Captain America: Civil War


Captain America in an All-American studio apartment.

Captain America in an All-American studio apartment.

(2016) Superhero (Disney/Marvel) Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, Daniel Brűhl, Frank Grillo, William Hurt, Martin Freeman, Marisa Tomei, John Kani, John Slattery, Hope Davis, Alfre Woodard. Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo

 

In this post-911 world, we often have to consider the importance of security versus freedom. How much power do we allow our government to have? Is it worth giving up our freedom to be protected? And when does it stop being worth it?

Following the events of The Avengers: Age of Ultron the Avengers have continued to operate without the guidance of Tony Stark (Downey) a.k.a. Iron Man but they still continue to clean out the remnants of Hydra and travel the globe to stop threats of terrorism and barbarity. They are on one such mission to stop Crossbones (Grillo) from obtaining a biological weapon. They do stop the former SHIELD agent turned supervillain but at a staggering cost.

The nations of the world can no longer stand idly by while their citizens are reduced to collateral damage. They sign a treaty known as the Sokovia Accords (named for the fictional country that was decimated by the Avengers battle with Ultron) to put the Avengers under United Nations control, only sent on missions approved by the Security Council.

Stark has put his pen to paper and signed already and expects his good friend Steve Rogers (Evans) a.k.a. Captain America to do the same but to Stark’s shock, Rogers refuses. He feels that the Avengers will not only function less effectively as the tools of bureaucrats and politicians, but that without self-autonomy, more lives will be lost than saved.

It’s not an easy question and not everyone falls on the same side. The Avengers eventually become two different teams, at war with one another. Things get worse when Bucky Barnes (Stan) – a.k.a. the Winter Soldier and Cap’s friend from pre-World War II Brooklyn has had the mind control that was implanted into him by Hydra used to send him on a rampage that ends up with a high-profile murder. T’challa (Boseman) a.k.a. The Black Panther, ruler of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, rich in minerals (including the rare vibranium that is what Cap’s shield is constructed out of) and technology, vows to take down Barnes and execute him. Cap can’t let that happen as it, strictly speaking, isn’t Bucky’s fault.

So it is friends against friends, the U.S. government against the Avengers, Iron Man against Captain America. No matter what, this won’t end well and the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be changed permanently as a result.

This is in some ways the most complicated and thought-provoking film in Marvel’s history. It does tackle a subject that has real world ramifications and comes up with no easy answers – it also doesn’t cop out either, which is to the filmmaker’s credit. When those who ask why the Marvel films are so much more popular than the DC films (at least currently), the simple answer is that Marvel is making better movies. With the exception of some of the Batman films (by Messrs. Burton and Nolan) Marvel’s movies are more interesting, have more character development, and quite frankly are more fun to watch.

Civil War is a little bit darker in hue than the majority of Marvel’s films, but that doesn’t mean it’s set in Gotham. There are no real villains in it for one thing – yes, there is a character named Zemo (Brűhl) who shares a last name with old Marvel villain Baron Zemo who was a Nazi mad scientist and a Hydra operative, but this Zemo is actually in a lot of ways a sympathetic character who has reasons for his madness. And the conflict between Cap and Shellhead are between two heroes doing what they believe is right.

Downey in fact steals the film from Captain America; he is tortured by the damage he has done as a superhero and as a man. His relationship is tanking and he believes that the world would be a better place if the Avengers accepted some oversight and accountability. His anguish not only at what he has caused to occur but in the conflict with his friend Cap is palpable. Downey is an Oscar-nominated actor and this is by far his best performance as Iron Man yet.

The action sequences have to be at the core of any superhero film and they are spectacular here. There’s a fight at a German airport that may go down as one of the best in Marvel history and it utilizes the talents of many of the supporting characters and a couple of new ones, including the previously mentioned Black Panther but also the brand new Spider-Man (Holland). Holland may be the best Spider-Man yet (sorry Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield) and acquits himself well both as Spider-Man and as Peter Parker. Based on the snippet of him and Aunt May (Tomei) in this film, I am much more interested in seeing Spider-Man Homecoming next year than I already was.

All of the characters here other than a few who have little more than cameos are shown to be quite human and as humans are, imperfect. This makes the superheroes more relatable to everyone. Who hasn’t had relationship troubles, or felt like they didn’t belong, or chafed at having their autonomy taken from them, or mistrusted authority, or agonized over inventing a self-aware robot that nearly wiped out the human race? Okay, maybe not the last one.

The plot here is dense and for those not really immersed in the Marvel Universe, it may all be too much. In many ways, this is the first Marvel film I felt that it would be actually advantageous to have seen all of the ones preceding it in order to understand it better. It can still stand on its own, but I have to admit that the more you know about the MCU, the easier this will go down. There are also a whole lot of characters here and their relationships and motivations may not be clear to everyone. I suppose that’s just a byproduct of having so many films in the MCU now.

The Russos have shown themselves very capable directors. While I don’t think this film quite measures up to Captain America: The Winter Soldier in terms of quality, it’s damn close. The brothers have been handed the reins to the next to Avengers films and this one shows that the franchise is in safe hands.

REASONS TO GO: Great battle sequences. Excellent debate starter (security vs. freedom). Portrays the heroes as fallible and human.
REASONS TO STAY: A little too much plot and character. Occasionally confusing, particularly to casual viewers.
FAMILY VALUES: All sorts of superhero violence, action and mayhem, more than you can shake a stick at.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: At 2 hours and 27 minutes long, this is the longest Marvel movie to date.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/16/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 75/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Marvel’s The Avengers
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: My Love, Don’t Cross That River

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Something Borrowed


Something Borrowed

Being BFFs means never having to say you're sorry - although both women should apologize for this movie.

(2011) Romantic Comedy (Warner Brothers) Ginnifer Goodwin, Kate Hudson, Colin Egglesfield, John Krasinski, Steve Howey, Ashley Williams, Jill Eikenberry, Geoff Pierson, Leia Thompson, Jonathan Epstein, Sarah Baldwin, Mark La Mura. Directed by Luke Greenfield

Perhaps the most frustrating element of being a movie reviewer is seeing a movie that has a good deal of potential only to waste it with clichés, Hollywood endings and just plain bad writing.

Rachel (Goodwin) is a successful lawyer in Manhattan who is surprised on her 30th birthday by her best friend Darcy (Hudson) who throws her a big party. Also there is Rachel’s confidante and buddy Ethan (Krasinski); Claire (Williams), a somewhat high-strung woman who has the hots for Ethan who is interested not so much, and Marcus (Howey), a new man in town who basically has the libido of a Viagra poster boy, the deft touch of a Neanderthal and the maturity of a Justin Bieber fan. Naturally, as is Darcy’s wont, she becomes the center of attention over the birthday girl but Rachel doesn’t seem to mind – that is part of Darcy’s charm.

Not quite so charming to Rachel is that Darcy is engaged to Dex (Egglesfield) who went to law school at NYU with Rachel and who Rachel had a BIG crush on before she allowed Darcy to swoop in and claim him. Still, she seems okay enough with it to be Darcy’s Maid of Honor. However after the party, she finds herself alone with Dex; they have a couple of drinks and wake up the next morning in the same bed.

At first, much consternation and much guilt – how could we have done it? Oh my God! Then, realization – there must be something there. Then, longing looks exchanged in secret as the VERY wealthy Dex rents a summer home in the Hamptons and the whole crew escape there each weekend. Then, a weekend alone for Dex and Rachel and more sack time. Ethan figures it out. Thinks Rachel should come clean to Darcy. Dex doesn’t want to call it off though – his mom (Eikenberry) who is ill is so happy because of the wedding. In the meantime, Rachel is miserable. What’s a girl to do?

What this could have been – what this should have been – was a look at human interaction. Instead, it’s a bunch of whiny, more money than brains 20 and 30-somethings navigating treacherous waters without any sort of moral compass in evidence. Sure, Rachel shows some remorse but does she own up to her betrayal? No she does not, nor does she stop her shenanigans with Dex.

Goodwin is an actress with loads of potential – she was so very good in “Big Love” – but she hasn’t gotten over the bland but likable roles that are all that are seemingly available in modern romantic comedies. She does a decent enough job here but ultimately she comes off badly mainly because the character was written badly, making all kinds of poor choices and seemingly never haunted by the consequences of ANY of them.

Egglesfield is given little to do besides look longingly at Goodwin. His character is the worst offender here, completely without spine or sense. After a couple of hours with him, I knew that he would never be a good life partner; he’s handsome and he’s a lawyer, but at the end of the day the character was weak and lacked character, a bad combination.

Krasinski who has done such yeoman work in “The Office” is making a niche as the friend who knows too much which is kind of a bad thing – he has so much more going for him. Of all the actors here he has the potential to be a huge star, but hasn’t landed a role that will get him there. I don’t think he’ll be emphasizing this one on his resume, even though he winds up the most sympathetic of all the characters here and has the best line in the movie, describing the Hamptons as a zombie movie directed by Ralph Lauren.

Now I’m not a prude nor am I someone who needs the movies to have a sense of morality, but this one doesn’t seem to have any. Cheating and betraying your friends gets you rewarded and lying is depicted as an admirable way to make it through the day. I don’t mind people doing bad things but there need to be consequences and these people don’t suffer any.

In fact, there is kind of a wealth worship that I find distasteful. There is so much product placement in the film that it becomes numbing after awhile, the movie having more Madison Avenue than Hollywood Boulevard in it. It all felt assembled on a Hollywood factory line, with all the Rom-Com 101 points hit and an ending that went on far too long and well past the point where I cared what happened to any of these people.

There are points in the movie that show promise, such as a scene at a sleepover where you get a sense of the closeness between Rachel and Darcy and a conversation between Ethan and Rachel near the end of the movie where Ethan makes a “surprising” confession. Smart people can make dumb choices and I get that, but smart people usually don’t act like idiots on a consistent basis. The sad fact is there was a really good movie to be made here, but what we wound up with was a piece of fluff that not only has no substance but actually seems to be suggesting that the more wealth you have, the less likely you are to suffer from being a douchebag (or the female equivalent thereof). It’s always a bad sign when a movie sets itself up for a sequel you don’t want to see – because you don’t want to spend another minute with the people onscreen.

REASONS TO GO: Goodwin and Hudson have some pretty nice chemistry. Krasinski shows a lot of depth here.

REASONS TO STAY: Where to begin – wasted opportunities abound. A Hollywood ending stretches the boundaries of believability and by the end of the film you don’t care what happens to anybody in it.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some suggestive dialogue and a good deal of sexuality. There’s also a bit of bad language and some drug use, including much drinking.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During the scene where Ethan and Rachel are sitting on a park bench, the woman on the bench next to them is reading a book called “Something Blue” by Emily Giffin. The woman is none other than Emily Giffin, author of the novel this movie is based on.

HOME OR THEATER: A big theater is unnecessary for this one; it’s probably best viewed at home for a little home video date night.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Restrepo