It helps also that there is nuance and colour here. The characters are multi-layered, crammed full of old allegiances and grudges and irritations. They have personalities. Remember those?
The pleasure of the Avengers films was always in the dialogue – those movies tend to go to pot once the banging and the crashing begins – but in Captain America: Civil War there’s a sharper feel for the tempo and shading required in a film of such scale. The directors Joe and Anthony Russo don’t neglect detail, even when things get hectic.
Each battle looks different, down to the lighting and production design. The clear highlight is the central showdown between all the superheroes on an airstrip. This long fight sequence hits lots of contrasting notes, with comic relief provided by Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and a rejuvenating debut outing from the new Spider-Man, played by the 19-year-old British actor Tom Holland. He’s a nerdy chatterbox even in action (“I don’t know if you’ve been in a fight before, but there’s not usually this much talking,” Falcon chides him, mid-combat).
And he gets a choice speech about the superhero calling: “If you can do the things I do and you don’t, and then the bad things happen – then it’s because of you.” Not as snappy, perhaps, as “With great power comes great responsibility” but certainly less portentous.
Putting him slap-bang in the middle of this movie is yet another instance of the Marvel PR engine in overdrive: his appearance here is essentially an inbuilt trailer for the forthcoming Spider-Man reboot. But what can I say? I didn’t want to see the next Spider-Man and now I do. It worked.
There is still the sense, as there was with Batman v Superman, that all this fretting and fallout over the negative side of superheroes was dealt with perfectly adequately more than a decade ago in Pixar’s The Incredibles. That film showed how easily the public could turn against those who protected them: a man whose suicide attempt was foiled by a superhero, for example, then brought a lawsuit against the superhero for injuries incurred during that intervention.
That’s old ground. And there was never going to be a wealth of peril in a movie that is basically two franchises having a dust-up. Marvel wouldn’t dare slaughter any of its cash cows – not while they’re still calves.
But at least Captain America: Civil War shows that a blockbuster need not be flatfooted in its pursuit of serious subjects. It can still soar – and probe. Watching Iron Man and Captain America flail and kick and jab in the dirt, drawn into a cyclone of potentially infinite revenge, it becomes apparent that it’s not really about them at all. It’s about us.