Captain America: Civil War
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Starring: Chris Evans Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Daniel Brühl Four stars
If there's a better blockbuster than Anthony and Joe Russo's Captain America: Civil War this summer, then its going to be a sizzling season in cinemas. This Marvel outing, reuniting most of the Avengers superheroes for a fantastic showdown, is everything an event movie should be: epic, electric and full of unbridled joy. The 13th film in the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe, it benefits from arriving after its predecessors, with characters and relationships firmly established.
At the core of this is the enmity between Steve Rogers/ Captain “Cap” America (Chris Evans) and Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr). Simmering away in previous films, it now comes to the fore as a new treaty designed to regulate the super-heroic activities of the Avengers splits the group.
"Sometimes I want to punch you in your perfect teeth," Stark tells Rogers, underlining his feelings in no uncertain terms. The trouble is, the internal squabbles among the Avengers usually mean major-league carnage – something Civil War exuberantly delivers. The action sequences are marvellous, as Captain America teams up with Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie), while Iron Man's fellow treaty-signers include Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Don Cheadle) and the android Vision (Paul Bettany).
Based on the 2006-2007 comic series by Mark Millar, the story really turns on Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Cap's childhood friend-turned-assassin in 2014's Captain America: The Winter Soldier. When he's indicted for a terrorist attack in Vienna, Cap jumps to his rescue, turning himself into a wanted man and increasing the divisions among the Avengers.
It's a cast-iron set-up and while the greedy among you may lament the lack of Thor or Hulk here, you'll barely notice. This feels like the film that last year's disappointing Avengers: Age of Ultron should have been, aided by the ambitious introduction of two other heroes – both of whom will be enjoying their own stand-alone movies in the next couple of years.
Chadwick Boseman, excellent as James Brown in Get On Up, is compelling as Black Panther. But it is the inclusion of British actor Tom Holland, in his first outing as Spider-Man, that really spins the film in another direction. While we'll see him fully in next year's Spider-Man: Homecoming, this is a triumphant introduction for Marvel's web-slinging wall-crawler.
The film never forgets to filter the action with humour, puncturing the pomposity that can occasionally inflict superhero movies. Like the moment when Cap, Falcon and Bucky are ensconced in a getaway vehicle – a tiny VW Beetle. And yet the script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely layers the story with an emotional third-act twist that really lends the action some gravitas.
If there's a criticism, it's that Daniel Brühl's Zemo, a shadowy figure in the film whose motives only become clear late on, doesn't quite get the screen time an actor of his calibre deserves. Purists may also be peeved that he's nothing like the purple-faced, mask-wearing villain of the comics. But this aside, Civil War is a mammoth film, masterfully engineered.