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The Avengers are back, but things aren’t going so well. While they’ve been protecting the world from the bad guys, there has been some collateral damage along the way. World leaders are becoming uneasy with the unchecked power the group exercises. These tensions are ratcheted up after a skirmish in Lagos, Nigeria, results in the deaths of people on a goodwill mission from another (fictional) African country. The United Nations wants the Avengers to sign an agreement that they will abide by the wishes of the nations and that acting on their own would be considered a criminal offense.

Predictably, since the movie has “Civil War” right there in the title, the Avengers are not all of one mind. Tech entrepreneur-turned-Iron Man Tony Stark sees the agreement as the only way through—a compromise that still allows them to do their work and may also avoid more of the damage they have unintentionally done. Steve Rogers (the good Captain) disagrees; he feels the only way they can really do their work effectively is if there are no restrictions on them. They can’t be puppets for any particular group’s agenda. Black Widow might represent the viewer—she knows Tony is probably right but can’t help sympathizing with Cap.

There are a lot of interesting things at work here. First off, this is a superhero movie franchise that has made a lot of money over the last few years by giving viewers massive exhibitions of strength through the spectacle of violent confrontation. Those superheroes are now contemplating the effects of that violence. Innocent people have died; the bad guys are getting worse and thinking up more devious and terrifying ways to do their bad things. There are consequences to using power.

Also, the disagreement among the Avengers mirrors the kinds of political issues flooding our talk shows and social media feeds. Should we be free to defend ourselves in the way we think best or does that lead to vigilantism? Captain America’s stance is a sympathetic one—the governments of the world would prefer to take out his childhood friend, Bucky, because they don’t understand that Bucky was being used by nefarious forces against his will. Cap knows better and can’t just let him be destroyed.

In some ways this movie reminded me too much of real life. As a former school board president, an elder at my church, a U.S. voter, and even a staffer at a denominational magazine, there’s plenty of opportunity to see division in the ranks. Discord is a little too familiar, although my personal experience of such discord involves much less in the way of martial arts, weaponry, and witty repartee!

There are so many people in this movie, it’s amazing that characters don’t get lost in the tangle. We don’t get bogged down with the backstory for each individual, but we are given enough to go on that less-informed Marvel moviegoers (include me in that camp) can still keep up.

Captain America: Civil War is a fast-paced, exciting movie with the sense of humor we’ve come to expect from Marvel movies. I appreciated that for once an African country (even if it was fictional) was treated with respect. The representatives of that nation were not treated as though they were powerless or backward, and their own superhero, Black Panther, is an appealing and intriguing character. Even the scenes set in Lagos at the beginning of the movie showed a modern city with people going about their business, not a caricature of a third-world country.

Of course, in spite of the earnest presentation of the issues—balance of power, personal freedom, the right to bear arms (or bare arms, in the case of Captain America)—the storyline comes down to more violence. This time it’s Avenger-on-Avenger violence, though most of the characters don’t really have the stomach for it. The mood is lightened by the addition of a few new members of the team who are still honing their skills. In the story’s final conflict, the fighting is more personal, motivated by individual history, and it ultimately feels the most real. It also proves the dangers of unchecked power, as the fight turns more to revenge than what is “right.”

This is fun summer movie fare with lots of interesting characters, a complicated plot, and, for better or for worse, lots of conflict. It will please their myriad fans—you know who you are—and possibly make a few new ones. (Disney)

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