This review contains some small spoilers but only for the first act. You can read this and still watch the film without knowing what happens in it.
Captain America: Civil War is out, and it's actually alright! It's not amazing, mind you: the Marvel Cinematic Universe is still creaking under its own weight, there is a lot of men making sad puppy faces at each other as I hypothesised, and Civil War doesn't do anything refreshing with the superhero movie format, but it's worth seeing in cinemas. Just not one of those fancy ones with reclining seats that you have to pay extra for.
The premise of the film is interesting, especially when compared to the recent efforts of the MCU. Turns out the Avengers have been accidentally dropping buildings on school children since 2012: looked at from a regular person's perspective they operate with as much oversight and almost as many civilian casualties as a superhero in a Zack Snyder film. After Wanda Maximoff (who is played by Elizabeth Olsen and spends the entire film conflicted about her powers, which are arguably the most badass on display) accidentally explodes aid workers from the secretive nation of Wakanda it all comes to a head, and the United Nations decides The Avengers need to be reined in.
Tony Stark aka Iron Man, aka everyone's most favourite superhero, is in favour of this, because a woman gave him a picture of her dead son. Captain America, aka Steve Rogers, aka everyone's least favourite superhero, is against it, because he knows that politicians have agendas (he's from the 40s, you know). This plot, drawn from the Civil War comics, is initially set up with more subtlety than in the source material. Cap makes the point that they could easily be sent somewhere they don't want to go, or prevented from going somewhere they should, but on the other hand this assumes that The Avengers can always tell what the right thing to do is. Captain America is the moral compass, at least in theory, and this is what made him a boring hero to start with. Always doing the right thing is his thing, whilst other heroes have alcoholism and so on. When writers push him into morally grey areas is when he gets interesting, and so he is now – at least for the duration of this film, where he has to make decisions more difficult than "Let's go punch some nazis!"
Sadly this doesn't last past the first act. Soon Bucky, Cap's childhood friend and sometime brainwashed Soviet popsicle/assassin, who's just trying to figure out what's been going on in his life (a process which at no point involves getting a haircut), is implicated in the bombing of the very UN panel set up to discuss The Avengers. It's decided that Bucky must be shot on sight, which Cap has understandably mixed feelings about. One suspects the takeaway is supposed to be that it's a film about grief, loss, responsibility, and so on and so forth, but it doesn't shine through.
From the very second of Bucky's appearance the film abandons any meaningful exploration of the moral relativism of heroics in favour of an emotional catfight, as Bucky, Iron Man, and, to a lesser extent, Falcon, all squabble over who Captain America's real best friend is. It has the most (apparently) unintentional tension since Maverick and Iceman played volley ball. You spend much of the film wishing the dudes who can't decide whether they want to fight or fuck would stop getting in the way of the more interesting supporting cast.
Civil War introduces Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa, a King who moonlights as the nation–protector Black Panther, and a man with more composure and maturity than anyone else in the film – this despite having lost his father days prior, in comparison to Iron Man's biting it 25 years ago (although it is arguably a key character trait that Tony Stark has the emotional maturity of a toddler with a drinking problem). We also meet the new Spider–Man, played by Tom Holland who, apart from dusting the character off excellently, is if nothing else the first Peter Parker who looks like a teenager rather than a man close to thirty (this trick is achieved through the Hollywood magic of casting an actual teenager rather than a man close to thirty). Even the bad guy, who functions as the personification of The Avengers' collateral damage and isn't even on screen very often, is more diverting to watch than the leads.
Along with palette cleansing appearances from Paul Rudd as Ant–Man and emotional scenes with Paul Bettany's android–learning–to–love Vision, it makes you long for the new Avengers. Avengers Vanilla have grown too familiar by half – but if they weren't Civil War would be even longer than it is already, to crowbar in exposition. At the same time this film'll make Jack–fuck–all sense to anyone who hasn't seen all the others. The MCU is becoming a TV series that plays out at 2 hours and hundreds of millions of dollars an episode.
Not that Civil War isn't cinematic, though. It's definitely an event. The fight scenes, where all the heroes you know and love are walloping seven kinds of shit out of each other, are appropriately epic. It's well made. It's… fine. It just could have been much more interesting than it is. Although you may be thrown off by the location names that take up the middle third of the shot: BERLIN; VIENNA. For two seconds every half hour you're suddenly watching a Wes Anderson film. Now that would be a Marvel movie worth seeing.