CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR | ★★★★

We are now thirteen films into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, yet it kind of feels like we are thirteen seasons into an unstoppable TV series. The expansive nature of this blockbuster series may indeed have some viewers feeling that it might have made more sense as a soap opera of sorts. "Captain America: Civil War" cements the soapy structure of the franchise, throwing some of the brightest stars in Hollywood into what is the biggest superhero extravaganza to date. The film has about five servings too many on its plate, but luckily, directors Anthony and Joe Russo (who have an extensive background in television) make this two-and-a-half-hour meal easy to gobble up. Every character gets their day in the sun, every subplot blends together into a seamless whole, and, as you would expect from a Marvel movie, everything is pretty awesome.

Following the events of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and "Avengers: Age of Ultron," Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) leads a new lineup of Avengers. Their victory against a new threat ultimately causes numerous civilian casualties, forcing the United Nations to pass the Sokovia Accords, which will give the government full control of the Avengers' mission parameters. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) endorses this new oversight, while Rogers decides not to sign the Accords, thus dividing the team. Meanwhile, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Rogers' friend and former Hydra assassin, is brought out of hiding, prompting Rogers to track him down, which subsequently sparks a war between the two factions of Avengers.

The hard-edged thrills of "The Winter Soldier" (also helmed by the Russo brothers) carry over into "Civil War," as our heroes open a can of whoop-ass on both their faceless foes and each other while the Russos crank up the frame rate. Bodies slam into walls, ceilings, floors and tables in nearly every direction. Some of these sequences are haphazardly shot and edited, confusing geography as most action films tend to do, but they are balanced out by the film's more emotionally resonant fight sequences, including the fabulously crafted face-off between Team Cap and Team Iron Man, where much of the humor is expertly worked into.

Like the series' best entries, "Civil War" favors drama over spectacle. Though it is relatively easy to get lost in the latter from time to time, the Russo brothers never lose sight of what's really at stake here. As Strother Martin said in "Cool Hand Luke," what we've got here is failure to communicate; some men you just can't reach. There are plenty more thought-provoking themes brimming within the film. Many of them have already been addressed in other successful superhero flicks, such as "Spider-Man 2" and "The Dark Knight," but "Civil War" presents them in a wholly new light, allowing the Russos a few opportunities for innovation, taking the franchise into captivating directions.

If there's one reason why people keep coming back to these movies, it has to be because they are so perfectly cast. The strained relationships between Rogers, Stark and the other Avengers grant the ensemble the chance to showcase sides to their characters that the series has not quite explored in full. Evans and Downey are the best they've ever been as Cap and Iron Man, respectively, plus there is some great work from Scarlett Johansson, Elizabeth Olsen, Chadwick Boseman (who makes a superb debut as Black Panther), and Daniel Brühl as the film's primary antagonist, Helmut Zemo. All the players are terrific, but none of them spark such contagious affection for their characters as brilliantly as Tom Holland, the new and improved Spider-Man.

As the longest entry in the franchise, "Civil War" takes its sweet time to give us everything it's got, but thanks to some steady pacing, not one moment feels underwhelming in the slightest. It is also the only film in the series that actually improves as it goes along, building immense anticipation for the titanic clash while pulling the curtain back on a few shocking revelations that pave the way for a breathtaking climax. At this point, it goes without saying that "Captain America: Civil War" officially reclaims Marvel's crown as the King of Summer Entertainment, delivering sensational popcorn fun and more than enough narrative heft to compel viewers of all ages.

(8/10)