Captain America: Civil War Movie Review

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I have been an avid reader of Marvel Comics since 1988. In the twelve weeks leading up to Captain America: Civil War I watched the twelve Marvel movies that came before. I walked into Captain America: Civil War with about as much of a pre-established bias as one can. I am not surprised that I enjoyed Captain America: Civil War. I am surprised that it may very well be my all-time favorite superhero movie.

Civil War had a lot to do in its two-hour and twenty-six minute run time. It had to continue the ongoing story of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I had to give us a believable reason that half of the Avengers would be willing to fight the other half. It had to introduce a totally new Spider-Man that was different from any live action Spider-Man before him. It had to introduce Black Panther for the first time in a live action movie and establish who he is and what his motivations are. And lastly it had to give character moments throughout the movie for Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, War Machine, Falcon, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Hawkeye, Ant-Man, Winter Soldier, Black Panther, Spider-Man, General Ross, Aunt May, Sharon Carter, Crossbones and Baron Zemo. Oh, and it has to have a compelling story with lots of good action and mind-blowing special effects while simultaneously remaining true to the original comics and putting their own spin on it. Somehow, the Russo Brothers and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Steve McFeely manage to do all of this and make one of the best movies I have seen in years.

This is a movie where everyone is going to have their favorite moment. Many say it’s Ant-Man’s big scene. Some like the final fight. Others like the opening sequence with Crossbones. For me, it was a scene in which we see Tony Stark in 1991. I spent most of the scene wondering how the hell they filmed this scene twenty-five years before the first Iron Man because it was clearly Robert Downey Jr. in 1991. I’ve seen incredible de-aging effects before (most recently in Ant-Man with Michael Douglas), but this was some next level stuff. I am no longer concerned about actors being too old for a part. They could make Indiana Jones 5 right now and set it five years after The Last Crusade with Harrison Ford and we would think they found it on a shelf somewhere. And on top of that, the scene in question is a vital piece of what makes Tony Stark tick as a person.

Civil War has a ton of action, but that action is entirely character driven. Over and over again things happen not just to further the plot but because that is who the character is and if anyone else did it then it would not make sense. We know this because most of these characters have been around for at least two or three movies. This is one of the advantages of franchise filmmaking. And yet with Spider-Man they had the exact opposite problem. How do you re-introduce a character we’ve seen played by two different people in five movies over the last sixteen years and make it better than anything we’ve seen in any of those movies and yet fit into this ensemble cast? They manage to do that and more even though Spidey probably isn’t in the movie more than fifteen minutes.

I’m doing my best to keep this review mostly spoiler-free, but there is one thing I really want to talk about and it requires spoilers. So skip the next paragraph if you have not seen Civil War and want to remain unspoiled.

 

Okay. So the trope of hero vs. hero is about as old a comic book cliché as there is. Invariably it revolves around a fundamental misunderstanding that results in the two fighting until they realize they are really both on the same side and then they go after the real bad guy. We saw this done in the most clumsily possible fashion a few weeks ago in Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. They do it in Civil War too. Iron Man and his crew are certain the Winter Soldier is responsible for the attack. Then Stark realizes that he wasn’t and heads to Moscow to help. What happens next is that after the fake reason to hate Winter Soldier has been exposed Zemo reveals to Tony Stark a much more personal reason for hating both Bucky and Captain America. Revealing that a brainwashed Bucky was responsible for the death of Stark’s parents took some serious inspirational brilliance. And the fact that Cap never told Tony that his parents were killed by Hydra makes it all the more painful for him. This is after everything else that has happened. After Ultron. After Pepper left him. After he failed to keep the Avengers together. After Rhodey was severely injured. After Black Widow stopped supporting his cause. After all of this he finds that Captain America, the guy his father revered, lied about the death of Tony’s parents. The resulting fight is exactly the opposite of what nearly every other superhero movie of the last twenty years has been. Instead of saving the world, these people are trying to save a friendship. Hell, they’re just trying to save themselves.

 

I have mentioned the directors and writers and special effects teams, but really none of this would have worked if they didn’t have what appears to be the world’s best casting directors. This cast is amazing. Each embodies their character on a level that makes it difficult not to think of them when I read the comic book. Veterans like Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans continue to do great work, but newcomers like Tom Holland as Spider-Man and Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther absolutely nailed their roles too. The camerawork and stunt work is still being done by the same people who did Captain America: Winter Soldier and it shows.

I give Captain America: Civil War my highest recommendation. Everyone brought their A-Game to this movie. Go see it. Stay for both after credit sequences. They’re worth it.

– Jack Cameron

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Movie Monday: Wonder Boys

There are a handful of movies I watch at least once a year. I’ve seen each of them many times and enjoy each viewing. In many cases it’s like relaxing with a favorite drink. Wonder Boys is one of those movies. Curtis Hanson’s adaptation of Michael Chabon’s novel about a one hit wonder novelist turned writing professor whose life is falling apart is very comfortable for me. That may say more about me than the movie, but I’ll try to fix that in the rest of this review.

I think you probably get more out of Wonder Boys if you’re a writer, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Michael Douglas who typically plays super-rich and powerful characters is strangely perfect as the disheveled Grady Tripp. It’s expected that he’s a good guy having lots of bad things happen to him but as the story unfolds, you realize every one of his problems is entirely of his own making.

Before the movie even starts his wife has left him. His editor is coming in from out of town to look at his second book that is a few years late. He’s having an affair with his boss’ wife. And his best student is either going to become a best selling writer or possibly kill himself. We learn all of these things are already happening and then things start to get worse for him.

It sounds depressing but it really isn’t. It helps that his editor is a bisexual hedonist played by Robert Downey Jr. and the moody student writer is played by Tobey Maguire. In fact, the cast in this movie is one of the best I can think of. Katie Holmes plays a student tenant of Grady’s who’d like nothing more than to sleep with him. (There’s a scene where she’s laying in bed reading his manuscript that’s probably far sexier to writers than it would be to other people.) Rip Torn has a bit part as a pompous best-selling writer. He’s sort of the anti-Grady. Frances McDormand is the woman Grady is having an affair with. She’s one of those actresses who never gets enough roles. She’s a character actress who tends to disappear into her character.

The humor throughout the movie is what makes the whole thing work. It would be a dark, depressing affair without it. Instead, it’s a movie full of hilarious moments amongst all of the chaos. Also, no review of this movie would be complete without a mention of the fantastic soundtrack that includes Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, and John Lennon. On a rainy morning with nothing to do, some people like to put on The Big Lebowski (a fine movie in its own right). I put on Wonder Boys.

– Jack Cameron