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. 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.
Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier (B+) wisely eschews CGI-heavy creature effects for French Connection-style shoot-em-up combat and cat-and-mouse brinkmanship. The formerly frozen super soldier played by Chris Evans owns his shield-wielding role this time around as a morally grounded hero amidst specters of villainy, greed and terrorism. Scarlett Johannson is a game sidekick with the film’s rare comic relief lines as Black Widow, and Anthony Mackie is a welcome addition as a friend from the VA hospital who joins the team’s mission and becomes the first African-American Marvel superhero, The Falcon. Robert Redford and Samuel L. Jackson also get some commanding moments as S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters execs. Despite some overlong fight sequences, this sequel is uniformly solid and earns its distinctive badge of honor. After diminishing artistic returns with the latest Iron Man and Thor movies, this Captain continues the top-flight spectacle achieved with The Avengers.