Insomnia File #43: Legend (dir by Brian Helgeland)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If, last night, you were having trouble getting to sleep around two in the morning, you could have turned over to HBO and watched the 2015 British gangster film, Legend.

Tom Hardy is Reggie Kray.  Arrogant, handsome, charming, and dangerous to know, Reggie is a club owner who is also an up-and-coming gangster in 1960s London.  Scotland Yard has him under surveillance.  The East End both fears and respects him.  American gangsters want to do business with him.

Tom Hardy is also Ronny Kray!  Ronny is the ugly twin, the one who lives in a trailer and has just been released from a psychiatric institution.  Ronny is openly gay at a time when that was still illegal in the UK.  Driven by jealousy of Reggie and a desire to prove himself superior to everyone who has ever judged or looked down on him, Ronny is determined to make sure that he and his brother become the top gangsters in London.

Together …. they solve crimes!

No, actually, they do the exact opposite.  They commit a lot of crimes.  Ronny is willing to shoot anyone in the head.  Reggie tries to be a bit more respectable.  He even attempts to run a legitimate nightclub.  Reggie understand that sometimes, the threat of violence is more effective than violence itself.  Reggie and Ronny are about as close as siblings can be, even if they do spend a lot of time beating each other up.

Frances Shea (Emily Browning) is the sister of Reggie’s driver, Frankie (Colin Morgan).  She’s sixteen when she meets and falls in love with Reggie Kray.  Reggie loves her too and he even marries her.  (Of course, he has to do a stint in prison first.)  Reggie swears to Frances that he’s going to go straight and that they’re going to have a normal life.  Deep down, Frances know that will never happen so, while her husband and brother-in-law conquer London, she copes with pills.  Lots and lots of pills.

For an American viewer like myself, British gangster films are always fun to watch because they’re just as violent as American gangster films but, at the same time, everyone’s always dressed impeccably and stopping in the middle of all the mayhem to have a cup of tea.  Legend is based on a true story, which turns out to be both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness.  On the one hand, it’s fascinating to see the film’s recreation of London in the early 60s.  On the other hand, the film never convinces us that we should really care about the Krays.  This isn’t a case where, like the Corleones, the Krays are tragic figures who can’t escape their destiny.  Tom Hardy does a great job playing Reggie and he’s an adequate Ronny but you can never quite escape the feeling that the two brothers are just — to use one of their own preferred insults — two wankers who aren’t really worth all the trouble.  This is a film that you watch and you ask yourself, “Why should we care?”  Beyond the novelty of the Krays being twins, the film really can’t provide an answer.

Still, I happen to be fascinated by the early 60s so I enjoyed the film as a historical recreation.  Legend isn’t a bad film.  It’s just somewhat underwhelming.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian
  34. The Minus Man
  35. Donnie Brasco
  36. Punchline
  37. Evita
  38. Six: The Mark Unleashed
  39. Disclosure
  40. The Spanish Prisoner
  41. Elektra
  42. Revenge

Film Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story (dir. by Ron Howard)


solo-poster-1I feel like the Grinch, standing high on his mountain and looking down at all the Who’s in Whoville. Look at them, enjoying Solo – A Star Wars Story. Look at them, geeking over Chewie, the Millenium Falcon and the Kessel Run. Look at them smile at Lando Calrissian, still cool after these years. From where I stood, I had fun, but not nearly as much as they all did. Did we all watch the same film?

I think I’m a little jealous for not feeling that, and somewhat sad.

Granted, I didn’t outright despise Solo. I adore heist films like Thief and Heat. Perhaps it’s because the cast is fun to watch on-screen. You have the seedy side of the universe, and frankly, I’ve love to see more of it in future installments. This was closer to what I originally hoped to see with the Prequels, or even The Force Awakens. Not every Star Wars tale has to be an Empire vs. Rebellion / Jedi vs. Sith one (though lightsaber battles are always appreciated).

On the other hand, I had the same experience here that I did with Rogue One. The film almost lost me until it started to induce some nostalgia. With the exception of a few key scenes, I had a tough time feeling anything for most of this film. Boredom slapped me in the face for a little while here. Maybe I’ve just reached the age where I can put Star Wars on the shelf and maybe move on from it altogether. Judging by the number of people who chose to check their cell phones rather than watch the movie, I don’t think I’m alone there.

I initially bought a ticket for the 10:15pm Thursday IMAX showing, and then realized I wanted to come home early. I purchased a 7pm 3D showing, which is where this review is coming from. I didn’t feel the need to stay for the IMAX. Maybe that’s the best way to sum it up.

The movie was originally helmed by The Lego Movie’s Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, but due to creative differences, they were taken off the project and replaced by Ron Howard. Howard’s familar with Lucasfilm, having worked on Willow back in the late 1980’s. The result of this is that you have a very safe film. Howard dots the I’s, crosses the t’s and make the movie everything the writing duo of Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan need. Since we know where Han & Chewie are going to end up, it’s just a matter of getting from Point A to Point B, without any real worries about the characters. I’m somewhat curious of what we could have had if Lord/Miller stayed on.

2121 Jump Street, perhaps?

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Emilia Clarke’s Qi’Ra, from Solo: A Star Wars Story.

While we’re on the topic of the writing, the Kasdans manage to drop a few bells and whistles that many fans will enjoy. There’s a line that Emilia Clarke’s Qi’Ra utters about her abilities that left me smiling and slowly nodding like a person who just received a toast. Lucasfilm is learning from The Last Jedi’s mistakes, that much is certain. It’s a tight script that rarely goes off tangent.

The movie finds a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich, Beautiful Creatures, Hail Casear) looking to acquire some Hyperfuel, a power source that most smugglers pay a handsome price for. He dreams of becoming a pilot, someday having his own ship so that he can be reunited with an old flame/partner. This leads him to eventually join up with a heist crew and a task that needs to be fulfilled. I won’t give away any more, but it’s a great thing to see all of the pieces fall into place.

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Han and Chewie, not caring about the odds.

The supporting cast in Solo is wonderful. That was something that felt right. Between Donald Glover’s scene stealing Lando Calrissian (which eerily sounds like Billy Dee Williams sometimes), Paul Bettany’s Dryden Vos, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s L3-37 , everyone in Solo gives a good performance. Aldenreich, I’m not sure of. I didn’t expect him to be Harrison Ford, but he seemed a little generic, for want of a better word. You could have plucked him out, dropped in someone else and it might be the same. At least, that’s how I felt. Still, he doesn’t give a bad performance. Han felt like the supporting character in his own film, the cast is that good.

From an effects standpoint, there are a number of creatures and various new ship tech to behold. It all looks and feels great (especially the Millennium Falcon flight sequences), though I should point out that the 3D presentation isn’t really necessarily. In fact, the first 20 minutes of the film are so dimly lit that the sunglass effect of 3D shades feels like you’re just watching silhouettes on-screen. Howard does a good Job of setting up scenes and keeping everything flowing. It’s a pretty tight production, overall and you’ll be suprised at how fast the film seems to move.

John Powell (X-Men: The Last Stand, The Bourne Trilogy, How to Train Your Dragon) takes on the musical responsibilities since Michael Giacchino’s doing everything else for Disney these days. It’s a great score, though if there is a particular theme for Han, I can’t say I caught it. I do plan on picking up the soundtrack when it comes out next week.

Overall, Solo: A Star Wars Story isn’t one you have to run to the theatre for. It’s not a terrible film by any means. It just didn’t hold me the way I wanted it to. I feel that’s more a reflection of myself than of the film overall. Still, if you can wait the three months to catch it digitally, you might be better off doing so.

Of course, as the Dude from the Big Lebowski says “That’s just like, your Opinion, man.” Go out there, see the film and form your own.  Hope you enjoy it.

 

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)

 

 

A Movie A Day #159: Gangster No. 1 (2000, directed by Paul McGuigan)


While at a boxing match, an aging gangster (Malcolm McDowell) learns that his former mentor and eventual rival, Freddy Mays (David Thewlis), is about to be released from prison.  The gangster flashes back to when he was a young man (played by Paul Bettany) who worked as an enforcer for and eventually betrayed Freddy.

Gangster No. 1 came out at the height of America’s fascination with British gangsters but this is no Guy Ritchie heist film.  Gangster No. 1 is brutal and violent, with little humor to alleviate the savagery.  Even though Gangster No. 1 does a good job recreating and capturing the look and feel of the swinging London of the 1960s, it still does away with almost all of the romantic revisionism that made many British crime films so popular in the late 90s and early aughts.  The gangster (who is nameless throughout the film) is not an eccentric anti-hero.  He’s not a Kray brother.  Unlike Freddy, who has integrity and is redeemed by his love for Karen (Saffron Burrows), the gangster is a violent sociopath who, when young, will do anything to be number one and who, when old, is disillusioned to discover just how empty life is at the top.  As violent and uncompromising as it is, it may not be a film for everyone but it still an interesting twist on the typical gangster film.

Even though it is hard to imagine Bettany growing up to look like McDowell, they both contribute good and complimentary performances as the same character.  David Thewlis also gives a good performance as Freddy Mays.  Since Thewlis is usually typecast as a villain, it’s always interesting to see him play a hero (or as close as anyone in Gangster No. 1 can come to being a hero).

 

Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: Wimbledon (dir by Richard Loncraine)


(Lisa is currently in the process of cleaning out her DVR!  It is probably going to take her forever.  She recorded the 2004 romantic comedy, Wimbledon, off of Cinemax on February 15th.)

I wish I could play tennis.

Actually, I guess it would be more correct for me to say that I wish I could play tennis well.  I mean, I can hold the racket and I can run around the court and I can hit the ball and sometimes, it goes over the net.  I can do all the yelling and the grunting and the jumping.  I’m pretty good at slamming my racket down on the court whenever I miss a shot.  I can play the game but I just can’t win.  I’m way too easily distracted and that’s a shame because I’ve been told that I look cute in a tennis skirt.

It’s not for lack of trying either!  There’s a tennis court a few blocks away from my house and I’ve challenged both my sister and my BFF to several matches.  And, every time, they have totally kicked my ass.  In fact, now that I think about it, the only time I’ve ever won a set was because my opponent was feeling sorry for me and they had such confidence in their own abilities that they didn’t mind throwing a game or two.

(For the record, I’ve been told that, if not for my boobs getting in the way, I would have a pretty good golf swing.  But I don’t play golf so there you go…)

Anyway, I may not be able to play tennis but that doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy a movie about people I can.  I really like Wimbledon.  I mean — yes, it’s a totally predictable sports movie.  You know, as soon as you see the opening credits, that Kirsten Dunst and Paul Bettany are going to fall in love.  They’re the prettiest people in the movie so, of course they’re meant to be together!  And, as soon as you see Sam Neill’s name, you know that he’s going to be playing the well-intentioned but clueless authority figure who tries to keep them apart.  When James McAvoy’s name appears, you yell, “He’ll be Paul Bettany’s best mate!”  (Actually, he plays Paul’s eccentric younger brother.)  And as soon as Jon Favreau’s name appears, you’re like, “Comic relief!”

Of course, since the movie is called Wimbledon, you know that the movie is going to be about tennis and you know that Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst are going to be competing at Wimbledon while falling in love.  You know that one of them will make it to the finals while the other sits in the stands and provides emotional support.  It’s just a question of which one.

As I said, it’s all totally predictable and yet, that’s actually a part of the film’s appeal.  With the plot being so obvious, you’re freed up to just appreciate the film as a vehicle of movie star charisma.  Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst are two of my favorite actors and I think they’re both criminally underrated.  In Wimbledon, Bettany is playing the older, veteran tennis player, the one who is playing at his final Wimbledon before retiring.  When he falls in love with Kirsten, it gives him a renewed sense of focus and, for the first time, he finds that he actually has a chance to win it all.  Kirsten, meanwhile, is the up-and-coming star.  Her father (Sam Neill) worries that Kirsten’s relationship with Paul will distract her and keep her from playing her best and it turns out that he’s absolutely right.

Even if you haven’t seen the film, you know everything that is going to happen but that’s okay.  Kirsten Dunst and Paul Bettany have got a really likable chemistry.  You want things to work out for them.  You want both of them to win championships and eventually get married and have a pretty family.  Bettany, in particular, proves that he can make even the most clichéd of lines sound fresh and spontaneous.  Add to that, both Paul and Kirsten look adorable in tennis white and that’s really all that most people ask for when it comes to a film like this.

Wimbledon is an enjoyable and predictable movie, one that won’t leave you feeling depressed or questioning the meaning of existence.  It may not be perfect but it’s certainly likable and sometimes, that’s all you need.

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.

Scarlet-Witch-Elizabeth-Olsen

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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