John Wick: Chapter 2 Cordially Invites All to A Party In Rome


In 2015, a little film from Lionsgate came out during that time between the summer blockbuster and the awards seasons. It’s sort of the time of the cinematic year when a film is not good enough to be a blockbuster and not enough pedigree to be seen as awards-worthy.

This film was John Wick and it starred Keanu Reeves. It was also directed by two filmmakers more well-known for choreographing fights and action scenes than a full feature film.

John Wick had the last laugh as it surpassed everyone’s expectations to become one of the best action films of recent memory. It helped resurrect Keanu Reeves as a bonafide action star once again.

At this year’s New York Comic-Con the first teaser trailer for the second chapter of the John Wick story dropped to the howling delights of all attending.

We still have to wait until 2017 for John Wick: Chapter 2, but until then let’s stare in awe at John Wick doing what he does best.

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

 

 

Captain America Civil War

Review: Captain America: Civil War (dir. by Anthony & Joe Russo)


Captain America Civil War

Captain America: The Winter Soldier wasn’t just a surprise hit for Marvel Studios and parent company Disney in 2014, it also showed the general public that there was more to Captain America than just a flag-waving symbol of America’s past glory. Captain America was a character that wasn’t the hip, wisecracking Tony Stark. He wasn’t the tortured soul in a monster’s body like Bruce Banner as the Hulk. He didn’t have the Shakespearean gravitas that was always lurking behind Thor and his complicated Asgardian family. No, Captain America was considered too straight-laced, blonde and blue-eyed goody two-shoes.

Captain America: The First Avenger focused on those very qualities. Steve Rogers was just a skinny, asthmatic young man from Brooklyn who wanted to do his part during World War II. It would be thanks to an experimental super-soldier serum that Steve Rogers’ body finally matched the inherent goodness and will to defend the little guy. For some, this initial introduction to Captain America was too hokey, but was entertaining enough. His next appearance in 2012’s game-changing superhero team-up The Avengers saw him be part tactician for a burgeoning superhero team and part comedy relief.

It would be with The Winter Soldier that the rest of the general public finally got to what comic book fans have known for years. This is a badass man, out of his time but always fighting the good fight and staying true to his convictions and principles. What was seen as hokey idealism became something of a beacon of selflessness and the moral center in a modern world that was steeped in shades of grey. It helped that writing team of Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus (who wrote The First Avenger) finally found a pair of directors in the Russo Brothers (Anthony and Joe) who understood just what made Captain America relevant in this day and age of cynical anti-heroes.

It’s no surprise that the Russo Brothers were tasked with continuing the work they began in the Winter Soldier with McFeely and Markus with the film that would complete the Captain America trilogy in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It would be quite a task in getting Captain America: Civil War off the ground and moving forward under all the weight of nearly every MCU superhero (minus Thor, Hulk and Nick Fury) in attendance and the introduction of two new ones to the universe.

Did the Anthony and Joe Russo pull off this massive undertaking? Or did they stumble to not just the huge cast and many storyline threads the way Joss Whedon did with the ambitious, but flawed The Avengers: Age of Ultron?

I’m happy to say that the Russo Brothers did better than succeed but may have just made the best film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and proved that Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige was correct in placing the brothers as the new captain of the massive thing called the Marvel Cinematic Universe as it enters Phase 3.

Captain America: Civil War is set just a year after the events of Age of Ultron where the Avengers barely defeated Tony Stark’s mad A.I. Ultron and it’s decision to wipe humanity from the planet. While the team did save the world from global extinction they also didn’t save everyone. there were still hundreds, if not, thousands of Sokovians who died during the battle. The same could be said for all the battles since the alien invasion over New York. The Avengers, led by Captain America, have saved the world from invading aliens, world-dominating terrorist group and killer A.I robots. Yet, the collateral damage caused by these battles have begun to weigh not just on some of the Avengers, but has made the governments of the world see the team as a sort of super-powered private military group who don’t obey international laws and borders. Yes, they’ve saved humanity many times from destruction, but at what cost.

It’s during a battle early in the film as Captain America and his team stop the theft of a biological weapon in the city of Lagos, Nigeria that collateral damage and deaths rear it’s head once more as Wanda Maximoff (aka the Scarlet Witch) accidentally allows a suicide bomb vest explode too close to a nearby high-rise causing the deaths of several aide workers from Wakanda.

It’s from this event that the world finally have reached a tipping point and want to put the team under U.N. control with Tony Stark agreeing to the plan to help assuage his guilt over the deaths caused by him creating Ultron. Some of the team understands that government oversight that the Sokovian Accords puts on the team is the right thing to do. While others, especially Captain America, think it’s best to leave the team to continue to be their own masters instead of beholden to a bureaucracy whose agenda may not be conducive to saving lives.

It’s a subject matter that was explored in some fashion in an earlier superhero mash-up but one that failed to stick the landing. Yet, even this battle of differing ideologies between Captain America and Iron Man only becomes part of the foundation to the true narrative for Civil War. It’s the friendship between Captain America and Bucky aka the Winter Soldier and how the former must try to prove the latter innocent of another terrorist attack the world thinks he’s responsible for. Those Avengers who signed the Accords must now bring in Bucky dead or alive while Captain America with the help of those who didn’t sign try to prove his innocence and find the true architect of the terrorist bombing.

Captain America: Civil War succeeds where the earlier superhero film failed because of the groundwork laid down by the 12 previous films released to make up the current Marvel Cinematic Universe. From Iron Man all the way up to Age of Ultron, these twelve films flesh out the backstory and characters that make up these heroes. We’ve gotten to know what motivates them to risk their lives for the greater good, but we also see glimpses of the inter-personal conflicts that looks to tear the team apart from within.

There’s not enough that could be said about the masterful work done by the Russo Brothers in juggling the personalities of twelve superheroes (two getting their initial introduction to the MCU) and giving them enough to do in the film to make them relevant to the proceedings instead of just becoming glorified cameos. The actors playing these characters have had many films to own the roles and each and everyone hits it out of the park. The stand out from the veterans in the ensemble cast still remains Chris Evans and Robert Downey, Jr as Captain America and Iron Man, respectively. Yet, it would be the arrival of the two new heroes into the mix with Chadwick Boseman as the newly-crowned king of the technologically-advanced nation of Wakanda, T’Challa and Tom Holland as the teenage chatterbox and dumpster diving tech genius Peter Parker aka Spider-Man.

Boseman as the Black Panther adds a certain level of gravitas and regal fury to the proceedings which balances the edge between serious to comedic. His Black Panther has his own agenda in getting involved in this intra-familial squabble. He has his own agenda and if it means siding with Iron Man against Captain and his team then he would do so if it succeeds in helping him finish his mission. It helps that he looks damn cool in what has to be the best superhero costume thought up by the designers in Marvel Studios.

It would be Tom Holland as the young Peter Parker and Spider-Man who steals the show whenever he’s on-screen. This is the Peter Parker and Spider-Man that comic book fans have been waiting for. While Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield succeeded in portraying some of the character’s personality, they could never fully capture what made Spider-Man such a favorite amongst comic book readers. This Spider-Man is geeky and not at all hip and cool, but with a sense of right and wrong that comes having great power means shouldering the responsibility to use it for good.

Captain America: Civil War, with its exploration of many profound ideas and themes, is still a superhero film and a tentpole blockbuster at that and audiences still want to see the action up on the big screen. Boy, does this film have action and enough of them to spare. The action scenes range from the grounded hand-to-hand fighting the Russo Brothers used to great effect in The Winter Soldier (this time around with the help from Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, directors of John Wick to provide 2nd Unit Directing help) up to the superhero battle that raises the bar on such things set at an evacuated airport in Leipzig, Germany.

This 6-on-6 tête-à-tête between friends and colleagues takes the climactic battles in both Avengers films and does them better. With each hero using their abilities to great effect in conjunction with their allies and against those they are fighting. There was never a time during this near on 20-minute action scene did it ever get confusing. Many filmmakers doing superhero (or just plain old action films) could learn a thing or two from how the Russo Brothers and 2nd Unit directors Spiros Razatos, Stahelski and Leitch choreographed and filmed all the action sequences in Civil War. It was near-perfect with only wishful thinking that Gareth Evans from The Raid films could’ve been asked to help out to make things perfect.

As huge and bombastic the film gets with this airport fight, it would be the final throw down between Captain America and Iron Man at the end of the film that we get the emotional heft the film needs to keep itself from becoming just another loud and explosive superhero film. This fight becomes personal and shows how fights between close friends become the most brutal and heartbreaking. Neither combatants are wrong about their stances in the fight, but they’re also wrong in not being able to think things through. These two alpha males who have a  friendship full of respect but also combativeness throughout the years of the MCU that finally explodes into all-out war when a tragic secret from both Tony Stark’s and Bucky’s past come to light.

It’s a fight that has no winners and for a superhero film that is a major change from the usual narrative (especially within the MCU storytelling playbook). The film ends with the very team created to save the world from all threats even more unsure of their place in the ever-changing and ever-judging world. It’s a bold move by Marvel Studios to start their Phase 3 that would culminate in the battle to end all battles with the two Avengers: Infinity War films (soon to be retitled) which happen to be under the master-class guiding hands of the Russo Brothers in the directors’ chair and the writing duo Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus.

In the end, Captain America: Civil War manages to capture not just what made comic books and films adapted from them fun and exhilarating, but also able to tackle some serious ideas and themes both existential and personal. It just goes to show that one doesn’t need to sacrifice one to have the other. One can have serious and dark but also be fun. It’s a balance that’s difficult to do, but when the people involved in creating such a story stick the landing then we a classic in the making. It bodes well for the rest of the films in Phase 3 to have such a great beginning, but also raises the bar for the other filmmakers following in the wake of what Anthony and Joe Russo have concocted. Let’s  hope they are all up to the task.

Scenes I Love: John Wick


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“John wasn’t exactly the boogeyman. He’s the one you sent to kill the fucking boogeyman.” — Viggo Tarasov

To finish off the trifecta of all things John Wick I would like to share one of my favorite scenes from this excellent film. The scene arrives once the introductory session showing the title character’s domestic life away from the world of assassins, gun molls and erudite crime lords.

Most films that uses exposition to explain a certain plot point or describe a character tend to fall flat and forced. It stops whatever momentum a film’s narrative has gained. It becomes the tool of a lazy writer and in the hands of an average to bad director it’d turn out to be a scene killer.

This particular scene from John Wick falls under exposition done right. We see the Russian crime lord Viggo relating to his idiot son his disappointment at what he’d done to John Wick. Of course, the son doesn’t know who this John Wick fella is, but good ol’ Dad was more than willing to tell him a sort of bedtime story that describes John Wick in epic and mythical terms.

It’s a scene that builds up the title character through anecdotal examples. This is a crime lord who rules all he surveys, but the notion that his son has started a chain of events involving John Wick terrifies him. The fact that the son tries to put up a brave front to fix the problem gets a reaction that was one of the funniest bits in the entire film.

John Wick is a film that perfectly shows that a film doesn’t have to be overly complex in it’s plot. Even the simplest narrative of a man out for revenge could be turned into a full on romp of entertaining mayhem.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Sabotage, The Raid 2, John Wick, Fury


2014 had it’s share of very good action films and here are four that I was particularly drawn to. While the film themselves were of varying degrees of quality in terms of storytelling. These 4 films all had one thing that I enjoyed despite their films’ flaws. They all had action scenes that I thought were quite excellent.

You have gritty present-day action thriller, an operatic gangster epic, a revenge thriller and a war film. One stars an aging action star back from playing politician. Another a foreign film whose filmmaker and star have set the bar for all action films for years to come. Then there’s the stunt coordinators and 2nd unit directors finally making their mark with their first feature-length film. Lastly, a war film that brings the brutality of World War II tank warfare to the forefront.

4 SHOTS FROM 4 FILMS

Sabotage (dir. by David Ayer)

Sabotage (dir. by David Ayer)

John Wick (dir. by Chad Stahelski & David Leitch)

John Wick (dir. by Chad Stahelski & David Leitch)

Trailer: John Wick


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I usually have a good idea of upcoming action films once they’ve been announced into production, but I have to admit that Keanu Reeve’s upcoming action film, John Wick, has been quite the ninja. I’ve not heard one thing about this project until I came across the just released trailer earlier today.

The trailer itself pretty much lays out what looks like a basic premise for the film. The title character seems to be some sort of retired badass who is brought out of it to get his revenge on the idiots who killed his cute little dog (given to him by his dying wife) during a home invasion robbery.

I know there are many whose brain starts to wander and/or seize up whenever they hear the name Keanu Reeves. I, fortunately, am not one of those people and I actually think that Reeves has been much-maligned throughout his career. For one thing he does seem to handle action scenes pretty well and this trailer for John Wick just continues to reinforce that thought.

John Wick will be setting wrongs right and bringing killer of dogs their just due this October 24, 2014.