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‘Captain America: Civil War’ Is Marvel’s Masterpiece (FILM REVIEW)

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There’s little else to say except that Marvel has done it again.

With Captain America: Civil War the Marvel team has proven why they are the reigning, undisputed heavyweight champions of the box office, delivering a movie that works on a mindboggling number of levels, appeasing the desires of every major demographic, and holding it all together with a narrative that both stands on its own and continues the through lines that have been established in their previous 12 movies. Put simply, it’s their masterwork, blowing out of the water not just their competition but the bar they’ve set for themselves.

For Marvel, it’s all about the buildup, their multiple storylines converging into a single crossover event that changes the game completely. Usually, within the confines of their cinematic universe, this results in an Avengers movie. What they’ve done here is a bait and switch—last year’s somewhat disappointing (but still kind of awesome) Age of Ultron was clearly not the event everyone thought it would be. No, it would seem that all of their movies in “phase 2” were merely a build up to this moment. Anyone who walked away from Ultron feeling somewhat let down should take heart. Captain America: Civil War is the Marvel event we’ve been waiting for.

Civil War serves as a direct sequel to both Age of Ultron and the previous solo Captain America movie, The Winter Soldier. As a result of the events of Ultron, the UN and world leaders want The Avengers to be accountable to a body of government, to have some oversight and some legitimate authority (which doesn’t seem like much to ask after a city was dropped from the fucking sky, but that’s just me). Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), still reeling with PTSD after the events of the first Avengers movie, agrees. Captain America (Chris Evans) does not. Meanwhile, Cap’s BFF Bucky “The Winter Soldier” Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is trying to keep his life together following becoming un-brainwashed in the events of The Winter Soldier, only to find himself hunted once more by world authorities after a bomb goes off at a meeting where the Avengers (well, some of them) are set to sign the accords ceding authority to the UN. The hunt for Bucky puts Cap in the crosshairs, leading to the Avengers team splitting apart and facing off against each other.

At its core, Civil War is just an absurd spy movie in the vein of old James Bond. Is there any real difference between the tools used by Captain America and the Avengers and the ones Q gave Bond, James Bond? Is a bulky rocket pack that much harder to accept than Falcon’s wings or Iron Man’s suit? Not really, no. The movie seems aware of this fact and uses its comic book tropes to weave a ripping good spy caper.

The movie also serves as an introduction of two new characters being added to the extensive roster of Marvel heroes. Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) make their first appearances in the MCU to great effect. This was a risky move on behalf of Marvel, but it works shockingly well. Boseman is flat out amazing as Black Panther and his appearance should fan the flames of excitement for his upcoming solo outing (currently set for release in 2018).

Spider-Man, meanwhile, is even trickier. This is the third incarnation of the fan favorite to be introduced in the last 15 years, and expectations are exceedingly high. Not high enough for this web-slinger, however. Holland captures perfectly the high school aged superhero, and his appearance will make a true believer out of even the most stalwart of naysayers. Even those upset by the casting of Marissa Tomei as the traditionally elderly Aunt May should be silenced. If Civil War is any indication, we’re headed towards what will most likely be the definitive Spider-Man movie when Spider-Man: Homecoming is released next year.

With everything going on in Civil War—with the accords, with Bucky, with the Avengers infighting, with the introduction of Black Panther and Spider-Man—by all rights something should have broken. But no. All the pieces of this machine move smoothly, effortlessly, with nary a wrench to clog them. Every moment of the film is an absolute, edge-of-your-seat delight. Everything is interesting. Everything just works. This is a credit to both the screenwriting team of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and the directorial team of brothers Joe and Anthony Russo. Everything is perfectly balanced from a screenwriting perspective, with a taut and at times emotional story being told in a clear way that’s never boring. And under the guidance of the Russo brothers, Marvel action has never looked better.

With Civil War, the Russo brothers prove that they’re more than capable of holding the reigns of the MCU as it moves through phase 3 into the next Avengers movies. Anyone wondering if the franchise would suffer after the loss of former ringmaster Joss Whedon should breathe a sigh of relief, as it’s grossly apparent how capable this team is at handling the monumental task now set before them.

While I don’t have a history of always enjoying populist movies, Civil War is everything that’s great about mindless summer action distilled to its core and reconstructed into something remarkable. It recalls an era when movies were fun first, but it does so with an unmistakable quality and artistry that’s impossible to dismiss. Not only is it the best Marvel movie to date, it’s one of the finest movies yet released this year. Superhero fatigue might be all the rage on news sites and social media, but this is one franchise that’s far from tired.

Captain America: Civil War is now playing in theaters everywhere.

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