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Superheroes Engage In All Out 'Civil War' In The Latest 'Captain America' Film


This is FRESH AIR. "Captain America: Civil War," the latest superhero movie from Marvel, already is a smash hit in the U.S. based on pre-sales alone. It features not just the title hero but almost all the members of the superhero collective known as The Avengers. It stars Chris Evans, Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johansson and a lot of other people. Film critic David Edelstein has this review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN, BYLINE: The new Marvel epic "Captain America: Civil War" is jammed with superheroes - so many they've crowded out the super-villains. They have to fight one another, which isn't necessarily bad. As the genre has matured, it's become more reflective. Its vast audience wants not just costumes and effects - though it does want them, big-time - it also wants dark nights of the soul in which vigilantes wonder if vigilantism is a disease as well as a cure. And what about the harm to innocent bystanders?

It turns out, you see, that when superheroes throw super-villains into buildings, ordinary people in those buildings die. The danger hadn't occurred to me, frankly, insofar as superheroes don't really exist. So who needs real-world consequences? But more and more the imagery of superhero films invokes 9/11 and other actual catastrophes. This year's "Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice" opened with Bruce Wayne watching Superman wreck Metropolis while fighting bad guys and inexplicably blaming the hero rather than the bad guys. In "Captain America: Civil War," our heroes are similarly pilloried.

The Avengers are blamed for ignoring sovereign borders and being unconcerned about the hell they leave behind. The United Nations wants them to sign a treaty not to fly around smashing invaders willy-nilly. Morosely, The Avengers gather to debate. Robert Downey Jr.'s guilt-ridden Iron Man thinks signing the treaty is a good idea. Chris Evans's Captain America isn’t so sure.


CHRIS EVANS: (As Steve Rogers/Captain America) Tony, someone dies on your watch you don't give up.

ROBERT DOWNEY JR: (As Tony Stark/Iron Man) Who says we're giving up?

EVANS: (As Steve Rogers/Captain America) We are for not taking responsibility for our actions. These documents just shift the blame.

DON CHEADLE: (As Lt. James Rhodes/War Machine) Sorry, Steve, that is dangerously arrogant. This is the United Nations we're talking about. It's not the World Security Council. It's not S.H.I.E.L.D. It's not HYDRA.

EVANS: (As Steve Rogers/Captain America) No, but it's run by people with agendas and agendas change.

DOWNEY: (As Tony Stark/Iron Man) That's good. That's why I'm here. When I realize what my weapons were capable of in the wrong hands, I shut it down, stop manufacturing.

EVANS: (As Steve Rogers/Captain America) Tony, you chose to do that. If we sign this, we surrender our right to choose. What if this panel sends us somewhere we don't think we should go? What if there's somewhere we need to go and they don't let us? We may not be perfect, but the safest hands are still our own.

DOWNEY: (As Tony Stark/Iron Man) If we don’t do this now, it's going to be done to us later.

EDELSTEIN: The issue is forced when a bomb interrupts the treaty-signing and Captain America opts to protect the accused bomber, his old pal Bucky Barnes, aka the bio-enhanced Winter Soldier, played by Sebastian Stan. He thinks Bucky's been framed. Maybe it has something to do with an enigmatic figure played by Daniel Bruhl, who might well be trying to resurrect a bunch of other bio-enhanced Winter Soldiers in stasis and build an army the likes of which the world has never seen.

Lining up behind the Captain - nominally the good guy -are - deep breath - Hawkeye, played by Jeremy Renner, Falcon, played by Anthony Mackie, Scarlet Witch, played by Elizabeth Olsen and Ant Man, played by Paul Rudd. Behind Iron Man are Don Cheadle’s War Machine, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, Paul Bettany’s Vision and the newly-enlisted Spider-Man, played for the very first time by the young Tom Holland. Not with them exactly but against Captain America is Chadwick Boseman as an African president who moonlights as a superhero called Black Panther.

OK, that's table-setting. How’s the fighting in "Captain America: Civil War?" At times, it's irresistible. How cool is it to see Spider-Man shoot webs all over Captain America's shield while Ant Man scoots around inside Iron Man's suit pulling wires or Captain America conking Iron Man, getting electro-fogged by Scarlet Witch, getting kung-fu-ed by Black Widow? The movie is busy, busy, busy.

It's also a bit of a hodgepodge, with sundry effects factories working in sundry styles. The most rousing set-piece is the first, a hyper-speed fight between terrorists and a handful of Avengers that's noticeably rotoscoped, a technique that adds a slight flicker, making real bodies and computer-generated mayhem seem all of a piece, brilliantly punctuated by the Captain's pinging shield and the elastic gymnastics of Scarlett Johansson and her stunt double. The showpiece sequence - not the film's climax - in which everyone fights everyone will make your inner nerd too happy.

The actors are fine. At these budgets, no one dares to phone it in. But I especially enjoyed Elizabeth Olsen, who can suffer without being a drip, and Tom Holland, whose Spidey is a chatterbox full of teenage hormones, grooving on his power.

I liked "Captain America: Civil War," which was directed by Anthony and Joe Russo. It's a toy-box in which the sheer quantity of toys partly makes up for the lack of anything new. But it brings up the question - with so many more of these superhero epics in the hopper, who's mighty enough for these guys and gals to fight next? They might be all suited up with nowhere to go.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.


BIANCULLI: On Monday’s FRESH AIR, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Richard Russo. In his new book "Everybody's Fool," a sequel to "Nobody's Fool," he writes again about his father's generation.


RICHARD RUSSO: I love their optimism, those men who came back, like my father was a D-Day guy. And they had the GI Bill, and it looked like America would be there.

BIANCULLI: Also, a review of the final episode of "The Good Wife." Hope you can join us. FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer for online media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Edelstein is a film critic for New York magazine and for NPR's Fresh Air, and an occasional commentator on film for CBS Sunday Morning. He has also written film criticism for the Village Voice, The New York Post, and Rolling Stone, and is a frequent contributor to the New York Times' Arts & Leisure section.

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