Back in 1991, there was an incident with a super-powered agent known as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) when he ambushed a car one night to get hold of the cargo it was carrying, technology that would be very important later on in 2016 when that soldier, or Bucky Barnes as he was known to his best friend Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), became a hunted man. Rogers himself worked for the government as a physically enhanced super-soldier, and also as part of the Avengers team of heroes, but on one mission things have gone dramatically wrong as the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) accidentally set off an explosion at an office block, killing some innocent people. The trouble is, collateral damage in the form of the loss of life is nothing new for the good guys...
And back in the first few decades of superhero fiction, they reached the big screen in the form of serials, twenty minute chapters that would depict the adventures of various heroes within the low budget means of studios such as Republic who produced them to entertain the audience of kids who read the comics they were drawn from. Up until the last chapter they would each end on a cliffhanger, ensuring the moviegoers would return the following week to find out what happened as the dilemmas were resolved, and it seemed that come the twenty-first century, Marvel and DC were employing the exact same techniques to adventures on budget unimaginable to the producers of those early entertainments.
Another difference was that they had no intention of wrapping up their narratives when there were huge profits to be made, so the past comic books were plundered for storylines which in theory could continue forever, as long as the audiences were turning out for them. But that serial format, with blockbusting instalment after instalment exploding onto the world's cinema screens with the regularity of clockwork, had a drawback if you ever liked to watch a self-contained story. Taking their cues from another Disney acquisition, the Star Wars franchise, Marvel essayed an ongoing plotline that with no end in sight could become tiring, not least frustrating if you wanted to actually enjoy a proper conclusion to what you were watching.
With their production line approach, films like Captain America: Civil War were being created with a curious lack of personality, the action sequences alternating with grave chit-chats as if designed to a template rather than something with a genuine idiosyncrasy or character behind it that might have made them at least visually interesting. But it was not to be; here directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo relied on the novelty of watching actors in their colourful costumes beating seven bells out of one another without stretching themselves to feature images of fascination, imagination or even beauty. That those stars gave in to their stuntmen even more often than Roger Moore on an eighties James Bond movie contributed to a lack of anything much to identify with, despite the publicity campaign asking us to take sides between Captain America or Iron Man, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), oddly set up as free enterprise against public utilities.
The plot was suspiciously similar to this movie's great rival, Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice with exactly the same impetus, the concern over the damage superheroes cause, and their self-important stylings of the manner in which this was resolved, not least that they both had rivalries that were spurious when there was an evil mastermind pulling the strings behind the scenes, and which you preferred was barely a matter of which was more compelling, and more down to whether you were a committed Marvel or DC fan. Civil War did have more of a sense of humour, however, nothing sidesplitting but it prevented a monotony settling in where just as in BvS we were being offered a vehicle to spawn at least two new franchises to boot, leaving the bitter aftertaste of the corporate behemoth. Still, one thing these efforts had was the resources to cast well, and Tom Holland made a promising Spider-Man, though the fuss over who saved the uninteresting Bucky was less a civil war and more an airport car park scuffle on a grand scale. Once again, there was hardly any interest in developing female characters, so Cap and Iron Man's division resembled a messy divorce where the main issue was who kept the kids. Paul Rudd did, nonetheless, demonstrate why Ant-Man was deserving of a real auteur's treatment. As did most of these Marvel properties. Music by Henry Jackman.