Before you read any further, I should point out that I live in the UK and that Captain America: Civil War has been released here. Out of respect for fans worldwide - not least in the United States - this review will be fairly spoiler-light; where I discuss key twists, I'll be as unspecific as possible. You've been warned, though, that spoilers do follow!
Expectation is high for Captain America: Civil War. First, it's a sequel to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, generally viewed as Marvel's best film to date. Second, it's based on one of Marvel's most iconic comic book storylines of all time. And third, it's an epic that features lots of familiar faces - and introduces both Spider-Man and the Black Panther! But sometimes heightened expectation can be a problem. Does the film live up its hype?
In general, the answer is 'yes'. Captain America: Civil War is a strange blend of the darker tone we saw in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the humour and fun of Joss Whedon's The Avengers. On the one hand, you can have a scene where a guy is hung upside-down with his head in a sink as water pours in - a concept that, while handled without gore, is somehow more shocking than any of the Punisher's kills in Daredevil Season 2. On the other, you have an airport scene in which the heroes throw quips at one another as they duke it out. The film's tone is all over the map, and yet somehow it (just) works. That's pretty impressive.
The plot is fascinating, although it does have its problems. Unfortunately, one of them is the fundamental premise for the film. Back in 2013, when writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely were first commissioned for the script, they told Collider they were still figuring out how big a role the Winter Soldier would have in the movie; they felt it would be too easy for him to take over the film. Unfortunately, that happens; the registration plot is often relegated to a backdrop, meaning Captain America: Civil War makes surprisingly few nods to the comic series of the same name.
That issue aside, the overarching narrative is a strong one. Daniel Bruhl's Baron Zemo is responsible for a twisting plan that tears the Avengers apart; his motives are strong, and in actual fact he succeeds in his goal. Yes, you heard me right; Zemo's plan works. The final confrontation between Captain America and Iron Man is the culmination of everything he's worked towards, and you're left watching in shock. That said, for all Zemo is the antagonist, he actually doesn't feel like a super-villain at all. He feels like a real man, locked in a world of gods and monsters, and responding in a very human way.
Characterisation in the film is generally spot-on. Every character has their moment in the spotlight, and the vast majority have strong character arcs that work really well. I particularly enjoyed Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlet Witch, who I felt had to have a strong arc after Avengers: Age of Ultron. Paul Bettany's Vision is disconcerting, not least when his "distraction" means he takes a surprising kill-shot.
The new recruits absolutely shine. Tom Holland is a tremendously effective Spider-Man, and he simply feels right. The fact Tony Stark got a fifteen-year-old kid involved in a brawl with the world's most dangerous assassin is a new low point for the armoured Avenger, though. And then there's Chadwick Boseman's Black Panther. Suffice to say that it's clear Marvel cast this role perfectly, and this particular arc is among the best in the film.
All in all, Captain America: Civil War is a top-rate Marvel movie. I don't think it quite lives up to its hype, but in a way it was possible that it never could; it had too much to achieve in one film. But it definitely stands among the best films Marvel have made to date.