REVIEW: CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016)

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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.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 shields.

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REVIEW: DEADPOOL (2016)

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DEADPOOL (2016)

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Up to this point, I knew almost nothing about the Deadpool character, other than fans were not happy with his portrayal in the 2009 X-Men Origins: Wolverine. So, I went into this flick without too many expectations, other than it wasn’t going to be your typical Marvel superhero movie, based on the trailers and ad campaign. I was right…but I also had more fun than I expected.

Flick tells the story of Wade Wilson, a former special forces soldier turned black ops operative turned mercenary and assassin. Wade has a fairly low level clientele and a beautiful stripper girlfriend, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) who loves him for who he is. Wade’s life is turned upside down when he is told he has terminal cancer and is then contacted by a mysterious organization called Weapon X, that claim that not only can they cure him, but they can turn him into a superhero. To save his relationship with Vanessa, he takes the offer and is transformed into a virtually indestructible, yet horribly disfigured man. Now hot for revenge for turning him into a monster, Wade becomes Deadpool, a wise-cracking superhero-like assassin, leaving a blood-soaked trail in pursuit of Ajax (Ed Skrein), the man who performed the procedure and his powerful sidekick/bodyguard, Angel Dust (Gina Carano)…all the while being pursued by the X-Men to give up his bloody ways and join the team.

This is certainly one of the most brazen and self-aware of the recent spate of superhero films, with Deadpool not only stopping the action to talk with the audience, but also his constant verbal jabs at the rest of the Marvel universe. It is also one of the rudest, crudest and bloodiest flicks to wear the Marvel tag and there is sufficient wit to go along with that, which makes it work. Some of the dialog is very funny and Reynolds has the perfect delivery for Wilson’s sarcastic frat-boy sense of humor as he’s slaughtering bad guys. The film is well directed by Tim Miller, with a clever script by Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese and it mixes the graphic violence with the twisted humor very well. The action is on a smaller scale than the usual Marvel flicks, especially those recently, but includes more gore and body parts than possibly even the Blade films. The FX are rendered very well and there is a solid emotional core to all the blood and toilet humor when dealing with Wade’s turning into something he’s horrified with…something he feels Vanessa would never love. Surprisingly, the combination of violence, crude humor and Frankentein-ish story does pretty much work for most of the time thanks to Miller’s knowing when and how much and Reynold’s spot on performance. If the film has flaws, it’s that not all of the humor is successfully funny, the film does slow down a bit when delving into flashbacks as to Deadpool’s origin and Skrein isn’t all that strong a bad guy and is upstaged by Carano’s Angel Dust. Back on the plus side, there is a hip, fun soundtrack and it was refreshing to see a superhero film with a anti-hero who is far from being a boy scout…ex. Deadpool’s lethal and illegal advice to an Indian cab driver over how to solve his love problems.

Obviously, this is Ryan Reynolds show and he really brings it. Not only is Deadpool a very likable and sarcastically funny anti-hero, but Reynolds really gives him a heart and we feel for him when he is first deformed. He delivers his lines perfectly, whether it is to lament his transformation and loss of Vanessa, or shamelessly taunting his blind roommate (Leslie Uggams). He was born to play the part. Morena Baccarin is smoking hot as a movie geeks dream girl, a stripper with extensive nerd knowledge and a pop culture reference vocabulary to rival the boys. While she doesn’t get to do all that much, she and Reynolds do have a nice chemistry and she is fiery in what she does get to do. As stated, Ed Skrein is a serviceable villain, though not a very memorable one. Carano makes more of an impression as his bodyguard with superhuman strength. She doesn’t say much, but is a physical presence especially when batting the metal skinned X-Man, Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapičić). T.J. Miller is fun as Wade’s buddy Weasle, Brianna Hildebrand is an explosive teen member of the X-Men and Jed Rees is appropriately creepy as the recruiter for Weapon X…and a certain Marvel icon has one of his funniest cameos yet!

Overall, Deadpool was a fun flick. It deftly mixes masturbation jokes, bloody violence and some surprisingly effective drama to make it one of the more unique superhero flicks to come out in this era of cookie-cutter comic book movies. Not all the jokes work and the film does slow down a bit here and there to tell it’s origin story, but overall the mash-up formula connects more often than not. Ryan Reynolds is a hoot as Deadpool and he is given some very funny, rude and pop culture reference filled dialog to spout, when not splattering the bad guys all over the place. Not great, but a fun flick that will occasionally make you giggle like a teenager, whether you are one or not, and sometimes laugh out loud. As with these flicks, stay through the credits!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 unicorns…don’t ask…

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REVIEW: ANT-MAN (2015)

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ANT-MAN (2015)

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Not being a fan of the character or being at all familiar with him, I had low expectations for what sounded like a silly superhero movie but, was pleasantly surprised by Ant-Man for a number of reasons, though it’s not perfect.

The story finds thief with a heart of gold, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) getting out of prison only to be convinced to take on another heist when his Baskin Robbins job doesn’t work out. Instead of the assumed money and jewels, he finds a strange suit in the safe he robs. Scott soon discovers two things, one…the suit is capable of shrinking him to an insect level size (while retaining his human strength) and two…the suit belongs to a Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) who has set Scott up because, he needs his help. Hank Pym is a former super hero named Ant-Man. He has kept his suit and the formula that works it, secret for decades. His arch rival/former protégée Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) is close to unveiling a suit of his own and he has far less noble plans for it. Hank and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) want Scott to don the Ant-Man suit and use his skills to break into Pym Technologies’ high security research facility to steal Cross’ Yellow Jacket suit and destroy all the research that created it.

As directed by Peyton Reed, from a script by four writers, including former director Edgar Wright, this is a fun movie and also, one with a far smaller scale than the last few Marvel epics. Sure, the fate of the world is still hanging in the balance, to a degree, but, the film concentrates on a more intimate heist scenario and focuses primarily on the preparations for it by it’s three main characters. This gives the film an almost separate feel from the other Marvel universe films, if not for the mentions and cameos by some other characters. It also gives it more time to focus on the main characters more and makes it a bit more accessible to a degree. Rudd makes a surprisingly good, reluctant hero and there is also a lot more humor than the last few flicks and, for the most part, it is not broad or intrusive. There is plenty of action and the film really moves when that action occurs and it is executed with the usual top notch special FX. If anything holds the film back a little is that the different tone takes a bit of getting used to and the film does take a little while to really get going. The pace is a bit more moderate than we are used to in the MCU and even with appearances and mentions, it never truly clicks as one of the Marvel universe movies. Rudd’s Lang doesn’t quite seem like he’d fit in with the rest of the heroes, despite his entertaining tussle with one of the Avengers…but, that might add some needed diversity. The villain is, again, a stereotypical greedy corporate douche and is on par with Thor: The Dark World’s Malekith. He’s serviceable but, never really impresses. Also, Lang’s partners in crime (Michael Peña, Tip Harris, David Dastmalchian) are a source for a lot of the humor in the film and while it works most of the time, sometimes the schtick gets a little much, especially when they get involved in the main story. Finally, while it worked, there is a very cliché sub-plot with down-on-his luck Lang being divorced and not allowed to see his little girl, Cassie (Abby Ryder) and his ex-wife (Judy Greer) now married to a jerk cop (Bobby Cannavale) who has it out for Lang. All the tropes of such a tired sub-plot are played out as expected…though well enough to still be effective.

We do have a good cast here, too. I am a huge fan of Douglas so, it was great to see him onscreen again with an important role and like Robert Redford in Winter Soldier, it adds a little extra dignity to the proceedings. He’s a veteran actor and very good in the part. Rudd gets to do something interesting with his usual smarmy, smart-ass persona and he makes for a different edition to the Marvel universe. He’s more down to earth than most characters and he was charming, fun and even a bit sympathetic as the dad who wants to do right by his little girl. Lilly is sexy and feisty, which seems to be the requirement to be a Marvel female character but, she does it well and there is indication we may see more of her. She and Rudd and Douglas all work very well together, too. As said, Stoll makes an adequate villain and gives it his all, but, he’s just not that impressive. It’s a problem a lot of these Marvel flicks have had, some mediocre villains for our heroes to face. The likable Michael Peña steals a few scenes as Luis but, his schtick does get a bit overplayed, at points, as does Harris and Dastmalchian. Rounding out, Greer is fine as Lang’s ex-wife, Ryder is adorable as his daughter and Cannavale is a stereotypical jerk-at-first, who comes to like Scott once getting to know him…again very cliché.

Overall, I did like Ant-Man and had a good time. It’s not as strong as the best of the Marvel flicks though, far much better than the borderline mess that was Iron Man 3. It’s a smaller scaled and more moderately paced film which works for and against it, but, does have a good cast. Rudd’s Ant-Man is a bit different than his soon-to-be fellow Avengers and that’s a good thing and he made a solid hero. I recommend it for a good time. It’s refreshingly lighter than Age Of Ultron and Winter Soldier and while it has flaws, it’s still engaging and fun. Remember to stay for the whole show, as there is both a mid-credits scene and an end credits scene…that one is especially interesting.

-MonsterZero NJ

  3 ants.

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