Image via Marvel Studios

When most franchises reach their thirteenth feature (actually, I’m not even sure how many get that far in the first place) they usually would have run out of steam long ago. They’ve gone big and bigger and biggest and are now throwing in silly gimmicks like robot dinosaurs to keep things interesting. Not so with Marvel Studios and its Cinematic Universe. ‘Captain America: Civil War’ is the biggest they’ve ever gone and it may also be the deepest. And it works so well only because it uses its franchise-nature to its strength. The film sees our loveable protagonist Steve Rogers, a.k.a Captain America himself, at an ideological crossroads with his old friend and fellow Avenger Tony Stark, a.k.a Iron Man, when the government tries to regulate the Avengers. By far the most remarkable thing about ‘Civil War’ is that every single character has a reason to choose the side that they’re on. Their decisions feel authentic and in character and have real weight to them, not to mention that almost all have complex sub-arcs that they go through which tie into the larger story and Steve’s battle.

The acting and direction in the MCU has never been this good. Robert Downey Jr. has always nailed the character of Tony Stark since ‘Iron Man’ but here we see him as far more developed and torn than he’s ever been, thanks to the writers drawing from the events of his solo films and the two ‘Avengers’ films to see how they might affect his character. Downey sells it perfectly. Chris Evans deserves equal praise for managing to make this still seem like a ‘Captain America’ film and never letting any of the other heroes detract from the weight of his own inner battle. Like with Stark, we see a new side to Rogers, a vulnerable one that can’t fully process the weight of some of these decisions that are no longer black-and-white. His chemistry with Sebastian Stan as Bucky is particularly noteworthy and a lot of fun. Elizabeth Olsen shines as Scarlet Witch, developing her into a far more interesting character than she was in ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’. Other returning characters all get there moment, with Ant-Man of particular scene-stealing note despite the relatively few scenes that he gets. We care so much about these characters by now only because we’ve become invested in them over the past 11 movies (excluding ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’). ‘Civil War’ plays to the MCU’s strengths. It is unique in the blockbuster landscape and directors Anthony and Joe Russo know how to utilise this uniqueness for fantastic effect.

It’s not just the old players that work though. The two newcomers may just steal the whole show. Tom Holland as Peter Parker/ Spiderman is the most comic-faithful and fun take on the character we’ve had yet and he feels like a natural addition to this universe. Black Panther, however, takes the cake. He is worked incredibly organically into ‘Civil War’. Somehow the Russos were able to weave his origin story into the conflict and make him the most interesting character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with only one movie. And Chadwick Boseman manages to sell T’Challa’s complex moral code, beliefs and backstory with no more than a few well-placed lines of dialogue and facial expressions. It really is a miracle that every single one of ‘Civil War’s characters works and no one feels unnecessary or underused.

Character is not the film’s only strength however. As with the Russos’ previous entry ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’, the action in ‘Civil War’ is some of the best that’s ever been put to screen. One scene in particular featuring all the main characters on both sides of the conflict coming to blows in an airport is simply mind-blowing, no doubt partly thanks to the IMAX cameras that shot it. And the story too is full of surprises and constantly engaging, with praise going to one of the MCU’s more understated villains, Zemo, as played by Daniel Bruhl.

There are only a couple of issues with the film that mainly are cinematographic in nature – the camera gets too shaky in some parts – but don’t really detract from the experience itself. The themes explored here are complex and the characters equally so, and the film we are delivered is ultimately a tonne of fun and one of the best in Marvel’s entire canon.