The Lego Batman Movie ****

For those worried the Batman might lose his clipped, gravel-toned, conceited edge after the success of The Lego Movie (2014), fear not: Will Arnett gives his little black-clad Lego character an even bigger presence once again in an equally funny but far darker film, The Lego Batman Movie.

Bruce Wayne – aka Batman – must deal not only with Gotham City’s criminals and arch enemy The Joker (voiced by Zach Galifianakis), but also a new police commissioner (Barbara Gordon, voiced by Rosario Dawson) with different ideas to his own crime-busting and an orphan child he ‘forgets’ he’s adopted (voiced by Michael Cera). Is Batman going soft in his old age, and will he and his long-suffering butler and ‘surrogate dad’ Alfred (voiced by Ralph Fiennes) finally get the family unit they crave?

While Batman revels in his notoriety on screen, DC and Marvel aficionados are thrilled by the blatant mockery of the Batman-related characters from over the years, accumulating in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight versions (for example, Bane). While the first half hour of the film is sheer glee for the adults, the kids are equally thrilled by the whirling colour, jarring movement and crackers pace as they see the Lego come alive. It’s a win-win for family entertainment this half term.

However, be warned: there are some very dark moments and characters in peril that might upset younger viewers. That said everything else is fairly tame, as expected with Lego, so there is no guts and gore, but little bricks flying all over the place. Kids will always love the explosions and mayhem, as adults marvel at the evolving creativity in front of them. A lot of the best lines are in the trailer, such as why does the flying Batmobile only have one seat? Answer: last time Batman checked he only had one butt. However, there are plenty more scattered around the film to enjoy, so you are either continually smirking or laughing throughout. That’s not to say there are not flatter moments where the same jokes are over-peddled, having seen their sell-by date, but the momentum is so erratic, you are propelled onto the next scenario to truly care.

Also, from a family perspective, there are morals aplenty to subconsciously be embedded in your little one’s psyche. This film is all about the importance not only of family and not being able to do it all on your own, but also (eventually) mutual respect – so important in today’s political environment. However, you don’t feel like you’re being bombarded with condescending messages like in some Disney flicks to the point of nausea. Little orphan Dick – who becomes ‘pantless’ Robin – is so adorably chirpy and excitable that you can’t help but be swept up in his gratitude as Batman gives him a chance in life. Of course, there are lots of delicious moments to savour as Batman tries to adapt to fatherhood while Alfred tries to control his ward’s inner child – cue wrong PC password moment that will have you rolling your eyes in recognition and in stitches.

The Lego Batman Movie is a Lego rollercoaster of a ride with highs and lows, and perhaps too many characters than it can handle on one screen and use to full comedic potential. Nevertheless, it is a marvel of an animation with a good pounding heart – plus you’ll all be quoting Batman in Arnett’s gruff tones for days to come.

4/5 stars

By @Filmgazer

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Doctor Strange ****

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Any Cumberb*tch could have told you their idol Benedict Cumberbatch was on a higher spiritual level a long time ago. Indeed, the actor is famous for playing cerebral, influential men, so it’s no stretch of the imagination to find him a Marvel hit in the role of Doctor Strange.

When brilliant neurosurgen Dr Stephen Strange awakes from a serious car accident without the full use of his hands, he tries to find every means possible to recover, even pushing away support from fellow doctor Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), an old flame. His inability to accept his current predicament leads him on a journey to Nepal to find ‘The Ancient one’ (Tilda Swinton) who has helped another man make a full recovery.

As a man of science Strange finds it hard to take her advice and is skepitcal about the ‘magic’ of the mystic arts she performs. Little does Strange know that this newfound power will not only save his life, but also the whole world’s from the dark forces set to crush and consume Earth, under the command of Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a former pupil of The Ancient One.

Co-writer/director Scott Derrickson and team have brought the intriguing Steve Ditko character to life, helped by some excellent casting in Cumberbatch who is as egotistical and narcissistic in the role as he is very funny. There is a superb script to enjoy and some genuinely hilarious retorts, as Strange tries to navigate this magical new world with sarcasm and scientific doubt.

Swinton adds the gravitas required for a key spiritual teacher and is faultless as she is vulnerable in the role – and equally amusing. However, it’s Strange’s quips at the expense of po-faced librarian Wong (Benedict Wong) that steal the main laughs – the running joke being that the ex-surgeon thinks he is a funny man when clearly he is an acquired taste.

McAdams also gets in on the laughs to relieve her character’s tense interactions with ‘spiritual’ Strange upon his return, and can be counted on for a solid performance in everything she does. There is also an assured turn by Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo, another pupil who rejects the use of the dark powers in healing others.

Hannibal actor Mikkelsen fails to disappoint yet again as the bad guy, with his steely gaze intact and laudable focus on the mission. The film’s fight scenes are also very well choreographed, with a good balance between action and character development throughout.

Derrickson’s mind/eye-bending set, like something from Christopher Nolan‘s Inception, keeps the fantasy morphing and fresh as we navigate it’s Esher-like space before entering another plane. The effects are highly impressive, as is the creativity poured into them – just witness skeptic Strange’s first experience through the astral plane, which is like riding a psychedelic rollercoaster.

Doctor Strange makes for a promising entry into the Marvel world for the uninitiated – and stay to the very end of the credits for both sneak peaks of what’s to come, involving other Marvel heroes. Some of the slower parts of the film go unnoticed because Cumberbatch always commands a presence and is immensely enthralling to watch.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Captain America: Civil War (3D) ****

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Government bureaucrats are meddling again – this time with the Avengers. Ironically, mirroring sentiments of the Brexit brigade, the new Captain America: Civil War (3D) film sees the super-powered brethren divided when asked to conform to a set of rules drawn up by several countries, after their antics get out of control. The film then asks its Avenger players – and you – to choose sides. Cue big clash scene then confrontation with the real villain. It sounds like a familiar format (trouble brews, send in the Avengers), but Civil War is bursting with action, drama and genuine character individuality.

When another incident involves Avengers collateral damage and lives are lost, the global nations put pressure on the group to sign a document of accountability, to be headed by a governing body. This divides opinion at Avengers HQ, resulting in two camps: Steve Rogers/Captain America (against) verses Tony Stark/Iron Man (for). The other Avengers must chose sides, while the real culprit behind the atrocities still roams free.

There is a lot more happening in Civil War than previous films like Age of Ultron (2015). Marvel’s notorious characters are each given breathing space to reveal more of their personalities in reaction to the big decision. Naturally, Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron man (Robert Downey Jr.) take centre-stage as team leaders. In return for exposing the characters we get greater satisfaction, plus a very real sense of what’s at stake when the two sides square up.

The fight scenes are some of the best cinematic Avengers ones so far, still incorporating flying bodies and colourful debris, but allowing momentary pauses for character commentary, while neatly setting the scene for the following Infinity War films (2018). There is a massive thrill seeing your favourite Avenger ‘play fighting’ with its peers in a playground-like brawl at an airport, and guessing whose power trumps another’s.

On a more serious note, the ultimate scuffle between Captain America/Steve Rogers and Iron Man/Tony Stark feels like watching sibling rivalry with deeper, more damaging elements at play. This ugly standoff questions the boundaries of loyalty – and to whom? It’s a fascinating subject matter for fans.

The returning Avengers cast of Evans, Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), Sebastian Stan (Winter Soldier), Anthony Mackie (Falcon), Don Cheadle (War Machine), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye), Paul Bettany (Vision), Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda/Scarlet Witch), Paul Rudd (Ant-Man) and Frank Grillo (Crossbones) pull out all the stops to give this saga an enormous amount of the wit, tension and natural energy.

Newcomers Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther and Tom Holland as all-new Spider-Man do a fine job of bringing their comic-book characters to life, so it’s hard not to feel excited at the end for the Black Panther solo outing, also expected in 2018.

Holland has the biggest chore to convince us that we need yet another Spidey depiction but notches up enough laughs in this, and more than holds his own in his first meeting with Downey Jr.’s wise-cracking Stark. Still, you can’t help but think what Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker could have delivered though. It does feel like Holland has studied his predecessor’s portrayal closely.

It’s still down to a touch of Downey Jr. charisma to be the main catalyst. Evans’s all-American hero icon is forever dutifully composed but again, feels very wooden and two-dimensional, even with a personal bereavement story to deal with. Olsen’s uncredited Wanda in The Winter Soldier (2014) steals the thunder, especially with her intriguing relationship with Vision. For sheer comedy value, Rudd’s Ant-Man is hilarious, especially in the airport scene, keeping interest ticking along for the forthcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp, again out in 2018.

Daniel Brühl of Rush fame has the task of being lone villain Zemo among all the Avengers, stirring up the pot in the background but still managing to have an intriguing back-story to hand when needed. Brühl is always solid in his roles, so no surprises here.

The Russo Brothers, responsible for the direction of The Winter Soldier are showing their impressive expertise in tackling the plethora of Avenger characters in an intelligent and sophisticated fashion, making the two-part Infinity War series sequel to Age of Ultron – and introducing Josh Brolin as eagerly anticipated supervillain Thanos – a very exciting prospect in their very capable hands.

Captain America: Civil War is the smartest Avengers film to date and serves as a well-made introduction to the Marvel characters for any newbies. New cast members and old-timers do not disappoint, even with a lot of personalities at stake. Though Evans is now embedded as Captain America, in this reviewer’s opinion, the jury is still out as to whether he was the best possible choice opposite the Downey Jr. dynamo, especially when he headlines his own film once again. Thank goodness for the other Avengers.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice ***

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Director Zack Snyder’s new Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is in danger of becoming merely ammunition in Warner Bros’s newly launched DC Films Universe battle with Marvel, rather than viewed as a superhero movie in its own right.

This sequel will be compared with Snyder’s first DC Comics film, Man of Steel (2013), with an eye on the much-anticipated, future Justice League movies. The 2013 film was criticised for portraying Superman (Henry Cavill) in a dark, destructive light, something some were not prepared for. Superman even kills one of his own, which shocked many.

Dawn of Justice is no exception – Superman (Cavill again) is far from good and inflicts some rough justice. However, the film attempts to address the fear the character has (where he belongs, what he’s capable of), as well as man’s fear of Superman’s power and threat to humanity.

It uses two contrasting characters to do this in Batman (Ben Affleck) and Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), both of which equally despises and celebrates this god incarnate’s gifts. It’s like the comic-book version of the Easter story; the persecution of a deity through ignorance. Using Snyder’s enormous visual prowess, Dawn of Justice is full of intriguing messages and imagery, which is just as well, as the acting gets lost in the CG medley, as do the characters’ reasoning.

After bringing down General Zod – remnants of which we see at the beginning of this, Batman wants to curb Superman’s actions, while the world decides whether it really needs a superhero at all. Is the Kryptonian actually a menace to society, considering the chaos he brought to Earth in the 2013 film?

With Batman after Superman, a new threat, Doomsday, is allowed to emerge, created by Superman’s arch enemy Luthor. Can the superheroes put aside their differences to battle the true evil destroying Metropolis once more, with a little help from Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot)?

Think Nolan and The Dark Knight for comic-book grittiness. The sheen is completely absent from Superman’s colourful persona. Thank goodness for Clark Kent – Superman’s alter-ego – or there would be zero soul left in the character. Cavill has limited facial expressions too, relying on his furrowed brow to do all the acting work. Hence this keeps Superman even more two dimensional. It also limits how much we really understand about how exactly this ‘anti-hero’ feels, which is a shame.

Snyder’s Batman is also a damaged character. Affleck gets little to do apart from scowl around and clunk about in what must be the heaviest Batman suit ever. Gone is Batman’s smart-thinking/acting slickness. He seems more Transformer than lithe bat-like creature. This seems to suit Snyder’s heavy-meted action sequences, especially when Doomsday appears. However, Batman comes across as a lumbering, half-witted brute most of the time, which again, makes him ‘heartless’, with only scenes of the wrecked Wayne mansion etc to suggest his inner pain and grief.

As a result of a lack of what is going on inside these characters’ heads, comes a lack of empathy and understanding as to what Batman’s personal grievance with Superman actually is? Snyder merely ‘suggests’ with flashbacks, which doesn’t quite add up. Apart from what Luthor wants both to think of each other, this doesn’t seem strong enough rationality for them to be knocking the hell out of each other.

That said when the Batman v Superman showdown actually arrives, it might be a whirl of CGI but it’s pretty exhilarating to watch on a big screen. Snyder is in his element here, and just the right comic-book fan/artist to recreate such a spectacle for fanboys out there. Superman’s brush with Doomsday re-addresses his lost humanity too.

As lovely and determined as Amy Adams is as rogue reporter Lois Lane, there does seem to be a little too much Ms Lane in trouble – or in the buff – in this. How anyone can navigate that much concrete rumble in heels is anyone’s guess during the final battle scenes. As strong a female character as Lane is, it’s Gadot’s Diana Prince/Wonder Woman that’s the more positive contrast with the male characters. Hers is a pure superhero without agenda, just old-school trying to save us from the greater evil.

Like Ledger’s Joker, Eisenberg makes Luthor his own crazed interpretation. His is a babbling nervous wreck, likely to self-implode at any second and keeping things edgy. His excitable state at the very least keeps things energetic, or they would be in danger of slipping into a depressed state – him, and Jeremy Irons’s smart tongue as Alfred.

If you like lots of mood, Batman v Superman is your kind of DC Comics interpretation, though it is more visual that cerebral. There is a distinct lack of emotion from the main characters that leaves Dawn of Justice plain numbing. If it wasn’t for some of the supporting cast, it would be a CG swirl of colour and noise. Though, if there was a prize for cinematic gloom, this installment would win hands down.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Deadpool ****

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With the state of the planet today, it seems like all the superheroes have decided to hide under the duvet, rather than take on world affairs. Such is the case with latest Marvel screen offering and anti-hero Deadpool – reprised by Ryan Reynolds who’s hung up his Green Lantern costume for now. Deadpool prefers a personal vendetta to settle. After all, this former comic-book super villain is known as the ‘Merc with a Mouth’ for his cocky repertoire, so it’s hardly surprising he’s rubbed a few backs up the wrong way.

Ex-Special Forces op turned mercenary Wade (Reynolds) has the gift of the gab and the beautiful girl (Vanessa, played by Morena Baccarin), but also found out he’s got terminal cancer. Offered the chance to be ‘cured’ a mysterious organisation, Wade is left with accelerated healing powers, a bad disfigurement and an arch nemesis in Ajax (Ed Skrein). Renaming himself Deadpool, Wade goes on the hunt for Ajax who claims to be able to cure his predicament, while trying to find and reconnect with his girl.

From the get-go we’re introduced to Deadpool and his smart-ass mouth as he deals with villains in slow-mo balletic form. Even the title sequence is hilariously graphic and cheeky in its own right, setting the tone before we hear the ‘Mouth from the Merc’. With all the usual seriousness associated with superhero films and their planetary quests these days (cue X-men jibes throughout), it’s so refreshing and decadent to hear a rebel voice from a less-than-perfect anti-hero. There is a lot of smut but it’s rapid-fired at you that any offence is quick to evaporate. That said Deadpool sets out to be offensive in every possible way – no apologies made – so the fainter-hearted might want to steer clear. For the rest of us, Deadpool is comic-book comedy gold.

Reynolds has certainly found his stride with this character, really making the little known Marvel assailant into a lead player. He gets to rock a wicked looking costume with a wicked-sounding mouth while toying with borderline mentally unstable – just as fans of the character will love. Deadpool is much like arch villain The Joker in anti-establishment, ‘finger-saluting’ fashion but way cooler in style. The result is more gory 18-rated damage while being led, Fourth-wall style, though his grizzlier bits.

Like all decent comic-book-adapted films, Deadpool offers oodles of action-packed scenes, the thrilling transformation into superhero status (complete with DIY costume making), and the stunning girl, along with the adult humour. Even X-Men fans with a sense of humour won’t mind the Deadpool taunts, especially after his and Wolverine’s last meeting in 2009 (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and with upcoming film Apocalypse.

Indeed, there are plenty of supporting roles to thoroughly enjoy, like X-Men mansion residents, metal-mountain Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) trying to remain chivalrous while being pummeled by Gina Carano’s Angel Dust, and moody Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) proving Deadpool’s greatest mental challenge. This whole affair is more about the characters than settling any great score.

Deadpool is a seriously damaged super-being to get behind while watching the ‘car crash’ unfold – potty mouth aside. He’s not just anti-establishment but sends up the rash of superhero, cinematic white noise that fills the box office in recent times in a highly entertaining way. As they say, there’s a fine line between good and evil, with this ballsy character dancing back and forth over it with utter contemptible glee.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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The Avengers: Age of Ultron (3D) ***

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The world of the Avengers just got darker, more complicated and more extended in a sequel that although contains many  of the key ingredients of its predecessor fails to rise to its exhilarating and entertaining heights.

The problem with The Avengers: Age of Ultron lies in its convoluted plot and writer-director Joss Whedon trying to pack everything including the Marvel kitchen sink into this non-stop action packed two and a half hour long 3D adventure. The film hits the ground running from the start with Thor (Liam Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Captain America (Chris Evans), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) fighting as a cohesive force.

When Tony Stark tries to restart a dormant peacekeeping program it leads to the creation of Ultron (James Spader) a villainous artificial intelligence hell-bent on global domination with the aid of his newly acquired army of robots. The Avengers are faced with a formidable foe, superbly played/voiced by Spader, who is joined by evil twins Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who is super-fast and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) who can control minds.

Downey Jr is on wisecracking form as Stark while Hemsworth and Evans have little to do as Thor and Captain America who are relegated to providing the muscle here. Unlike in the previous film our heroes are not given equal screen time instead the Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye are awarded more prominence.

The blossoming romance between the Hulk and Black Widow feels oddly forced and doesn’t quite ring true along with her ability to lull him back into Bruce Banner with her whispering ways. Hawkeye’s back story is also a bolt out of the blue. However it is good to see Paul Bettany morph from Stark’s computerised buddy Jarvis into the meatier Vision and he is indeed a vision to behold.

Despite everything Whedon  does know how to deliver an eye popping spectacle which will bombard your senses. It just needed more light and shade including more banter and killer one liners.   The scene where the Avengers let their hair down in a night club is fun and inspired. The only thing that is missing is Loki while they do very cleverly explain the absence of Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Thor’s human girlfriend.

This sequel isn’t as fun or as captivating as Avengers Assemble, which set the bar incredibly high, but you will get your money’s worth and it does lay the groundwork for the new up and coming members of the Avengers and their numerous films.

3/5 stars

By Maria Duarte

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Captain America: The First Avenger ****

Marvel’s The Avengers better be the film to end all comic book adapted films in May 2012, as we’ve been serviced with more than our fair share of the genre of late in the build up. Fanboys and girls will always have their favourite characters – which naturally makes them biased in terms of the films, Thor, Iron Man etc. Then along comes US golden boy Captain America– or Steve Rogers – to sway opinion. As a standalone film for the uninitiated, this is the best so far, with a real old-fashioned hero verses evil villain, and all set in an historical context. The other good news is even though the 3D is done in post, more thought has gone into camera angles to enhance the technology, so it’s an improved 3D experience – even if it’s still really used to emphasise depth of field.

It’s 1942, and slightly built and sickly Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) wants to serve his country fighting the Nazis and complete his military service. After being deemed unfit and trying numerous ways of getting enrolled, Rogers volunteers for a top secret research project led by Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) involving injections of Super-Soldier serum and “Vita-Ray” treatment that turns him into the buff and powerful Captain America, a superhero dedicated to defending America’s ideals – especially against those who set out to destroy them, namely The Third Reich and Red Skull (Hugo Weaving).

Aesthetically, the film has all the Marvel qualities to thrill its loyal fan base; 2D-rendered cartoon animation, subdued, moody palette splattered with intentional or signature colour and symbols when needed, and rousing, slow-mo, gravity/reality-defying action sequences, to name a few. As mentioned, the 3D in some panoramic shots further opens up the depth of the Marvel universe on screen, and beautifully frames the characters and objects – like Captain America’s infamous flying weapon, his shield – in intriguing angles at times. However, style goes hand in hand with good shot planning, with a lot of the action directed towards the audience in a vortex-styled way, again mimicking a full 3D-filmed experience and adding further dimension.

All that sounds a trifle stylised, and the whole affair is in a sense because it simultaneously highlights the showmanship of Captain America after he is first ‘born’, paraded as a nation’s male sweetheart and symbol of hope in a time of war. But as this Marvel story is more rounded and substantial on its own merits, the former adds, rather than subtracts from the whole experience, which is a great adventure. The first and last scenes tie up The Captain’s journey to date with a thrilling conclusion.

As well as a good old-fashioned story that’s often reminiscent of Indiana Jones’s personal struggle with Nazi marauders, it’s Joe Johnston’s cast who ultimately bring all the colourful characters to life, particularly Evans. No stranger to playing superheroes as Johnny Storm, aka the Human Torch in Fantastic Four, this character is more focused, respectful and passionate about his acquired powers and how he uses them. Evans’s dedication to doing full justice to the part is very evident throughout – both physically and mentally. As the all-American boy himself, Evans is perfectly cast, very personable, funny and surprisingly engaging. His costume is in keeping with the original, too, as are his multiple martial arts fighting skills.

However, it’s the stellar support that Evans receives that really fleshes out the adventure. The film is full of wonderfully witty retorts and hilarious observations from the likes of Tucci as cynical Dr Erskine and Tommy Lee Jones as dry Colonel Chester Phillips that are given time to court audience reaction, rather than being merely mumbled throwaways in the script. Evans has his own deadpan banter, especially with members of his Inglourious Basterds-like gang of soldiers, including ‘Bucky’ Barnes (Sebastian Stan), an important sub-plot and relationship in the film that doesn’t feel as poignantly reconstructed as it does in the graphic books.

Hayley Atwell is excellent as the dishy beauty with brains and lushious red-lipped Agent Peggy Carter, a woman holding her own in a man’s world who is endeared by Rogers’s naivety with the ladies, and eventually falls for The Captain. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have kept her as authentic and ladylike as possible, without succumbing to a contemporary ‘girl power’ slant, which is nicely in-keeping with the period the film is set in.

The threat of terrorism is equally rife in the 1940s as it is today, and this very poignant in this story. Weaving dons the red mask as Nazi-turned-Red Skull, a despot set on world domination with the help of the Cosmic Cube who looks like a skeletal version of Darth Maul. Weaving’s theatrical performance is as delightfully clichéd, as you’d expect, complete with comical faux German accent and SS-style leather outfits, but his chilling presence from his days of The Matrix’s Agent Smith is tapped into here to further enjoy. Sadly, the evil mastermind’s final confrontation feels too brief, throwing the spotlight back onto The Captain and his mission. It’s a shame as it would have gone to demonstrate how these opposing minds and enhanced physical beings were equal adversaries in the comic books.

That said, this beautifully rendered, fully developed and action-busting tale to complete The Avengers hype is a credit to all cast and crew involved. Captain America packs a comic, moralistic and patriotic punch that’s well worth watching, regardless of your interest in further following the Marvel adventure.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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