At a certain moment during Marvel’s newest blockbuster, Captain America: Civil War, a character makes note of the fact that it has been eight years since Tony Stark revealed himself as Iron Man in the final scene in Jon Favreau’s original Iron Man film and first installment in what has become Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. Over the course of those eight years, movie after movie have come out adding characters to this ever-expanding world, filling it with depth and meaning. Viewing each film made the next one that much better, as they are all connected to a certain degree, rewarding loyal viewers with inside-jokes and cameos galore. Those eight years worth of story are the pillar upon which Civil War has taken shape, and I can honestly say that there is no world in which this film could be as good as it is without all that came before it.

After an incident involving the Avengers causes mass casualties, the UN wants to take control of the superhero organisation in order to avoid further collateral damage. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), still haunted by the carnage caused by his creation Ultron, is in support of this proposition. Against it is Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), who’s loyalty to best friend and wanted criminal Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) makes him distrustful of the government. As the two former allies assemble teams of heroes to support them, a darker scheme begins to take shape, one that could end The Avengers permanently.

First off, the film’s name is a pretty big mislead, because although it does focus heavily on Captain America, this is an Avengers movie more than it is a full-on Captain America movie, but considering Cap was never my favorite Marvel character I can’t exactly say that is a bad thing. I’m starting to get a little tired of this whole “superheroes need to take responsibility for the mayhem they cause” story angle that seems to be so popular these days, but Civil War managed to keep my interest, even with its numerous scenes that make up the bulk of the film’s first half in which the characters argue this very issue. Both Cap and Stark make valid arguments as to why they believe to be in the right, and as a viewer you will be conflicted as to which side you agree with most. As I said this is still Cap’s movie in name, and his friendship with Bucky functions as the core relationship. I do, however, have a problem with the character of Bucky Barnes. I didn’t feel as though the film did a good enough job of reminding us why Bucky is so important to Steve, and Sebastian Stan’s permanent sombre performance didn’t exactly make me feel much sympathy for him. He’s a plot device more than he is a fully formed character. I was much more interested by the dynamic between Steve and Tony, as the former has almost as much screen time as the latter. Both men have often been at odds over the course of the last two Avengers movies, and it’s here where we see all those disagreements reach their boiling points. Civil War was also the most I have liked Tony Stark since his appearance in the first Iron Man.

The thing that impressed me most about Civil War was how it managed to include so many characters, and give each of them a moment to shine. I mean, this thing is jam-packed with Marvel characters including Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheedle), Vision (Paul Bettany), Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and more. Joe and Anthony Russo, who have directed the previous Captain America film, Winter Soldier, have an excellent eye for action scenes, and as good as Joss Whedon was at filming large scale superhero action scenes in The Avengers films, The Russo Brothers have him beat. The “Airport Battle” sequence which is getting a lot of praise by fans and critics is simply fantastic, and every bit the kind of all-out superhero fight we imagined as kids. Each character’s unique skill set is showcased with style, and while there’s never a single second in which you think any of their lives are in actual danger, the battle still has significant consequences for the characters, both physically and mentally. The Russo brothers also improved upon problems I had with Age of Ultron, the most significant one being the jarring mix of humor and seriousness. Here, characters don’t crack jokes at inappropriate moments, ensuring that dramatic scenes stay tense and impactful. When the humor does make an appearance, it feels right and appropriate to the situation.

The middle of the film essentially consists of scene after scene of characters stealing the show from Cap and Iron Man. The first newcomer to hit the scene is Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) who brings some much-needed cultural diversity to the MCU. Though we don’t get much of his back-story, Civil War makes sure to get you excited for his upcoming solo film hitting theaters next year. He’s a badass fighter when he’s in costume and a regal politician as his human alter ego T’Challa, Prince of the fictional African country of Wakanda.

Confession time: I really loved Andrew Garfield’s portrayal of Spider Man in the Amazing Spider Man movies, and while they have been mostly received with negativity, I think they’re really enjoyable, despite having flaws. That’s why I came into Civil War with major reservations about Tom Holland’s re-re introduction of the character. While there isn’t too much of him, what is shown did alleviate many of my fears, as Holland captures the nerdy and blabber mouthed attributes that are most essential to the character. He steals the movie the second the word “Queens” is shown on-screen, referencing the character’s hometown, and the audience audibly cheered when he first sprang into battle. But even Spider Man’s presence was outshined by the appearance of another Marvel character, who was easily my favorite part of the film: Ant-Man. Those who have read my review for the film know that I was a big fan of the solo Ant-Man film, and Paul Rudd brings every bit of the charm and likeability that made him so endearing as Scott Lang into Civil War. Literally every word that comes out of his mouth will either make you smile or laugh out loud, and a very cool surprise involving him in the aforementioned airport battle caused the loudest cheer from the audience.

There’s a lot I wish I could say, but can’t without spoiling the film, but suffice it to say I still feel as though Marvel is suffering from their villain problem, but that’s not something all that noticeable here seeing as how the major conflict is between the heroes themselves and not the primary antagonist, a mysterious man called Zemo (Daniel Bruhl). There’s a surprising twist to his character towards the end of the film that adds a layer of complexity to him, but for the most part he functions as a stoned faced shadowy manipulator. One other minor criticism I have includes Marvel’s continued failure to produce a musical score with any identity. I’m certainly not trying to take anything away from composer Henry Jackman who does fine work; I just wish we could get a more distinct set of sounds for the Marvel universe similar to what Hans Zimmer has done with the DC films.

Marvel has spent the last eight years building their franchises up to the point where they could make this very film, and that hard work has paid off in spades. Civil War carries the weight of all the previous movies, and uses our emotional attachment to the characters in order to create a very engaging story full of conflicting viewpoints and moralities. The film deftly balances an enormous cast while ensuring every character got a moment to shine, all while introducing us to Black Panther and Spider Man. Marvel knows exactly what they are doing, they know exactly what makes their characters and stories so special and can pick writers and directors who share their vision. Though their track record is not perfect (Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World are thoroughly mediocre at best) they keep improving upon their few mistakes, sharpening the superhero film to its fullest potential.

And, as always with Marvel movies, be sure to stay during the credits for extra scenes!