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The best Marvel movie in some time

Posted : 10 months, 2 weeks ago on 11 August 2017 04:09

The status quo of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was blown to smithereens in 2014 by Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a sizzling espionage thriller which reinvented its titular superhero and took the MCU to a deeper, darker place. Thankfully, this thematic density and harder edge is preserved for 2016's Captain America: Civil War, which also sees the return of directorial duo Anthony and Joe Russo. As to be expected from a superhero blockbuster, it marches across the globe to provide expanse, but the stakes are entirely personal this time around, which is a refreshing change in such a crowded subgenre. In addition, Civil War is a more fitting thematic follow-up to 2012's The Avengers than its own underwhelming sequel, as this is as strongly a movie about a team falling apart as the first Avengers was about a team coming together. While it's removed from the playful jubilance of prior Marvel entries, Civil War still delivers bruising action set-pieces as it works through an intricate narrative, and the Russo Brothers confidently maintain control of the picture from start to finish.

When a skirmish in Lagos against bioterrorists ends in innocent deaths, the Avengers suddenly find themselves under increased scrutiny by the United Nations. Enter U.S. Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt), who proposes a legal document known as the Sokovia Accords, which would require the Avengers to seek approval from a designated U.N. panel before engaging in battles that could jeopardise innocent lives. Billionaire industrialist Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) finds himself in favour of the legislation due to the guilt he feels over both creating Ultron and devastating Sokovia, while Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) resolutely opposes it, believing that bureaucratic control will hinder their duties and ultimately cost more lives in the long run. As a result, the Avengers are split right down the middle. In the midst of this, Rogers realises that his old friend Bucky Barnes, a.k.a. The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) is being used as a patsy for global unrest, held responsible for the death of Wakandan King T'Chaka (John Kani). Convinced that Bucky is innocent and something more sinister is afoot, Rogers goes rogue to hunt for the real culprit, while the manipulative, vengeance-hungry Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) methodically lurks in the wings.

Once again written by the pair of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (who scripted both Captain America: The First Avenger and The Winter Soldier), Civil War is based on the seven-issue limited series of the same name by Mark Millar, and in many ways it represents the next logical step in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. The cost of collateral damage is not normally addressed in superhero stories, and it's fertile ground for exploration, presenting a different perspective to previous battles. Of course, it ostensibly seems as if Russo Brothers chose to deliver The Avengers 2.5 at the expense of a more focused Captain America story, but we actually get both. Civil War is a Captain America story first and foremost, as it delves further into his troubled character and largely concentrates on Rogers, but because Cap resides at Avengers headquarters and his social circle is almost exclusively compromised of the other superheroes, the movie can't help but feel like an Avengers sequel. It's also a creative way to eliminate the question of "Where are the other Avengers?" which lingers throughout other solo adventures like Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World. (However, the glaring absence of Chris Hemsworth as Thor is baffling, though the Hulk's absence is understandable given the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron.)

Prior to directing The Winter Soldier, the Russo Brothers had predominantly dabbled in comedy and television, but now they've become the go-to guys for superhero extravaganzas. Civil War is a full meal, spending nearly 150 minutes working through its complex themes and narrative machinations, but it never feels strained or messy. Furthermore, just as The Winter Soldier was a more serious affair, Civil War likewise dials back the humour, a wise move after the forced, inorganic comedy which plagued Avengers: Age of Ultron. Nevertheless, laughs do permeate the movie, adding plenty of unforced levity, avoiding the dismal gloominess of Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. As to be expected, fight choreography remains top-notch - the close combat throwdowns are tight and brutal, and the characters bleed and bruise. The well-publicised battle royal at the airport, meanwhile, is a standout in the grand scheme of the MCU. Much has been said about the airport showdown, and you can believe the hype - it is thoroughly awesome in every sense of the word, observing the skilled and ornate heroes unloading on each other with their unique gifts. Furthermore, thanks to smooth cinematography and astute editing, it's always easy to follow and enjoy all of the action scenes, which are coherent and thrilling. Plus, digital effects are consistently convincing, as to be expected from a movie with this price-tag. From a visual standpoint, it's hard to fault Civil War.

Commendably, after the standout airport skirmish, the Russos dial things back a touch for the climax, which is more intimate and understated, and more rewarding as a result. It's explosive and gripping, to be sure, but it's a far cry from the scope of something like the New York City showdown in The Avengers. Incredibly, once the driving force behind the superhero civil war is identified and the motivation for the action scenes has ceased, the fighting continues because the dark secrets, deep-seated character flaws and furious emotional pain involved in this story have transcended the plot mechanics which brought them to the surface in the first place. While it's a given that more cynical, smug viewers will downplay the tremendous achievements of Civil War since it's "just another Marvel/Disney movie," the picture works as well as it does largely because Marvel has spent so many movies introducing these characters and establishing the world for this narrative to inhabit. To be sure, the screenplay isn't airtight; the villain's plan does rely on accurately predicting the behaviours of the Avengers and government with little margin for error, which is certainly ridiculous in hindsight. But then again, this is the fantastical MCU, and this nit-pick may be fixed with a retcon in a future movie.

Despite being Captain America 3, this particular Marvel adventure also introduces Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and T'Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), and both are permitted more than just a cameo. Miraculously, the script manages to handle both subplots without detracting from the central narrative, in the process negating the necessity for either hero to be subjected to a generic origins movie. (Seriously, the story you would expect to see in an introductory Black Panther movie is told in the background here.) This is the third cinematic Peter Parker in just fifteen years - after the dismal failure of the Amazing Spider-Man reboot series, Sony agreed to a rights-sharing situation to allow Spider-Man to join the MCU. Holland instantly makes an enormously positive impression in the role, right down to an authentic-sounding Queens accent, making the character feel truly alive for the first time in years. It also helps that this is the first Peter Parker to actually look like a teenager.

Speaking of the heroes, a huge cast comes out to play in this instalment (and it's set to increase again in Avengers: Infinity War). Remarkably, just about everyone gets a chance to shine here, though Rogers does undeniably remain the protagonist. Evans carries a lot on his shoulders, but manages to pull it off with ease and make us still care about him. Moreover, you can understand his perspective, as well as his frustration with the bureaucrats. Rogers and Stark have always had a humorously antagonistic relationship, as Cap's patriotism and purity clashed with Iron Man's conceited vulgarity, but it's something else to see the two truly at odds with one another. Downey Jr. is oddly serious and sombre in the role this time around, due to his change in character, which may require a period of adjustment. Still, the much-loved Marvel luminary has a real talent for witty one-liners, of which he delivers a fair few, and he handles the dramatic material without missing a beat. As Bucky, Stan is given a beefier role than ever, and he's one of the movie's secret weapons. Meanwhile, the other members of the Avengers - Scarlet Johansson, Don Cheadle, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Paul Bettany and Jeremy Renner - hit their marks as expected, and it's a treat to see Paul Rudd return to the fray again so soon as the wise-cracking Scott Lang/Ant-Man. Elsewhere in the cast, this is the first time that Hurt has appeared in the MCU since 2008's The Incredible Hulk, and it's a nice touch to bring him back. Martin Freeman (The Hobbit, Sherlock) even shows up in a minor role.

It's often said that Marvel has little in the way of memorable villains, but that changes with Brühl as Helmut Zemo. He isn't a flashy bad guy by any means, but he's possibly the best antagonist in the MCU to date directly because of how low-key he is. His motivations are wholly understandable, and he manages to do a lot of damage without the need for super powers. Brühl is quietly chilling in the role, but he's also not out-and-out evil.

All things considered, Captain America: Civil War is the best Marvel production in some time, making up for the studio's weak 2015 output. Even though it covers a daunting amount which causes it to feel a bit leaden at times, it nevertheless doesn't feel too overstuffed. Under the careful eye of the Russo Brothers, Civil War is thrilling and consistently engaging, belying its origins as a comic book superhero film. And when the dust settles, what really sticks around and satisfies is the emotion-driven character work that the action scenes ultimately exist to facilitate and underline. Plus, even though this is a gloomy tale, it ends on a note of optimism which will ultimately lead into the next Avengers. It's also encouraging that Marvel has finally nailed a trilogy. As usual, be sure to stay tuned for both a mid-credits and a post-credits scene.


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Captain America: Civil War

Posted : 2 years, 1 month ago on 17 May 2016 06:52

This is what the thematic material of Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice looks like when it’s injected with, you know, joy, emotional coherence, and narrative thrust. Not that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is without its own problems, there’s the frequent lack of prominent characters of color, female heroes leading the way, and a general sameness in structure for the films. Captain America: Civil War sets to push those boundaries and limitations, while never completely transcending the thick borders mastermind Kevin Feige has placed around the franchise, Civil War emerges as the best work from the studio, and still the most satisfying Avengers film, without actually calling itself Avengers.


Let’s start with the major trapping of Civil War, and all of superhero cinema really, which is its dependence on mass collateral damage. The plot machinations of Civil War depend on exploring and questioning the constant destruction of property and untold civilian causalities as a result, then breaking away from these lip-serviced thoughts to demonstrate more technical wizardry in mass destruction and rubbery bodies thrashing into each other.


While this persistently undermines the general dramatic tension and narrative thrust, Civil War is still continually engaging. The great thing about the Captain America films is that they simply have to preserve him from movie to movie to ensure that he’ll be around for the next Avengers film, and they’re frequently free from the painted corners of, say, Iron Man 2 or Thor: The Dark World which shoved too much extraneous narrative threads from other sub-franchises. Civil War is a meeting of them all, with Cap leading the way, as it should be.


What’s shocking is how smartly and effectively this film introduces our third go around of Spider-Man, the first one to appear like a believable high schooler and successfully translate the lovable smartass from the comics to the big screen, and our introduction to Black Panther, which just had me ready and waiting for his 2018 solo film. These two slip into the established narratives with ease, providing unique voices and much-needed levity to some of the darker twists and turns.


I know that Joss Whedon was proclaimed the savior of superhero cinema with Avengers, but the most successful writer(s)-director(s) for the MCU has been the Russos. They find a way to marry humor, heart, thrills, spectacle, and quiet moments of character development into compelling popcorn entertainments. The Winter Soldier was one of the best comic book movies, and Civil War takes that platform and builds something bigger and better off of it.


The long list of names, faces, powers, and locations can be overwhelming for the uninitiated, but the Russos find a way to make decades of material into digestible chunks. They manage to make the obligatory beats into thrilling moments. Look, we all knew that another Spider-Man could be met with groans and eye-rolls, but Tom Hollander’s gee-whiz approach to the role, complete with a never-ending series of snarky comments, makes him a rooting interest.


Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther practically steals the movie from all of the long-running establishment, finding the grace and regality in the role. Hopefully his movie star charisma will lead to a career rivaling the likes of Denzel Washington. Thought was put into how to utilize these characters, and while some still get the short-end (Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch deserve more to do), they still manage to get brief moments to shine.


What smacks you in the face about Civil War is how closely it follows many of the same beats and themes of DC’s Batman vs Superman, but how it contrasts what that film did poorly. My god, imagine it, a film bringing together the titans of a comic publisher’s body of work, and finding the fun in it! Imagine that! And I didn’t even hate Batman vs Superman, so imagine how those that did must feel watching this film.


Marvel still has a long way to go in catching up with DC’s representation of minority characters (check the line-up of Suicide Squad, and the makeover of Aquaman) and female-led vehicles (next year will finally see Wonder Woman getting a solo film after decades of development hell), but Marvel’s ability to coherently tell a story that isn’t lackluster in live-action is unrivaled by its major competitor.


Now, if only Marvel could do something to make Thor’s solo films as interesting as the source material…. 

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Captain America: Civil War review

Posted : 2 years, 1 month ago on 3 May 2016 08:40

So I ended up seeing this for a special screening at a local theater that wasn't mine. I'm a huge fan of comic films specifically the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I ended up tagging along unexpectedly with some friends from work. It was even more worth it than I expected. I would even go so far as to saying this is probably either my favorite or at least tied with Guardians of the Galaxy. The Russo brothers really know what they are doing here. They actually have an understanding of the source material. They keep things interesting and only two movies in and you know you can trust them with everything. The writers here know what they are doing as well. They have done all the Captain America films as well as Thor: The Dark World. I feel the only film they didn't quite grasp me with was their second trip to Narnia with Prince Caspian. This is the kind of storytelling that Batman V Superman should have tried to do. They did just fine here with having all these main/side characters and still managing to make it all interesting rather than a jumbled fiasco. Just to throw it in I'm team Iron Man. I honestly say of the two he is my favorite. I also feel like he tends to show more range of emotions. The fight scenes are constant, brutal, and keep you at the edge of your seat. I swear some of the punches thrown just make you want to wince. The MCU veterans keep strong here as expected. Some people are missed, but the new additions make for worthy entries. Chadwick Boseman was excellent as Black Panther. If I didn't know any better I would think he wasn't even really American. Tom Holland was probably my favorite Spider-Man so far. He had the jokes. He had the courage. I'm interested to see how his solo film will be. I would have like a tad bit more of Paul Rudd as Ant-Man. What we did get was pretty great though. Specifically him turning into Giant Man! I wish we had gotten more Hawkeye as well. I'm a sucker for bows and arrows. This is typically my weapon of choice if I have the option in video games. I feel Alfre Woodard and Martin Freeman were high talents for such tiny roles. I actually quite enjoyed the route they went with their villain here. I would say technically Zemo came as a secondary antagonist, while Iron Man was the main antagonist due to the storytelling perspective. It was a very unique way of doing things. This had some good comedy albeit it being a darker tone of story. I liked the little hints of true comic knowledge throughout. If you are a comics fan you will catch what I'm talking about. The ending was quite good and leaves you of course longing for more. Make sure to stay until the very end as there are two credits scenes for this one. I couldn't believe this was the longest of the series so far and yet still felt short. It's definitely a must see!

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A good movie

Posted : 2 years, 1 month ago on 1 May 2016 08:20

Well, even though it might sound surprising but, in fact, I actually preferred 'Batman v Superman'. Not that it was perfect, in the contrary, but I thought it worked better than this super-clash from Marvel. I mean, sure, this movie was very entertaining, actually technically better than 'Batman v Superman', with a least a dozen of awesome super-heros and, yet, it didn't completely win me over. The main issue I had is that the story was actually rather weak in my opinion. For example, let's take this so-called 'war'. In fact, at the end of the day, it was just about Iron Man and Captain America having an argument about some company policy, not much more than that. To call it a 'civil war' was a huge stretch and the supposedly huge showdown never really took place in my opinion. At some point, you had this huge fight between 2 sets of Avengers and it was indeed pretty neat but you knew all the time that they were not there to really fight each other, that nothing really huge was at stake, and, even the characters were fully aware of this as they keep cracking some jokes throughout the whole thing. Then, the villain was also disappointing. I mean, it was nice that, for once, they didn't bring someone who wanted to destroy the Earth but the guy and his scheme was just so underwhelming. Finally, I think they have to stop to bring all these characters together. It worked only once with 'The Avengers' but, now, it is getting rather tiresome to see all these heroes as they end having nothing much to do. I think they should make their movies smaller, focusing on 1 or 2 characters and leave the rest alone. Anyway, to conclude, in spite of its flaws, I have to admit it, it was still quite entertaining and it is definitely worth a look, especially if you like the genre. 

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