CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016)
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When on a mission to stop a vengeful Brock Rumlo (Frank Grillo) in Lagos, The Avengers suffer a set-back when there is some collateral damage and lives are lost, including citizens of the African nation of Wakanda. The world is now becoming wary of the superheroes and the damage caused by the power they wield in our defense. Spearheaded by Wakandan King T’Chaka (John Kani) and Secretary of State Ross (William Hurt), the Sokovia Accords are implemented as a way to regulate the Avengers and their actions. This splits the team down the middle as a faction lead by Captain America (Chris Evans) are against the restrictions and a faction lead by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) are for regulation. The rift widens as T’Chaka is assassinated and evidence points to The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). As Cap sets out to intercept and save his once best friend from government orders to eliminate him, it makes he and his allies outlaws, with Iron Man and the rest of the Avengers in hot pursuit. But is there a third party pulling the strings with an anterior motive?
In comparison, Captain America: The Winter Solider was a bit more streamlined and the lines between good and evil were certainly much clearer. Here the creative team behind one of Marvel’s best films returns to shake things up a bit by having a good portion of our story being about a fractured Avengers pitted against each other. It dares to turn Captain America into an outlaw and Tony Stark into the authority figure (which is an interesting stretch for the rebel Stark) trying to bring him in. The film is exceptionally well directed again by Anthony and Joe Russo, though the script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely doesn’t quite feel as tight as the previous flick’s. One understands Stark’s guilt over Ultron and why Cap has a better understanding of the casualties of war, but it still seemed like they both took their opposing stances a bit too easily. After all, Stark has had no love for authority figures and Cap seems to put his personal feelings for Bucky ahead of the fact that Winter Solider is a killer and suspected of murdering a government dignitary in front of a watching world. Granted there is only so much time to tell the story and the film is already at 147 minutes, but it seems a little rushed. The story does give way to some spectacular action sequences that rival anything seen so far in the MCU and yet avoids another big city destruction scene that has been done to death in films recently. The fight scene at an evacuated airport is a lot of fun and gives some nice exposure to new heroes like Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and a certain web crawler (Tom Holland). The scene is a blast and is a nice lighter toned sequence to give us a break before things get dark again when Tony, Cap and Winter Soldier have an intense confrontation in Siberia, with the real villain Zemo (Daniel Brühl) unveiling his master stroke to get them at each other’s throats…and it is a nasty battle indeed. The FX are top notch, as is all other facets of the production and we even get some James Bond style globe hopping to give the film an epic feel, despite a more personal level story. Flaws aside, it is still one of the better Marvel films and far from the mess that was Batman v. Superman.
There is far too big a cast to give everyone their props individually, though some new additions are worth mentioning. The veterans do some of their best work in their roles, even if we feel these super friends got at each other a bit too quickly. It’s hard to envision an MCU without Evans or RDJ and the Russos give Johansson’s Black Widow her best material. Sebastian Stan gets a far meatier role as the conflicted Winter Solider/Bucky and he is solid. It was nice to see William Hurt return as the hard-nosed Ross. Elizabeth Olsen gets to play a troubled Scarlet Witch having doubts about controlling her powers and guilt over the results when she can’t. She is a fine actress and does well. Chadwick Bosemen impressed as T’Challa/Black Panther and should be exciting to watch when his solo film arrives. Emily Van Camp got a little ass to kick as Agent 13 and had a bigger role than in Winter Solider. An appealing character and actress. Daniel Brühl’s Zemo could have been a stronger villain, but that is currently an achilles heel in the Marvel films. Paul Bettany seemed to get a little short changed as Vision. We only get to see a few scenes of him interacting with the others before the action comes and his bond with Wanda didn’t get properly developed. Finally we get a really different and enjoyable Peter Parker from Tom Holland and a sexy Aunt May from Marisa Tomei. Looking forward to seeing both of them in their own flick, too.
Not as tight and streamlined as Winter Soldier and some of the character motivations seemed a bit abrupt and needed a bit more development. The film has no real clear bad guy till the villain pulling the strings comes to the forefront, but even then, he continues Marvel’s problem with weak antagonists. Zemo is far more Malekith than Loki. The big pluses are some truly spectacular and well choreographed action scenes that avoid overindulgence and a really dark and intense last act when our favorite heroes try to tear each other apart. The new characters such as Black Panther and Spider-Man arrived with shinning colors and some other characters got to show new sides. Definitely another notch in the plus column for Marvel and as usual, stay for two scenes during the credits.
3 and 1/2 shields.
ENDER’S GAME (2013)
Based on a book by Orson Scott Card and written and directed by Gavin Hood, Ender’s Game actually surprised me a bit and was a lot better then expected. The future set story has a young boy nicknamed “Ender” (Asa Butterfield) being recruited and trained by the hard-nosed Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) to lead an attack against an alien world whose occupants tried to colonize Earth decades earlier. The film is fairly solid on all levels, has some very well orchestrated SPFX and would have been a lot more entertaining if it wasn’t basically about turning young children into soulless, genocidal killers and includes some disturbing scenes of young children engaged in acts of violence. Obviously the film is a statement against such, but, is no less easy to watch.
You’d think that a film based on the true life rivalry between formula one racers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) during the 70s would be an exciting and highly dramatic film considering the 2 men’s contrasting personalities and the fact that the rivalry led to an accident that scarred Lauda for life. But, usually reliable, though play it safe, director Ron Howard brings very little of the passion and energy this story really needed to bring it to life. The performances are good with Hemsworth proving his star power as the playboy-like Hunt and Brühl giving us the straight-edge, by-the-book Lauda but, Howard let’s us down with a choppy narrative that jumps from place to place and by shifting the story perspective back and forth between Hunt and Lauda instead of taking the two men’s tale head on. It makes a film that is hard to endear one’s self to as we keep shifting the point of view. The film can’t decide whether it’s about Hunt or Lauda and can’t decide from which man’s point of view he is telling this, as we get narration from both. And it’s jarring. Also stars Olivia Wilde as model Suzy Miller who Hunt married then divorced.
AN AMERICAN GHOST STORY (2012)
I’ll give credit where credit is due, director Derek Cole does give this low budget haunting flick some legitimate atmosphere and mood with some very effectively spooky scenes but, only to have it sunk by a cliche’ filled script that blatantly lifts scenes from other haunting flicks and by having it fall apart with a very silly last act. This derivative tale has a writer Paul (Stephen Twardokus, who also wrote the screenplay and co-wrote the story idea with Cole) staying in a supposedly haunted house to write a book about the murder of a family that lived there and their supposed haunting of that home. But, it’s hard to enjoy the movie when the script is so familiar and even outright copies scenes from other flicks such as piling up chairs on a kitchen table a la Poltergeist and having all the kitchen cabinets blast open at once a la Paranormal Activity 2. That and it’s climax ruins all the atmosphere Cole has set up by having Paul chased through the house by a malevolent spirit which is literally wearing a sheet (didn’t we see that in Paranormal Activity 3?) and has powers of levitation that would make Carrie White envious. A sad case of a director who shows potential but, can’t come up with an original idea to use it on or at least some original set pieces within his been-there-done-that story.