Captain America: Civil War (2016)

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Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Cast: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Anthony Mackie, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Daniel Bruhl, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Rudd, Emily van Camp, Tom Holland, Frank Grillo, William Hurt

Screenplay: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

147 mins. Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of violence, action and mayhem.

IMDb Top 250: #140 (as of 6/16/2016)

 

We’ve come a long way with the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the past eight years. Phase 2 ended with last year’s Ant-Man, and now Phase 3 begins with Captain America: Civil War, the thirteenth film in this mega-franchise. How does it place? Let’s take a look.

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Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, Before We Go, Snowpiercer) has been leading the new Avengers on a mission to capture Crossbones (Frank Grillo, Warrior, The Purge: Anarchy). But when an accident causes the world to look at the Avengers as a possible liability, Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt, Into the Wild, Race) is brought in to introduce the Sokovia Accords, a measure to keep the superbeings in check. When Cap puts his foot down against it, he finds himself at odds with friend and fellow Avenger Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Chef). Now, as the superheroes are divided in their beliefs of what is right, a new villain appears: Zemo (Daniel Bruhl, Inglourious Basterds, Burnt), a man on a mission of vengeance who wishes to tear the Avengers apart from within.

Captain America: Civil War is shocking in how perfectly constructed a film it actually is. It chooses to adapt a beloved arc of Marvel lore, and it succeeds. It chooses to properly introduce two very important and very difficult heroes in Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman, 42, Gods of Egypt) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland, The Impossible, In the Heart of the Sea), and it succeeds. It chooses to show all sides of the central conflict and create believable arguments for each, and it succeeds. Just about everywhere this film could’ve failed, it succeeds. Well, almost.

Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr share a lot of the screen here, and neither one truly drowns out the other like many had worried. Whereas Cap has seen how great power has been corrupted in the past and believes that history could repeat itself, Tony has drastically evolved as a character since 2008 when he first built an iron suit. Tony once wanted the government to keep its hands off his personal property, he now sees the mistakes he has made in the past (like Ultron) coming back to haunt him, and we find Tony to be the type of hero who carries his pain upon him, like when he suffered PTSD following the events of The Avengers.

But directors Anthony & Joe Russo (You, Me and Dupree) have dealt another master stroke by allowing arcs for just about every other character in this film. We get to see Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan, The Martian, Ricki and the Flash) attempt to reconcile the horrors of his past. We get to see a tortured Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen, Godzilla, I Saw the Light) trying to deal with the unique hero Vision (Paul Bettany, A Beautiful Mind, Mortdecai). We get a Wakandan prince named T’Challa searching for vengeance for the loss of a loved one. Even those without full arcs still get a signature moment for fans to chew on until the next solo film. I’m looking at you Ant-Man (Paul Rudd, TV’s Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, Role Models).

For me, the only disappointment of the film falls in its portrayals of the villains. I would have loved for Crossbones to have had more to do. I would have loved for a more cinematic incarnation of Zemo. Not that these were faults, but it felt like they were tossed to the side a bit. As it comes, Captain America: Civil War feels less perfect because of it, but only slightly.

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For a film that boasted that it wasn’t just Avengers 2.5, and on the other side being told that it could’ve been far too bloated, Captain America: Civil War comes out on top as one of the best stories in the cinematic universe. The Russo Brothers have proven that with a great script, top notch performances, and a keen set of eyes behind the camera, any amount of odds stacked against you can be toppled. Bravo, sirs.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk, click here.

For my review of Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

For my review of Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, click here.

Race (2016)

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Director: Stephen Hopkins

Cast: Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Eli Goree, Jeremy Irons, Carice van Houten, William Hurt

Screenplay: Joe Shrapnel, Anna Waterhouse

134 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and language.

 

Well, 2015 was an interesting year in film. But all years must come to an end, so today we look forward at 2016, starting with the Stephen Hopkins (TV’s House of Lies, Lost in Space) film, Race.

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Race is mostly a biographical film chronicling the career of Jesse Owens (Stephan James, Selma, Lost After Dark) leading up to his time in the 1936 Olympics in Germany and his battle to win the gold over Adolf Hitler’s Aryan athletes. The film also displays the work of Avery Brundage (Jeremy Irons, The Lion King, High-Rise) to come to a decision over whether it is worth it to travel to Germany in the first place.

First of all, I should point out how terrific the title is. Sure, a little on the head, but nonetheless effective.

Stephen Hopkins faces a difficult task with this film, and that task is to decide what his film is even about. He fails in this task. He wants to make a biopic of Jesse Owens, but he wants to make a historical drama focused on the 1936 Olympics, and he wants to touch on Leni Riefenstahl (Carice van Houten, TV’s Game of Thrones, Black Book) and her quest to make a film on the Olympics from all its viewpoints. Sadly, while it is possible to do this in one film, it is unsuccessful in the attempt. For one thing, the very nature of the Jesse Owens part of the film dominates the far-too-much time spent on Brundage trying to keep the peace. The audience becomes fully aware very early on of the outcome but the film chooses to drag the plotline through to its conclusion at the loss of viewer engagement.

Stephan James does pretty solid work as Owens, and Jason Sudeikis (TV’s Saturday Night Live, We’re the Millers) gives an admirable attempt in breaking out of his comfort zone to portray Larry Snyder, Owens’ coach, while veterans Irons and William Hurt (Into the Wild, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them) feel wasted by an underdeveloped screenplay.

The film has its moments, particularly in the sequences where Owens is competing. While these sequences are very much what one would expect, it’s nice to see Hopkins commanding the screen if only occasionally.

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The pacing, though, is really where he loses us, focusing too much time on plot points that don’t add up to enough to maintain his momentum. Stephen Hopkins has given some truly great work to the genre field, but I feel like even he isn’t sure of himself here, and the work suffers from it. Race leaps into the air, reaching for greatness, but unlike its lead character, it comes up far too short.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

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Director: Louis Letterrier

Cast: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, Tim Blake Nelson, Ty Burrell, William Hurt

Screenplay: Zak Penn

112 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence, some frightening sci-fi images, and brief suggestive content.

 

In 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe began in a silent but deadly fashion with two superhero releases: Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. The former was a major box office winner and critical darling. The latter was largely dismissed, like every previous incarnation, and hasn’t been referenced much since, due in large part to the difficulties in crafting the film and the replacement of the title actor in The Avengers. The difference between this version of The Incredible Hulk and the previous 2003 film Hulk is that the 2008 film is actually pretty damn good.

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The film is presented in a “Requel” of sorts, chronicling Bruce Banner (Edward Norton, Fight Club, Birdman) and his journey off-the-grid. He has estranged himself from his love Betty Ross (Liv Tyler, TV’s The Leftovers, Armageddon). Betty’s father, General “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt, Into the Wild, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them), continues his obsession with finding Banner and tearing him apart. Ross enlists Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth, Pulp Fiction, Selma), a military mercenary, to help hunt down Bruce. In the process, Blonsky is given some of the same gamma radiation that turned Bruce into the raging creature known as The Hulk.

First off, I’m not going to try and convince you that this is a Best Picture quality superhero film. It isn’t. 2008’s The Incredible Hulk is still, to me, a far superior film to Iron Man, but most won’t agree. I find Bruce Banner to be a more likable character. The relationship between him and Betty Ross is powerful and layered. I also find Tim Roth’s portrayal of Emil Blonsky to be a strong and villainous performance and it helped start the trend of strong villains in Marvel films. Director Louis Leterrier (Now You See Me, Clash of the Titans) even helped set up future villains in the process (though so far none of these have come to pass).

Norton’s portrayal of Banner is great, but the problem with him came from constant rewrites and the fact that Edward Norton is a terrible person to work with on a film set (see Birdman for more info). I can completely understand his replacement with Mark Ruffalo, though it still was a bad way to create this character.

As far as this film’s relationship to the MCU, there are references in there, but they are very quick and underplayed. A lot of references are found to Stark Industries in the opening credits. Then there is the major callback to Tony Stark in the final scene. There are also some moments of setup to the future Captain America: The First Avenger, even a cut scene revealing his fate. Captain America and The Incredible Hulk have a lot in common, so it helps to introduce both at the same time. We will get to finally see some more connective tissues in next year’s Captain America: Civil War when William Hurt returns as General Ross.

The majority of callbacks and references in the film actually highlight the long-storied past of the Hulk on film. There are many moments that call back The Incredible Hulk television series by way of the score and the cameos.

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The Incredible Hulk works as a Requel, meaning it could be a sequel if you enjoyed 2003’s Hulk. If you didn’t, it’s a great opening act. Director Leterrier isn’t anything special, but the film employs some great performances and a terrific screenplay from superhero screenwriter Zak Penn (TV’s Alphas, X2: X-Men United). If you skipped The Incredible Hulk when it came out, take some time to visit it. If it has been a while, take some time to revisit it.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

 

You can find Kyle A. Goethe on Twitter @AlmightyGoatman

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