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Taking sides in Captain America: Civil War'

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Latest Marvel offering an ideal, exquisite comic book movie

Over the past few years, Marvel has laid a sort of claim on the beginning of blockbuster season. It seems as though the cinematic summertime only really begins when Marvel's big offering hits the screen.

2016 is no different; this time around, 'Captain America: Civil War' serves as the opening salvo. Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo from a screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley, 'Civil War' marks the de facto kickoff of Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is 146 minutes of superheroic excellence, managing to somehow raise the bar yet again with regards to what these movies can be.

Captain America (Chris Evans, 'Avengers: Age of Ultron') is still the leader of the Avengers. The iteration of the group that undertakes this latest mission consists of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, 'The Jungle Book); Falcon (Anthony Mackie, 'Triple 9'); and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olson, 'I Saw the Light'). Meanwhile, guys like War Machine (Don Cheadle, 'Miles Ahead'), Vision (Paul Bettany, 'Avengers: Age of Ultron') and a retired-from-active-duty Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., 'Avengers: Age of Ultron') are also around.

A tragic incident during this mission results in considerable collateral damage and numerous casualties. As a result, the governments of the world undertake a plan to put the Avengers under stricter supervision, spearheaded by Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt, 'Race'). Stark approves of this plan due largely to unresolved guilt and signs on, as do numerous members of the group. However, Captain America and a few others have some serious misgivings and refuse to sign.

These misgivings grow when a terrorist incident at the U.N. signing of the aforementioned plan appears to be the work of Cap's old friend the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan, 'The Martian'). Said incident results in the death of the king of the African nation of Wakanda, whose son T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman, 'Gods of Egypt') dons the mantle of the Black Panther to exact vengeance on his father's killer.

Captain America and the Falcon go rogue, hoping to track down the Winter Soldier and find out what really happened. Unfortunately, the sinister machinations of a man known only as Zemo (Daniel Bruhl, 'Burnt') make these big issues even bigger. Before long, Captain America is a criminal in the eyes of the government to which he has devoted his life.

Stark re-dons the Iron Man suit and enlists the aid of his fellow signatories (Black Widow, War Machine, Vision) to bring Captain America to justice along with Black Panther and your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man (Tom Holland, 'In the Heart of the Sea'). Cap has Falcon and Winter Soldier on his side, as well as Scarlet Witch, the newly-unretired Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner, 'Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation') and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd, 'Ant-Man').

Hero is pitted against hero, with each participant believing him- or herself to be on the right side. Unfortunately, even in the world of superheroes, sometimes things aren't necessarily black and white. Friend battles friend and ultimately, everybody loses except the audience.

'Captain America: Civil War' definitely warrants a spot in the top tier of MCU movies thus far. Not only does it manage to bring together a massive cast without giving any characters short shrift or ever feeling uncomfortably crowded, but it also manages to strike a balance between humor and hubris that illustrates perfectly everything that Marvel has done right and DC has done wrong. It is thoughtful and emotionally engaged, treating its world seriously without ever taking itself TOO seriously.

The action sequences are exceptional; in fact, the massive battle set piece in the middle of the film might be the best in any Marvel movie thus far. They get a touch choppy at times likely due to increased frame rate but are otherwise exquisite. And the Russo brothers show the same comic book understanding that Joss Whedon brought to the table, offsetting the action and the plot's heavier moments with some genuinely funny bits. That combination is what makes Marvel movies sing.

Evans and Downey are the obvious stars; the relationship between Captain America and Iron Man is the foundation of the film. Their comfort level both with the characters and with each other is undeniable, resulting in a wildly watchable chemistry. While these films would likely have been good with different leads, it's difficult to think that they would have been as good.

Johansson is excellent, as is Stan as the amnesiac Winter Soldier. Bettany has some great moments as Vision; the dynamic between him and Olson offers hints that their relationship might stick close to comics canon. Renner is solid in limited action, while Cheadle and especially Mackie pick up their respective games. Bruhl gives a great bad-guy performance while simultaneously promising more to come.

Boseman as T'Challa is a surprisingly imposing presence whose turn here amps up the anticipation for the Black Panther solo effort. Rudd's Ant-Man is an absolute breath of fresh air, bringing an aw-shucks charm and enthusiasm that is just delightful. And it might be early, but Holland has a chance to be the best cinematic Spider-Man to date, capturing the goofball teenage wit of the character in a spectacular fashion.

'Captain America: Civil War' does everything we could reasonably ask it to do. It manages to bring together a massive cast and give every one of them time to shine. The action sequences are some of the best we've seen, and while the narrative gets a bit dour from time to time, it is all in service to the plot. All this, plus it finds room for character development and ample moments of real and unforced humor. This film is superhero cinema at its finest.

[5 out of 5]

Last modified on Wednesday, 18 May 2016 16:06

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