(Joe & Anthony Russo, 2016)
Considering all of the moving parts, characters in motion, plotlines and subplots, action sequences, back story, expository conversations, locations and ideas in Captain America: Civil War, the movie is a relative model of economy and forward momentum.
In some ways it is an incredibly dense mess: much of it would make no sense to anyone who doesn't already know the Marvel Universe or these characters, and its structure is broken backed; four huge action scenes break up the 140 minute run-time, but the movie seriously drops down to first gear in that first hour as pieces are moved around the board, agendas established, themes nursed to life.
Once it gets going its popcorn pleasures are manifold, and the details are purest geek pleasure.
It has twin plots which entwine from early on. In the first, following the opening battle between the Avengers and mercenaries led by CrossBones (Frank Grillo) leads to civilian casualties, the Governments of the world conspire to introduce the Sokovia Accords, registering and controlling enhanced activity. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr, who seems more this character than himself at this point), shocked by the results of his actions and possibly grieving the end of his relationship with an unseen Pepper Potts, supports the deal and tries to sell it to the Avengers, who are split. Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), bruised by following orders that he disagreed with in his last film and his experiences with powerful men in WW2, refuses.
At the same time, Zemo (Daniel Brühl, sinister in a way I never suspected he was capable of) is busy incriminating Cap's old friend Bucky/the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) for the attack on a Viennese conference established to ratify the accords.
That attack effects the life of King of reclusive African country Wakanda, T'Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman, excellent), and suddenly it is a race to find the Winter Soldier. That in turn leads to a battle between the forces amassed behind Stark and Rogers, which include the likes of Avengers members Vision (Paul Bettany, doing well with his few big moments), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), but also newcomers Ant Man (Paul Rudd, stealing every scene he's in) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland). Meanwhile Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) do their best in different ways to stop Rogers from getting himself killed.
Miraculously, the movie gives each of these characters at least one big moment without ever losing focus on the friendship between Rogers and Bucky or the conflict between Rogers and Stark. The big airport super-hero free-for-all involves more or less every character and uses them beautifully. In fact, one of the real pleasures of this movie is its action sequences. Using John Wick directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch as a second unit team here really pays off in some incredibly brutal, imaginative action scenes. The airport fight allows everybody to use their specific powers to best effect, but there are smaller moments that have just as much impact - Rogers and Bucky fighting a German SWAT team in a stairwell and trying not to kill any of them is notable, as are any of the fights involving Black Panther.
This is also the first film to get Spider-Man perfectly right: introduced as a a geeky teenager in a small Queens apartment, Holland captures the character's motormouthed humour but also his moral certainty, and his scene with Stark in his bedroom is a definite highlight. He also shines in the action scene, both for his ceaseless chatter and for the way the movie captures his superhuman athleticism and amateur technique.
But that scene comes with the final act just beginning, and it ultimately reduces the action to just Stark, Rogers and Bucky, in an intense climactic battle. And it works because these are characters the audience has come to know and care about, and the Russos have shaped this narrative enough that their conflict is made personal and painful.
And underlying all this is a level of geek-pleasing detail which is frankly awesome. From Wakanda's Vibranium (which is what Black Panther's suit is made from) to William Hurt returning as General Thunderbolt Ross, to the references to Hulk and Thor and Loki, to the spark between Vision and Scarlet Witch, Ant Man's (and Spider-Mans) starstruck response to Captain America, the moments involving Peggy Carter and her niece Sharon (Emily Van Camp), which culminate in a kiss with Rogers and a brilliant bros-giving-respect look from Falcon and Bucky, whose own relationship is similarly deftly observed, to Spider-Man irritating everybody he fights through his constant talking, and Martin Freeman as a smarmy Everett K Ross, together with the Howard Stark references and the Vision's theory that the heroes power has invited challenge, the texture of ideas and details here is so thick and rich that it becomes its own sort of text.
Captain America: Civil War is all the best of Marvels films, and some of the worst too. Which means its a superior piece of blockbusterdom, and then some.