Something remarkable takes place in Captain America: Civil War. Or rather, it doesn't. For this is a superhero movie in which not a single building falls. Not one. No skyscrapers tumble, no factories collapse, not even a tiny workman's shed lists slightly to one side and crushes some petunias. In a cinematic world now so inured to (and bored by) the sight of 9/11-esque dust clouds chasing hapless citizens through crumbling streets, Civil War doesn't just eschew this trend, it centres its entire story on the consequences of those kind of destructive nightmares.
That's not to say there isn't any action. Quite the opposite. Civil War features some of the most exhilarating chase sequences and fight scenes in recent memory, choreographed with a balletic-like precision in which the emphasis is on small, considered flourishes rather than sheer brute force. Every punch, block, shot, weave and parry has been painstakingly conceived to reflect the personalities of each character involved. We see Cap (Chris Evans) bouncing his shield off walls like Ronnie O'Sullivan on a 147 break; Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) dispatching villains with scientific swagger; and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) trapping explosions instead of creating them. It's exactly the opposite of the kind of 'mindless violence' of which superhero flicks are so often accused, and it's as refreshing as it is electrifying.
The other key feature of Captain America: Civil War is its story, in part because it actually has one. There's no fighting for fighting's sake here. Indeed most of the action is driven by a determination to stop the violence. As with its previous instalment The Winter Soldier, this is a film about oversight and accountability – acknowledging the terrifying (and unchecked) power of the Avengers, then seeking to control, regulate and restrict it by way of a UN accord. The world knows it owes an unpayable debt to these heroes, but collateral damage and civilian casualties can only be excused for so long.Here lies the conflict at the heart of the so-called civil war. Self-determination versus oversight. Freedom versus control. Team Cap versus Team Iron Man. It's a compelling and plausible fissure along which the line in the sand is drawn. And as with any great story, neither side is entirely in the right.
Marvel, to its credit, knows its tone better than perhaps any other franchise, and here again we find its signature combination of edge-of-the-seat action and laugh out loud comedy. The performances teem with an emotional complexity rarely found in blockbusters, and the new character additions – whether they be previous Marvel Universe ring-ins like Spidey (Tom Holland) and Ant Man (Paul Rudd), or totally fresh inclusions like the outstanding Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) – ensure that no single actor commands too much screen time. Plot driven, fast-paced and terrifically funny, Captain America: Civil War is an outstanding film and the most fun you'll likely have in the cinema this year.