Now this is a heist! Anthony and Joe Russo ostensibly entered the picture with the directing gig for a third Captain America film, but they have actually stolen the show by helming the third, most ambitious Avengers movie. Their Captain America: Civil War (A) is full of delightful surprises, spending its first hour tracing geopolitical machinations and espionage as the embattled heroes contemplate a global accords to put self-controls on their unbridled power. The film explores the consequences of compromise, the bounds of brotherhood and the limits of vengeance in what crescendos to some of the most artful fight choreography and breakneck stunt work to have been committed to screen in a major superhero film. To both Marvel stalwarts and casual fans alike, there is ample accessibility into the multilayered narrative. There are also enough great actors stuffed into the epic to populate an Altman film or a ’70s disaster ensemble. Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johansson and Anthony Macke are among the most impressive veterans; and Tom Holland and Chadwick Boseman add to the embarrassment of riches as an amusing Spider-Man and noble Black Panther, respectively, who become embroiled in the splinter cells of the saga. The movie is very entertaining when it goes full fan-boy: I really liked the enthusiasm Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) embodies in meeting Chris Evans’ Captain America. If there’s any complaint, it’s the blandness of Evans’ snoozy character across the equivalent of two trilogies (Did I miss Captain America: The Summer Siesta?). The cap’n may be the wrong guy to match wits with the wry hybrid who is half Tony Stark/half Iron Man. But everything comes together so well: I nearly expected a full-cast singalong to an Aimee Mann song. Overall, there’s a natural elegance and specificity to each heroes’ personal powers as they jigsaw their way into the nooks and crannies of their physical and emotional brinkmanship. By the time they’ve been battered and bewildered by the events of the Russo Brothers’ deft spectacle, they will convince you that preserving unswerving power for good is worth the fight. It’s a comic book caper on the surface with rousing rumbles, but its grace and gravitas run more than spandex deep.
Zack Synder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (C) is schizophrenic in virtually every way, from its title that purports to be both an unexpected showdown as well as a Justice League origin story to keeping up with each of its title characters and their respective alter egos. I swear you’d need a 3-D modeling kit to diagram this plot; and for comic book fans already accustomed to a multiverse of known rules, the film complicates the landscape even further and not always in good ways. The first hour is rather compelling as we see ways earthlings are grappling with its Kryptonian savior, resulting in intercontinental espionage, congressional hearings and noirish double crosses. It gets complicated though when Alexander Luthor, played with relish by Jesse Eisenberg, hatches a way to kill Superman/Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) that somehow involves Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) using Kryptonite to level the playing field and fight to the death as mere mortals. All of this is made even more vexing by it not being entirely clear why Batman is near masochistically intent on destroying a super guy who he may have one or two passing disagreements with. And, oh yeah, there’s a Kryptonian villain plus Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to introduce, the latter with guitar riffs that sound composed by Bill & Ted. It’s not a complete folly, but there’s a bit more blistering bombast than any film should contain. So many aspects actually work that it’s a shame it just gets overstuffed. The production values, the always reliable Amy Adams as Lois Lane and some of the set-pieces are first rate. Alas Affleck and his hybrid butler/inventor (Jeremy Irons, collecting a paycheck), seem lost at sea. Which reminds me, where did Aquaman go? You’ll ultimately be exhausted as this buffet often has explosive consequences. Although much of the movie is lively and engaging, beware whatever they’re smoking in Snyder’s basement.