Captain America: Civil War – Review (****)

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In a time where superhero fatigue is very real and the stakes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe couldn’t feel anymore artificial, along comes a film that injects fresh life into the formula with a decidedly more mature approach to comic book mayhem.

Following the events of Age of Ultron, the Avengers are called to task for the lack of oversight regarding their attempts to protect Earth from exterior threats, resulting in a schism, where Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) leads a team of heroes intent on falling in line with the government, while Captain America (Chris Evans) and his side argue against such controls. Meanwhile, a shadowy villain with his own personal motives, Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl), plots to destroy the team once and for all.

In stark contrast to the recent, divisive Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Civil War has a much firmer handle on its consideration of collateral damage, presenting two well-argued viewpoints with pitch-perfect character logic. While Zack Snyder’s superhero grudge match had us frequently scratching our heads at the motivations, here the balance is key, aided by arguably Downey’s best performance as Tony Stark, with the ever-reliable Evans not far behind.

After all the hand-wringing, though, it ultimately comes down to a tag team superbrawl at an airport, and it’s utterly magnificent; this is by far the most confident, assured and straight-up bonkers action the MCU has ever seen, as well as the superhero genre as a whole. The roster of heroes get paired off in highly entertaining mini-battles where each gets at least a few moments to shine, with Ant-Man and the new Spider-Man (played with snappy aplomb by Tom Holland, no less) quite decisively stealing the show. That’s not to discount the presence of new hero Black Panther, whose dogged determination and imposing physicality is done impeccable justice by up-and-comer Chadwick Boseman.

That the film manages to boast such superfluous action and wring surprising emotion out of the splintered superhero supergroup is a testament to the Russo brothers’ steady pen; toning down the perfunctory quip-heavy banter that made Age of Ultron feel a little rote, there’s a little more deference to seriousness this time, even if the pic is still undeniably¬†hilarious on occasion.

There are a few weakspots holding it back from quite matching the original Avengers, though; while the airport battle and the climactic showdown are superbly-directed, the earlier fight scenes in the movie’s first half aren’t quite so lucky. Busy editing, shaky camerawork and an irritating Saving Private Ryan-style shutter speed make it difficult for the human eye to keep up with what’s going on, essentially making these potentially electric exchanges pale in comparison to the admittedly gripping dialogues in-between.

Fans may also be divided on Bruhl’s Zemo, for while Bruhl does an unmistakably sound job in the role, his motives are ultimately a little bland, even if they’re still leaps and bound ahead of another generic alien or unstoppable overlord wanting to destroy Earth.

While not perfect (as no film is), Civil War is the easily silver medal winner of the MCU to date, a crowd-pleasing, action-packed romp that’s sure to whet appetites for the upcoming two-part Infinity War saga. Good luck, Russos, because topping this won’t be easy.

****

Captain America: Civil War is in UK cinemas now, and US cinemas May 6th.

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