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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Lucy

LucyCinema’s fascination with what might come from an evolution in human intelligence is as old as film itself. Thus, finding fresh, original ideas for these kinds of films is often a lost cause. However, if you like your Limitless with a side of Tree of Life, then Lucy may be the ticket for you this weekend.

The latest film from French director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, The Family), Lucy stars Scarlett Johansson in the title role as a student living in Taiwan whose boyfriend tricks her into completing a drug deal that has some unexpected consequences. When the drug deal goes sour, Lucy finds herself face to face with drug kingpin, Mr. Jang (Oldboy‘s Min-sik Choi) who threatens to kill her unless she acts as his drug mule. Lucy is forced to transport Jang’s newly synthesized drug by having it sewn into her lower intestine, but when an altercation results in the drug leaking into her bloodstream, Lucy discovers that the drug has an unintended side effect of increasing her cerebral capacity. Now, armed with brain functionality that dwarfs that of the average person, Lucy goes on the warpath to seek revenge against Jang and his outfit. In order to keep the film from becoming a routine revenge film and to instill a bit of legitimacy to Lucy’s agenda, Besson introduces Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman), a brain researcher who advises Lucy to act as any thriving organism does and attempt to pass down what she learns for future generations.

As I stated earlier, this is not the most original idea ever put to film, but Besson does put his artistic spin on it and successfully creates what is easily one of the best films he has ever directed (which to many is not saying much!). As we are reminded over and over, the average person uses 10% of his or her brain, but Lucy discovers that once 20% is reached, the rest falls into place like dominoes. Soon Lucy discovers that her body requires doses of the drug to survive, resulting in further increases of brain functionality, but she finds that she cannot sustain 100% cerebral capacity making her a paradoxical ticking time brain. Lucy’s journey to unlock the secrets of the universe and kill a drug lord does feel a bit unbalanced at times. Furthermore, at a svelte 90 minutes, the film also seems a bit hurried and cheesy at times. It is also a surprisingly violent film with plenty of on and off screen casualties that do not seem necessary or prudent to the story. The film is strongest in its set-up where Besson cleverly splices metaphorical imagery into his narrative to an almost subliminal effect. What is proven is Johansson’s charm and strength in the genre (Lucy almost feels like an audition for the upcoming Black Widow, Avengers spin-off that will star her and is now in production). Regardless of its faults, this is an artsy and visionary little slice of sci-fi that is worth checking out. B

Lucy is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Don Jon

ImageDon Jon presents a surprisingly adult perspective on relationships.  First time writer, director, and star Joseph Gordon-Levitt said he came up with the idea for Don Jon during the filming of a film called 50/50 with Seth Rogan.  In that film, Rogan (who wrote and starred in 50/50) tries to help his friend, played by Gordon-Levitt, through the drama of his recent Cancer diagnosis by coaxing him to lose himself in meaningless sex and to use his Cancer as a sympathy device with women.  Gordon-Levitt’s character Jon in Don Jon feels like a combination of those two characters, which is quite fascinating.

Don Jon, in essence, is a modern retelling of the classic Don Juan legends.  Here, Jon (Gordon-Levitt) is a slick, confident ladies man – handsome, confident, and consumed with his appearance and the appearance of those with whom he desires intimacy.  As we get to know Jon, we are immersed in his chauvinism and addictive personality.  He hits the gym for his patterned out workout, he hits the church for his prepared confessions, and he hits the Internet for his regular masturbatory sessions.  He also hits the clubs nightly with his friends where they rate women on their appearance, hoping for the elusive “dime” or perfect 10.  That “dime” appears in the form of Barbara (Scarlett Johansson).  From the moment Jon and Barbara begin their romance, Don Jon stops being a character piece and starts being an intriguing look at adult relationships and how the opposite sexes view each other.  In most retellings of Don Juan legends, the protagonist’s sinful ways are dealt with very one-dimensionally in that he is punished for taking advantage of those around him.  Gordon-Levitt tries something different.  He tells a far more relatable story about how both men and women are guilty of attaching unreal expectations on each other due to stereotypes perpetuated by a society that profits on obsession; for men it’s the porn industry and for women it’s the fairy-tale romantic stories in the movies.

As Jon and Barbara’s relationship continues, Jon’s addiction with porn complicates things because Jon values the virtual more than the physical.  Meanwhile, Barbara’s addiction to romantic love stories puts unreal expectations on how Jon is supposed to live his life if he’s going to be with her.  All of this is explored with a careful eye by Gordon-Levitt, the director.  The culmination of which is his subtle introduction of Esther (Julianne Moore) as an older classmate in Jon’s night school course.  Gordon-Levitt did wonders for his film by including Moore, and it is apparent from the moment she appears.  His most impressive camera work, acting, and staging occurs in this act, and it all strengthens the film as a whole.

Gordon-Levitt has made a fine exploration of one sub-section of modern adult relationships.  While some scenes seem a bit forced in terms of situation and/or dialogue (i.e. the curtain rod scene between Jon and Barbara), most of what he does works very well.  Gordon-Levitt also brilliantly casts Tony Danza in a small part as his character’s father and gets an excellent little performance out of him.  It may not be time for Academy Award winning filmmaker, Joseph Gordon-Levitt just yet, but he does show promise behind the camera apart from in front of it.  B+

Don Jon is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 30 minutes.  It’s a good looking, well acted look at some modern aspects of adult relationships. 

Hitchcock

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Movies about the movies are generally fascinating, and this genre has really never gone out of style. 2012’s best picture Oscar went to The Artist, a film about the emergence of sound in film. Robert Altman’s excellent film The Player satirizes the studio system as a backdrop to a murder mystery. The list of films like this dates back to the origin of the motion picture itself. While a common genre to make, these films often find a smaller niche audience and Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock will be no exception.

Hitchcock opens with a charming homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s television program, Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Anthony Hopkins plays the iconic director, and his bravura for capturing Hitchcock’s eccentricities without appearing overly melodramatic keeps the film afloat through its sprawling middle section (which is curiously similar to the sprawling middle section of the man himself). It can be a double-edged sword to be a director who takes on a film project about a brilliant director. Gervasi’s film is rather unimpressive in its form. It is constructed rather typically and while telling a story about some brilliant editing, it fails to really practice what it preaches. This film is also not a career spanning project; instead, it commences in medias res as the aging director searches for a project that will validate his position as a master of suspense who is not outgrowing his art form. That aforementioned project is 1960’s Psycho.

The battle to get Psycho made is an interesting story and one worthy of the legacy of films about films. Hopkins dispels some of the tainted oddity that surrounds the reputation of Hitchcock by revealing the passion that lies underneath. Additionally, the film showcases his symbiotic relationship with his wife, Alma (Helen Mirran), a previously unsung heroine who put up with a lot and always stood by the flawed auteur. However, the film does tend to be a bit too “inside” for the casual filmgoer. It is almost imperative to have a working knowledge of Psycho to truly enjoy the film. Moreover, there are multiple winks at the audience for those who come in to the theater already knowing some of the behind the scenes stories like Hitchcock’s battle with Bernard Herrmann about the score or what images were truly spliced into the famous shower montage.

Nonetheless, Hitchcock does sail on in a relatively entertaining way. There is a bit of a lull as the film shifts focuses from Hitchcock to Alma’s friendship with Whitfield Cook (Danny Houston). This side-story is pivotal, but it is dwelled on and overly represented. Hitchcock’s infamous curiosity with his leading ladies is explored as Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) and Vera Miles (Jessica Biel) arrive on the set. This story of the director at work is much more compelling and deserves to be showcased a bit more than it is. This obsession that Hitchcock had with his lead actresses on set was also examined in HBO’s The Girl, which debuted on the network earlier this year. In that film, Toby Jones plays Hitchcock with a malevolent and sinister air. Hopkins provides a slightly softer, warmer (yet still faintly obtuse) view of his behavior. Hitchcock is far from the comprehensive, authoritative source on the life of its subject. That film is yet to be made and perhaps never will be. However, it is not without its charm and is sure to please fans, although it may fail to create new ones. B