Marvel’s Collision Course

So……Captain America: Civil War may be both the best Marvel film to date and yet the dumbest. Sure, it has some of the best action and acting in Marvel Studios’ canon, but the motivation behind this epic showdown is just dimwitted enough to not have it be entirely erased from one’s conscious. The parts of a great Avengers-like spectacle are mostly there (hell, it’s easier to call this whole thing Avengers 3), but it has trouble coming together. It’s like trying to smash an Ferrari and a Lamborghini together to make a super car: you’re only getting a car wreck.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Captain America: Civil War is the 13th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the kickoff to the MCU’s Phase Three of flicks. Meant as a follow-up to the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: The Winter Solider, the movie sees Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) and his fellow Avengers (sans Thor and Hulk) dealing with their greatest enemy to date: The United Nations! After realizing that the Avengers’ world-saving battles are causing too much collateral damage for comfort, the U.N. drafts a bill that requires the Avengers to go public and be monitored by the governments of the world. Some, like War Machine (Don Cheadle), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannsson) and Vision (Paul Bettany) think the bill is necessary. Others, like Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Steve think it’s too extreme. The one really pushing everyone to sign is Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), still riddled with guilt over the events in Sokovia and trying to compensate for his increasing lack of control over what happens to the Earth. Things get even more complicated when Cap’s buddy Bucky Barnes/Winter Solider (Sebastian Stan) is held responsible for a bombing at the U.N. meeting signing the bill into law. Steve believes his friend is innocent, but Tony is ordered to bring Barnes in. With that, the two Avengers and co. collide.

 

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Robert Downey Jr. in “Captain America: Civil War” Photo Credit: Marvel Studios

 

Said company brings their A-game as Civil War may be the most emotionally driven Marvel movie to date. Downey Jr. in particular brings Stark to his most interesting arc in the films because he clearly doesn’t have it all together. Stark is dour, stressed and desperate to keep the Avengers together because he’s well aware that the danger has increased while he only knows how to make fancier Iron Man suits. The consequences of his actions are hitting him now more than ever and Downey makes it show. It makes Stark look incredibly flawed and all the more interesting. However, the MVP of the stacked line-up is one of the newcomers: Chadwick Boseman (Get On Up, 42) as Black Panther. Boseman proves himself worthy of the cast with a stern charisma and the unaltered morals of his character. There’s a real heart and passion to the way Boseman portrays the noble son of Wakanda trying to keep himself removed from the egos of the other heroes. It just adds to the anticipation of Panther’s upcoming solo movie and further establishes Boseman as a born movie star. The other ace is the film’s actual villain: Daniel Brühl (Inglourious BasterdsRush) as Zemo, a reserved and welcome break from giant robots and aliens to fight. And of course there’s the debut of Marvel Studios’ Spider-Man, played with a pitch-perfect amount of teenaged geekiness by newcomer Tom Holland (The Impossible). Despite looking like Jamie Bell if he drank youth formula, Holland may be the most faithful interpretation of Spider-Man to date despite being in only ten minutes of the film. For those complaining that Holland comes off as too awkward or wimpy, guess what: that’s actually who Spider-Man is supposed to be (not a twenty-something Abercrombie model). It’s clear Holland’s presence is to tease a future Spider-Man movie, but the filmmakers wisely keep his appearance brief since he contributes nothing to the actual plot.

 

The rest of the cast all remember how to play their roles right and manage to fit into the picture just the right amount. Everyone else know they’re in a supporting role and they all manage to compliment the story. War Machine reminds Tony of the casualties of superhero war, Vision and Scarlett Witch are the overpowered outsiders trying to find their place on the team, and Black Panther and Hawkeye are the removed characters sticking to their own morals during the big fight. Strangely enough, the weakest element of the movie is the one that kicks the movie into gear. Without the political conspiracy story from The Winter Soldier, the Winter Solider/Captain America relationship is very uninteresting. The main story is the divide between the Avengers, but the movie gets in motion after Winter Solider comes into the movie and it feels mostly unnecessary. More so, Evans and Stan don’t show a lot of chemistry or connection together until the end of the film. Winter Solider kicks off a lot of the action in the movie, but every character besides Winter Solider are what make the scenes stand out. Martin Freeman stands out more despite him being in the movie almost the same length as Stan Lee’s obligatory cameo.

 

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(Left to right) Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Chris Evans and Sebastian Stan in “Captain America: Civil War.” Photo Credit: Marvel Studios

 

Civil War is a darker affair than most Marvel movies, but not by much. Unlike that OTHER superhero showdown, Civil War doesn’t overdo the gloom and doom. There’s the overarching atmosphere of seriousness that occasionally gets broken by quips of comedy (some of it lands, some of it doesn’t). The thing is that Civil War looks more realized and alive. In fact, Civil War appears much more realistic and affective than Zack Snyder’s depressing vision. Under the direction of The Winter Solider directors Anthony and Joe Russo, the action set pieces combine fist-fights and effect-driven power play very well. There are some moments of shaky-cam and rapid editing, but the Russo brothers know when to make the audience pay attention. The final showdown between Iron Man, Winter Soldier and Captain America is surprisingly brutal with Iron Man using blinding rage as motivation and Cap just trying to protect his friend despite bleeding profusely from the mouth. The real main event is the advertised showdown at the airport between Team Iron Man and Team Cap. It’s gigantic, ridiculous, stupid yet incredibly pleasing to see everyone show off their powers against one another. Every time you’ve smashed action figures together and made sound effects to it as a kid has manifested onscreen. Whereas Marvel’s Daredevil had the most grounded and realistic fight scene, Civil War is at the opposite end of the spectrum with its over-the-top nature, but both represent the best Marvel has to offer. It might even be worth the price of admission alone.

But what keeps Civil War from matching the miracle that was 2012’s Avengers? Well for one, Marvel has a hard time keeping a straight face. They’re clearly going for a more serious tone but there are moments with serious dramatic heft that get interrupted with witty quips or Vision cooking in a pullover sweater (no, seriously). Sure it’s funny, but takes the audience out of the entire experience and creates near-tonal whiplash. The real problem is the entire main plot (or plots) of the movie. As mentioned, the entire involvement of Winter Solider in the movie feels shoehorned in and merely acts as a greater catalyst for Captain America’s involvement. He’s conflicted enough on the bill after the events of the opening action scene, so having Bucky be thrown in seems more like a distraction from the more interesting conflict between Tony and Steve. On top of that, it’s actually easy to pick a side on this battle. The main reason Tony backs the bill so heavily is a rather blunt scene where a woman blames her son’s death in Sokovia on Tony. Sure there have been many forms of collateral damage throughout the Avengers’ world-saving fights, but the alternative of keeping Earth’s Mightiest Heroes waiting for political red tape to let them save the world seems incredibly dumb. Tony’s motivations seems to be out of desperation rather than thought out logic, the same goes for those supporting the bill. It’s certainly something that political debate can be featured in a superhero movie where Paul Rudd laughs it up for yucks, but it’s not much of a debate to get invested in. If the choice is to let the Avengers do what they do and learn from their mistakes or tighten the leash on them in the hopes of possibly lessening the damage, I say AVENGERS ASSEMBLE! You know who doesn’t care about collateral damage? Thanos, Hydra and Zemo. You know who’s been proven to be hopelessly unprepared to fight these enemies? The entire human race. You’d think there’d be a thoughtful conversation about these issues, but the only way superheroes can solve problems is through punching, and that’s mostly what Civil War has to offer.

 

 

Taken as big, dumb blockbuster spectacle, Civil War comes so damn close to reaching the scale and emotional heft of The Avengers and that should be more than enough to recommend this movie. But it’s just too hard to ignore the fact that Marvel isn’t willing to pull the trigger on the Watchmen-like question of “who should superheroes answer to?”In fact the more I think about it, that big question is almost entirely tossed aside for Tony’s emotional breakdown and Steve’s buddy rescue, not to mention more Winter Soldier backstory that isn’t worthy of a subplot let alone a feature film. So like I said, Civil War is like a sports car demolition derby: it’s awesome to see these impeccably crafted works collide with each other, but the final product is a mess the more you look at it.

 

3 out of 4 stars

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Upping the “Ant”e

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Well it’s official: Marvel Studios is the Superman of Hollywood. No offense to Henry Cavill, but the superhero movie factory has a lot in common with the Man of Steel, in good and bad ways. There are those that love Marvel Studios for their vision and approach to superheroes, but there are others that pan them for having the same old story for every single movie. Some claim Marvel Studios create visual eye-candy and action-packed thrill rides, other claim that the formula for their movies has already gotten stale and don’t have enough substance. One thing’s for sure, Marvel Studios and Superman are impervious to damage and damn near unstoppable. Case-in-point, Ant-Man.

In 1989, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) decides to leave S.H.I.E.L.D. in order to protect his breakthrough shrinking technology (called the Pym Particle) from being used just as a weapon. 26 years later, Dr. Pym discovers his successor, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), has nearly mimicked the science of the Pym Particle in order to create shrinking suits (called Yellowjackets) that’ll sell to the highest bidder. Fearing the worst, Dr. Pym and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) plot to steal and destroy Cross’ technology so it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Who do they choose to pull off the heist? Recently released con-man Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), who’s looking to redeem himself for the sake of his young daughter and find his true calling. Working with Dr. Pym, Hope and Scott’s three buddies (Michael Pena, David Dastmalchian and rapper T.I.), Scott uses Dr. Pym’s shrinking suit and becomes (SPOILER) the Ant-Man.

Ant-Man has been on people’s watch list for a while now, mostly due to its drama behind the scenes. Originally, writer/director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) was supposed to helm the movie, but he left after Marvel Studios denied him of his vision (though he and Joe Cornish are still given credit to writing the screenplay and story). The final product, directed by Peyton Reed (Bring It On, Yes Man) and rewritten by Paul Rudd and Adam McKay (Anchorman, Step Brothers), is more like someone trying to make an Edgar Wright movie, at least from a director’s standpoint. Many of the sequences, like Scott’s training with the Ant-Man suit or Michael Pena’s character explaining how he gets information, are cut and move with the same energy of Wright’s movies. It’s even peppered into the action scenes, showing the Ant-Man using his shrinking abilities to dodge enemies and grow just in time for some quick jabs. Peyton Reed may not have his own distinguishable style on this movie, but he knows to give the movie a steady pulse and some hustle in its action. The script is also solid, with Wright and Cornish’s clever pacing blending well with Rudd and McKay’s cocky dialogue. The combination of the Wright-ish directing and the funny dialogue is probably why Ant-Man easily flies by in its 1 hour and 57 minute duration, making for what feels like the quickest movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The cast is more of a mystery, specifically Paul Rudd. He’s known primarily as a supporting player in comedies, but whenever he’s in a lead role he’s always given another lead to support him (Seann William Scott in Role Models, Jason Segel in I Love You, Man and Tina Fey in Admission). Ant-Man is no exception, as Rudd is given very little solo scenes to entertain or stake his claim as a character. He’s either with Michael Douglas training or with Michael Pena planning a heist. Rudd’s not bad here, he just doesn’t show enough charisma or character development to hold certain scenes. If anything, his Scott Lang is meant to be a comedic punching bag, the struggling every man (though he is a criminal) thrusted into an extraordinary situation. It’s as if the movie knows you don’t care about Scott Lang the way you care about Tony Stark or Steve Rogers, so it doesn’t take the time to make him unique. Scott Lang may be the easiest character Marvel Studios have ever written, but then there’s Darren Cross. Corey Stoll’s villain is the typical “evil guy because he’s evil” character, much like Jeff Bridges in Iron Man. All he does is look creepy and yell when he gets mad. Don’t lose hope because the real star of Ant-Man is Michael Douglas, who acts everybody else under the table. The best thing is that Douglas isn’t just some old acclaimed actor doing a superhero movie for cash or to get props from their grandkids. Douglas is invested in the story and character of Hank Pym, even enjoying himself throughout the movie. Evangeline Lilly is the most badass character of the movie, showing Hank how to punch and keeping all the cocky nerds of the movie in line. Michael Pena, known more for dramas than comedies, steals every damn scene he’s in with his jovial energy.

While the energy and comedy is on point here, Ant-Man is more of a typical heist movie than a typical superhero movie. That said, “typical” is still a common word used here, with the usual montages of training for the heist, planning the heist and getting the rag tag team together. Still, Ant-Man is a welcome burst of fun in the MCU canon. It’s still a similar vehicle, with different parts and the order of the set-up switched around a bit. Even though Edgar Wright’s vision wasn’t fully formed, the good bits break through to make a more exciting movie and keep the Marvel success story rolling. In fact, it may be the least important film in the set-up to the next Avengers movie, and maybe that’s a good thing. Ant-Man is much better as a stand-alone movie, trying to do Marvel’s formula a bit different, and that’s something Marvel Studios needs to do more often before they, like Superman, face their Doomsday.
Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 4 stars

Marvel’s First Misstep?

Well it’s here, and in human size, no less!

The first teaser trailer for Marvel’s anticipated “Ant-Man” hit the internet after debuting at the end of the premier episode of “Marvel’s Agent Carter” on ABC. The movie stars Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly and Corey Stoll. Originally, “Ant-Man” was to be helmed by Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead”), but a creative dispute led to Wright exiting the project and Peyton Reed (“Bring It On”) taking over as director. Wright and Joe Cornish (“Attack the Block”) are still credited as the writers of the story while, according to IMDB, Adam McKay (“Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy”) and Rudd have written the screenplay.
Despite these impressive credentials, the first trailer left me feeling…disappointed. It looks like a very standard looking superhero origins movie, with the Hans Zimmer-esque booming horns in the background. In the trailer, Dr. Hank Pym (Douglas) is looking to give criminal Scott Lang (Rudd) a second chance at life by becoming the titular hero. The trailer, which clocks in at just under 2 minutes, shows quick cuts and fading transitions of Rudd looking either serious, concerned, or just generally baffled at Pym’s idea. Along with that are shots of other cast members looking stern, close-ups of guns being fired, shots of Lang’s daughter to add weight to the story, and Rudd ending the footage asking, “Is it too late to change the name?” Hardy har har, then BOOM, ANT – MAN in big red letters.
Yes, it’s the teaser of a broken man trying to protect the one he loves by doing something dangerous with big, booming music in the background…kind of like the teaser for “Iron Man 3,” or “Thor: The Dark World.” There’s also a brilliant old scientist looking to give a troubled man the chance to be extraordinary, like the guy with glasses who gave that juice to the skinny guy in, what was that movie again?…..oh yeah, “Captain America: The First Avenger.” Basically, I didn’t need to wait in anticipation for the “Ant-Man” teaser because I’ve seen it before, many times in fact, for pretty much every other Marvel movie. It’s one thing for superhero movies to be a new (and prominent) sub-genre of movies today, but now teasers and trailers are showing a repetitive pattern of things in them for people to recognize what it is. For me, it just takes the excitement away from the movie.
Take the teaser for “Guardians of the Galaxy” as an example. What did that entail? A police line-up of the main characters, Chris Pratt’s Star Lord realizing he’s not as cool as his name implies, and of course….OOGA CHAKA, OOGA CHAKA! That was exciting, cool, and something I had not seen from Marvel since I first heard Black Sabbath backing Robert Downey Jr. in a giant robot suit. The sneak peek of “Ant-Man” got the same reaction from me as Scott Lang gives to Dr. Pym when he’s asked to become Ant-Man.
But maybe I’m just being too stern about this. After all, this is just a teaser. Maybe when the full trailer is released I’ll be more invested, or maybe I just can’t see “Ant-Man” taken as seriously as Iron Man or Thor. I know nothing about the actual comic book and, given Ant-Man’s abilities, I assumed the movie would have been played as an action-comedy. Maybe it will be, especially if it has writing credits from the men who created a zombie-slaying slacker and San Diego’s finest newsman. Or perhaps I’m all hyped out from the teasers of “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” and “Jurassic World.” Regardless, “Ant-Man” doesn’t have my ticket punched just yet, but they’ve got plenty of time to change my mind. “Ant-Man” hits theaters July 17 and will conclude Marvel’s “Phase Two” of their cinematic universe.