At this point, I think it's fair to say I've written more or less the same review for the past few Marvel movies, from Guardians of the Galaxy to Age of Ultron to Ant-Man, with a couple of deviations in there, but more or less along the same lines, because the formula has become so efficient and executed so functionally, yet un-creatively, that it's starting to become difficult to come up with something new to say after seeing the latest "episode," as they've essentially become.
Really, what can I go into with this latest one? It's purportedly a Captain America movie, but since every Avenger except Thor and the Hulk are in it, along with the perfunctory introduction of some new people (Black Panther, the latest Spider-Man), it becomes a glorified Avengers vs. each other movie, a concept that comes from a famous comics storyline, yet was clearly selected and timed to compete directly with the recent Batman v Superman disaster. This is a better movie than that one (it's sort of hard not to be), yet, just like all the Marvel Studios films, it feels like a committee-driven, assembly line ready product devoid of anything resembling innovation or any stamp of directorial vision so as not to distinguish it too much from the other episodes in the series.
Which is not to say there aren't some good things in here, especially if you are a fan of these films, and I don't mean to disparage anyone who is. Comic book fans have forever wanted to see the stories from those pages come to life on the big screen, and Marvel, under the all seeing eye of head honcho and Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, has become very successful at implementing countless new heroes into a big tent universe that is ready and willing to accommodate any of them without too much fuss. Moments that I liked in this one include the new Black Panther guy (Chadwick Boseman), who basically serves as a teaser for his own film coming next year and has a cool, tight leather striped costume, and yes, the new Spider-Man kid, who's now a teenager in high school again and played by Brit Tom Holland, who looks 12 and runs his mouth off with one-liners the way Spidey should (he's already the most appealing version of Peter Parker yet). Surprisingly, I also did like the epic airport fight scene between all the Avengers, which had the potential to be a trainwreck in the Batman/Superman style, yet it was handled with visual dexterity, a clear sense of where everyone is at all times, who's fighting who, and several perfectly timed jokes within the scene that actually land and work for what they're supposed to do. So kudos to the Russo brothers for pulling that off.
But the story itself is not interesting or really all that important, the characters don't make any more impression on you than they ever have, and at the end of the day it doesn't feel like a film that has any resonance or weight to it in the slightest- and this is in spite of the fact that this particular one is trying to go deeper with its themes of whether or not superheroes should be kept in check by the world governments. Maybe there's a way to make you care about a story like that and about Captain America and Iron Man being on separate sides of an ostensibly hot button political issue, but the truth is I just didn't. Tony Stark's woe is me routine is well played by Robert Downey Jr. this time out, but I still didn't care that much (he's so upset that he and Pepper Potts have recently broken up, but after three of his own movies, this was apparently so unimportant that it happened offscreen. See you around, Gwyneth). And Chris Evans's straight-laced Steve Rogers is desperately devoted to dear old Bucky (Sebastian Stan) until the end, butcome on now, how much does anybody really care about Bucky in these movies anyway? Did you spend the time between Winter Soldier and Civil War pondering, for any single second the, fate of the completely undeveloped Bucky in this universe?
The token women, Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow and Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlet Witch, are again given precious little to do while the allotted screentime has to go to setting up the upcoming Black Panther and Spider-Man films, and the war between heroes culminates in a fairly lame showdown between Iron Man and Captain America before all rifts will inevitably be healed of course. So in the end, what was really the point of all this? I guess it's nice that in this one we don't have another world ending alien invasion or robot villain for everybody to fight, but these movies have become to so dryly competent and functional as to feel utterly uninteresting to me. I think the one episode after another feel of this franchise belongs in another medium entirely, and that's called television. A format in which you can develop characters, relationships and enemies over time, in arcs that give you something closer to the serialized nature of comics that these big screen adventures aren't capable of in any true emotional sense, especially if you drain each film of the ability to retain its own vision by having a particular kind of voice, ala Deadpool, for example. It's fine, it works, and I even liked some of it while I was watching it. But I'm just finding it harder and harder to remember to care about it.
* * 1/2