Big and shallow fun in Captain America: Civil War

After the San Francisco International Film Festival, I like to clear my palette with a totally escapist, Hollywood-style explosion movie. So Tuesday night, my wife and I saw Captain America: Civil War. And we even saw it in 3D.

I enjoyed it. Well, sort of. I’m giving it a B-.

In case you make a point of ignoring the biggest blockbusters, Marvel Comics has become the biggest studio in Hollywood, cranking out action-and-effects laden superhero movies that a large portion of our population can’t go without. This particular slice of what’s called The Marvel Universe involves The Avengers, a misfit group of superheroes (or “enhanced humans”) that fight evil together when they’re not arguing or fighting evil in their own movies.

While saving the world, The Avengers accidentally kill a few innocent bystanders (it’s really amazing that this doesn’t happen more often). So the governments of the world insist these loose cannons will now only fight evil when the United Nations asks them to. About half of them, led by Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), agree. But the other half, led by Captain America (Chris Evans) refuse.

Look at the movie’s title, and you’ll know what side the story falls on.

To the screenwriters’ credit (Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, from a graphic novel by Mark Millar), Iron Man’s argument is treated fairly…up to a point. My own point of view: If there are individuals capable of creating mass destruction and are willing to do so for what they think is the greater good, I hope they’re supervised.

The conflict between heroes takes a lot of the fun out of the action sequences–and that’s the movie’s biggest weakness. When both sides are the good guys, there’s no rooting interest. All you can do is wish they would come to their senses and hope that no one gets hurt.

The big centerpiece fight takes place on the tarmac of a large, international, and strangely empty airport. (Why is it empty? So that these powerful beings can destroy millions of dollars’ worth of property without hurting a single innocent bystander.) What makes this sequence fun, despite the lack of a side to root for, is the comedy. The filmmakers wisely added Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Spider-Man (newcomer Tom Holland) into this fight–and only this fight–to bring in some much-needed laughs.

Holland’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man is the best thing in this movie, and he has only two scenes. Holland plays the web-slinger as an awkward adolescent who doesn’t know when to shut up. While fighting with Captain America, he points out that the Captain’s shield ignores the laws of physics. Of course, so does almost everything in the movie. Marisa Tomei plays a surprisingly sexy Aunt May.

The much smaller final fight is basically Captain America and the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) going up against Iron Man. It was painful to watch–and not in a good way.

Marvel inserted two hints for future films into the closing credits. One is an obvious sequel. The other promises a new Spider-Man reboot starring Holland. That’s the one I’m looking forward to.

We saw Civil War at the Grand Lake’s beautiful Theater 1. After the New Mission‘s downstairs theater, this is probably the best place to see a big, new 3D blockbuster (like the New Mission, it uses two separate digital projectors for 3D). And if you take price into consideration, it’s probably the best–especially on a Tuesday, when all movies, even those in 3D, cost only $5 a ticket.