Film Review: Miss Bala (dir by Catherine Hardwicke)


About 75 minutes into the American remake of Miss Bala, Gloria (played by Gina Rodriguez) is inadvertently responsible for getting a totally innocent women killed by a Mexican drug cartel.

After I finished watching Miss Bala and I was trying to figure out why exactly this remake did not work for me, my mind kept returning to that scene.  It’s a very dramatic scene and yet, at the same time, it has almost no emotional impact.  Some of that’s because the woman only appears in one other scene before she gets executed and it’s obvious that the only reason the character was included in the film was so she could be killed.  The film itself doesn’t really seem to care about the innocent woman.  Instead, its focus remains on Gloria and how she feels about the violence.  While we get some scenes of Gloria looking distraught and, at one point, vomiting over a balcony, it still doesn’t seem as if Gloria is really that upset about the fact that the woman’s been executed.  Instead, she mostly seems to be annoyed by the fact that she had to witness it.  In the scene afterwards, you never really get the feeling that Gloria’s carrying around any sort of lingering guilt for the role that she played in the woman’s death.

However, I think that what really bothered me was that, in this film that took place almost entirely in Mexico, the executed woman was one of the few positively-portrayed Mexican characters and she was killed off as almost an afterthought.  The film was more concerned with how the American Gloria felt about the woman’s death than about the woman herself.

Miss Bala is a remake of a Mexican film.  The original Miss Bala came out in 2011 and it starred Stephanie Sigman as Laura Guerrero, an aspiring beauty queen who finds herself caught in the middle of the never ending war between the DEA and the Mexican drug cartels.  The original Miss Bala was a violent and often lurid film but it was also an unusually powerful examination of what it’s like to be an innocent trapped in the middle of war.  Stephanie Sigman played Laura with the sad-eyed stoicism of someone who knew that she had little choice but to do whatever the cartel ordered her to do.  In the original Miss Bala, Laura stood-in for every innocent who had been victimized by either side of the War on Drugs.  The film ended up a note of cynical ambiguity, suggesting that survival had less to do with skill and everything to do with luck.

In the remake, Laura is transformed into Gloria, an American makeup artist from Los Angeles who comes to Tijuana to help her friend compete for the title of Miss Baja.  By changing the lead character’s nationality, the remake also changes the story’s focus.  It’s no longer the story of someone trying to survive living in a war zone.  Instead, it becomes just another film about an American getting into trouble while traveling abroad.  Interestingly enough, Lino (Ismael Cruz Cordova), the aspiring drug lord who kidnaps Gloria, is also an American who happens to live in Tijuana. I assume this was done so the film would have an excuse to have everyone speaking English but it still feels odd to watch a movie about the Mexican drug war in which we rarely hear anyone having a substantive conversation in Spanish.

Gina Rodriguez plays the role of Gloria with a sort of open-faced blandness that occasionally makes Miss Bala feel as if it’s an extended episode of Jane The Virgin.  While the remake tries to make Gloria into a more proactive character than the original’s Laura, Rodriguez never suggests that there’s much going on below the surface.  Far more impressive is Ismael Cruz Cordova, who plays Lino with a sexy and dangerous swagger.  Cordova bring so much charisma to the role that it’s not until the end credits role that you realize that nothing Lino did made much sense.

Director Catherine Hardwicke is responsible for one of my favorite film of all time (Thirteen).  She also directed the enjoyably melodramatic Red Riding Hood.  And, of course, she’ll always be known for directing the first Twilight.  With Miss Bala, though, Hardwicke seems to just going through the standard action film motions.  She never captures the original’s outrage about what the never ending drug war is doing to the people of Mexico.  Instead, for the most part, the remake of Miss Bala shrugs off any intentional subtext and instead focuses on building up to a sequel that will probably never come.

Skip the remake of Miss Bala.  The original is all you need.

Film Review: Avengers: Endgame (dir by the Russo Brothers)


(Minor Spoilers Below!  Read at your own risk.)

So, how long does the no spoiler rule for Avengers: Endgame apply?  There’s so much that I want to say about this film but I know that I shouldn’t because, even though it had a monstrous opening weekend, there are still people out there who have not had a chance to see the film.  And while this review will have minor spoilers because, otherwise, it would be impossible to write, I’m not going to share any of the major twists or turns.

I will say this.  I saw Avengers: Endgame last night and it left me exhausted, angry, sad, exhilarated, and entertained.  It’s a gigantic film, with a plot that’s as messy and incident-filled as the cinematic universe in which it takes place.  More than just being a sequel or just the latest installment in one of the biggest franchises in cinematic history, Avengers: Endgame is a monument to the limitless depths of the human imagination.  It’s a pop cultural masterpiece, one that will make you laugh and make you cheer and, in the end, make you cry.  It’s a comic book film with unexpected emotional depth and an ending that will bring a tear to the eye of even the toughest cynic.  By all logic, Avengers: Endgame is the type of film that should collapse under its own weight but instead, it’s a film that thrives on its own epic scope.  It’s a three-hour film that’s never less than enthralling.  Even more importantly, it’s a gift to all of us who have spent the last ten years exploring the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The film itself starts almost immediately after the “Snap” that ended Avengers: Infinity War and we watch as Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner, returning to the franchise after being absent in the previous film) finds himself powerless to keep his family from disintegrating.  After often being dismissed as the Avengers’s weak link, both Clint Barton and Jeremy Renner come into their own in the film.  As one of two members of the Avengers who does not have super powers, Clint serves as a everyperson character.  He’s a reminder that there’s more at stake in Endgame than just the wounded pride of a few super heroes.  When Thanos wiped out half the universe, he didn’t just wipe out Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and Groot.  He also left very real wounds that will never be healed.

When the film jumps forward by five yeas, we discover that the world is now a much darker place.  When we see New York, the once vibrant city is now gray and deserted.  Our surviving heroes have all dealt with the Snap in their own way.  Clint is now a vigilante, killing anyone who he feels should have been wiped out by Thanos but wasn’t.  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) drinks and eats and feels sorry for himself.  Captain America (Chris Evans) attends support groups and, in one nicely done scene, listens as a man talks about his fear of entering into his first real relationship in the years since “the Snap.”  Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is living as a recluse and is still blaming himself.  Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is now an avuncular, huge, and very green scientist.  Only Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) remains convinced that the Snap can somehow be undone.  She’s right, of course.  But doing so will involve some unexpected sacrifices and a lot of time travel….

And that’s as much as I can tell you, other than to say that the film takes full advantage of both the time travel aspects (yes, there are plenty of Back to the Future jokes) and its high-powered cast.  With our heroes — which, along with the usual Avengers, also include Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Rocket Racoon (Bradley Cooper) — hopping through time and space, we get a chance to revisit several of the films that led up to Endgame and it’s a thousand times more effective than it has any right to be.  Yes, one could argue that the cameos from Robert Redford, Tom Hiddleston, Hayley Atwell, and others were essentially fan service but so what?  The fans have certainly earned it and the MCU has earned the chance to take a look back at what it once was and what it has since become.

Indeed, Avengers: Endgame would not work as well as it does if it hadn’t been preceded by 21 entertaining and memorable movies.  It’s not just that the MCU feels like a universe that it as alive as our own, one that is full of wonder, mystery, sadness, and love.  It’s also that we’ve spent ten years getting to know these characters and, as a result, many of them are much more than just “super heroes” to us.  When Tony Stark and Captain America argue over whether it’s even worth trying to undo the Snap, it’s an effective scene because we know the long and complicated history of their relationship.  When the Avengers mourn, we mourn with them because we know their pain.  We’ve shared their triumphs and their failures.  Tony Stark may be a guy in an iron suit but he’s also a man struggling with his own demons and guilt.  Steve Rogers may be a nearly 100 year-old super solider but he’s also every single person who has struggled to make the world a better place.  As strange as it may be to say about characters known as Iron Man, Captain America, and the Black Widow, we feel like we know each and every one of them.  We care about them.

Needless to say, the cast is huge and one of the great things about the film is that previously underused or underestimated performers — like Jeremy Renner, Scarlett Johansson, Paul Rudd, Don Cheadle, and Karen Gillan — all finally get a chance to shine.  As always, the heart of the film belongs to Chris Evans while Robert Downey, Jr. provides just enough cynicism to keep things from getting to superficially idealistic.  Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo get most of the film’s big laughs, each playing their borderline ludicrous characters with just the right combination of sincerity and humor.  Of course, Josh Brolin is back as well and he’s still perfectly evil and arrogant as Thanos.  But whereas Thanos was the focus of Infinity War, Endgame focuses on the heroes.  If Infinity War acknowledged that evil can triumph, Endgame celebrates the fact that good never surrenders.

As Endgame came to an end, I did find myself wondering what the future is going to hold for the MCU.  A part of me wonders how they’re going to top the past ten years or if it’s even possible to do so.  Several mainstays of the MCU say goodbye during Endgame and it’s hard to imagine the future films without their presence.  It’s been hinted that Captain Marvel is going to be one of the characters holding the next phase of the  MCU together and, fortunately, Brie Larson is a quite a bit better in Endgame than she was in her previous MCU film.  Hopefully, regardless of what happens in the future, Marvel and Disney will continue to entrust their characters to good directors, like the Russo Brothers, James Gunn, and Taika Waititi.  (Wisely, Disney reversed themselves and rehired James Gunn for the next Guardians of the Galaxy film.  Of course, Gunn never should have been fired in the first place….)

And that’s really all I can say about Avengers: Endgame right now, other than to recommend that you see it.  In fact, everyone in the world needs to hurry up and see it so we can finally start talking about the film without having to post spoiler warnings!

For now, I’ll just say that Avengers: Endgame is a powerful, emotional, and entertaining conclusion to one of the greatest cinematic sagas ever.

IO, Review By Case Wright


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New beginnings and adventure versus intimacy and connection is the theme of Netflix’s latest straight to stream scifi think piece- IO.  It makes sense that human connection is the main theme because this movie was written by a team.  Rule of thumb: if you see Writer 1 and Writer 2 that was rewritten because writer 1 kinda sucked, BUT, if you see Writer 1 & Writer 2, this was written as a creative team.  In this case, there were three writers working together: Clay Jeter, Charles Spano, & Will Basanta.  I can’t imagine how challenging that would be for a film script mostly because I’m very solitary as a writer.  I’m an extrovert in every other way, but my ideal writing space is a well-lit isolation cave.  What is impressive to me  is that Netflix took a chance on these writers because it was their first real feature.  Normally, I would make a parenthesis next to the writers’ names, but here they haven’t really done anything prior.    The director, Jonathan Helpert, has done short films, never a feature. Despite this being everyone’s first feature, they executed well and attracted some real talent to their piece: Margaret Qualley (The Leftovers) and Anthony Mackie (Captain America: Winter Soldier).

The film takes place in just two locations, has two principles, and essentially just a cameo by a third actor.  The special effects were so minimalist that it made Another Earth (Lisa’s Review) look like Star Wars.  90% of the film takes place on a campsite, 5% in an empty neighborhood, and 5% in a museum. This film really ratchets up the intimacy and nothing can make two people closer than not having any other human beings around to distract them.

At first, I thought I was in for some Al Gore environmentalist porn because the film begins with a mass exodus of humanity from earth to an outpost to IO because runaway pollution changed our air to ammonia.  Obviously, there’s not enough fabreeze in the world to get rid of that smell.  Our heroine, Sam (Margaret Qualley) is up on a mountain campsite where the air is still breathable.  She is working alone to further her father’s research to adapt bees and plants to the new atmosphere in order to make the world habitable for humans again.  She makes trips down to the city below to scavenge for parts and to finally get decent tickets to see Hamilton.  This sounds like it would be dull, but it’s totally engaging because Margaret Qualley is such a talent that she plays the claustophic loneliness so you can feel it yourself.

Sam has a REALLY long distance relationship with Elon her engineer boyfriend who is determined to find humanity a new home.  His life is in the unknown and the stars; whereas, Sam’s is one earthbound and lonely.  Her loneliness is ended with the arrival of Micah (Anthony Mackie) a much older man than she, but there are obvious sparks.  They share an interest in the humanities and mourn our lost paradise.  Micah followed Sam’s father’s advice and attempted to stay on earth and survive and adapt, but doing so cost him his wife’s life and anyone else’s who listened to him.  He spent years floating around earth on a hot air balloon, seeing humanity’s fall from above.  When Micah met Sam, their age difference, the poisoned earth, or the uncertain future didn’t matter because they made a connection and developed concern for one another.

A lot has been discussed about the quasi-ambiguous ending because I suppose people are really good at missing the point.  It never was about whether humanity retook the earth or colonized a new home beyond the stars; it was about humans rediscovering their humanity.  In fact, the last lines of the film discussed exploration, coming to where you began, and re-discovering your starting point as if it were new because it is: you have changed, you have grown, the meaning has evolved.  By the end of the film, Sam and Micah had learned that they were still human.  These connections are why we fight a Trojan War to bring our loved ones home because we are connected to them, they matter, and because we are human.  The end was not about whether she survived and lived on earth on not; it was heartbreaking because alive or dead, we knew that the roads Micah and Sam would walk would not be together.

 

Lisa Reviews Avengers: Infinity War (dir by Joe and Anthony Russo)


(Warning: There are spoilers in this review.  They’re not necessarily huge spoilers but they’re there.  Read at your own risk.)

Avengers: Infinity War is a lot of things.  It’s big, it’s thrilling, it’s emotional, it’s colorful, it’s loud, it’s flamboyant, and, clocking in at two and a half hours, it’s occasionally a bit exhausting.  It’s overwhelming but it’s never boring.  It’s a nearly perfect example of pure cinema, where the story is less about what happens and more how it’s told. It’s a tribute to not just the Marvel Cinematic Universe but also to the audiences who have been flocking to each movie since Iron Man was first released way back in 2008.  Avengers: Infinity War is a pop art masterpiece, one that provides the first part of a climax to a saga that’s been unfolding for ten years.

In the days leading up to the release of Avengers: Infinity War, the main selling point was the assumption that this movie would feature every single character that’s been introduced as a citizen of the MCU so far.  Though the film comes close to including everyone, there are still a few characters who are notable for their absence.  Ant-Man and the Wasp are nowhere to be seen.  None of the Marvel Television characters show up, which is a shame because I’m sure Jessica Jones would have had some choice words about the potential end of the universe.  Two familiar SHIELD agents make a brief appearance, though you have to wonder where they were when New York and Wakanda were being invaded.

That said, all of the big heroes show up.  Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) flies into space with Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland).  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) teams up with Rocket Racoon and Groot (voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, respectively).  When Wakanda is attacked, Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Captain America (Chris Evans), The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), White Wolf (Sebastian Stan), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Rhodey (Don Cheadle), and Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) are all present to defend it.  Meanwhile, Vision (Paul Bettany) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) continue to pursue their odd relationship while Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) search for Gamora’s father, Thanos (Josh Brolin).

It’s a packed film and the fact that it works as well as it does is a testament to the power of perfect casting and movie star charisma.  At this point, we feel as if we know these characters.  We know that Tony Stark is going to be haunted by what happened the last time Thanos’s minions involved New York.  We know that Spider-Man is going to be desperate to prove that he belongs with the adults, just as we know that Dr. Strange isn’t going to be particularly impressed with anyone he meets.  Needless to say, some characters get more screen time than others.  Despite a good deal of the film taking place in Wakanda, Black Panther largely stays in the background.  I personally wish that both Natasha and Captain America had been given a bit more to do.  Considering just how talented both Anthony Mackie and Don Cheadle are, it’s a shame that neither one of them ever gets to do much in these films.  At the same time, Infinity Wars allows both Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany to come into their own and Chris Hemsworth again shows that he may be the most underrated star in the MCU.  I’ve read a lot of criticism of certain actions taken by Peter Quill towards the end of the film but actually, it’s exactly what you would expect his character to do in the situation and, up until that moment, Chris Pratt is a welcome presence.  It’s important to have someone around who appreciates good music and who can make you laugh, especially considering that Thanos is planning to wipe out 50% of the universe’s population…

Oh yes, Thanos.  After spending years lurking in the background, Thanos finally steps forward in Infinity War.  In fact, it can be argued that Avengers: Infinity War is actually much more of a Thanos film than an Avengers film.  While our heroes are continually spending the film trying to catch up to Thanos and reacting to his latest action, Thanos is always one step ahead.  Thanos is the one who steers the narrative and, for once, you really do believe that an MCU villain views the heroes as being mere distractions.  Thanos is the one on a quest and the film follows him through every step of his search.  In fact, the film’s most emotional moments belong to Thanos.  For all the death and destruction to be found in the film’s surprisingly dark narrative, Thanos is the only character to ever shed a tear.  Like all great villains, Thanos doesn’t view himself as being evil.  Instead, Thanos speaks very sincerely of his desire to bring balance to the universe.  The scary thing about Thanos isn’t that he claims that he’s being merciful when he slaughters millions of beings.  The scary thing about Thanos is that believes it.

Thanos, you see, is a bit of an intergalactic environmentalist.  As he explains it, the universe only has a finite number of resources.  By killing half of the universe’s population, he is ensuring that the other half will be able to survive in peace and harmony.  Most people would call Thanos’s actions genocidal but Thanos would probably say that he’s merely making the difficult decisions that others don’t have the courage or intelligence to make.  It may all sound rather far-fetched and melodramatic until you consider that, just last week, bureaucrats and doctors in the UK decided it would be better to starve a sick infant to death rather than allow his parents to take him to be treated in another country.  With his mix of narcissism and absolutely belief in his own moral certitude, Thanos is a far more familiar villain than a lot of viewers might want to admit.  As opposed to the forgettable villains who have appeared in so many MCU films, Thanos is a compelling and complicated figure.  It’s interesting to note that two of the best performances of the year so far were given by actors appearing as villains in MCU films, Michael B. Jordan in Black Panther and Josh Brolin in this one.

As befits the film’s subject matter, Infinity War is a sprawling film, one that skips from world to world.  The visuals are frequently spectacular, as are the many battles.  From the opening attack on New York to the final battles in Wakanda and in space, the action is non-stop and thrilling.  (It helps that, as opposed to some of the previous MCU films, it’s always clear who is fighting who and why they’re fighting.)  For me, though, the most memorable scenes are the scenes where Thanos looks and considers the worlds that he’s destroyed.  There’s a scene where an exhausted Thanos rests on a placid planet and it’s one of the strongest images in the history of the MCU.

I’ve been told that I shouldn’t worry too much about all of the characters who are killed over the course of Infinity War.  From what I’ve been told, it’s apparently something of a tradition in Marvel comics to kill off a bunch of recognizable characters and then have them come back to life an issue or two later.  And the fact that the sequel to Infinity War has already been filmed and is set to released next year leads me to suspect that nothing’s permanent.  I mean, if all of these people are really dead, there aren’t going to be many heroes left to make any more movies about.  That said, I still got far more emotional than I probably should have at some of the unexpected demises.  Especially … well, no.  I won’t say the name.  But seriously, it was upsetting.

2018 is shaping up to be the year of Marvel.  So far, Marvel has released two of the best films of the year.  To be honest, a film as huge as Infinity War shouldn’t have worked and yet, it does.  It’s a masterpiece of pop art.*

* For a totally different response to Avengers: Infinity War, check out Ryan’s review by clicking here!

Check Out These Avengers: Infinity War Character Posters!


With the release of Avengers: Infinity War right around the corner, Marvel has released a whole new collection of character posters!  Just in case you were wondering who, from the MCU, is going to show up in Infinity War, here’s a partial reminder!

(By the way, the answer  would appear to be just about everyone who has ever appeared in an MCU film!)

Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr)

Hulk (Mark Ruffalo)

Thor (Chris Hemsworth)

War Machine (Don Cheadle)

Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson)

Captain America (Chris Evans)

White Wolf (Sebastian Stan)

Falcon (Anthony Mackie)

Star-Lord (Chris Pratt)

Rocket and Groot (Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel)

Gamora (Zoe Saldana)

Nebula (Karen Gillan)

Drax (Dave Bautista)

Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen)

Vision (Paul Bettany)

Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman)

Spider-Man (Tom Holland)

Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch)

Wong (Benedict Wong)

Mantis (Pom Klementieff)

Okoye (Danai Gurira)

Shuri (Letitia Wright)

 

 

Here Are The North Carolina Film Critics Association Nominations!


For Christmas, there was a temporary pause in the flood of precursor awards.  Now that Christmas has passed, Oscar season is back in full swing.

Today, the North Carolina Film Critics Association announced their nominations for the best of 2016!

And here they are:

BEST NARRATIVE FILM
Arrival
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

BEST DOCUMENTARY FILM
13th
I Am Not Your Negro
Life, Animated
O.J.: Made in America
Weiner

BEST ANIMATED FILM
Finding Dory
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
Sausage Party
Zootopia

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Elle
The Handmaiden
A Man Called Ove
Toni Erdmann
Things to Come

BEST DIRECTOR
Damien Chazelle — La La Land
Barry Jenkins — Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan — Manchester by the Sea
David Mackenzie — Hell or High Water
Chan-woo Park — The Handmaiden

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Chung-hoo Chung — The Handmaiden
James Laxton — Moonlight
Giles Nuttgens — Hell or High Water
Linus Sandgren — La La Land
Bradford Young — Arrival

BEST SPECIAL EFFECTS
Arrival
Captain America: Civil War
Doctor Strange
Jungle Book
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

BEST ACTOR
Casey Affleck — Manchester by the Sea
Joel Edgerton — Loving
Ryan Gosling — La La Land
Viggo Mortensen — Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington — Fences

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Mahershala Ali — Moonlight
Jeff Bridges — Hell or High Water
Ben Foster — Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges — Manchester by the Sea
Sam Neill — Hunt for the Wilderpeople

BEST ACTRESS
Annette Bening — 20th Century Women
Kate Beckinsale — Love & Friendship
Ruth Negga — Loving
Natalie Portman — Jackie
Emma Stone — La La Land

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Viola Davis — Fences
Greta Gerwig — 20th Century Women
Naomie Harris — Moonlight
Nicole Kidman — Lion
Michelle Williams — Manchester by the Sea

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Damien Chazelle — La La Land
Barry Jenkins — Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan — Manchester by the Sea
Mike Mills — 20th Century Women
Taylor Sheridan — Hell or High Water

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Tom Ford — Nocturnal Animals
Eric Heisserer — Arrival
Seo-kyeong Jeong and Chan-wook Park — The Handmaiden
Whit Stillman — Love & Friendship
Taika Waititi — Hunt for the Wilderpeople

KEN HANKE MEMORIAL TAR HEEL AWARD
(To an artist or film with a special connection to North Carolina.)
Anthony Mackie
Jeff Nichols
Starving the Beast

Lisa Marie’s Thoughts On Captain America: Civil War


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It was freaking awesome!

That, in a nutshell, is my main thought when it comes to Captain America: Civil War.  It’s a movie that we spent a year anticipating.  It’s a movie that we were continually assured would be great.  And it’s a movie that, unlike Batman v Superman, actually lived up to all the hype.  It’s also a movie that has already been reviewed here on the Shattered Lens.  Check out Arleigh’s review by clicking here and be sure to check out Gary’s review as well.

So, what’s really left for me to say about Captain America: Civil War?  Beyond, of course, that it was freaking awesome.

Of course, it’s hard to talk about Captain America: Civil War without also talking about Batman v Superman.  Both films start with the same basic idea: the heroic activities of super heroes has led to cities being destroyed and innocent people dying.  In Batman v. Superman, Batman takes it open himself to avenge the destruction of Metropolis and expose Superman as being the biggest false God since Baal.  In Civil War, the United Nations announces that, from now on, all super hero activity has to be cleared with them.  In Batman v. Superman, Batman and Superman are manipulated into fighting each other.  In Captain America: Civil War, Captain America and Iron Man are manipulated into fighting each other.  In Batman v Superman, Jesse Eisenberg plays a neurotic villain.  In Captain America: Civil War, Daniel Bruhl plays a neurotic villain.  Batman v Superman features more heroes than just Batman and Superman.  Civil War features more heroes than just Captain America and Iron Man.  Batman v Superman ends with a promise of more films to come.  So does Civil War.  Both films are huge and expensive star-filled spectacles and both of them are a part of a larger cinematic mythology.  They both even have roughly the same running time.  Of course, Batman v Superman seems even longer while Civil War is over far too quickly.

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And yet, Civil War is a thousand times better than Batman v Superman.  For all of its sound and fury, Batman v Superman is ultimately an empty shell.  I left the film feeling not at all emotionally moved but definitely deafened by all the explosions and the yelling and the ranting and the pounding score.  As I left the theater, the world sounded like it was underwater.  Batman v Superman opens with the world exploding and the explosion continues for another two and a half hours.  Civil War, on the other hand, takes its time.  After the initial battle scene (which features a nice cameo from the great Frank Grillo), Civil War slows down.  It explores its characters and their relationships and their motivations.  The first hour of Civil War may be dominated by people debating but its compelling to watch because, after 8 years, the MCU and the characters within feel as alive as the world outside the theater.

In Batman v Superman, Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck appeared to be acting in separate films.  That’s not a problem in Civil War.  When you watch Chris Evans and Robert Downey, Jr., you believe that they are friends and, when they fight, you don’t just thrill at the action.  You mourn the end of a friendship.  If Batman v Superman‘s battle ultimately felt hollow, the final battle in Civil War leaves you wincing in pain.

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Which is not to say that Civil War is not a fun movie.  It’s the most genuinely fun film that I’ve seen so far this year.  There’s a joy to the best films of the MCU, a joy that — with the exception of Gal Gadot’s cameo — was totally lacking from the somber and self-important mess that Batman v Superman.  I have never heard an audience applaud more than they did while watching Civil War.  The film may have been dominated by Evans and Downey but every citi of thzene MCU got a chance to shine.  Scarlett Johansson, Paul Rudd, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, and Elizabeth Olsen all proved their worth to this new cinematic mythology.  After years of using Halloween to pay homage to Scarlett Johansson, I may have to go as Wanda Maximoff this year.  After seeing Hollywood waste her off-center and damaged talent in films like Godzilla, it was good to see Elizabeth Olsen playing Wanda as if she could have been a cousin to her character from Martha Marcy Mae Marlene.

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The audience saved their loudest and most enthusiastic cheers for Tom Holland, who claimed the role of Spiderman as his own and thankfully freed Andrew Garfield to go back to being the intriguing actor that we all remember from The Social Network and Never Let Me Go.  Holland doesn’t have a large role in Civil War but he’s still well-served by the film and the script makes great use of the character and Holland’s energetic performance.  As opposed to the super hero cameos in Batman v Superman, Spiderman’s appearance didn’t just feel like merely a teaser for a future film.  He belonged in the story.

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Of course, Civil War is dominated by the battle between Iron Man and Captain America and it says something about how successful the MCU has been that the battle feels less like a marketing gimmick and more like the natural result of what happens when two differing worldviews come into conflict.  When Tony Stark sides with the UN, it makes sense.  Ever since the very first Iron Man, Tony has been motivated by both guilt over making weapons and a fear that he doesn’t deserve his success.  Of course Tony would side with the UN.  Doing so not only allows him to alleviate his guilt but it also frees him of responsibility for any future actions that the Avengers may take.  It makes just as much sense that Captain America would feel the exact opposite.  His name is Captain America, not Captain United Nations.  When the UN was founded, he was still frozen in a block of ice.

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(Also interesting to note: Civil War was the first MCU film that I could follow without once having to ask my boyfriend for any background info on who all the characters were.  The MCU has become such a part of our culture that we all know the characters, regardless of whether we have ever read a Marvel comic or not.)

There is a nominal villain.  Daniel Bruhl plays Zemo and his role is actually pretty small.  That said, Zemo is definitely more interesting than the typical MCU villain (he’s certainly more memorable than Corey Stoll was in Ant-Man) and Bruhl does a good job playing him.  (Watching Civil War, it was hard not to think about how much better SPECTRE would have been if Bruhl, as opposed to Christoph Waltz, had played Blofeld.)  But, for me, the real villain of the film was the U.S. Secretary of State (played by William Hurt).  The character represented everything that all good people hate about the power structure.  William Hurt turned him into the epitome of unthinking and unreasonable authority.

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After Civil War was released, Salon’s Amanda Marcotte (who, let’s just be honest, ceased to be interesting the minute that she sold out and briefly worked for John Edwards in 2007) complained that Captain America had become “a douchey Libertarian.”  I would argue that 1) Captain America is definitely not douchey and 2) it’s his “libertarian” stance that makes him a hero.  Captain America does not represent any institution or ideology and he doesn’t take orders from faceless bureaucrats.  Captain America doesn’t need permission to do the right thing.  As played by Chris Evans, there’s something undeniably poignant about Captain America attempting to cling onto his idealism and his belief in personal freedom in an increasingly complicated and totalitarian world.  When told that he has a duty to become an anonymous, order-taking drone, Captain America says, “NO!”

(As a sidenote: If you want to see what the world expects Captain America to become, check out William Klein‘s Mr. Freedom.)

I know that some are claiming that Civil War is the best MCU film so far.  I wouldn’t quite go that far.  The film never quite reaches the lunatic heights of Guardians of the Galaxy nor does it match the subversive glee of Winter Soldier revealing that smug old Robert Redford is an agent of HYDRA.  But, no matter!  Captain America: Civil War is pretty freaking great!

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Here are the other MCU reviews that have appeared here on the Shattered Lens:

  1. Arleigh on Iron Man 2
  2. Arleigh on Thor
  3. Arleigh on Captain America: The First Avenger
  4. Leonard on The Avengers
  5. Viktor Von Glum on The Avengers
  6. Ryan on The Avengers
  7. Arleigh on Iron Man 3
  8. Leonard on Iron Man 3
  9. Ryan on Iron Man 3
  10. Ryan on Thor: The Dark World
  11. Ryan on Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  12. Lisa on Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  13. Ryan on Guardians of the Galaxy
  14. Lisa on Guardians of the Galaxy
  15. Lisa on Avengers: The Age of Ultron
  16. Leonard on Ant-Man
  17. Ryan on Ant-Man
  18. Lisa on Ant-Man
  19. Arleigh on Captain America: Civil War
  20. Gary Loggins on Captain America: Civil War

 

 

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