Is the lat­est Avengers-type movie the best one of the lot?

SFX - - Contents - Richard Edwards

re­leased OUT NOW! 12a | 147 min­utes Di­rec­tors Joe russo, an­thony russo Cast Chris evans, robert downey Jr, scar­lett Jo­hans­son, se­bas­tian stan, an­thony Mackie, el­iz­a­beth Olsen

“It’ll never work,” the world scoffed. Cram­ming Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor and Cap­tain Amer­ica into one huge con­ti­nu­ity be­fore even­tu­ally unit­ing them as the Avengers was as mad as say­ing Le­ices­ter City could win the Premier League – an am­bi­tious folly that would most likely be aban­doned al­most as soon as it had be­gun. How wrong we were.

Now, af­ter eight years, 13 movies, a cou­ple of TV spin-offs and two com­pleted “Phases”, the Marvel Cinematic Uni­verse has reached its zenith. Cap­tain Amer­ica: Civil War is up there with the best su­per­hero movies ever made, a clash of the ti­tans that man­ages to be fun, funny, poignant, ac­tion-packed, joy­ous, sur­pris­ing, edge-of-the-seat ex­cit­ing, clever, in­ti­mate and an in­stant clas­sic. In other words, it’s ev­ery­thing Bat­man V Su­per­man: Dawn Of Jus­tice isn’t.

Th­ese days “shared uni­verse” is Hol­ly­wood’s favourite buzz phrase when it comes to build­ing a fran­chise. But ev­ery­one else is play­ing catch-up with Marvel, which has writ­ten the blue­print for sprawl­ing, com­plex, in­ter­lock­ing con­ti­nu­ities. Civil War works be­cause it’s the cul­mi­na­tion of nearly a decade of metic­u­lous plan­ning and char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment, play­ing out like a sea­son fi­nale in the bril­liant, en­gag­ing se­rial that is the MCU.

Where other movies might need to waste an en­tire act es­tab­lish­ing what makes its he­roes and vil­lains tick, this is packed with ready­made char­ac­ters, each of whom land with fully-formed back­sto­ries and plau­si­ble mo­ti­va­tions. And that doesn’t just ap­ply to nom­i­nal leads Cap­tain Amer­ica and Iron Man – even the sup­port­ing play­ers are peo­ple we know and care about. If they’re in peril, we feel it.

While it’s hard to think of any other movies that give as many char­ac­ters so much to do as Civil War, how­ever, it’s un­mis­tak­ably a Cap film. He’s the fo­cus of the movie, its beat­ing heart, its hero – and its vil­lain. That’s im­por­tant. If there’s a crit­i­cism you can throw at the MCU it’s that – Loki aside – its bad guys are nowhere near as mem­o­rable as its good guys. Civil War in­ge­niously side­steps that in­con­ve­nient truth, loosely riff­ing on Mark Mil­lar and Steve McNiven’s comic sto­ry­line to make Cap and Iron Man the nom­i­nal vil­lains, op­po­site sides in a clash of ide­olo­gies – Tony Stark wants the Avengers to come un­der gov­ern­ment con­trol, Steve Rogers does not. Civil War is so­phis­ti­cated

Up there with the best su­per­hero movies ever made

enough to deal in sub­tle shades of grey, al­low­ing you to sym­pa­thise with both sides. It’s cer­tainly a lot more than just an ex­cuse to get two he­roes beat­ing the crap out of each other – when they do, it’s en­tirely jus­ti­fied in the con­text of the story, the ac­tion play­ing sec­ond fid­dle to the emo­tional beats.

That’s not to say that re­turn­ing di­rec­tors the Russo brothers are any slouches in the set­piece de­part­ment. From the rough-and-ready, Bourne-ish open­ing salvo in La­gos to the end­lessly in­ven­tive air­port-based clash of all the superheroes (prob­a­bly one of the best ac­tion se­quences ever made),

Civil War rel­ishes ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to show you things you haven’t seen be­fore. Best of all, it does so with a sense of hu­mour.

Spe­cial men­tion should also go to the two new­com­ers on the ros­ter. Chad­wick Bose­man’s Black Pan­ther is an in­trigu­ingly enig­matic pres­ence both in and out of cos­tume, while Tom Hol­land’s Spi­der-Man is a rev­e­la­tion, less man­nered than Tobey Maguire, less wannabe-cool than An­drew Garfield – his Peter Parker is an or­di­nary, geeky teen who can’t hide his in­ner fan­boy. Both of their up­com­ing solo out­ings now look in­cred­i­bly promis­ing. Not least be­cause Civil War is brave enough to shift the tra­jec­tory of the MCU in the way The Win­ter Sol­dier did with its Hy­dra rev­e­la­tions – no dan­ger of any­body rest­ing on their lau­rels here. This is the sort of golden streak of qual­ity and box of­fice suc­cess that Pixar went on in the ’00s. Maybe DC should ask Marvel to take over stew­ard­ship of the Jus­tice League as well…

Day 2,705 on the Cross­rail project and the work­ers were get­ting tense.

Top Trumps: the movie.

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