In the Marvel movie universe, we always find ourselves comparing any big movie to the first “Avengers.” It’s become second nature. With this new edition to the franchise, we have our first movie that truly stands toe-to-toe with the Avengers. Every movie that we’ve invested in over the last eight years, has led us to this one … sort of. And man, does it deliver. With “Infinity War” and its epic galactic battle still a year away, our heroes encounter a new enemy: themselves.

After the events of “The Avengers,” “The Winter Soldier,” and “Age of Ultron,” the countries of the world have decided that the Avengers need to be regulated. They create the Sokovia Accords (on the site where they dropped a city in “Age of Ultron”). This is where the conflict starts between Captain America and Iron Man. Tony Stark is on the side of having the team sign the treaty, citing his own path of demilitarization. Cap stands for keeping things the same, and let the Avengers’ own moral code speak for itself. The Avengers begin to fracture. Sides are chosen. Things are thrown into a bigger mess when Captain’s longtime brainwashed friend, Bucky (The Winter Soldier) Barnes, is accused of blowing up the treaty signing. Cap’s loyalty to Bucky trumps all, even if it’s at the detriment to those around him.

The big takeaway from this movie is that Spider-Man steals the show. It appears that Marvel has hit on a Spider-Man actor (Tom Holland) and character that is acceptable across the board. His interaction with the Avengers in this skirmish between the factions is his first real exposure to other superheroes. As a result, he is completely awestruck and spends most of the fight wanting autographs more than actually wanting to fight.

For a movie without both Hulk and Thor, you’d think that would cheapen the overall experience. Far from it. The airport scene is where the conflicted team launches the epic showdown. We see Ant Man become Gi-Ant-Man, more screen time with the other new character, Black Panther, and see War Machine get shot out of the sky. As Captain tries to clear Bucky’s name, the team gets arrested for acting against Iron Man’s crew.

As Tony Stark copes with the reality that he really will have to take down Captain America because of his loyalty to Bucky, he comes to discover that maybe, just maybe … Cap is right and Bucky is innocent. For a brief, shining moment, all is well … until our villain (who doesn’t really matter) pushes things over the edge. Iron Man turns on Captain America and insists that the only path to justice is putting Bucky down.

 

Aside from this excellent version of Spider-Man, it’s a series of great performance led by Chris Evans and Robert Downey, Jr. Since the events of “Iron Man 3,” RDJ has played a more toned-down Tony Stark. The laughs are still there but his heart is heavier than an arc reactor. He is chastised by a mom of a dead son who was murdered in the Sokovia disaster just moments after he shares a final exchange with his parents in front of a room full of fresh young MIT students.

It would be nice to have the old Tony Stark back, but as his character has developed over the last eight years, it’s a necessary evil. Chris Evans as Steve Rogers is still a big anchor for this movie franchise. He may want out of the stars and stripes, but he wears the shield well. Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther provides the background for where the vibranium in Cap’s shield originates. His character also has an ax to grind with Bucky and shows that he will be another character to be reckoned with down the line.

This movie is still just another piece to the “Infinity War” puzzle. It’s been a slow crawl to get to this point, but this is why Marvel did it this way: Tons of movies spread over many years for tons of character development and motivations (the exact opposite of what’s going on in the DC Universe). Hoping to bring some finality to these movies, let’s see what Thanos has to offer in a year! Bring your infinity gauntlet!