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To keep this review “spoiler-free” requires that I leave certain details out. That being said, if I mention a plot point, please know that it does not spoil the movie in any way. After all, we already know whose side the different members are on from the previews. We also know that the fall-out between Steve/Cap and Tony/Iron Man is due to Captain America’s sense of duty to Bucky/Winter Soldier. This latter detail is only one of the several differences between ‘Civil War‘ the movie and the comic book arc that bears the same name. Obviously in the comics there are many more than just 8 years of carefully planned history from which they had to work and there were also many more players in the game for the comic book run. We’ve not yet seen a cinematic version of The New Warriors who are the main cause of the ‘Civil War’ comic story, nor do we have the vast array of villains that make their appearance there as well. And obviously we don’t have the Fantastic Four, Punisher or Daredevil showing up in the movie to play the roles they did in the comics. But we DO have Spider-Man!! While he was not as central to the film as he was to the comics, he still plays a significant role and it was an absolute joy to see him interacting with these other cinematic characters that we’ve come to know and love over the past 8 years. (Thank you, Sony!)

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The heart of the film revolves around the need for The Avengers to be brought into line after the Sokovia incident from ‘Avengers 2’. With the world still reeling from what happened there followed by the death of several Wakandans during the apprehension of Crossbones by Cap, Falcon, Black Widow and Scarlet Witch at the film’s beginning, 117 countries have signed The Sokovia Accords and, at the behest of the U.N. and backed by now Secretary of State Ross (formerly General “Thunderbolt” Ross from ‘The Incredible Hulk‘), Tony Stark agrees to talk The Avengers into signing it as a means of reassuring the world that the team will not act unless sanctioned to do so by The U.N. After a vigorous debate, all but Captain America and Scarlet Witch agree to sign. Cap for fear that The U.N. won’t let them act when they need to and would force them to act when they shouldn’t (“The safest hands are still our own.” Steve tells Tony.) while Wanda holds off signing because she fears being persecuted or locked away.

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At the U.N. ratification summit, King T’Chaka of Wakanda is assassinated in an explosion implemented by Zemo (played by Daniel Bruhl) but made to look like the work of The Winter Soldier, thus sparking a worldwide manhunt for Cap’s former friend. As a result of his father T’Chaka’s death, T’Challa becomes King and vows to kill Winter Soldier to avenge his father. (Side note: Chadwick Boseman is the perfect incarnation of Marvel’s Black Panther and I can’t wait to see him in his solo film due out in 2018!) Captain America, with the help of Sharon Carter and Falcon, manages to apprehend Bucky / Winter Soldier before he is killed. Once captured, however, he is released by Zemo and sent on a rampage that sees him clash with Black Widow, Black Panther and Tony Stark before being stopped and captured, once again, by Captain America. This time, Cap and Falcon hole up somewhere with Bucky in an attempt to find out what happened. That’s when Bucky reveals that Zemo used trigger words to awaken his Hydra programming to kill. The three heroes plan to stop Zemo from awakening 6 other dormant Winter Soldiers but they realize they will need help getting past Tony & the remaining Avengers. Aaaaaaand cue the epic battle!

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THIS is what movie goers are plunking down their money to see: #TeamCap VS #TeamIronMan and the film MORE than delivers. We see the comic book moments that all fans were hoping to see (I.E. Ant-Man riding one of Hawkeye’s arrows, Spider-Man bantering and cracking jokes while taking on both Falcon and Winter Soldier, as well as Ant-Man becoming Giant-Man!) The battle had the right blend of action, humor and heartbreak that we’ve come to expect from Marvel Studios over the past several years. The addition of Paul Rudd‘s Ant-Man as well as Tom Holland‘s Spider-Man makes the whole battle that much more of a feast for the senses. The Russo Bros adeptly handle the huge ensemble cast making sure everyone shines in equal part. There are even a few scenes in the film that provide some wonderful moments between Vision & Scarlet Witch that remind us of what an amazing talent Paul Bettany is while also potentially setting up future story arcs for these two characters who end up romantically involved in the comics.

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Now I will say that while I am thrilled with the movie, there was one crucial element that bothered me about it. Sadly, I can’t share that without providing a potential spoiler for the film. Other than that, I’d say the movie fired on all cylinders, was well-paced and felt very full without ever dragging. Looking back, ‘Avengers 2‘ almost feels like its purpose was to set the stage for this film, which I found more enjoyable than the aforementioned  ‘Age Of Ultron’. Ultimately, ‘Civil War’ is the perfect way to close the book on Marvel’s Phase 2 while breathlessly setting up Phase 3. To that point, there are 2 stingers at the end of the film so make sure to stay all the way through the very end of the credits. Both of these teasers give us a small glimpse into what we’ll be seeing once Phase 3 hits its full stride which promises to be, perhaps, Marvel’s strongest group of movies yet! Be sure to get to the theater for this one as soon as possible AND it’s worth springing for the 3-D ticket. I would easily rank this a “Must-See” movie for every comic book fan out there! Excelsior!!

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