Captain America: Civil War Guest Review by Sean E. Ali

I know what you’re thinking…”But..but…Derrick! Where’s your review of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR?” Well, it’s hard to review a movie I haven’t seen yet. And I won’t be seeing CIVIL WAR until this Tuesday or Wednesday. I very rarely go see movies the day or weekend they open. I’m long past the age where it was exciting to go see a movie with a crowd. I much prefer going during the week and catching a matinee where the theater is a whole lot emptier and quieter.

But thankfully, Sean E. Ali has caught the movie reviewing bug and based on the numbers his previous reviews of “Batman V Superman” and “Keanu” have been racking up, you guys have been enjoying them greatly. So here he is again with his review of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. Enjoy!

From the “Life During Wartime” File…

Don’t want CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR spoiled at all?

Then run away, run away now!

After that, I blame Derrick Ferguson for this epic novella that you’ll be reading from this point on…

…he’s got me in the habit of writing one of these whether I want to or not now…

…but feel free to read or ignore until I dig up the next “Moment of Utter Coolness”…

Now, let’s begin…

Here’s why Marvel’s CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR will work out better than Warner Brothers/DC’s “Batman V Superman”…

…patience.

Sure it was also a superior storyline, better characterization, the right mix of seriousness, light moments and action (in other words all of the things missing from “Batman V Superman”), but it was all because Marvel played a long slow hand over tossing all their chips on the table in the hopes of grabbing a big pot with little effort.

The game, as they have played it to date, has been a successful one. Marvel Studios have released 13 films and for the most part, those films have garnered generally positive reactions from the audience and the critics. And yes, I hear you “Iron Man 3” haters screaming but I’m one of those folks who dug the film despite its shortcomings and it’s possible CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is the best of their releases since “The Avengers.”

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Now of course the film isn’t absolutely perfect…

…okay I’m just saying that for you nit pickers later, I could care less about the flaws; this film blows everything else out the water in its genre.

Except for disguises. Seriously whenever Steve Rogers goes underground, the authorities should just start grabbing athletically built blond guys wearing windbreakers, baseball caps and dark glasses…

C’mon, you know I’m right!

Seriously, throw me a friggin’ bone here, Marvel, hair coloring, wigs, those old school Groucho Marx glasses mustache combos…

Call Tom Cruise and get Ethan Hunt in with the tearaway facemasks already!

Now this is the part where SPOILERS may come up so be ALERT

If you want to go watch it first then debate the points later, feel free to run to the theater, buy a big bag of popcorn (butter in between, please) and enjoy the show.

Don’t worry about me, I’m sure I can occupy my time until you get back…

Just don’t call me a SPOILER because you weren’t ALERT

So go ahead…

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Siri?

Put on my waiting for folks to get back playlist…

Shoo-be-do-be-doo-be-shoo-be-do-scooby-doo…

Frapadapadapdap….

Y’know, in the old days on those ancient BBS circuits, you used to have to type out “SPOILER SPACE” when you didn’t want folks to immediately see something that might have been spoiler like in nature…

You’d think we’d have just gone with SPOILER ALERT then, but we didn’t…

…kind of silly how I just sort of drifted onto that train of thought…

I’m sorry, what was the question?

Shoo-be-do-be-doo-be-shoo-be-do-scooby-doo…

Frapadapadapdap….

And, you’re back!

The film rocked, right?!

Or did you even go see it before I wasted my time above…?

Well whichever, too late run, because here we go…

The film opens with a flashback in 1991 where we see your Winter Soldier and mine having a bunch of random words read to him from a book while he does the default animal scream bit. These words are apparently some kind of trigger reset (or gibberish he’s just really sick of hearing when he asked for Samuel L. Jackson’s reading of GO THE F*CK TO SLEEP) because he’s about to go on a mission. The job involves running a car off a lonely road and into a tree. In what is possibly a nod to current events on “Agents of SHIELD”, the Soldier removes several packages with blue fluid in them, he looks properly slowly faced and we bring up the title credits…

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…in the present day, the Avengers are on a covert tracking mission in Lagos. The team assembled is Cap, Black Widow, the Falcon and Scarlet Witch (I’m guessing War Machine was off doing military stuff and Vision was trying on cardigans… just go see the flick for that part) they are looking for a group of terrorists who have been hitting police stations across the land lead by Crossbones, the guy who fought Falcon and was the second in command of Cap’s commando group in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”. An anticipated attack happens, our heroes spring into action, a great scene showing the teamwork this new batch of Avengers have picked up since they got together in “Avengers: Age of Ultron”, the Falcon and Black Widow have a pretty decent chase scene and then…

…well let’s just say things kind of blew up in a bad way and leave it there.

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In the aftermath of their latest adventure, the public is starting to question whether or not having superheroes roaming the world willy nilly is such a good idea. The Avengers it seems have been doing a fairly decent job of saving the world, but not so good at collateral damage or public relations damage control. As we’ve already seen in “Avengers: Age of Ultron”, the team isn’t looked upon favorably in a few places. Tony Stark alone is associated with weapons of war that he once manufactured that are still in use by military forces and other less legitimate groups across the globe. The fact that they bounce around the world leaving a lot of smoking craters in their wake, answerable to no one has folks on edge. With what happens in Lagos being the latest incident of a bad thing happening while doing a good thing. The governments of the world are no longer able to turn a blind eye to the issue as the latest… mistake kills members of a delegation from Wakanda, a reclusive African nation that has recently made gestures indicating their willingness to participate on a larger world stage.

Meanwhile, after a brief bit of backstory in an interlude on the holodeck (no we didn’t leave this film for a “Star Trek: The Next Generation” flick, but if we did, Tony Stark invented the holodeck and you’re welcome Captain Picard.) Tony Stark, who is going through a personal crisis or two which he pushes away by hiding behind his work and passing out endowments to fund research for pretty much every student at MIT, is confronted by consequences of the Avengers recent battle against Ultron on a very direct, very personal level while waiting on an elevator. The encounter added with Tony’s own guilt over creating Ultron in the first place, along with his own private troubles and the Avengers latest public disaster leaves him in the right frame of mind for…

…the Sokovia Accords, which is a White Pages phonebook sized way for the rest of the world to say: “Please, oh please, Avengers, could you not blow anything up the next time you save the world? Please and thank you, love, the United Nations.” The Accords would put the Avengers under the header of sanctioned international peacekeeping force, which would be called into a situation only if requested. So basically Interpol but with flashy code names and better toys.

Tony’s hot to get everyone on board so they can put this whole thing in the rear view and shift the burden of responsibility from his team to the world’s governments (“Hey sorry we blew up Bolivia, guys, but remember, YOU called US when Porcupine and the Eel held up that Mom and Pop deli instead of a cop…). He believes that this will give the team sanction to operate with a system of accountability that would foster trust and win back the public. Part of that is driven by his own guilt and Tony shows up to Avengers HQ thinking this is going to be a slam dunk once the rest of the team hears it. Tony’s pitch sells War Machine, Vision, and surprisingly Black Widow, while Scarlet Witch is on the fence and Sam’s not sure either. He just didn’t count on one thing…

…Steve Rogers, Captain America himself, is not on board for this. Given the events of the last film he was in, Steve digs in as the opposing voice, to Tony’s slam dunk proposition. Cap’s fearing that their own interests and agendas could corrupt these governments like the World Council that backed S.H.I.E.L.D only to be duped by HYDRA in purpose. Plus the whole superhero thing is all about being able to respond to a world class threat without going through a ton of red tape. Granted the battles of the Avengers both as a group and on their individual capers have occasionally brought their fair share of collateral damage but as Steve tells Tony, he feels the safest hands to determine where they go to prevent even greater loss of life are their own.

Their debate is ended by an unexpected interlude as Steve is called away on a personal duty where he gets a sort of affirmation that his point of view, while unpopular with some of his peers, is the correct course of action. As this scene closes, The Widow shows up and lets Steve know she’s on her way to sign the Accords as the Avengers representative along with Tony. She asks Steve to join them and he turns her down. Sam sticks with his partner and the lines are quietly drawn…

At the signing, we meet up with a few folks, but the biggest deal of the day is the contingent from Wakanda, fronted by King T’Chaka and his son T’Challa. T’Chaka is there in the spirit of good faith with the hope that this will signal a new chapter in peaceful cooperation with the world at large and the Avengers who want to protect that world…

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…since this is a Marvel flick, we don’t get that peace. The meeting has barely begun when there is an explosion hat kills several members in attendance. The culprit is identified shortly after the event: the Winter Soldier, or as Captain America knows him, James Buchanan (“Bucky”) Barnes his one time best friend. The Avengers, now led by Iron Man, are tasked with bringing the Soldier in. Cap and the Falcon are also trying to get to the Soldier to determine if he really were responsible. And as the two head towards each other on an inevitable collision course, a third party has joined the hunt, a man dressed in black who is determined to beat them both and kill the Soldier…

…and in the background is another player that most Captain America comic book fans will recognize by his family name…

…Zemo.

Which is a good place to end the spoiler stuff.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is a nicely done piece for this genre. It’s a well told and highly enjoyable story. The characters have clear motivations, introduces newcomers to the MCU: The Black Panther and the most amazingly accurate portrayals of Peter Parker and Spider-Man I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching (or ignoring when the too damn fine for words Marisa Tormei was on the screen playing Aunt May like Mary Jane Watson.) And the story was much deeper than the usual “let’s team up and beat the crap out of those guys” Marvel films. The hard core DC fans who said that Marvel is just big dumb fun apparently have missed the last Captain America film and will probably miss this one to avoid being proved wrong.

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If you’ve been on this ride for the last eight years you’ve watched these characters grow into the people they are now so the Tony Stark we met way back in “Iron Man” is still with us, but he’s been seasoned by his experiences. Plus Robert Downey Jr. sells the role because, let’s face it, Tony’s path mirrors his own life including the search for redemption part. Chris Evans is pitch perfect, as always, as Captain America who is still a man out a different time who has run out of time as he becomes an outlaw to save his friend. Since it’s a Captain America film, we get his supporting cast more than anyone else’s so Anthony Mackie is there as the Falcon for the bulk of the game and Sebastian Stan mixes in nicely as he plays Bucky getting slowly back to the guy we first met in initial Captain America movie. The rest of the gang does their part well, especially Jeremy Renner has finally become a fully realized character as Clint “Hawkeye” Barton over his other appearances in the role to date.

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CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is “Captain America 3”, “Iron Man 4”, and a prequel to both “Black Panther” and “Spider-Man” without getting bogged down with all the extra heroes. The way the film was directed gives me confidence for this team since they will be doing the next big pair of “Avengers” movies where the character count is expected to be higher. The film also tackles the very thing detractors of the Marvel films say they don’t cover and that “Batman V Superman” didn’t really cover: the consequences of their actions so far.

The CIVIL WAR theme was subtly played out on a few levels, outside of the main conflict. you had Tony Stark wrestling with his conscience, Steve Rogers with his loyalty to his friends old and new and his remaining true to his ideals, sure those are a given just below the battle of authority versus autonomy or the oversimplified version: security versus freedom in a post 9/11 and post-Patriot Act world. Tony wants something he built to not be headed on the road to destruction and ruin and the Avengers are part of his legacy to build a better world. Steve’s need to do what he feels is right to stand up for the little guy against those who would try to dominate and bully them is at the core of his character. But both men are suffering from knee jerk overreactions, which force knee jerk overreaches in their respective philosophies. They’re both right to a degree and they’re both wrong to a degree with an answer somewhere in between. But, as it goes with most overreactions, everyone’s going from the gut with emotions hot where there should be cooler heads. Time out isn’t really an option when you’re dealing with people who could literally level a city faster than a DC movie.

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But dig a little deeper because I’m fairly sure that even the writers and the Russos didn’t notice all the other things set into motion that the actors brought out in their parts of the conflict. You had Natasha Romanov’s conflicted nature literally making her a double agent by way of stream of consciousness as she struggled to decide what side she wanted to stand on. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow is long overdue for a solo film and, as she shows here, we’d be lucky to get one while she’s still on the clock. Natasha is literally our insider audience watching the same show we are and being equally conflicted about what team to stand on as she sees the extremes her friends go through defending their positions. As I said earlier, Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton steps up and stands by Cap even if it cost him his family while he fights to keep the government overreach away from that side of his life. While it wasn’t covered until later, Hawkeye’s motivation is simple enough: Stark’s betrayed them and Rogers hasn’t. Spider-Man is introduced as a kid struggling with his power and responsibility suddenly thrust upon him as is T’Challa who is the same position with a radically different scale to deal with. One represents youthful idealism overwhelmed but determined to do his best, the other is youthful pragmatism tempered by a wariness that comes from isolation. Both are pushed into this conflict through tragedy, both are trying to work out exactly what they’re supposed to do now that they’ve lost the the respective role models that shaped their lives. Bucky struggles to become the man he was when he was one of Captain America’s Howling Commandos, but before the film ends is faced with his past as an assassin returning to haunt him and the knowledge that even despite his situation, his redemption may never balance the scales enough in the eyes of those affected by his actions…

Even the characters without a conflict like War Machine, who, in a way, pays the highest price in this affair physically, or Sam Wilson’s Falcon who finds out that the price for loyalty is sometimes tragedy even when it involves superheroes, are on opposite sides because of their respective experiences in their lives. Both men are military, both have seen active combat, both are pilots, both understand the chain of command and its purpose for maintain discipline and order in the ranks, and both think their partners in crimefighting have the correct view. If there is a reason for the separation that I can find, it’s where we meet Sam in his introduction to the MCU as opposed to Rhodey when he came on the scene at the very beginning. Rhodey’s active military, he’s a combat pilot, a high level officer and already at the beck and call of the U.S. Government. If anyone’s a poster boy for a registration program, this is the guy. Sam Wilson, on the other hand, is a former medic, as well as a soldier. When he shows up in “Winter Soldier” he’s mustered out of the service and is a vet helping other vets deal with things like PTSD. He’s part of the family, but no longer interested in going into a forward area because of the political agendas of politicians who will never and, in most cases have never, had to deal with the reality of armed combat and the unique version of hell that truly is. So while they don’t fight with the same passion as the leads, they have in their previous appearances logical reasons for taking specific sides other than being the sidekick.

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But if you really squint a little, you can see (or maybe “create” is a better word) real world associations all over the place. When Tony is confronted over the Avengers actions in their fight with Ultron, I felt like that was not only a quiet nod to the upcoming “Luke Cage” series on Netflix, but also a Black Lives Matter moment. The fight in Lagos not only set up the foundation for the film, but it could be quietly interpreted as a statement on US foreign policy with regard to foreign wars. Specifically with how the US deals with African and Middle Eastern conflicts right down to their not giving losses of life and collateral damage there the same priority as the loss of a fictional European nation blown up by a robot…

…and oddly enough was also a sort of Blue Lives Matter moment.

There are other reaches in there, and your mileage may vary based on your creativity and ability to imagine things not actually in evidence, but CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is a damn sight more subtle and intellectual than you’d like to believe…

…if you convince yourself of that.

You have all these disparate elements flying around and you are able to track them all, and appreciate them all. You’ve been with these guys for the bulk of their runs so all the groundwork has been laid. By the time we get down to the final act there’s a twist takes the whole idea of conflict down to its most basic level. The plot changes the whys and wherefores for Bucky, Iron Man and Captain America which takes everything we’ve already seen to this point and flips it on its head and makes it personal for all three…

…and then there’s still another twist that takes this film from the usual superhero flick is contained in a final serious spoiler that you should ignore if you really don’t want to know…

Ready? Then here we go…

…well maybe I won’t after all, that might be a little too much.

No really, watch the film through to the end and you’ll realize pretty quickly, despite the resolutions of various plot lines it all boils down to a final truth you’ll figure out with Zemo’s last lines in the film.

So should you see CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR?

If you don’t I might have to find you and smack you upside the head before grabbing you by the earlobe and walking you into a seat myself.

If you’re a fan you’re probably already on your way. If you’re a fan of the Distinguished Competition and trying to hold out to make a point that “Batman V Superman” was better…

…just go already, friend, you’re not fooling anyone.

Don’t worry though, DC finally did something bright by bringing in Ben Affleck as an Executive Producer on the “Justice League” movie so you folks should have plenty to cheer about in a year or two…

…until then, why don’t you come on in the theater this weekend and see how it’s done…

…I’m looking over at you Zack Snyder and David Goyer.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is everything “Batman V Superman” should’ve been…

…and it’s everything you expect from Marvel…

…and it changes everything, for real, for the next phase of the MCU because every character that went in does not come out of the film unchanged.

Plus it’s a heck of an adventure.

I think I’ll walk down the street and see it again right now…

I’ll even save you a seat.

Enjoy the show with my compliments.

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The Bourne Legacy

2012

Universal Pictures

Directed by Tony Gilroy

Produced by Frank Marshall and Patrick Crowley

Screenplay by Tony Gilroy and Dan Gilroy

Based on a story by Tony Gilroy

Inspired by The Bourne Series written by Robert Ludlum

I will give THE BOURNE LEGACY credit for being original in one major area: it’s not a prequel or sequel to the previous three Jason Bourne movies starring Matt Damon. The events of this movie take place at the same time the events of “The Bourne Ultimatum” play out. Jason Bourne is mentioned a few times and we briefly see pictures of him but for all intents and purposes these are new characters dealing with a different level of fallout caused by Jason Bourne exposing Operation Blackbriar and Project Treadstone.

But after that I’m sad to say I can’t give THE BOURNE LEGACY any more credit after that. Matter of fact, by the time I got to the end of the movie (which has a terrific new version of Moby’s “Extreme Ways” playing over the credits) I felt the filmmakers owed me.

While Jason Bourne is in Manhattan carrying on cranky, CIA Director Kramer (Scott Glenn) and Mark Turso (Stacy Keach) bring in Eric Byer (Edward Norton) to help control the chaos. Turso and Byer are apparently part of a larger organization/conspiracy that has way more power than the CIA since Byer is able to sanction the dismantling of all CIA Black Ops programs. Including Operation Outcome which is genetically modifying super agents through blue and green pills that enhance physical and mental abilities via a virus that can actually restructure DNA. Byer also sanctions the assassination of all Outcome operatives.

One of these super agents, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) is on a training mission in Alaska. He meets up with another operative, Number Three (Oscar Isacc) and caught by a blizzard, accepts Number Three’s invitation to stay the night. Kinda makes it easy for Byer to attempt to kill them both by using a U-CAV to blow up the cabin. Cross alone survives and somehow makes his way back to the lower 49 as he is out of blue and green pills and must get a new supply.

Virologist Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) is the only one who can successfully make more pills, all the rest of her colleagues having been brutally murdered in what is for me the movie’s best and most suspenseful scene. Marta barely survived that massacre and it’s only through Cross showing up at her house in time that she survives a hit team of CIA agents sent to kill her.  From then on, it’s Cross and Marta trying to stay one step ahead of various attempts to kill them. The film jumps back and forth between them and Byers, Turso and a buncha other suits in a control room that would give NASA technicians fits of envy. They spend most of their time fretting about their dirty tricks being discovered.  Really.  That’s all they do. They also yell at each other a lot. Cross and Marta don’t do nearly as much yelling but they sure do a lot of running.

I really wanted to like THE BOURNE LEGACY a lot. There isn’t an actor in this movie I don’t like or didn’t turn in a solid, professional performance. Jeremy Renner with this movie goes up a dozen rungs on the ladder to being the Next Big Action Star. Edward Norton doesn’t know how to do anything less than be terrific in any movie he’s in and Rachel Weisz is way more interesting playing a scientist than a lot of other actresses who have played brainy types.

But it’s that first hour of THE BOURNE LEGACY that sank the movie for me. Now I don’t mind a movie that makes me work and makes me think about what I’m watching but there is so much that happens in the first hour that is not explained and characters introduced and I wasn’t sure of who they were or why they were there or what they were doing or why should I care about any of it. Maybe it would have helped if I had re-watched the first three BOURNE movies before seeing this one but I don’t think that really would have helped.  The only actors from those movies who are in this one are Joan Allen, David Strathairn and Albert Finney but their appearances are little more than cameos.

John Gilroy did the editing for this movie. Now if you’ve been reading my reviews for a while you’ll note that I generally don’t mention editing unless it’s spectacularly bad and it is in this movie during the action and fight scenes. You can’t convince me that Aaron Cross is supposed to be an unstoppable fighting machine unless I can tell who he’s hitting and how he’s hitting them. Just a frantic blur of motion and bodies flying through the air don’t cut it for me. It’s not shaky-cam but it’s almost as bad.

Another thing that bothered me was the high number of innocent bystanders who get killed in this movie. If I’m correct and counted right, Aaron Cross kills at least six people who have nothing to do with the conspiracy trying to kill him and were merely people who were just doing their jobs. They’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And by the time I got to the ending I finally figured out why the movie is constructed the way it is. The studio is obviously so convinced this movie is going to be such a huge hit that a sequel is guaranteed and they needed to save a lot of story for that.

So should you see THE BOURNE LEGACY? I’m gonna grudgingly say yes. It’s not that it’s a bad movie. It’s professionally made and the performances are good. But it’s just that whole confusing first hour that didn’t work for me and the poorly edited action sequences.

135 minutes

PG-13

The Avengers

2012

Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Pictures

Directed by Joss Whedon

Produced by Kevin Feige

Screenplay by Zak Penn, Joss Whedon

Based on the Marvel comic book “The Avengers” created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

My love affair with THE AVENGERS goes back to 1968.  That’s when I bought Avengers Annual #2 which featured Captain America going back in time with teammates Hawkeye, Goliath, The Wasp and The Black Panther and through a cosmic mixup find themselves doing battle with Giant-Man, The Wasp, Iron Man, Thor and The Hulk.

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I was hooked and from that year to this one, The Avengers have always been my favorite superhero team.  Way back then my friends and I fantasized about seeing The Avengers in a live-action movie but until a few years ago I never really believed it could be done.  It has.  After five previous Marvel superhero movies it’s all led up to this.  And it’s been done with such fresh intelligence, unique wit, humor, creative consistency and downright fun that as far as I’m concerned THE AVENGERS is the best and greatest superhero movie ever made.  With this movie, the bar for superhero movies has been raised so incredibly high that I don’t think it’ll be topped anytime soon.  At least not until “Avengers 2”

The meat of the plot is actually quite simple.  After being thrown off the destroyed Rainbow Bridge by his brother Thor (Chris Hemsworth) during his attempt to conquer Asgard, The God of Mischief Loki (Tom Hiddleston) found himself in a hostile dimension.  He has made a deal with the leader of the warrior alien race known as the Chitauri.  If Loki retrieves the ancient artifact known as the Tesseract he’ll be given command of a Chitauri army to conquer The Earth.  Loki manages to remotely use the Tesseract to open a portal by which he returns to Earth.  Loki steals the Tessarct from the S.H.I.E.L.D. research facility where it is being studied by Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard)  Loki escapes, destroying the facility in the process while turning Dr. Selvig, Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and half a dozen S.H.I.E.L.D. agents into his mind-controlled lackeys.

S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) decides to reactivate “The Avengers Initiative” to combat this threat.  He sends Natasha Romanoff aka The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to India to recruit Dr. Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).  Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) heads to New York to bring in Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.).  When Loki is discovered to be in Germany, it seems like the perfect assignment for Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) to capture him but that plan goes wrong when Thor shows up, intending to capture his brother himself, recover the Tessaract and take them both back to Asgard. And he’s got an outrageously big hammer to back up his intentions.

Surprisingly, Loki allows himself to be taken captive and imprisoned on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s flying aircraft carrier, the Helicarrier.  Fury attempts to talk this wildly diverse group into becoming a team while Banner and Stark try to find the Tesseract and the true depths of Loki’s scheming soon become obvious to all.  Divided and disheartened, The Avengers must learn how to work together as a team to save the world from Loki and the overwhelming onslaught of the Chitauri hordes pouring out of a interdimensional  portal above Stark Tower.

That’s the bare bones of the plot but there’s so much meat on the bones that it flat-out astonishes me how much Joss Whedon and his co-writer Zak Penn gets in there without the movie feeling rushed or over-bloated.  There are some great character moments aboard the Helicarrier and the scene of The Avengers bickering among themselves had me chuckling even though it’s a deadly serious scene.  But as a long-time Avengers fan, I’ve seen this scene played out in I don’t know how many issues of the comic book and it feels absolutely right in here.

We get astounding superhero battles such as Iron Man vs. Thor and Hulk vs. Thor while the actual alien attack on New York is jaw-dropping in its scale and level of sheer spectacle.  It’s also where we get to see The Avengers finally working together as a team and it’s one of the best moments in superhero movie history.

The acting is dead on-point with Mark Ruffalo being the stand-out.  I expected everyone else to be good as they’ve played these characters before and they know the tone they’re supposed to take.  But Mark Ruffalo comes in cold and nails Bruce Banner with an ease that is truly impressive.  He’s just as good as Eric Bana and Edward Norton and I could even see the progression in both The Hulk and Bruce Banner through Ruffalo’s performance.  They both have come a long way and Ruffalo as Banner reflects this.  Nothing he does invalidates or violates the Bana or Norton performances and actually builds on them.  And both Banner and The Hulk get some of the best lines/scenes in the movie.  Including the one between The Hulk and Loki that had the audience I saw the movie with laughing, cheering, clapping and high-fiving for at least five minutes.

Jeremy Renner makes for a far better Clint Barton than I thought he would be.  This incarnation of Hawkeye as well as The Black Widow are darker versions of the traditional characters but I didn’t mind.  These characters I’ve always admired and loved since they don’t have superpowers.  Even Captain America has the Super-Solider Formula going for him but Hawkeye and The Black Widow are superbly trained humans who through virtue of guts, heart and their outstanding skills prove why they’re worthy to be Avengers.

So should you see THE AVENGERS?  What a silly question. of course you have. As for me I’ve seen THE AVENGERS and it’s the Avengers movie I’ve been waiting since 1968 to see and it was worth the wait.

143 minutes

PG-13

Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol

2011

Paramount Pictures

Directed by Brad Bird

Produced by Tom Cruise, J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk

Written by Andre Nemec and Josh Applebaum

Based on the television series “Mission: Impossible” created by Bruce Geller

Unlike a lot of people I really don’t have anything against the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE film series.  The major argument people always throw at me is that it’s not the TV series.  Well, of course it’s not.  The only way to make it faithful to the TV series would be to get together a group of little known, semi-retired or B/C list actors in an ensemble piece.  Once I heard that Tom Cruise was going to be starring in the first one, I knew it was going to be his movie all the way.

And to be honest, I don’t have a problem with that.  America needs her own world-saving superspy and Cruise’s Ethan Hunt has been doing a respectable job in the four movies to date.  I liked “Mission: Impossible” directed by Brian DePalma even though I think it deplorable what they did to the Jim Phelps character.   The second one was a let-down.  If it had been any other director, it would have been a home run but I was expecting more from John Woo.  Not that “Mission: Impossible II” was a bad movie.  It was my own fault for having such high expectations.  “Mission: Impossible III” was just okay.  Again, not that it was a bad movie and I enjoyed seeing Seymour Philip Hoffman play a bad guy as much as he appeared to be enjoying it.  But ten minutes after seeing that movie, I couldn’t begin to tell you what it was about.

But I’m glad to be able to say that MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE-GHOST PROTOCOL knocks it out of the park.  For me it’s the most satisfying and exciting of the four.  Wonderful globetrotting locations, great action, phenomenal stunts and engaging characters tied into a plot that wouldn’t be out of place in a Cold War era James Bond movie adds up to an entertaining package.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is broken out of a Moscow prison by IMF agents Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Jane Carter (Paula Patton) who need him to infiltrate The Kremlin.  Carter, Dunn and another agent, Trevor Hanaway (Josh Holloway) were working a mission involving the interception of a courier working for a shadow agent codenamed Cobalt.  Hanaway was killed during the mission and now Jane and Benji need Ethan as a replacement to complete the mission.

The mission turns out to be a colossal set-up.  The Kremlin is blown up with Ethan and his team implicated.  The President of The United States invokes The Ghost Protocol which disavows the entire Impossible Mission Force.  Ethan and his team, along with intelligence analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) are considered to be rogue agents.  Despite their having no backup at all, the four elect to pursue Cobalt and clear the IMF force.  It’s during their investigation they learn that Cobalt actually is Kurt Hendricks, a nuclear strategist who believes that nuclear war is necessary for human evolution.  He used the Kremlin bombing as a cover for his theft of a nuclear launch code device and framed the IMF so that he’d be in the clear.  From then on it’s a race against time as Ethan and his team has to stop Cobalt starting World War III.

I really enjoyed how the team aspect of the Mission: Impossible concept was used in this one.  It comes the closest to being faithful to the teamwork in the TV show as everybody on Ethan’s team is essential to the success of the mission and has their role to play.  If one person drops the ball, the mission is screwed.  Add to that the fact that Ethan has never worked with them before.  He’s in a situation where he has to trust them and get them to mesh together as a smoothly functioning machine.  In the previous three movies we’re constantly told what a great team leader Ethan Hunt is but this is the first time that we actually see him working at it.

The movie also has something the previous three didn’t have: some much needed humor thanks to Simon Pegg.  Thankfully, he doesn’t overdo the comedy relief.  He does just enough to enable us to laugh and relax a bit.  Especially during some of the exhilarating and truly harrowing action sequences such as the climbing of the Burj Khalifa tower.  If you have any kind of fear of heights at all, this scene will definitely leave you with no fingernails as I can guarantee you’ll chew them all off while watching.

The story takes some really clever twists and turns and there are resolutions to the sub-plots I honestly didn’t see coming, most notably the sub-plot involving the Jeremy Renner character.  And I loved the opening credits which pays homage to the opening credits of the TV show.

So should you see MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE-GHOST PROTOCOL?  If you’ve seen the first three then you probably already have.  If you’ve never seen any the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE films then this is a good one to start with.  You don’t have to worry about not having seen the first three to understand this as the writers and director get you up to speed on everything you need to know.  And with this movie, Brad Bird, who has done animated features such as “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille” shows that he’s an action director to watch.  MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE-GHOST PROTOCOL is a terrific action picture.  Go watch and enjoy.

133 minutes

PG-13