Note: This review is as spoiler-free as it can be, however if you're particularly sensitive to story points you should proceed with caution.
Perhaps the biggest compliment that can be paid to Captain America: Civil War is that in spite of the sheer amount of stuff that happens in this movie, it still manages to remain a tight well-paced story that ultimately focuses around Captain America himself.
It feels like so many films in recent memory have failed to get this balance right. Batman v Superman is a film that tried and failed to cram too much into its limited run time, and so too did The Amazing Spiderman 2. Both tried to link into a wider universe at the expense of the actual plot.
In the months leading up to the release of Civil War it felt at times as though Marvel's summer blockbuster would be destined for the same fate. Over the course of a single movie we were promised introductions for two entirely new superheroes, the integration of Paul Rudd's Ant-Man after his solo debut, all whilst ultimately acting as the third movie in the Captain America trilogy.
That's not to mention a certain brash Tony Stark added into the mix.
Yet despite all it tries to achieve, Civil War only once felt like it strayed from its own plot to integrate a new character, and on this occasion the whole encounter was so well constructed that we're willing to give the movie a pass on this occasion.
A balanced central conflict
The movie opens in typical Marvel style with an in-progress Avengers mission. Typically while they get the job done eventually, it's not without a few buildings getting 'sploded along the way. This prompts an international call for the Avengers initiative to be regulated by a UN Task Force, a move supported by Tony Stark (Iron Man) and opposed by Steve Rogers (Captain America).
How this central conflict is handled is a big part of why Civil War works so well. Whereas in Batman v Superman the audience was never really going to get behind Batman's motivations, in this movie there are genuine arguments to be made on both sides.
This means that after the opening action set-piece the movie slows right down for what is essentially a round-table discussion between the various Avengers. It's not the most riveting scene in the movie, but it's probably the most important.
By the time we finally reach the film's largest fight between the two sides of the Avengers, all of he action actually means something rather than just being a mess of special effects.
More than just spectacle
The action is everything you could want out of a summer blockbuster. The airport fight between the whole Avengers team is remarkably well done considering how many characters are involved.
Ultimately this is achieved through breaking the fight down into a series of one-on-one and one-on-two encounters, which end up feeling like a game of rock, paper, scissors between the characters. Every hero has their strengths and weaknesses, and no one Avenger is strong against all the others.
The camera follows the action with a steadiness that really shows off the excellent fight choreography on display. While this movie makes liberal use of CGI, it's done with a restraint that lets the talent of the stunt performers and actors shine through.
If you're anything like me your allegiance will switch multiple times throughout the course of the movie. There's no obvious 'bad guy' in the Avengers team, you'll empathize equally with Iron Man and the Captain.
It's hard to say how much of Marvel's cinematic universe you should have watched in order to appreciate the revelations doled out by Civil War. At the very least you should have watched both Captain America films along with Age of Ultron, and perhaps also the first Avengers movie for good measure.
As the Marvel cinematic universe continues onward that barrier to entry is going to get higher and higher. If you've already watched the films, then diving into Civil War is a no-brainer, but if Marvel hasn't won you over thus far, this movie might not be the one to jump in with.
The big news going in was that Civil War would see Spiderman make his debut into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it was everything we could have hoped for. The movie does have to take a bit of a sharp turn to introduce its young Peter Parker, but the scene is one of the movie's funniest, and sets a tone for the character that we really hope continues into his solo outing.
Black Panther meanwhile gets slightly more screen time, but a higher proportion of that is spent inside his costume. As a superhero he's almost entirely focused on close combat, and his fights almost feel like something out of Netflix's Daredevil. Much like Spiderman we can't wait to see the character get further fleshed out in his own movie.
If there's a weak link in the cast then it's probably Vision, who first entered the series as something of a deus ex machina in Age of Ultron. He's overpowered as a hero, there's no two ways about it, and the movie has to work hard to make sure the other Avengers have a chance of taking him down. There are definitely moments where the movie slips up in this regard.
The final fight, while fun, feels more like an excuse for another set-piece rather than something the plot necessarily needed. We were ready for the film to end probably around fifteen minutes before it actually did so, and then there's a pretty essential post-credits sequence to wait for as well.
If you're already invested enough in the Marvel universe that you've watched all of the movies leading up to this, then getting the closure that Civil War offers is a no-brainer.
Meanwhile, if you've watched a couple of the Marvel movies and found them to be hit and miss, then Civil War still has a lot to offer. You'll have to read a plot synopsis of a couple of the more critical movies, but rest assured that Civil War exemplifies the best of what the Marvel franchise has to offer.
Verdict: Watch it
- Check out our review of this summer's 'other' superhero blockbuster here