When it comes to superhero culture, can there be too much of a good thing? That's the conundrum facing the purveyors of the shared-universe paradigm: early adopter Marvel and Johnny-come-lately DC.
Marvel Studios' unprecedented plan, in cahoots with Disney -- and a generally enthusiastic reception from fans and critics alike -- reaches a new zenith with "Captain America: Civil War," which proves more satisfying than the heavily hyped "Avengers" films that preceded it. Here we have a superhero movie that gathers no fewer than 15 heroes and villains in roles that amount to considerably more than cameos. They populate a sprawling story with marching orders to serve as a direct sequel to "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." And it resolves the can of worms that film opened concerning Cap's sidekick-turned-"Manchurian Candidate" super-soldier "Bucky" Barnes, played by Sebastian Stan.
This crazy-cool superhero team-up/smack-down movie makes "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" look like a tea party, and it's a franchise-launching introduction to the new Spider-Man (teenage Tom Holland).
Seemingly, it's everything a comic-book junkie would expect from a single Marvel movie, and more. For the price of a single ticket, you get a James Bondian film-opening action sequence times four (heroes); a centerpiece six-on-six clash of the super-heroic titans; and a twist-y this-time-its-personal fight climax, along with enough quips to get you double-checking the credits for a Joss Whedon assist. (Nope. All screenwriting credit goes to Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely).
This is what one calls "an incredibly high degree of difficulty," and the writers join directors Anthony and Joe Russo in sticking the landing. Non-comic-book-geeks may struggle to keep up with the storyline, and the frantic-ness of the action (especially in 3D) may prompt some to lapse into diabetic comas, but those people will be the one-percenters of this movie's guaranteed-to-be-massive global audience.
I haven't forgotten to tell you what the film is about, although does it matter? As in "Batman v Superman," questions of collateral damage (as Avengers "routinely ignore sovereign borders") plague our heroes, prompting U.S. Secretary of State Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt) to announce that the U.N. has drafted a superhero-control act dubbed the Sokovia Accords, set to be ratified by 117 countries. Ross would like the Avengers to sign it, thank you very much. And there's the sticking point of this "Civil War": Steve "Captain America" Rogers (Chris Evans) doesn't trust nations to set agendas when the stakes remain so high, while Tony "Iron Man" Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) feels it's time to earn back some trust.
Heroes old and new line up with Team Cap or Team Iron Man. It's just the discord the mysterious baddie Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) wants: "to see an empire fall." And it's just what a modern movie audience craves: prime action-adventure fare.
Markus and McFeely serve the extraordinary number of characters with their impressive construct, and this Captain America movie builds to the Tom Joad-esque promise "If you need me, I'll be there" while pausing to allow Iron Man to groom Spidey and put him to the test. It matters not to my not-so-inner child that "Civil War" has new players but few genuinely new themes or tricks. Says he: yes, please.
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of violence, action and mayhem. Two hours, 27 minutes.