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A house divided against itself cannot stand. But in the case of “Captain America: Civil War,” a divided house brings out the best in this supersized superhero franchise.

“Captain America: Civil War” is an ambitious undertaking, a massive venture that could have easily felt bloated and overblown, much like March’s corrosive, joyless “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Instead, “Civil War” is lithe and lean, no small feat considering it features a dozen superheroes vying for screen time and runs a wink shy of the two-and-a-half hour mark.

Credit directors Joe and Anthony Russo, the sitcom veterans who also helmed 2014’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (and who are also on board for the next two “Avengers” films). They strike the right balance of serious and silly, knowing when to go action-heavy and when to lighten the mood (the script, by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, is always ready with a quick quip). Most importantly they keep everything constantly moving and never forget to have fun. This is, after all, a story about costumed superheroes, not life or death material.

“Civil War” draws a line in the sand for the Avengers, with Captain America (Chris Evans, handsomely anchoring his third Cap film) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr., wearing the role of the snarky Tony Stark like a well-tailored suit) heading up rival factions of the super squad.

At issue is the question of accountability, and the governing of the all-powerful “enhanced individuals,” as they’re known in the film. “Batman V Superman” raised similar questions about the policing of superheroes (although it also took on elements of religious allegory), but “Civil War” takes a much more practical approach, with Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) introducing legislation that will require the Avengers to answer to the collateral damage their missions produce. Turns out a lot of innocent people die when you level a city battling alien forces.

Put simply, Iron Man agrees with the proposal and Captain America does not. This causes a rift and forces the other members of their team – including Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, who still needs her own Black Widow movie), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Scarlet Witch (Lizzie Olsen) and newcomer Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) – to choose sides. And those sides clash in a mega battle on an airport tarmac that exemplifies the film’s mix fun and flash.

It’s no major plot secret that “Civil War” also introduces a new Spider-Man, and the film’s handling of him is a perfect example of its efficient style. Stark visits young Peter Parker (Tom Holland) in the Queens apartment of his aunt May (Marisa Tomei), and over the course of a few short minutes, Parker’s motivations and storyline are established. No need for an overdrawn origin story that clunkily rehashes the same old plot points; “Civil War” trusts the audience enough to know who Parker is, why he’s here and where he’s headed. From there, it’s up to Holland to let loose in the role, and his Spidey is a youthful B-12 shot to the aging Avengers team. (Bonus points for giving his mask the ability to digitally emote.)

After the big battle, “Civil War” goes further into the beef between Cap and Iron Man, and both Evans and Downey, Jr. turn in strong work in their respective roles. But “Civil War” never gets bogged down, it’s as skillfully plotted as the rollout of all the Marvel films and properties that led us to this point in the series.

“Civil War” isn’t so much a Captain America or an Iron Man film as it is a third “Avengers” movie (Hulk and Thor are name-checked but, alas, are nowhere to be seen), and it’s worthy of the first two movies in the series. It is a smart, fun, highly entertaining blockbuster. This house divided stands tall.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

agraham@detroitnews.com

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