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Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but has elements of strong appeal for a limited audience. MOBILE version |
. "Captain America: Civil War"

This Captain America/Avengers sci-fi preserves the conceptual originality of "The Avengers" in bringing the universe's mighty heros together out of the need to fight new and more powerful invading forces and supervillains that threaten the country and the planet. A collaboration is necessary. But this time, there's a twist.

The action starts in Lagos with a blast, leading to a violent battle led by Steve Rogers as Captain America (Chris Evans) and Tony Stark as Ironman (Robert Downey, Jr.) to stop supervillain Crossbones (Frank Grillo, aka, Brock Rumlow) from stealing a vial containing a biological weapon. When the Avenger team seems to have gotten the better of the brutal supervillain he sets off an explosive in his vest thinking he's sacrificing his own life in order to take Captain America with him. But Wanda "Scarlet Witch" Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) uses her power of telekinesis to instantly shove the starting explosion up and away, into the air -- not a nanosecond too soon to save the Captain's life.

Unfortunately, before the blast is clear of a nearby hotel, it goes off with devestating fury and eliminates the upper corner of a building, killing several U.N. employees. The intergovernmental organization is horrified and alarmed. The consequences are largely what this sequel is about.

Secretary of State, General Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) brings the Avengers together for a meeting. His agenda is to have these superhumans conform to ethical boundaries and sign the newly written Anti-Hero Registration Act contained in something called the "Sokovia Accords." The document makes any one of them who signs up for it subject to the authorization and control of a UN panel. Something along the lines of the police asking a judge to approve a search warrant that could head off a disaster but before the normally required evidence is in.

The logic of this mix of fantasy and reality is perfectly harmonious in comic book terms and traditions, leading to the oddity of the ten-hero team splitting five to five on the pact. Rogers leads the holdouts, refusing to compromise his ability to spring into action when hostile actors strike. For sticking to his convictions, he and his team can no longer operate under the aegis of spy agency Shield. And,yes, their all-out battles are very hard on the infrastructure and the bystanders.

Stark leads his team to succumb to the political pressure and agree to sign the anti-hero pact out of a feeling of responsibility.

(I do wonder why, in this premise, it would be called an "anti-hero" piece of legislation. It can't be against the country's guardians of humanity when their services are required.) Would you really want to tie the hands of our superheros when they're responding to a great and active threat? But that's not the only questionable aspect about returning directors Anthony and Joe Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely's latest Captain America movie adaptation.

Rogers' crew includes Sam "The Falcon" Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Maximoff, Clint Barton and Scott Lang; while Natasha "Black Widow" Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Don Cheadle), the young T'Challa (in a new suit), James Rhodes, Peter Parker (Tom Holland, Spider-Man) and Vision (Paul Bettany) go with Iron Man. The addition of more characters (Paul Rudd, "Antman") and Chadwick Boseman as deep thinker T'Challa, aka Black Panther -- a serious match for any of the other high-flying boys and girls.

Increasing the numbers may ostensibly be to rev up the characters' exposure for upcoming projects, but seem also to suggest some paranoid insurance for this one since Thor and Hulk are nowhere to be found.

The Avengers will now be hindered by internecine acrimony until it becomes civil war between the two sides even as, in the original story thread from the past, they try to track down the elusive, brainwashed Winter Soldier, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) who is being controlled by evil genius Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl).

Zemo's mental superiority keeps him well ahead of the Avengers, so clever and nasty that he's figured out how to diminish the effect of their "gifts": by dividing them and stoking the power of revenge. He succeeds, even to the point of embarasssing Rogers in combat, shield and all. But, then, the tale of a hero is only as good as the villain he confronts and Bruhl is frightening bad.

While Stark and team await UN authorization to find Zemo, Rogers' guys act. There's a confrontation at the airport which, interestingly, ends with Romanoff slyly but with the right intentions, enabling Rogers and Barnes to slip away.

Much of the entertainment comes from the cast and Johansson sets a great example. While fulfilling her action and acrobatic duties (along with doubles and CGI wizardry of course), she's sexy, unhesitant in action, and a great deal more confident than when the series started. In contrast, Downey is dour while Renner (Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye) tries to make it breezy but struggles with the challenge. Evans, as the "Cap," is the balancing act, stalwart, upbeat, a righteous model of American values.

While the movie is typically long (147 mins), standard these days for studio films, it shows considerable fine tuning in story development as the creative team behind the camera take advantage of the animosities mixed with background friendships and loyalties that make for conflict and one-liner amusement. Every humanoid character gets more touches of realism and depth. As a matter of comparison, if you go back and watch, you'll be amazed at how much more together Johansson is here than she was in "Age of Ultron."

Which brings me to the set piece one might call CGI ballet. Everything else stops while the two adversarial teams "have it out" in their civil war, unleashing their individual "abilities" against each other as they quip and get their share of gotcha's. This brawl, on which much budget cash was expended, reminds us that The Marvel style is edged with light humor, saying it's not taking itself too seriously -- an approach that is likely to resonate with the big audiences it was designed for. Marvel, with its comic strip cool, Industrial Light & Magic control of gravity, what may be the largest ensemble of heroes and anti-heroes in Marvel movie history and visual artistry, has done it again.

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                                                                              ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Captain America and Ironman,
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