Marvel’s CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016) – Epic Superhero Adventure One of Year’s Best

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CaptainAmerica Civil War

For nearly a decade, starting with IRON MAN (2008), Marvel has been churning out quality superhero movies year after year, and their latest installment, CAPTAIN AMERICA:  CIVIL WAR (2016) continues this trend.

It’s the best superhero movie of the year so far.

Yeah, I know, I loved DEADPOOL (2016), and I still do, but by the length of Ant-Man’s pinky fingernail, I prefer CIVIL WAR.  There are just so many good things about this movie that lift it to the top of the class.

And yes, I realize the Tobey Maguire SPIDERMAN movies and the X-MEN films pre-date IRON MAN, but for me, Jon Favreau’s IRON MAN was the movie that jettisoned the recent explosion of high quality Marvel superhero films.

The only thing problematic at this point in these Marvel movies is there have been so many films in the series, it’s often a challenge to keep track of the multiple storylines and characters.  The writers need to keep this in mind and do a better job explaining plot points from previous films.  For example, I don’t want to spend precious minutes in the theater trying to remember just how it was that Vision got hold of Loki’s technology.  When I do that, I miss what’s going on in the movie.  Other than this, these films are clicking on all cylinders.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is about the rift that occurs between Captain America and Iron Man over the future of the Avengers, a rift that leads to an all out war between the two factions. The governments of the world have grown tired of the destructive collateral damage inflicted by the Avengers every time they go about saving the world.  They’re weary of all the death and destruction, and so they want the Avengers to sign an agreement saying they will no longer act unilaterally, that they will only act when instructed by the United Nations to do so.

Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) has been riding an emotional roller coaster lately.  His girlfriend Pepper Pots has left him, and he’s recently been feeling extremely guilty over the deaths he has inadvertently caused in the line of duty.  In his mind, the Avengers are a bunch of loose cannons, and some restrictions would be a good thing.  Put the responsibility on someone else’s shoulders, for once.

Captain America (Chris Evans) has the exact opposite reaction to the agreement.  His best friend Bucky, aka the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) is blamed for an international assassination and terrorist attack. Since Captain America believes Bucky was framed, he wants to investigate on his own without the sanction of the United Nations, which wants Bucky arrested.  In Captain America’s mind, if the Avengers give up their freedoms now, it will only get worse later.

And thus the battle lines are drawn.  The Avengers are suddenly divided.  It’s Team Captain America vs. Team Iron Man, and these two sides do more than just verbally spat.  They engage in an all out war, in a battle sequence that is as good as any other in the entire Marvel movie series.

Captain America Civil War-2016-hollywood-movie-poster

There’s a lot to like about CAPTAIN AMERICA:  CIVIL WAR.

Let’s start with the cast.  A lot of these folks have been playing these characters for a while now, and so they have really grown into these roles.  Chris Evans has always played the all-American superhero Captain America to near-perfection, in both the previous CAPTAIN AMERICA movies and in THE AVENGERS series.  He’s even a tad better here as his all-American image takes a hit— up to a point.  When he goes rogue, on the surface it seems like something Captain America wouldn’t do, but then again, there are certainly those who embody American patriotism who would shudder at the thought of reporting to the United Nations.  Sure, in this movie the Captain is also rebelling against the U.S. government, but in the current political climate even that decision doesn’t seem far-fetched.

And while technically this is a CAPTAIN AMERICA movie, it does play more like THE AVENGERS 2 1/2.  As such, Iron Man plays just as big a role in this one as Captain America does.  Robert Downey Jr. has been phenomenal as Tony Stark/Iron Man ever since he first played the role in IRON MAN (2008).  This marks the sixth time Downey Jr. has played the character, following the three IRON MAN movies and the two AVENGERS films.  I, for one, have not grown tired watching Downey Jr. play the role.

His Tony Stark is a wise-cracking playboy badass who is actually more interesting and fun to watch than when he wears his Iron Man suit.  That being said, Downey Jr.’s Stark, like Chris Evans’ Captain America, goes through some changes here.  He has developed a conscience in his “old age,” as he is feeling increasingly guilty over the innocent deaths he has caused in the line of duty.  Since he’s usually such a rebel, the fact that he’s the one who wants to side with the government, goes against type.  Combined with Captain America’s similar unexpected reaction, it makes for some fresh and compelling storytelling.

Scarlett Johansson returns as Black Widow, and she is every bit as good as she’s been the previous four times she’s played the role.  Likewise, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Anthony Mackie as the Falcon, Don Cheadle as War Machine, Paul Bettany as Vision, Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, and Paul Rudd as Ant-Man, all return to reprise their roles.

Ant-Man is an incredibly entetaining character, and Rudd takes advantage of nearly every moment he’s in the movie.  Likewise, I enjoyed Elizabeth Olsen even more here as Scarlet Witch than the previous two times she played the role.  She has a lot more to do in this movie, and for the first time you really get to know her character.

If all these actors and characters weren’t enough, there are also two impressive debuts in CAPTAIN AMERICA:  CIVIL WAR.  Chadwick Boseman is impressive as Black Panther.  Boseman, you might remember, played Jackie Robinson in 42 (2013).

But even better than Boseman is young Tom Holland as Spider-Man.  Holland is so impressive as the smart-alecky Spidey that he just might have nailed the best performance in the entire movie.  He’s that good.  And in an interesting bit of casting, Marisa Tomei plays Peter Parker’s Aunt May, a considerable younger version of the character.  But I really liked Tomei in the role, and with with Holland’s Peter Parker really looking like a high school student, the younger Aunt May made perfect sense here.

One character I’m not nuts about is the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).  While Stan is fine in the role, the character does little for me.  Thankfully, even though the plot revolves around Captain American’s buddy, he’s really not in the film all that much.

The Marvel superhero movies always seem to struggle with their villains.  The bad guy in this one, Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) is meh, but it’s less of an issue in this movie since the Avengers are fighting each other.  You might even argue that this film has the best conflict in the Marvel series since they are indeed fighting one another.

Speaking of that fight, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely got the conflict right, something that the writers of the recent BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016) failed to do.  In that flick, the rift between Batman and Superman seemed forced and contrived.  In this movie, I bought the divide between Captain America and Iron Man hook, line, and sinker.  Plus, the movie takes the time to develop the supporting characters’ beliefs, and so when they choose sides, it also makes perfect sense.

CIVIL WAR clocks in at 146 minutes, and as a testament to the terrific job done by directors Anthony and Joe Russo, those 146 minutes flew by.  I did not feel as if I were sitting in the theater for a long time at all.  The film caught my interest early on and held it to the very end.

In the tradition of the Marvel supehero movies, there are two post credit scenes in CIVIL WAR, one in the middle of the end credits and one at the very end, so if you’re into that sort of thing, you’ll want to stay till the last credit rolls.  I always stay.  Why not, right?

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo also handle the action sequences with ease.  The chase scene involving Captain America, the Falcon, the Winter Soldier, and Black Panther is a keeper, and as I said earlier, the sequence where Team Captain America takes on Team Iron Man is among the most exciting and entertaining sequences of the entire Marvel supehero series.

CIVIL WAR is also a nice balance of light and dark.  As always with these Marvel movies, the humor is spot-on.  There are several laugh-out loud sequences, especially the obligatory Stan Lee cameo, which caused the theater to erupt with laughter.

It’s also quite dark, as the film truly captures the angst both Iron Man and Captain America, as well as the rest of the Avengers, feel at the prospect of going up against each other and really going all out to hurt each other.   This authenticity of emotion is something I never felt in the recent BATMAN V. SUPERMAN.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is one movie you do not want to miss, especially if you’re a Marvel supehero fan.  With apologies to DEADPOOL which I liked almost as much, it’s the best superhero film of the year so far.

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CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: ANT-MAN (2015)

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CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: ANT-MAN (2015)

Movie Review by Michael ArrudaAnt_Man

OFF-CAMERA VOICE: Previously on Cinema Knife Fight—

(THE SCENE: A laboratory. L.L. SOARES wears a lab coat as he finishes his CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT review of ANT-MAN.)

L.L. SOARES: And so I give ANT-MAN two and a half knives. This is usually the part where I ask Michael what he thinks of the movie, but since he got shrunk down to a sub atomic level due to an Ant-Man suit malfunction— funny how that happened— he’s not here. So I’ll just say so long for now and—.

(There is a blinding flash of light, and suddenly MICHAEL ARRUDA reappears in the Ant-Man suit, now back to full size.

MICHAEL ARRUDA: Not so fast!

LS: Whoa! How did you manage to come back from a sub atomic level?

MA: It was simple really. I used the anti-sub atomic level button on my Ant-Man utility belt.

LS: Ant-Man utility belt? Holy Adam West!

MA: Indeed.

Anyway, I’m back and I’m ready to review today’s movie.

LS: Well, you’re a little late, but go ahead.

MA: Thank you. And since you got to deliver your review without any interruption from me, I’d like the same courtesy. So, on that note. (Zaps LS with a shrinking ray reducing LS to the size of an ant.) I knew my Dr. Cyclops ray would come in handy some day. (MA picks up LS and carries him to the lab table.)

LS (in tiny voice): Put me down! I’ll get you back for this!

MA: Sure you will. But after my review. (Drops mini LS into a glass jar, and seals the top with a cover.) That should keep you out of trouble while I review today’s movie. (Looks at camera). Don’t worry. There are air holes in the cover. Okay. One air hole.

VOICE: And now, today’s episode of Cinema Knife Fight.

 

MA: Hey, enough of that already. I’ve got a movie to review.

VOICE: You’re no fun.

MA: One more word out of you and I’ll shrink you down to Alvin and the Chipmunks level. Now go away!

VOICE: I’m going! I’m going!

MA: Moving right along. In case you missed L.L.’s review, here’s a brief recap of the plot of ANT-MAN.

In ANT-MAN, the latest superhero movie from Marvel, a company which has been churning out quality entertaining superhero films since the early 2000s, scientist Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) is troubled because his protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) has taken it upon himself to develop miniature technology which Pym had worked on years before, with plans to sell it to the shady organization Hydra for military use. The technology, a suit, shrinks its wearers down to the size of insects where they can wage war undetected.

To stop Cross, Pym recruits a thief and genuinely nice guy and misunderstood ex-con Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) to break into Cross’ complex and steal his Yellowjacket suit. To do this, Pym dusts off his old Ant-Man suit, not used since Pym was a young man, and with the help of his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lily) trains Scott in the art of miniature combat. They also teach Scott how to communicate with ants, an ability which will come in handy because he’s going to need the insects’ help to accomplish his mission.

Hope is not exactly happy about this arrangement since she wants to do the mission herself, and she feels her father doesn’t have faith in her. But the truth is he’s simply worried for her safety. And Scott is enticed into the mission because it will mean financial security for his young daughter, as he’s struggling to make alimony payments since he can’t keep get a job because of his criminal record.

So Scott trains with the ants, and when he’s ready, he’s embarks on his mission to steal the Yellowjacket suit, but meanie Darren Cross is no fool— he’s a villain in a superhero movie, after all!— and so he’s more than ready for Ant-Man, which sets up the climactic confrontation between Ant-Man and Yellowjacket.

You know, when you explain the plot, it all sounds rather silly, but it really isn’t.

LS (in a tiny voice): Says you!

MA: Don’t get me wrong. ANT-MAN is a light and fun movie, but it’s also exceedingly well made— it’s well written, well directed, and well-acted— like pretty much all the Marvel movies, but it’s not stupid.

And this is the main reason I like most of these Marvel movies so much: they know how to have fun, but they never insult your intelligence. In short, they’re true to the spirit of the comics, and they play exactly as if you are watching a comic book unfold on the big screen.

ANT-MAN is no exception. Like last year’s hit GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014), ANT-MAN gravitates towards the humorous, which comes as no surprise since screenwriters Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McCay, and Paul Rudd all have extensive backgrounds in comedy.

Wright wrote and directed the Simon Pegg movies SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004), HOT FUZZ (2007), and THE WORLD’S END (2013), as well as the quirky and very entertaining SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010). In fact, as LL explained in his portion of this review, Wright was originally slated to direct ANT-MAN but dropped out of the project. LL lamented that the film would have had more of an edge to it had Wright directed it, and I can’t disagree with that assessment, although as the film stands now, I liked it just fine.

Adam McCay wrote and directed several Will Ferrell comedies, including ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY (2004) and THE OTHER GUYS (2010), and of course Paul Rudd who plays Ant-Man in this film has acted in a bunch of comedies.

But ANT-MAN is not on the same level as GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. GUARDIANS pressed all the right buttons and had a story that was epic in nature. ANT-MAN has more flaws than GUARDIANS and its story is nowhere near as epic. Whereas GUARDIAN involved saving the universe, ANT-MAN involves stealing a secret weapon. It’s not quite on the same level.

The cast does a nice job. Paul Rudd is an effective Ant-Man and makes for a likeable enough every-day guy turned superhero. Sometimes I thought his humor was a little misplaced, and I didn’t completely buy his nice guy routine. It was a little too much for my liking, and at times the “I never robbed anyone bad” shtick was difficult to swallow. I wish he had more of a dark side, but overall Rudd was very good.

Rudd of course has a history of comedic roles, including roles alongside Steve Carrell in THE 40 YEAR-OLD VIRGIN (2005) and DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS (2010), but does anyone remember a young Rudd starring in the forgettable HALLOWEEN film HALLOWEEN: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS (1995)? It’s one of the weaker films in the series, but Rudd’s performance as a grown up Tommy Doyle, the character who was terrorized as a boy in the original HALLOWEEN, is one of the best parts of the movie.

I really liked Michael Douglas as Dr. Hank Pym. I thought he gave the best performance in the movie as the disillusioned scientist who once had a grand idea and now has to fight to prevent that idea from falling into the wrong hands.

Beautiful and sexy Evangeline Lilly stands out once again as Pym’s daughter Hope. She’s been a favorite of mine since her days on the TV show LOST, and she’s probably the most bad-ass character in the entire movie. She trains Scott how to fight as Ant-Man, and I think she could have fought off the villains a heck of a lot better than him.

Corey Stoll makes for an effective baddie as Darren Cross/Yellowjacket. It’s interesting to note that one of the weakest aspects of these Marvel movies is their villains. On a consistent basis, even though Marvel continues to churn out one quality movie after another, they also continue to churn out one subpar villain after another. And what’s even more amazing to me is their movies haven’t suffered for it. Darren Cross is an OK villain, serviceable in the wicked and evil department, but he’s not even close to being memorable.

Judy Greer and Bobby Cannavale both turn in good performances as Scott’s ex-wife and her police detective boyfriend, and they rise above the clichéd interpretations of these types of roles. However, their story line of concerned parents/guardians of Scott’s cute daughter was a little too syrupy sweet for my tastes.

Likewise, Michael Pena, David Dastmalchian and T.I. play Scott’s goofball buddies who are in this movie strictly for comic relief as they bumble their way throughout the film trying to help Scott/Ant-Man save the day, and they are funny, but they do gravitate towards the silly and ridiculous and are dumbed down a bit too much for my liking.

But I enjoyed all the Marvel references, from the Avengers, to Iron Man, to Stark Enterprises, to Hydra, to the appearance by the Falcon (Anthony Mackie). These references to the Marvel universe all worked for me.

And I can’t disagree with LL’s assessment that as directed by Peyton Reed, ANT-MAN is a safe film, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s not a kid’s movie by any means, but neither is it a hardcore action thriller. It’s, as I’ve said before, like reading a superhero comic book, and it’s done at the utmost level of filmmaking.

There’s also a high “cool” factor about ANT-MAN. When he shrinks down in size and communicates with the ants that help him in combat, it’s all very cool. The special effects during these scenes, while nothing mind-blowing, are certainly excellent. I also really liked the look of both the Ant-Man suit and the Yellowjacket suit.

I saw ANT-MAN in 2D rather than in 3D, and it played fine in this standard format. I loved it just the same.

So, where does ANT-MAN fall in the Marvel canon? Well, it’s not quite on the same level as THE AVENGERS (2012), GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, or IRON MAN (2008), but it’s better than the THOR movies and is similar in quality to the CAPTAIN AMERICA films. Think CAPTAIN AMERICA but with much more humor.

And you definitely want to stay for the two end credits scenes. There’s one in the middle and one at the very end. The one at the very end is definitely worth catching, as it ties in with a future Marvel movie.

Some have complained that the Marvel films are growing tired. I disagree. The quality of these movies continues to amaze me, and I continue to enjoy them and look forward to more films from Marvel. They’re on a role similar to Hammer Films when they unleashed their nonstop quality horror films from the late 1950s through the early 1970s.

ANT-MAN is high entertainment, one of the better movies to come out this summer.

I give it three knives.

(There is a huge crash. LS bursts out of the glass jar and grows in size smashing through the ceiling until he towers high above the laboratory.)

LS: You forget. Using this technology, not only can you shrink, but you can make things bigger!

MA: I know. And two can play at that game. I just need to press the AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN button on my utility belt—. (Presses button and suddenly both MA and LS are giants.   LS rips a tree out from its roots, and MA picks up a car.)

VOICE: Join us next time for WAR OF THE COLOSSAL CINEMA KNIFE FIGHTERS. Same Cinema Knife Fight time. Same Cinema Knife Fight channel.)

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