I must admit, I had some reservations concerning Captain America: Civil War. When the film and its cast were announced, at first glance the amount of characters crammed into the movie seemed absurd. Practically anyone who's anyone in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, save for Thor and the Hulk, seemed to be in the movie, not to mention the introduction of new characters such as Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) into the MCU before their own stand-alone movies. How would Marvel be able to integrate all these characters into a coherent story without the film feeling scatterbrained and overcrowded? And then came the trailers which, while good, didn't get me as excited as I expected them to. My main takeaway was that the film looked surprisingly grey and dull. But I remained positive because not only had Marvel not failed me yet, but the Russo brothers (who directed Captain America: Civil War) had also helmed Captain America: The Winter Soldier - one of the single best MCU films alongside Guardians of the Galaxy and the first Iron Man movie. Despite my reservations, Marvel and the Russos had earned my trust, and I held onto the belief that they would only serve to make my expectations more realistic as I went in to see a film that would no doubt still be great. And I'm glad to say I was absolutely correct, because Captain America: Civil War is great.

In Civil War, the Avengers are forced to confront the potential disastrous consequences of their actions when a mistake during one of their missions ends in civilian casualties. With disasters such as the one in Sokovia in Avengers: Age of Ultron and the one in New York in The Avengers still fresh in mind, the governments of the world can no longer tolerate the Avengers operating without oversight and therefore write up an agreement to have them operate under the orders of the United Nations. This splits the Avengers into two camps - those for the signing of the agreement, such as Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), and those against it, such as Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans). Then when Steve's old friend Bucky (Sebastian Stan), who has been brainwashed by HYDRA, suddenly reappears as the main suspect of a bombing, Steve is faced with the reality that if he goes after Bucky to try and bring him in alive to potentially save him, he will be doing so unlawfully against the will of both the authorities and the former allies such as Stark that now side with them.

While most of the films that make up Marvel's cinematic universe are well executed popcorn movies that do their best to entertain their audience as opposed to make them think, Captain America: The Winter Soldier actually dealt with themes that were surprisingly mature and relevant to the political climate of today, especially in the US, making the film not only the smartest film to come out of the MCU at the time, but also one of the best in the MCU in general. Now the Russos have taken this to a whole new level with Captain America: Civil War, which is by far the smartest, darkest, and most mature entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date.

One of the film's greatest strengths is the fact that in its main conflict, it's not a case of right and wrong. Both sides and especially their leading figures Captain America and Iron Man have rational ideological reasons to feel the way they do, and neither side is wrong in their opinion. Both of them bring up valid points and concerns, and both of them are in their own way right. Both Steve Rogers and Tony Stark are also undoubtedly human in that they are both also driven by ulterior motives in the form of personal feelings.

Granted the film does actually have a genuine villain in the form of Zemo (Daniel Brühl), but frankly he is only one component of the overall whole that makes up the plot of Civil War as opposed to a main antagonist. Zemo isn't essential or necessary to the film - he is basically only included as a plot device to further certain elements of the film. But while his character in terms of personality is completely replaceable, the fact that his presence and his actions affect the plot in very significant ways means he is by no means useless. Even if you wrote him out of the movie, you'd still have to write someone else in his place. Frankly I find Crossbones (Frank Grillo) being underused a far greater shame than Zemo not being a significantly interesting villain, although this is coming from someone who's only familiar to these characters through these movies and has never actually read the comics they originally appeared in.

Nevertheless, Zemo does impact the plot of the film, and it is in this way that Captain America: Civil War is so meticulously crafted. Instead of the film having multiple subplots to fit all of its characters and cutting between random scenes that go nowhere, the film integrates all of its characters into its main plot which means that the film feels large and epic without ever losing its focus. Every character and every scene is important and brings something to the table. Every time that a scene ends and you think that, while it was entertaining it didn't necessarily have to be there for other than pacing purposes or to get in some funny one-liners, twenty minutes later what happened in the scene suddenly has a profound effect on the story. The web the Russos weave is so intricate that you could swear Christopher Nolan was involved in the making of the film somehow.

Speaking of Christopher Nolan, there are moments in Civil War where I couldn't help but compare it to The Dark Knight. The Dark Knight handles its action scenes brilliantly in that they move the plot forward. Each action scene serves a purpose as what happens in them affects the characters and the direction of the plot. There are genuine stakes, and therefore the action is far more intense than if the film just paused its plot to showcase some random explosion. No matter how big the action is, it's always more interesting and memorable if you actually care about why the action is happening.

In this way, the action in Captain America: Civil War is very similar. Each major action set piece has a purpose in terms of the plot, and each of them have more to do with moving the plot forward than showing off impressive special effects and cool action. While the action in The Dark Knight served a purpose in terms of the plot, that didn't mean the action wasn't still spectacular. The opening bank heist, The Joker firing a rocket launcher from a moving truck, and Batman flipping an entire eighteen-wheeler, would be breathtaking and memorable moments in their own right no matter what movie they were in. In Civil War, most of the action in the first two acts isn't really anything out of the ordinary. It's well shot and choreographed, and it's exciting because the plot is interesting and you care about the characters, but the action itself isn't as good on a surface level as, say, Spider-Man and Doc Ock duking it out on a moving train in Spider-Man 2, or the chase at the beginning of Casino Royale.

For the same reason the action in the first two acts of Civil War isn't special though is exactly the reason why the action during the last third is in turn absolutely spectacular. The film's biggest action set piece, which features all the superheroes facing off against each other at an airport, is one of the single most entertaining and fun moments I've seen in a comic book movie in a long time. Not only are there once again stakes in terms of the plot, but all the different characters get to showcase their own unique personalities and powers which makes the action interesting. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) shoots his arrows, Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) shrinks and grows at will, and Spider-Man swings around cracking jokes.

Ah yes, Spider-Man. While no component in Civil War is bad and its greatest overall strengths come down to all of the films different components working together to form a coherent and powerful whole, the single best individual thing in Civil War has to be Spider-Man. Not only does he look great and take part in some amazing action, but Tom Holland performs him and delivers his down-right hilarious dialogue to a T. Even from his fairly brief appearance in Civil War, frankly I can already tell that Tom Holland is the best live action Spider-Man and Peter Parker we've had to date. I'm still not fond of Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) being so young in this version though - Rosemary Harris is still the greatest in terms of that role.

When you watch a superhero movie, typically you know who the heroes and villains are, but in Civil War, you don't know who to root for because the lines are blurred. Either side losing means potential harm coming to characters you care about. For these reasons, the climax of the film is one of the most emotionally gripping and intense moments in all of the MCU movies to date.

As for comparing the movie to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, to know where Civil War succeeds, you don't need to know where Batman v Superman fails, and vice versa. The accomplishments of both films can be appreciated and their flaws acknowledged without making the comparison. Although granted, making the comparison is really damn easy, and really damn tempting. Overall, Captain America: Civil War is easily one of the best MCU films yet, if not the best.