I can't break down this film's plot to the uninitiated without feeling like an idiot. It's just too convoluted. Thankfully, Marvel presumes – arrogantly but correctly – that the uninitiated won't be seeing Captain America: Civil War. You pretty much have to be all caught up with Captain America: The Winter Soldier as well as Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man to get what's going on. I'll assume you are, so I'll jump right in.
First off, I'm pleased with Marvel – and with the Russo brothers, returning from their stellar Winter Soldier outing – for adeptly taking us beyond the hoary origin story format of most superhero movies, and exploring what it means to be an "enhanced individual" in this day and age. Civil War's drama ignites when the Secretary of Defense (William Hurt) informs the Avengers that they can no longer just go into whatever country they please and cause billions of dollars of damage, and untold civilian casualties, while battling bad guys – not without government oversight. Half the Avengers are cool with this; half are not. Fisticuffs ultimately ensue, as promised by the trailers, but at the core is a relevant moral debate about the complications of policing the world.
That said, while I was compelled by the proceedings as they unfolded, the plot began to fall apart as I thought about it afterward. For starters, the film's rather ho-hum villain (Daniel Brühl) goes to ridiculous lengths to achieve his long-shot goals. It's one of those situations where every single detail has to fall into place in order for a bad guy's plan to work, and of course that's what happens. I hate it when scripts do this, and find myself wishing that the screenwriters – in this case, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely – could messy it up a little. It's always more interesting when the bad guy has to think on his feet. Instead, it comes down to the old Big Reveal in the third act... and in this case, the reveal isn't very big, the results not very plausible.
Kudos, though, to the Russos for managing to pack the film with superheroes without it feeling overstuffed. Even the Ant-Man, Black Panther, and Spider-Man cameos are nicely fleshed out – and origin stories for Black Panther and this version of Spidey are, thankfully, truncated.
If there's one thing I miss, however, it's the surprise that came with The Winter Soldier. Coming off of the gee-whiz 1940s antics of Captain America: The First Avenger and the popcorn-friendly Avengers, The Winter Soldier's sudden plunge into paranoia, complete with a plot twist that upended decades of Marvel canon, caught everyone off-guard – and it was fantastic. This time, though, we'd already been bracing ourselves for darkness. Civil War could have taken us even further into the unknown. Instead, it stays the course. Still, it's far more satisfying than Age of Ultron.