Marvel have repeatedly stated that 2019`s The Avengers: Infinity War will be the culmination of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe up until that point; a no holds barred, all-in, game-changing superhero slobber-knocker that simply dwarfs everything that preceded it. Nobody mentioned that Captain America: Civil War would be reaching for, and handily attaining that very same goal though.

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Picking up narrative threads and thematic beats from Captain America: Winter Soldier, Iron Man 3, The Avengers: Age of Ultron and Mark Millar’s comic book story of the same name, Civil War co-directors Joe and Anthony Russo have simply put together an incredible feat of superhero cinema that now stands at the very top of the Marvel food chain.

In the destructive wake of the events in Age of Ultron, and spurned on by yet another incident involving Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and the dastardly Crossbones (Frank Grillo), the world has had enough of superhero “rescues” leaving behind cataclysmic collateral damage. A proposal is tabled: the Avengers will operate only under the purview and oversight of a UN committee, and not just dish out justice across international borders at their whim as they currently do.

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Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), haunted by his past and supposed failings as a hero, is all for these Sokovian Accords, as the proposal is called. But where Tony sees a necessary guiding hand, Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) sees a yoke. One that has to be shirked by any means necessary when Steve’s best friend turned amnesiac super-assassin Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) is implicated in a devastating attack that forces the UN’s hand. Steve won’t just abandon his friend though, placing himself and his supporters on opposing sides of the argument – and the business end of some weapons – to Tony and his group, and so setting the scene for a whopper of a running battle that plays out both ideologically and oh so physically.

Any one of the film’s five or six major action sequences could arguably be pegged as the very best the Marvel Cinematic Universe – and actually superhero movies in general – has ever had to offer, as its 147-minute running time is chock full of the type of comic book splash page spectacle that will leave fans bifurcating their faces with gleeful grins. Once again the Russos, just like they did on Winter Soldier, shoot all that explosive action with a brutally cool, CG-light, bone-crunching realism, but this time around everything plays out on an even bigger canvas leaving you even more slackjawed in awe.

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But it’s not just maximized scale that blows you away, as underpinning/bolstering that action is some meaty character drama, sold by an ensemble cast firing on all cylinders. There’s now a bit of grey mixed into that red, white and blue as heroes are faced with impossible moral dilemmas that see friends forced to come to blows.

Accordingly, there’s a real ideological heft to the decisions made by these characters. That both sides are essentially correct is the tragedy that makes each hero-on-hero punch that much more painful to witness.

And cutting – sometimes literally – right through all of that is newcomer T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), whom as both King of the African nation of Wakanda as well as its protector Black Panther, has his very own agenda. Fans have been waiting for the cinematic debut of Black Panther for years, and he does not disappoint in the slightest here, often stealing scenes from some perennial favourites like Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie). Boseman plays Black Panther with both a regal restraint and daunting physicality that leaves me feeling nothing but giddy excitement for his upcoming solo movie.

He is of course not the only new face introduced in Civil War, as Tom Holland also swings into the MCU as the brand new Spider-Man. I’ll leave the details of this delightful meeting for you to discover for yourself, but will just say that Holland unequivocally nails it. He simply and effortlessly just is both Peter Parker and Spider-Man, leaving you gawking at his action as much as you’re guffawing at his motor-mouth. And yes, that costume actually looks super cool in action.

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Meanwhile Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Vision (Paul Bettany), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) and more all get given their own time to shine in Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s script. Even with a fair bit of juggling, the screenwriting duo never make any character feel superfluous or story beat feel ungainly. Together with the Russo’s masterful direction, this film just sizzles and zings with nary a bit of bloat to be seen despite the fact that there’s actually a lot going on.

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There are joyous peaks and dramatic troughs, laugh-out-loud gags and emotional gut-punches, intellectual food for thought and unadulterated base pleasures. And underneath all that eye-popping visuals and unbelievably bad-ass action it also examines themes of steadfast friendship, tested loyalty, blinding revenge and heroic sacrifice. And somehow it all works magnificently. Well, mostly.

It appears that not even a film as spectacularly put together as Captain America: Civil War can avoid the curse of the shoestring Marvel villain. Daniel Bruhl may elicit zero complaints performance-wise, but his villainous Helmut Zemo is disappointingly more narrative agent than three-dimensional character. There are also details of his plan that either do not make sense or present Hulk-sized plot holes once you really engage your grey matter to puzzle them out.

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But these are still minor infractions, especially when viewing Captain America: Civil War as a whole. As a comic book character, Captain America himself has always been the heroic zenith, the perfectly engineered example to which all his peers strive towards. On the movie side, that ideal now holds true for Captain America: Civil War as well, as it is an astoundingly fantastic piece of pop culture filmmaking. In a word: Marvel-ous.

Last Updated: April 27, 2016

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Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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