces in this growing team belong to Ant Man, played by Paul Rudd as if he’s never watched a Marvel movie; and Spider Man, “rebooted” for the third or fifth time and now played in golly-fee fashion by Tom Holland (Aunt May, given a reboot and youth potion). There’s mild pleasure in watching them bring down a gargantuan Ant Man as if he were Goliath and figuring out if Jeremy Renner looks constipated or pissed off as Hawkeye.
I liked Captain America: Winter Soldier but couldn’t tell you a thing about the last Avengers movie other than I saw it, but when Civil War ends in a muddle and an implicit cry of “Help me, Thanos, you’re my only hope,” I mourned the inexorability of box office logic. Even if Civil War weren’t already the year’s highest grossing film, it wouldn’t have mattered because the mega Marvel tie-in of all time is coming whether you like it or not. I’ll tell you the picture I want: Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, who has a promising future as a Downey foil. From the way he checked her out it’ll take more than a shield to keep them apart.