Film Review: Captain America: Civil War
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Marvel Studios' long-awaited hero vs hero showdown may just be another chapter in their endless cinematic story, but it's also arguably one of their most polished and entertaining efforts to date.
It's the moment comic fans have all been simultaneously holding their breaths for, ever since Iron Man and Captain America first shared the screen together all those years ago: the moment that the two Marvel heavyweights finally go head to head.
And thankfully, Kevin Feige and his most trusted directing pair, the Russo brothers, have well and truly knocked it out of the park.
Picking up directly from the near-apocalyptic finale of the latest Avengers adventure Age of Ultron, Civil War finds the new (and supposedly "improved") hero roster in way over their heads, as a lapse in judgement results in mass civilian loss of life, and the world's governments finally decide to hold the Avengers themselves responsible.
Faced with the decision to either begin answering to an elected council or to retire, the group is torn in half, pitting Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and a great deal of their other super-powered best friends (both old and new) against each other in a battle against time to stop another apparent megalomaniac from doing more diabolical things.
If that all sounded like a bit of a mouthful, rest assured, it only gets more complicated from there. In fact, despite its solo Captain America tag, this might well prove to be one of Marvel's biggest undertakings to date. With the exception of an apparently AWOL Thor and Hulk, almost everyone who's ever donned a cape and cowl for the studio shows up here at some point, including a couple of crowd-pleasing newbies to boot.
This obviously means that fans of the franchise will no doubt be beside themselves with joy, whilst current non-believers are still unlikely to find any new ground to appreciate. But let's be honest, what else were you expecting?
Since their first mega hit with Avengers Assemble, Marvel have really found their groove, hitting their audience with a hard-earned consistency that no other studio has really been able to manage. By now, we all know exactly what to expect from a Marvel film like this that rests on their core character base; Civil War doesn't really go for any game changing tones or twists, but it does totally nail the already entertaining existing formula, delivering easily one of the most confident blockbusters of the year.
Despite being newbies with their last Captain America effort The Winter Soldier, the Russo brothers prove that they've really come along way here, not only reeling off a seemingly endless stream of beautifully orchestrated action sequences, but also juggling a large number of characters and personalities with not just total ease, but a genuine spark of wit too.
Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely don't quite reach the Whedon level of sparky dialogue, but they do flesh out a whole number of dangling relationships in an incredibly satisfying and always entertaining way.
If you didn't quite buy Cap and Bucky's bromance the first time round, or you really weren't sure about why Anthony Mackie's slightly-useless Falcon was still allowed to hang around with the big boys, rest assured, you will now.
This even extends to a whole heap of mega important new characters too. Chadwick Boseman's Batman-style African avenger Black Panther takes his first bow here before his big solo debut in 2018, and comes off almost equally as interesting as his veteran counterparts. He may be a little too intense and humourless at times, but these are surely just teething problems, and Boseman proves himself an incredible presence, both in and out of the suit.
Even smaller heroes like last year's surprise hit Ant-Man get their own little time to shine, whilst the undisputed scene-stealer of them all is thankfully Tom Holland's new-look Spider-Man.
A product of some serious studio negotiation, Holland's Spidey is the third iteration of the character in the last 15 years, but still manages to find a refreshing angle to the Marvel legend.
Not only is he a significantly younger take on the wall-crawler, but he's also the first to really be seen hanging out with other comic favourites, making his short but sensationally sweet time on screen easily the most entertaining.
The only problem with this then is that, although these sprightly newbies definitely light up the screen when they show up, they leave something of a large, fun-shaped hole behind when they eventually leave.
A huge, elongated and multi-hero battle sequence towards the end of the second act is easily Civil War's (and possibly even Marvel's) strongest set-piece, delivering big action that's not only fantastically arranged but also sensationally funny. But from there on out a lot of those crowd-pleasing supporting characters melt away, making the remaining leads feel a shade too bland.
It's not a major problem, nor is it one that Cap devotees will likely find issue with, but in igniting their biggest spark a little too prematurely, the Russos do sacrifice a little bit of the spectacle from their expected gut-punch of a finale.
There's a few nitpick problems here and there: an underlying big-bad who's a little too plain-Jane, an inciting event that rushes by probably a little too quickly, but on the whole, Civil War proves one of the funnest, funniest and easily one of the most entertaining superhero blockbusters yet.
Not only does it label the Russos as welcome successors to the Avengers gaunt, but it also quashes any and all fears that Marvel's character roster is growing a little too wide.
In fact, after Civil War, you'll wish it was somehow even bigger.
Captain America: Civil War is out in the UK on 29th April through Walt Disney Pictures.
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