Captain America: Civil War

CWDirectors: Anthony and Joe Russo

Screenwriters: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely  

Cast: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Sebastian Stan, Chadwick Boseman, Elizabeth Olson, Paul Bettany, Paul Rudd, and Daniel Brühl

What’s left to say about a movie that within 2 weeks has amassed a $940 million global box office and taken the Marvel Cinematic Universe above the $10 billion mark?  Generally, my goal in writing these reviews is to recommend worthy films for my audience in the hopes of aiding the decision on what to see.  Whenever one of these massively popular films is released, it seems silly to review it.  I mean people that want to see Captain America: Civil War will see it regardless of what any number of critics say.  So then, why write about it?  What’s my motivation? In this case, I think the story is less the film and more to discuss its place in the company of the 12 other films that have been released in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe).  Of course, I still find it useful to identify the good and the bad about the film and offer a summative recommendation, but given that most of my readers have probably already seen this film if they are going to, I want to offer something a little extra as well.

So, what are the “12 other films” that accompany Captain America: Civil War? It’s important to make that distinction.  For the purposes of this article, The X-Men films, Spider-Man films, Fantastic Four Films, and Deadpool will not be considered.  The 13 films pertinent to this discussion are those planned out by Marvel studios starting with 2008’s Iron Man and include the following: Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, Marvel’s The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, and Captain America: Civil War.

So now that we’ve identified the players, I will take a moment to review the latest film in the franchise and discuss its place in the field.

Captain America: Civil War is less a Captain America film and more a third Avengers film.  All of the key players are present in this film except Thor and the Hulk, and the events of the film are an immediate continuation from the action of Avengers: Age of Ultron. The principle conflict revolves around a global agenda to put the Avengers under United Nations supervision. Tolerance for the devastation and civilian casualties that have resulted from Avenger-related battles has been exhausted, and at least one Avenger, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) agrees with the idea of putting the Avengers in check.  Stark’s persuasive and personal reasons cause a stir in the once unified Avenger team, but his words fall on deaf ears when it comes to Captain “America” Steve Rogers (Chris Evans).  Rogers believes that any supervision of the Avengers will only result in corruption and ineffectiveness.  Suddenly an ideological divide is struck that threatens to tear the Avengers apart from within.

The film does a pretty good job of introducing the conflict and representing both sides, although the reasoning for why one Avenger takes this side versus that side is ultimately rather arbitrary.  What is certain is that a line has been drawn (actually quite literally in one scene) and our heroes must navigate some rocky moral terrain.  While the main “villain” of this film is philosophical in nature, there is a human antagonist  named Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) an ex Sakovian Colonel with some dark secrets and control of the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).

This film is less distinctive from the rest of the pack than its predecessor, Captain America: Winter Soldier.  The thrilling political conspiracy that threaded through the Winter Soldier is replaced by a more standard “Comic Booky” genre story.  Subsequently, the action is a bit shakier this time around, regardless of the fact that Winter Soldier directors Anthony and Joe Russo helmed this film as well.  Nevertheless, the Russo brothers do direct the hell out of this film showing their range with expertly crafted chase sequences as well as some heavy emotional material.

Another plus is that like Winter Soldier, the story remains mostly rooted in reality, and Captain America’s motives continue to be protecting his homeland at all costs.  Additionally, Civil War boasts three outstanding achievements that no Marvel film before it has managed thus far.  First, it introduces two of the best new characters (Black Panther and Spider-Man, both slated to receive upcoming stand-alone films) and does it with panache!  I’ll leave the details about these new characters out so not to spoil anything for the rare reader who has yet to see this film, but both are quite satisfying and Spider-Man especially receives a worthy reboot after some questionable recent attempts by Sony Pictures. Second, the “Civil War” battle is a remarkable scene. This scene replaces the “Battle of New York” from Marvel’s Avengers as the Infinity Stone in the Marvel crown. DC executives responsible for Batman v. Superman should take notes on how Marvel succeeds at fighting internal conflict with external conflict! Third, Captain America: Civil War manages to give all of its cast members room to breathe and make a memorable and worthwhile contribution.  No character is squandered, and as I alluded to earlier, this film explores some emotional depth but uses just the right amount of levity and humor to maintain an even tone.  Captain America: Civil War advances Marvel’s epic storyline yet another step forward and the Russo Brothers prove to be worthy of inheriting the Avengers mantle from Joss Whedon for the upcoming Infinity War films. A-

Captain America: Civil War is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 27 minutes.  As usual, stick around through the credits for two additional scenes….

…and now in keeping with the Marvel cinematic tradition, I have a “post-credits” stinger for you!

The Top 13 Marvel Cinematic Universe Films According to The People’s Critic:

  1. Captain America: The Winter SoldierA
  2. Iron Man 3A
  3. Marvel’s The Avengers – A-
  4. Captain America: Civil WarA-
  5. Iron ManA-
  6. Avengers: Age of UltronA-
  7. Captain America: The First Avenger – B+
  8. Thor – B+
  9. Ant-ManB+
  10. Iron Man 2B
  11. The Incredible Hulk – B
  12. Thor: The Dark WorldB
  13. Guardians of the Galaxy – B-

Average score for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (2016) – B+

Feel free to sound off in the comments section about my rankings.  Did I get it right?  Are you a Guardians of the Galaxy fan who wants to give me a piece of your mind?

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Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers2Director: Joss Whedon

Screenwriter: Joss Whedon

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlet Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, and James Spader

When all was said and done, 2012’s Marvel’s The Avengers, became the third most lucrative film in box office history. Now with James Wan’s Furious 7 poised to unseat the superhero spectacular, Iron Man and friends return to make sure the Avengers stay on top!

Still, how do you follow up the third biggest movie of all time? Well Joss Whedon, a guy who never met a cliché he couldn’t skewer, handles things very nicely with Avengers: Age of Ultron. When we last left our Avengers, they had just vanquished Loki and his alien army, saving New York and metaphorically the world. Four Marvel films have been released since 2012’s The Avengers, which have advanced the universal plot somewhat, but basically the team has had no need to reunite…until now!

Reviewing a film of this nature and anticipation is a bit of a challenge. Expectations are high, spoilers are forbidden, and a very thin line separates formulaic from entertaining. Nonetheless, Avengers: Age of Ultron ultimately lands on the entertaining side, mostly thanks to the “vision” (pun intended, see the movie) of writer/director Joss Whedon.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) seemingly refocused by his battle with The Mandarin from Iron Man 3, has decided that the world is still too vulnerable to outside threats. The answer? Implement a peacekeeping program called Ultron in the hopes of harnessing the power of Stark’s supercomputer JARVIS to shield the planet from future alien attacks. The problem is that Stark’s own program is conceived of an artificial intelligence so advanced that it develops a plan of its own, manifesting itself in a robotic personage and plotting to eliminate humanity in favor of an evolved robotic intelligence.  Of course, this is simply the conflict devised to reunite Iron Man, Captain America (Chris Evans), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlet Johannson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) for another adventure, but fortunately, the film does not rest on its laurels too long.

Here’s where Whedon shows his expertise and distinctiveness. The three clichés common with sequels are mixing things up, adding something new, and darkening the mood. With Avengers: Age of Ultron, Whedon does not avoid these potential pitfalls, but rather embraces them with vigor. So much so, that he shatters them with new energy. Whedon, a true comic fan, takes advantage of the development built through Marvel’s ten previous films and “mixes things up” by sprinkling in a series of events that fractures the team’s cohesiveness organically. He does this by mining some previously established developments rather than adding something in that would doubtlessly feel abrasive.

Ultron, eventually voiced by James Spader, is a very appropriate villain for the direction this franchise is heading. Aliens have been The Avengers’ most common foe, but Ultron takes a tip from arguably the best Marvel film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and becomes a metaphor for paranoia and fear. Ultron uses information as a weapon and in essence is also the impetus for introducing the film’s two newest characters The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Russian twins with an axe to grind against Stark’s weapons background and some pretty impressive powers. Of course, Whedon is not satisfied in adding something new simply for the sake of a sequel; instead, he uses the twins to give the film an opportunity to reveal more depth to the individual Avengers, something the first film was unable to do as an “origin story” and something usually reserved for the individual entries in the franchises.  Black Widow and Hawkeye, the two Avengers without an individual film about them, benefit most from this element of the film.

At the end, Avengers: Age of Ultron does not have the feel of high, global stakes like the previous film, but that is exactly why these films have not grown stale. We are constantly introduced to a new angle, and in this case, one that may leave some feeling a little confused on what the future holds for these beloved heroes. The one fault I find with the film is, while it has moments of thoughtfulness, I think given the amount of depth developed over ten films, this film could have been more ambitious. The scenes that work, work very well and while there is probably at least one too many fight scenes, there are still plenty of extremely enjoyable “quieter” scenes where these actors get to have fun with the characters and continue the tongue-in-cheek humor that fans have come to expect and appreciate. This is yet another infinity stone in the crown of the Marvel cinematic universe leaving this summer’s Ant Man as the sole film entry left that can smudge phase two of Marvel’s unstoppable success. A-

Avengers: Age of Ultron is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 21 minutes. As promised by Whedon, there is one short scene mid-way through the credits, but no other extra scenes after that.

Apes and a Train: A Summer Action Double Feature

After the fourth worst July 4th weekend in box office history, I’m sure many of you have been waiting for a movie finally worth seeing. Well The People’s Critic is here to the rescue with not one but TWO great films to see right now: Snowpiercer and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The amazing thing is that these two films have more in common than their release dates! Both take place 10 years after a cataclysmic event that nearly wipes out the entire human race. Both warn against the effects of totalitarianism. Both star a different British guy from Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy. Both are excellent.

SnowpiercerSnowpiercer stars Chis Evans as Curtis who exists with the last handful of humanity left alive after a failed experiment to reverse Earth’s rising climate resulted in another ice age. The only survivors are those who boarded a bullet train that was designed by an enigmatic billionaire named Wilford (Ed Harris) to perpetually cycle the earth in annual rotations with no need for fuel. Curtis is a “Freeloader.” Freeloaders are the poor who are permitted to board the train but are relegated to the tail-end of the train and live in deplorable conditions. The train features a second and first class passage for those wealthy enough to afford the tickets, each with far more luxurious accommodations.

Unsurprisingly, the Freeloaders get fed up with their position in the train and the conditions that they are forced to live with such as the mysterious gelatinous “Protein bars” that are their sole food supply. As the film progresses, director Joon-Ho Bong (The Host, the Korean monster one, not the lame Saoirse Ronan one) slowly reveals exactly what the Freeloaders have had to do and live with in order to survive in their compartments. Curtis with the help of an aging leader named Gillian (John Hurt) stage a rebellion that will take them through the entire length of the train with the goal of reaching and taking control of the sacred engine car. This fight to the front is the main action of the movie, and it is really exciting. Every car is wildly different with new and interesting experiences for the characters that keep the movie fresh and engaging.

Snowpiercer is a witty and enjoyable allegory about class warfare and the dangers of totalitarianism. Directed by a South Korean, it is hard to not see this film as a somewhat veiled criticism on the state of North Korea. Political and allegorical messages aside, Snowpiercer is a solid, intelligent summer action film with great performances. Tilda Swinton may give the first Oscar-worthy performance of 2014 as the deliciously evil Minister Mason who combats Curtis and his army in the most sly and conniving of ways. Snowpiercer easily could be labeled the best film of the summer, if not for….

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the follow-up to 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes and truly Dawn of the Planet of the Apesputs the mesmerizingly talented Andy Serkis in the spotlight that he truly deserves. Serkis reprises his motion-capture role as Caesar, leader of the now highly evolved population of apes. Ten years have passed since the battle of San Francisco. The H5N1 virus, nicknamed the Simian Flu, has killed off most of humanity except for a miniscule group of people immune to the virus. The apes have migrated to the forests and have evolved to such a degree that they have built a civilization that has allowed them to develop an entire culture. Oddly the fantastic score by Michael Giacchino during an early scene where the apes demonstrate a highly advanced hunting technique is reminiscent of the score from 2001 A Space Odyssey that accompanies that film’s apes making an important evolutionary step.

It is this kind of subtext that makes the film so impressive. As the surviving humans realize they are running out of fuel, they conclude that their only hope is repairing a power-generating dam that is smack in the middle of the apes’ new civilization. Fear and paranoia mount on both sides as a stage is set worthy of Shakespeare, Serkis’s character being named Caesar clearly being intentional. Caesar’s memory of compassionate humans causes him to hesitantly permit a group of humans lead by Ellie (Keri Russel) and Malcolm (Jason Clarke) to repair the dam. Ellie and Malcolm are two ‘Chimp-athetic’ humans, if I may use a phrase coined by Entertainment Weekly’s film critic Chris Nashawaty, but many of the other humans are not including the desperate human leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) who will not allow his people to sink back to the uncivilized life they had before setting up their current compound in San Francisco.

Of course, misplaced trust and a few bad apples on both sides threaten the safety and livelihood of both man and ape resulting in the threat of another all-out war. Caesar and Malcolm are tasked with the mission of trying to maintain peace.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an incredibly good looking movie and one with momentary glances of brilliance. Most of the film’s success can be attributed to the expressive Andy Serkis, however. Never in all of his underrated performances has he given a performance so emotional, raw, and empathetic. Caesar is an ape of few words, regardless of his ability to speak, and his face (and consequently Serkis’s) communicates complex emotions unlike anything we have seen him convey before. If Tilda Swinton’s performance in Snowpiercer starts the Summer Oscar conversation, Serkis’s totally immersive performance as Caesar certainly adds to it.

These two films come just in time to save the summer from total mediocrity. If you’re looking for something to wash that bad taste Transformers: Age of Extinction left in your mouth, then a Snowpiercer/Dawn of the Planet of the Apes double feature is just the thing. Snowpiercer: A-, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: A-

Snowpiercer is also available on VOD and is rated R with a running time of 2 hours and 6 minutes. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 10 minutes.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

ImageJust as Spidey is swinging back into theaters for, doubtless, another big opening at the box office, The People’s Critic is just getting a chance to write up the Spring’s first big blockbuster. That’s right, Cap is back, and in a big, big way! Remember when Sam Raimi’s Spiderman came out, and everyone was saying, “Now that is how you make a comic book movie!”? But then The Dark Knight came out and everyone said, “No wait, now that is how you make a comic book movie!” Taking nothing away from Spiderman, The Dark Knight, or the other entries in the Marvel franchise, I would like to formally invite Captain America: The Winter Soldier into the conversation because this is how you make a comic book movie!

To begin with, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a terrific political conspiracy thriller in the style of Three Days of the Condor or The Parallax View except with superheroes and a bigger budget. I can honestly say that anyone can enjoy this film even without previous knowledge of other Marvel franchise films. I can say this because I took my mother to the film and she loved it. For those of you who know my mother’s skepticism to all things “comic,” that should send you to the theater immediately.

For those of you who don’t know my mother or need even more motivation, now I’m speaking to you. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the follow-up to Joe Johnston’s 2011 film, Captain America: The First Avenger. The sequel, exquisitely directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, finds “Cap” Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) finally adjusting to life in the 21st century. Still an active member of S.H.I.E.L.D, Rogers continues to take missions but is finding modern ethics a bit distasteful compared to those he lived by in the 1940s.  

When S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), reveals a new initiative called Project Insight, Rogers has major doubts. Spearheaded by the World Security Council, Project Insight would use triangulated helicarriers that track bio-levels in all humans to determine future threats and then eliminate them before they can ever strike. Similar to the conflicts in the film Minority Report, this form of “pre-crime” judgment is a tough pill for Rogers to swallow. After Fury requests that Secretary of Defense Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) delay Project Insight, Fury is suddenly attacked in one of the finest action sequences put to film in recent memory.

Now Rogers along with new pal, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Agent Natasha Romanoff (Scarlet Johansson), must search to find who it is that is attacking S.H.I.E.L.D. and preserve the safety of America and the world. His efforts are complicated with the arrival of The Winter Soldier, a mysterious super soldier with talents and abilities rivaling those of Rogers’s. The cat’s mostly out of the bag regarding what the Winter Soldier’s identity truly is, but I will not reveal it here.

Back to my original statement about why this film belongs in the conversation of finest comic book movies. While many films of this genre are born into intergalactic conflicts and absurdly fantastic plotlines, the best of them are grounded, at least partially, in reality. The motive for Captain America has always been protecting his homeland from threats, and it is a credit to the Russo brothers and writers Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely to put him in an environment where he is doing that very thing.  Additionally, the performances are pitch perfect.  Evans brings the perfect balance of charm, bravado, and idealism to the role of Captain America, and Robert Redford puts forth a very real and noteworthy performance as Pierce, no doubt inspired by how Tommy Lee Jones treated his role as Colonel Phillips in Captain America: The First Avenger. 

The film, while capable of standing alone, is also so well woven in to the Marvel universe. References and Easter eggs abound including one small homage to actor, Samuel L. Jackson that is sure to delight fans of his films. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is yet another fantastic entry into this still unrivaled and unprecedented series of associated franchises. However, this film sets a new bar but one that I have no doubts will be surpassed again. A

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 15 minutes. Marvel continues its trend of providing stingers after the credits, so stay comfortable and enjoy two scenes – one midway through the credits and one afterwards.