CIVIL UNREST

Captain America: Civil War Is What A Comic Book Movie Should Look Like

Director: Anthony and Joe Russo

Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johannsen, Sebastien Stan, Anthony Mackie, Chadwick Boseman, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Tom Holland, Martin Freeman, Marissa Tomei, William Hurt and Daniel Bruhl

Studio: Marvel/Disney

Rated: PG

Running Time: 2 Hrs, 28 Mins

I’ve made no secret of my feelings about the bleak, steaming hot mess that was Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I gave it a reluctant five out of ten because I have a huge soft spot for the source material, but the film demonstrated a gross misunderstanding of the characters (particularly Batman and Lex Luthor), was overlong, had scenes shoehorned into it that were commercials for future movies, had other scenes that were completely pointless altogether, wasted two classic villains (Lex Luthor and Doomsday) and the end had no emotional impact because it will be completely undone as soon as DC/Warner Bros. releases its next super hero film (it kind of has to be).

I began my review of BvS by saying that if DC/Warner Bros. wanted to compete with Marvel/Disney, they had a long way to go. Not only does Captain America: Civil War widen that already considerable gap by a few more miles, it may very well be the best movie in Marvel’s growing roster of films.

The world has grown increasingly wary of its superheroes as the collateral damage from their battles has grown too severe to ignore. Entire cities have been reduced to smoldering ruins and too often untold civilians pay the price with their lives. After another Avengers operation goes sideways, resulting in more civilian death and suffering, the governments of the world come together to demand change. They want the Avengers supervised, their actions sanctioned and approved by the United Nations and the heroes are given a very clear choice; accept the new Sakovia Accords (named after the city that was destroyed in Avengers: Age of Ultron) or retire. If they continue to operate without official sanction they’ll become outlaws and hunted as criminals. Captain America (Chris Evans) opposes the accords while Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) champions them and the other heroes are forced to choose sides. The Avengers are soon split into opposing camps and find themselves staring each other down.

Complicating matters further is Cap’s long time friend turned brainwashed super assassin Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastien Stan). He’s still on the loose and may have been up to his old murderous hijinks, further ratcheting up the political heat on Cap and the other heroes. And to top it all off, a sinister presence is subtly pulling strings in the background, taking advantage of the heroes divide and orchestrating events to serve it’s own agenda. Long buried secrets are revealed, friendships are strained, alliances tested and broken, faith lost and new players are added to the game. And it’s all told amidst a brilliant spectacle.

The Russo Brothers (who also directed 2014’s Captain America: Winter Soldier) have crafted a masterpiece. They keep the accelerator going at all times, affording some down time to tell the story in between boundary pushing, logic defying action sequences. They let their key personalities breathe a little in between punch ups while not shoving the other characters to the side, affording everyone in this considerable ensemble cast more then just a few moments in the spot light. Civil War stars the most ambitious cast of heroes yet, collecting just about every hero we’ve seen in a Marvel movie save Thor and the Hulk. But they couldn’t go without adding a few new faces and we get to see Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) as well as Spider-Man’s long awaited debut in the Marvel cinematic universe (played by Tom Holland).

Enough can’t be said about the action. The Russo’s took the already ridiculous yet not absurd levels of action in Winter Soldier and turned it up a dozen notches. All of the actors deserve special recognition for the training they underwent, stunt doubles or no. Not only did Boseman own the physical demands of his role as Prince T’Challa/Black Panther, but he also learned the African language of Xhosa for some of his dialogue and the role of Panther appears to be in very safe hands moving forward (his solo movie is scheduled for February 2018). Tom Holland meanwhile looks like he could be the best Peter Parker/Spider-Man yet and his appearance has already generated huge demand for next year’s Spider-Man reboot (co-produced by Marvel and current rights holder Sony). When was the last time moviegoers were looking forward to the a Spider-Man movie? Go ahead, I’ll give you a moment to dig up a calendar.

Robert Downey Jr. continues to bring the affable Tony Stark to life better then any other performer could, but here he gets to show off some acting chops as the brilliant yet smug egotist Stark is confronted with the consequences of his actions and wrestles with the steep price of his attempted amends. Evans compliments him perfectly as Captain America, who is forced to oppose and battle friends and former allies while he tries to do what he thinks is right even while he doubts his own actions.

And did I mention the action? Because it all culminates into one incredible super hero battle royal where every one gets to show off their super powers and skills. Laced with plenty of rapid-fire jokes, it is pretty much the best action scene of the year so far (and will probably be impossible to beat). This scene alone proves how brilliant a decision it was by Marvel to hand control of the Avengers franchise over to the Russo Brothers. Imagining what they can do with even more characters on a cosmic scale boggles even the most vivid imagination.

In the end, this is what a comic book movie should look like. High octane, eyeball rupturing action injected with plenty of humour that tells a straight forward yet entertaining story at just the right speed. It has enough emotional gravity to keep it grounded (after all, you have to care about the characters), never takes itself too seriously (after all, it is a comic book movie) while, and this is most important part, being fun to watch. The true secret of this film’s success won’t be it’s enormous box office (Marvel may have yet another billion dollar blockbuster on its hands when everything is said and done) but that it has also electrified appetite for future Marvel movies (including next year’s Spider-Man). What more can a movie do?

DC, Warner Brothers and Zack Snyder should all be paying very close attention.

Shayne Kempton

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If Iron Man 3 is the last time we get to see Robert Downey Jr. don the armour in his own title, it was a loud, visually impressive and decent good bye.

Following last year’s blockbuster Marvel’s The Avengers, Iron Man 3 (directed by Shane Black) picks up on Tony Stark and company’s current adventures.  Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), Tony’s former assistant and current love interest, remains CEO of Stark Industries.  Happy Hogan (John Favreau) has gone from having the most pointless job in the world as Tony’s bodyguard to the head of Stark’s corporate security and Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) continues to collect a paycheque signed by Uncle Sam, only now as the United States very own hero, the Iron Patriot, instead of the government’s liaison to Tony Stark (apparently, focus groups informed the administration that the name War Machine didn’t exactly sell the idea of fresh apple pie, the Constitution and the Fourth of July all that well).  Tony, meanwhile, chills at home in his super workshop tucked nicely beneath his mansion on a cliff, whiling away the hours building new and improved suits of Iron Man armour.  And Tony has lots of hours to fill since he hasn’t been sleeping all that much since he and his fellow Avengers fought off an alien invasion over New York City.  When he does sleep, he’s troubled by nightmares that fill his days with doubt and uncertainty and the occasional freak out.  And just to toss an extra monkey wrench into the works, a new terrorist called the Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley) emerges, hijacking America’s airwaves, lecturing the United States and threatening its leaders by name.  Fancying himself a teacher, the Mandarin likes to add an extra exclamation mark to each lesson, setting off bombs that incinerate everything within their reach, reducing people to little more than shadows of ash.  The Mandarin moves like a ghost, silent, invisible and impossible to track, moving closer and closer with every attack.  And speaking of ghosts, one from both Tony and Pepper’s past reappears, the charismatic and brilliant Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), the mind behind Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M. for short).  Pretty soon, Tony looks like he’s wishing he was back up to his eyeballs in alien invaders and rogue gods.

As far as action flicks go, Iron Man 3 delivers plenty of deafening, eyeball busting explosions and the climactic battle scene will leave plenty of action fans and comic book ones alike giggling in their seats.  The visuals are bold and seamlessly sewn into the action (the end credits dedicated to computer animators was almost as log as the film itself) but Iron Man could take some flak from comic purists over the Mandarin.  Originally a powerful, ancient sorcerer with ruthless ambition (a villainous genre counterbalance to Iron Man’s super technology archetype), Kingsley’s Mandarin is a political storm front, relying on modern weapons, internet propaganda and devoted followers to carry out his plans.  But what’s refreshing about Iron Man 3 is that it spends a good chunk testing Stark’s resourcefulness and courage, measuring the qualities that truly make a hero, finding out how much man is beneath the iron.  Tony’s reckless, playboy past haunts him plenty and things between him and the Mandarin become personal fast.  Before he knows it, everything Tony holds dear is threatened and he finds himself among those running for their lives while he tries to unwrap the mystery behind the Mandarin and deal with his personal drama all at the same time.  His occasional reference to his past misdeeds is a nice reminder of what he used to be and how far he’s come.

Kingsley does a great job of chewing up more than a few scenes as the Mandarin (in all his incarnations) and Pearce plays Killian to almost perfection (Aldrich reminds us of the popular, good looking kids in high school-we always liked to talk to them and felt special when they looked our way but we never entirely trusted them).  Paltrow plays Potts with her signature blend of smarts and sex appeal with plenty of Pepper’s occasional naivety thrown in for good measure.  Paltrow has pushed Potts beyond the mere damsel in distress and when she takes a turn or two as hero this time out, the audience is pretty comfortable with it.  But the real star of this movie (outside of the special effects), is undoubtedly Downey.

Downey’s mastery of quips and sarcastic one-liners made Tony Stark a character that people wanted to like even before he donned the armour.  He brings the appropriate amount of charm, empathy and overconfidence necessary for audiences to buy the character.  Downey’s Stark is far more relatable than a Bruce Wayne or a Clark Kent or a Steve Rogers. Downey was arguably the best performance in The Avengers last summer, snapping off one liners just before taking a shot from a thunder god to the head.  And that poses a problem for Marvel and parent company Disney.

Iron Man 3 seems to wrap up Tony Stark’s career as Iron Man, at least for solo movies.  Given how much box office gravy the movie raked in internationally prior to it’s north American release, it seems difficult to believe that all studios involved wouldn’t want to do a fourth instalment.  But Downey’s contract to play Tony Stark ends with Iron Man 3’s credits, and as of this writing Marvel/Disney hasn’t gotten his name on a contract to appear in Avengers 2 (currently slated for a May release in 2015). It’s pretty tough to imagine anyone other than Tony Stark wearing the armour and impossible to imagine anyone other than Downey bringing Stark to life.  Still, the probable financial success of Iron Man 3 combined with the box office expectations of The Avengers 2 means Disney should have no problem offering Downey a small fortune to keep us loving Stark for a few more years as long as they can find stories to keep him entertained.

Shayne Kempton

 Three Times the Iron