Film Review: The Catcher Was A Spy (dir by Ben Lewin)


I was so impressed with Paul Rudd’s performance in Avengers: Endgame that, last night, I decided to watch another Paul Rudd film, 2018’s The Catcher Was A Spy.

Based on a true story, The Catcher Was A Spy tells the tale of Moe Berg (Paul Rudd).  When we first meet Moe, it’s towards the end of World War II and Moe has been sent behind enemy lines to investigate just how close the Nazis are to building an atomic bomb.  Intelligence suggests that physicist Werner Heisenberg (Mark Strong) is leading the Nazi effort and, if the intelligence turns out to be true, Moe has been ordered to assassinate Heisenberg.  As Moe considers whether or not he’s actually capable of killing a man, we get flashbacks to how Moe eventually ended up working as a spy.

What we learn is that, in the 1930s, Moe Berg was a major league baseball player.  He was a catcher and, though he was never a great player, he was famous for being far more educated than the average professional athlete.  At a time when open anti-Semitism was socially acceptable among America’s upper classes, Moe Berg managed to get an Ivy League education.  Not only does he keep up with current events but he can also speak several languages.  The other players aren’t quite sure what to make of Moe, nor does Moe ever seem to make much of an effort to open up to anyone, including his girlfriend, Estella (Sienna Miller, playing yet another girlfriend in yet another biopic).

Because he can speak Japanese, Moe is selected to be a part of a delegation of players who will be sent to Japan.  While the rest of the players hang out around the hotel, Moe hangs out with an intellectual named Kawabata (Hiroyuki Sanada), discusses inevitably of war, and — for reasons that the film deliberately leaves unclear — decides to shoot a film of Tokyo Harbor.

Five years later, with the United States now at war with the Axis powers, it’s that film that leads to Moe getting a meeting with the head of the Office of Strategic Services, Bill Donovan (Jeff Daniels).  No longer a baseball player and apparently bored with coaching, Moe wants to become a spy.  Donovan notes that Moe has never married and asks him flat out if he’s gay.  Moe smiles slightly and says, “I’m good at keeping secrets.”

And indeed, he is!  Unfortunately, Moe is so good at keeping secrets that we never quite get into his head.  It’s hard not to compare this film to the superficially similar The Imitation Game.  But whereas that film made you feel as if you were seeing the world through Alan Turing’s eyes, The Catcher Was A Spy always seems to be standing outside of Moe Berg.  In the film’s final title cards, it refers to Moe as being an “enigma” and that’s pretty much the way he is throughout the entire film.  We like him because he’s played by Paul Rudd but we never really feel like we know him.  The closest the film comes to suggesting what’s going on inside the head of its main character is when Moe — who has described himself as non-religious — attends a Kol Nidrel service at a Zurich synagogue and, for a few minutes, Moe lets his guard down.  But, for the majority of the film, Moe remains unknowable.

With the exception of one battle scene, it’s also a rather low-key spy film, one that’s more in the style of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy than SPECTRE.  Again, that may be true to the actual story but, considering that it’s a film about a possibly gay Jew working to take down a homophobic, anti-Semitic war machine, it’s still hard not to regret the film’s lack of big “stand up and cheer” moments.  Clocking in at a rather brisk 97 minutes, it’s hard not to feel that there’s some big pieces missing from the film’s story.

Here’s the good news: Paul Rudd proves himself to be a thoroughly charismatic leading man in this film, showing that he can hold the audience’s attention even without special effects or a punch line.  Rudd does an excellent job playing a character who, to be honest, has very little in common with what we may think of as being a typical Paul Rudd role.  Rudd is always watchable, even while Moe Berg remains an enigma.  Hopefully, Rudd will get more opportunities in the future to show us what he’s truly capable of doing as an actor.

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.

Here’s The Latest Trailer (and the pre-trailer teaser) for Ant-Man and The Wasp!


Hi, everyone!

So, Jeff & I just saw Avengers: Infinity War!  I’ll be working on my review tonight but while I’m writing, feel free to watch the latest trailer for this year’s third Marvel film, Ant-Man and The Wasp!  2018 is truly shaping up to be the year of Marvel so it’ll be interesting to see if people get as excited about Ant-Man and The Wasp as they have about Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War.

To be honest, the combination of Black Panther and Infinity War have set the bar very high.  Obviously, the film isn’t going to have the cultural cachet of Black Panther.  Nor does it look like it’s going to be quite as colorful as Infinity War.  Instead, this looks very much like a back-to-basics super hero film, one that will make good use of Paul Rudd’s charisma.  Hopefully, he and Evangeline Lilly will have a bit more chemistry in this film than they did in the first Ant-Man.

The video below starts with the “Where was Ant-Man during Infinity War?” teaser that was released yesterday and then it continues on to the trailer, which was released earlier today.

Playing Catch-Up: Sausage Party (dir by Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan)


Sausage Party opens with a scene that could have come straight for a heart-warming Pixar film.  It’s morning and, in a gigantic grocery store called Shopwell’s, all of the grocery items are excited about the start of a new day.  The hot dogs are singing.  The buns are harmonizing.  The produce is bragging about how fresh they are.  Everyone is hoping that this will be the day that they are selected to leave the aisles of Shopwell’s and that they’ll be taken to the Great Beyond.  At Shopwell’s, shoppers are viewed as being Gods and being selected by a God means…

…well, no one is quite sure what it means but everyone’s sure that it has to be something good.  Surely, the Great Beyond couldn’t be something terrible, right?  At least, that’s what everyone assumes until a previously purchased jar of Honey Mustard returns to the store and tells a hot dog named Frank (voiced by Seth Rogen, who also co-wrote the film) that the Great Beyond is a lie.  The Great Beyond is not a paradise.  Instead, it’s something terrible.  Before Honey Mustard can be persuaded to give more details, it leaps off the shelf, choosing suicide over being restocked.

What could it all mean?  Well, there’s not too much time to worry about that because, even as Honey Mustard is committing suicide, a customer is selecting both Frank and Frank’s girlfriend, a bun named Brenda (Kristin Wiig).  They’re going to the Great Beyond together!  Yay!  Except…

…calamity!  A shopping cart collision leads to both Frank and Brenda being thrown to the floor.  While their friends are taken to the Great Beyond, Frank and Brenda are left to wander the store.  It turns out that Shopwell’s really comes alive after the lights go down and the doors are locked.  All of the grocery items leave their shelves and have one big party.  Frank seeks answers about the Great Beyond from a bottle of liquor named Firewater (Bill Hader).  Firewater has all the answers but you need to be stoned to truly understand.  This is a Seth Rogen movie, after all.  Meanwhile…

…Frank’s friends, the ones who survived the earlier cart collision, are discovering that the Great Beyond is not what they thought it was…

I apologize for all the ellipses but Sausage Party is the kind of movie that warrants them.  This is a rambling, occasionally uneven, and often hilariously funny little movie.  (I know that there were allegations that the film’s animators were treated horribly.  That’s sad to hear, not least because they did a truly wonderful job.)  Sausage Party was perhaps the ultimate stoner film of 2016, a comedy with a deeply philosophical bent that plays out with a logic that feels both random and calculated at the same time.

(If you’ve ever had the three-in-the-morning conversation about “What if our entire universe is just a speck of dust in a bigger universe?”, you’ll immediately understand what Sausage Party is trying to say.)

It’s also an amazingly profane little movie but again, that’s a huge reason why it works.  Yes, a lot of the humor is juvenile and hit-and-miss.  (I cringed whenever the film’s nominal villain, a douche voiced by Nick Kroll, showed up.)  But for every joke that misses, there’s a joke that works perfectly.  Interestingly, for all the silliness that’s inherent in the idea of making a film about talking grocery items, there’s a strain a very real melancholy running through Sausage Party.  Sausage Party may be a dumb comedy but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have a lot on its mind.

Since it’s a Seth Rogen film, the cast is full of familiar voices.  Yes, James Franco can be heard.  So can Paul Rudd, Danny McBride, Salma Hayek, Edward Norton, Jonah Hill, and Craig Robinson.  They all sound great, bringing vibrant life to the film’s collection of consumables and condiments.

Sausage Party.  After watching it, it’s possible you’ll never eat another hot dog.

Even Ant-Man Had To Start Somewhere: Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995, directed by Joe Chappelle)


halloween6coverLong before he was either Ant-Man or Judd Apatow’s favorite leading man, Paul Rudd was just another young actor looking for his first break.  He got it in 1995 when he was cast in the latest entry in the Halloween franchise.  Though Clueless was released first, the man who would be Brian Fantana got his introducing credit for Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers.  (He’s credited as Paul Stephen Rudd.)

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers was Miramax’s attempt to reboot the franchise by ignoring everything that made the first Halloween such a success in the first place.  John Carpenter’s Halloween was the epitome of simplicity, with Michael Myers portrayed as being an almost entirely motiveless killing machine.  One reason why Michael was scary was because he didn’t have any reason for killing other than he was evil.  (It was not until Halloween II that Laurie was discovered to be Michael’s sister and Samhain came into play.)

In Halloween 6, Michael (played by stuntman George P. Wilbur) is suddenly revealed to be afflicted with the Curse of the Thorn.  Because of the curse, he is required to serve as some sort of indestructible hit man for a cult of Druids (!) who are operating out of the basement of Smith Grove’s Sanitarium (!!), the same mental hospital that Michael escaped from at the start of the first film.  The head of the cult is Dr. Wynn (Mitchell Ryan), who was Sam Loomis’s boss in the first movie.

963589_032Donald Pleasence is back as Dr. Sam Loomis but it is not a happy return.  This was Pleasence’s final film and, in his few scenes, it is obvious that he was not in good health and his famous voice had been reduced to a hoarse rasp.  Pleasence died shortly after filming his scenes, which meant that he wasn’t available for the reshoots that Miramax demanded after the first cut of the film tested badly.  Add that to the fact that director Joe Chapelle reportedly had not seen any of the previous Halloweens, did not find the Loomis character to be interesting, and cut him out of several scenes and Dr. Loomis is barely in The Curse of Michael Myers.

Instead, most of the film is centered around Tommy Doyle (Rudd).  Yes, the same Tommy Doyle for whom Laurie babysat in the first Halloween.  Tommy has figured out that, because of the curse, Michael has to kill his next of kin every Halloween.  How did Tommy figure that out?  I don’t know and the film doesn’t know.  It’s like trying to figure out how Sean Connery knew where the Holy Grail was in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade.

Michael’s next of kin was Jamie Lloyd but, at the end of Halloween 5, she was kidnapped by the Cult of Thorn and held prisoner for six years.  For some reason, Michael did not kill her while she was being held captive.  Instead, Jamie was impregnated, gave birth to a baby boy named Stephen, and then escaped.  Though she was eventually killed by Michael, Tommy found the baby and has to protect the baby from Michael and the Cult.

list12Why does the Cult want the baby?  Why do birds suddenly appear whenever you are near?  There is no explanation, it’s just something that happens.

 

Michael comes back to Haddonfield to track down his grandnephew.  He also finds time to kill more members of the dysfunctional Strode family.  Luckily, Kara Stroe (Marianne Hagan) and her son, Danny, survive.  Danny is having dreams about killing people which would seem to suggest that he has inherited the Curse of the Thorn, except that the Strodes are not actually related to the Myers family so it doesn’t make any damn sense.

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After six films, it not always easy to keep track of how everyone is related.  Let’s see if I can do it:

Laurie Myers is the younger sister of Michael Myers and Judith Myers.  In 1963, when Michael is 6 and Laurie is 2, Michael murders Judith.  Michael goes to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium, where he is treated by Dr. Loomis and secretly raised by the Cult of the Thorn.  Mr. and Mrs. Myers die in 1965 and Laurie is adopted by the Strodes.  Laurie has no memory of being a Myers.

jamie-lee-curtis-mar-5-2011-2-600In 1978, Michael “escapes” from Smith’s Grove and tries to kill Laurie.  Both he and Dr. Loomis get blown up at the hospital.

Between 1978 and 1988, Laurie marries someone named Lloyd and they have a daughter named Jamie.  But then Laurie and her husband die in a traffic accident and Jamie is raised by her foster family, the Carruthers.  Except Laurie didn’t really die but instead faked her death and abandoned her daughter which seems like a shitty thing to do.

In 1988, it turns out that both Michael and Dr. Loomis survived being blown up and consumed by a raging inferno.  Michael again escapes from custody and goes to Haddonfield.  He tries to kill Jamie but instead ends up falling down a mine shaft.  Jamie goes home and tries to kill her foster mother.

In 1989, Michael turns out to be alive again and tries to kill Jamie for a second time.  The Man In Black, who is somehow connected to the the Cult of Thorn, shows up and breaks Michael out of jail and kidnaps Jamie.

Then, six years later, Jamie has a son named Stephen and is finally killed by Michael.  Meanwhile, Laurie’s uncle, John Strode (Bradford English), has moved into the old Myers house because why not live in the house formerly inhabited by a serial killer who tried to murder your family?  Living with them is Laurie’s cousins, Kara and Tim (Kieth Bogart) and Kara’s son, Danny.

Meanwhile, Laurie is in the witness protection program and teaching school but you don’t have to worry about that until Halloween: H20.

Got all that?

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I haven’t even gotten to the sleazy radio DJ who wants to do a live Halloween broadcast from inside the old Myers House.  There’s not much to say about him beyond noting that the role was originally offered to Howard Stern.

There are two versions of The Curse of Michael Myers floating around.  There’s the producer’s cut, which goes into more detail about the druids and attempts to fill some of the continuity gaps in the franchise.  Then there’s the theatrical edition, which was what Miramax released into theaters.  I have only seen the theatrical cut, which is a confusing mess.

While the producer’s cut features Michael being defeated by Celtic magic (which sounds stupid but would actually go with what’s already been established in the movie), the theatrical cut ends with Michael, who has previously survived being shot six times by Dr. Loomis, falling down a mine shaft, and literally blowing up, somehow being beaten into submission by Paul Rudd and a lead pipe.  Is there nothing that Paul Rudd cannot do?

Mr. Rudd, the town of Haddonfield owes you a debt of gratitude.

You stay classy, Haddonfield.

You stay classy, Haddonfield.

 

ALOHA! What is your deepest pit? #TheFundamentalsOfCaring


 

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Ok, going to preface this review by just saying three things:

1: I needed a good cry movie tonight; I had to get some things out of my system.

2: The rest of this review might not be SFW!

Oh, forgot, the technicalities:

The Fundamentals of Caring is a Netflix original movie based on the book “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving”  by Jonathan Evison

Stars:

Paul Rudd: as Ben  (Friends, Anchorman, 40-year-old virgin)

Selena Gomez: as Dot (Yeah, all that teenage stuff, singer turned amazing actress.)

Jennifer Ehle: as Elsa (Fifty Shades of Grey, The Black List, also born in my home town!)

Craig Roberts: as Trevor (Being Human, Red Oaks)

Director: (Emmy Award Winning) Rob Burnett

Plot:

A man (Rudd) after suffering a horrible loss decides to reach out and, not in his best interest, become a caregiver. Trevor (Roberts), a bitter kid without a Dad decides to take him on.  How does this end up? Well, on a road trip across the country with the kid he is there to care-give for, fountains of youth are found….In a deep dark pit between them….

Review:

I needed a good cry movie tonight, and The Fundamentals of Caring did that for me! Actually, Selena Gomez kinda took the movie in a way I wasn’t expecting.Got to give her a lot of props for what she did in it. Was it a great movie? By no means…Does it fill a deep pit in your soul when you need a movie to cry too?…Yes, it absolutely does!

The Fundamentals of Caring is on Netflix now… and if you want to see a trailer you can…..

WAIT…WAIT…WAIT…. I said there was three things in my preface!!

3: fuck you…No, Fuck you…NO…FUCK you!…Now Stand up and take your piss! Stand up and take a PISS!

Told ya, Not all of this review would be SFW!

 

BTW: Trevor Conklin was handsome and cool……ALOHA!

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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