imopfyts2xcogqtzfeef***1/2 (out of five)

I don’t read superhero comics but I did as a kid, and this latest Marvel Studios offering comes closest to the feeling I remember emanating from those books: fun, colorful, loud, off-beat, and full of quips. Those books had the benefit of brevity, however; this thing is long. Two and a half hours long, which is half an hour too long.

It was always fun to watch the heroes turn on each other; we all played the “In a fight between X and Y, who would win?” game in our heads anyway, and the “Versus” editions played this fantasy out for us. Often, the reasons the heroes got to fighting were highly contrived, but who cared? You got to see brain versus brawn, talent versus “power”, laser versus bullet and so forth.

Civil War, which is an “Avengers” movie without Thor and The Hulk, plays out this fantasy once again and – except for that egregious length – gets everything right. The reason the Avengers split down the middle (and, yes, come to extremely satisfying blows) is actually a good one that makes sense: the world’s nations think they need to stop destroying things and killing bystanders and come under the control of the United Nations, and some but not all of the Avengers agree. Voila: splitsville followed by biffo, all with an extremely agreeable light touch.

Chris Evans as Captain America, Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark / Iron Man, and Sebastian Stan as The Winter Soldier get the lion’s share of the dialogue and character moments, but everyone gets to fight, and no-one does it better than Scarlett Johansson (and assumedly, her fight doubles) as Black Widow. She’s my favorite of all of them, and Johansson – along with Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch – kind of makes her believable. Maybe it’s only men in tights that seem silly to me.

One fundamental mistake: every time newbie Black Panther’s claws scrape metal, it’s like someone is dragging their fingernails down a chalkboard in Dolby HD. There’s no way I’ll be seeing his stand-alone movie.

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