Captain America: Civil War

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2016

Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios

Directed by Anthony Russo & Joe Russo

Produced by Kevin Feige

Screenplay by Christopher Markus/Stephen McFeely

Based on “Captain America” created by Jack Kirby & Joe Simon

If you had asked me a couple of days ago what my favorite Marvel movie is, I’d have said with no hesitation at all; “The Avengers.” But that was before I saw CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. I am now prepared to not only proclaim that not only is CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is the best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies but also that it just may be the best superhero movie made to date, period.

I might have said this before in my reviews of “Captain America: The First Avenger” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” but it bears repeating, I think. One of the strengths of the MCU is that movies featuring characters in their solo movies take their time to explore the worlds in which these characters operate. So Iron Man movies are about technology and ways they can be used or misused for good or evil. Thor movies are full of mythology, fantasy and cosmic adventures. And Captain America movies are about political struggles, the role of government intelligence agencies in modern warfare which is so different from the way Steve Rogers knew war back in World War II. And morals are always at the forefront of a Captain America movie. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Captain America movies are so popular now because Steve Rogers embodies a way of life and adherence to core beliefs and morals that we as a country and people have gotten away from but desperately long to get back to. But not Cap. He’s The Last Stand-Up Guy and he’s not ashamed of it either.

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Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is engaged in a covert mission in Lagos. His job is to keep a biological weapon out of the hands of Crossbones/Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo.) Cap has brought along as backup The Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) The Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and The Scarlet Witch/ Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen.)

They do manage to secure the biological weapon but during the intense fighting, Wanda accidentally destroys an office building which kills a dozen citizens of the isolationist African country Wakanda. This brings King T’Chaka (John Kani) and his son T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) to spearhead what comes to be known as The Sokovia Accords. U.S. Secretary of State Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross (William Hurt) presents The Sokovia Accords to The Avengers. If they agree to it and sign it, a United Nations panel will control their activities and supervise The Avengers.

Steve thinks it’s a lousy idea and is surprised that Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) is all for it. Tony is obviously still dealing with PTSD brought on by not just the Chitauri Invasion of New York but the events of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” as well. Unbeknownst to his friends, Tony’s many chickens have all come home to roost in a big way and that is why he insists that The Avengers sign and abide by The Sokovia Accords.

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The situation grows even more hostile and volatile when the representatives of over a hundred countries meet an a conference in Vienna to ratify The Sokovia Accords. The conference is bombed and all the evidence points to James Buchanan Barnes/Bucky/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) as the bomber. This situation divides The Avengers even more as Steve believes that Bucky shouldn’t be held responsible for crimes he committed while in a brainwashed state as The Winter Solider.

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The Black Widow, War Machine/James Rhodes (Don Cheadle ) The Vision (Paul Bettany) and Spider-Man/Peter Parker take Stark’s side while The Falcon, The Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) and Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) side with Captain America. The battle lines are drawn but there two wild cards in the deck; T’Challa has inherited not only the kingship of Wakanda but the heritage of The Black Panther as well. His agenda does not exactly line up with either Captain America’s or Iron Man’s as he is driven by pure vengeance to exact punishment on the murderer of his father.

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And in the background, quietly and methodically working on a plan to destroy The Avengers is a man named Zemo…not the one you’re thinking of. But he is no less dangerous. One of the jaw-dropping moments in this movie that is full of them is watching how Zemo manipulates every other character.

I’m not gonna pussyfoot around on this one; CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is such a finely crafted piece of superhero cinema I honestly am in awe of what the directors, writers and cast have done here. The movie works as both a Captain America solo movie and as an Avengers movie as well, which in itself is no small feat. There’s an exceptionally large cast of characters packed in here but everybody gets a chance to shine. I appreciated how the movie slowed down for such treats as the conversation The Vision and Wanda have while they bond over cooking dinner. I loved the scene where Rhodey and Sam are arguing their points of views about The Sokovia Accords. Remember that these are two black men who have both served in the U.S. military. But they have very different ideas about the role The Avengers should play in the world. And while we’re on the subject, when was the last time you saw a superhero movie that had three black superheroes in prominent roles?

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The discussions the characters have about The Sokovia Accords, their responsibility in how they use their powers and their views on how the public sees them now is something that I found fascinating. The world governments are starting to think that maybe superheroes really aren’t all that nice to have around since they seem to attract death and destruction (something that The Vision himself points out in one of the movie’s best scenes.)

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR manages to give us the superhero action we crave (the Free-For-All Brawl at the airport is now the greatest superhero fight scene EVER.) while giving us plenty of deeper emotional stuff such as The Avengers having to deal with the consequences of their actions. The world has united in their demand that The Avengers simply not level cities and then go home in time for Corn Flakes and watching Captain Kangaroo.

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And I have been waiting all my life to see The Black Panther on a movie screen and now I have. Chadwick Boseman (along with Paul Rudd) walks away with the MVP award. And you all know how I feel about Chris Evans. The guy IS Captain America. ‘Nuff Said. And let me just say that I have never been a big Spider-Man fan but after seeing Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and his smokin’ hot Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) I wouldn’t mind going to see the next Spider-Man movie.

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Bottom Line: CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is spectacular entertainment from start to finish. I judge superhero movies by this: do they make me feel the same sense of excitement and wonder that I got from reading the comic books when I was 12 years old? Do they put me in touch with those feelings I got on a Saturday afternoon when I pulled out a stack of of my favorite comics books and read them for hours on end? CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR does indeed make me feel that way. Most movie series decrease in imagination, excitement and pure fun. Not this one. Each succeeding Captain America movie has been better than the one before and CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is no exception.

 

 

Dark City: The Director’s Cut

Dark-City-1998

1998

New Line Cinema

Directed by Alex Proyas

Produced by Alex Proyas and Andrew Mason

Screenplay by Alex Proyas, David S. Goyer and Lem Dobbs

Based on a story by Alex Proyas

A man (Rufus Sewell) wakes up in a tub full of cold water. He’s a resident in a hotel but has no memory of checking in there, let alone living there for the past three weeks as the desk clerk insists. He gets a phone call from a man claiming to be his doctor (Kiefer Sutherland) who tells him he must leave the hotel as there are people looking for him. ‘People’ is somewhat of of an understatement. The Strangers look like walking corpses dressed all in black and have extraordinary psychokinetic powers. The man leaves and begins a search for his identity, pursued not only by The Strangers but by Police Inspector Bumstead (William Hurt) who suspects that the man is the maniac responsible for a string of horrifying murders.

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The man eventually discovers his name is John Murdoch and that he has powers of his own that enable him to evade The Strangers. Armed with these powers he sets out to discover the truth of his origins. Did he really murder six prostitutes? Is the sultry torch singer Emma Murdoch (Jennifer Connelly) truly his wife? Why is he tortured with memories of his youth living in the coastal town of Shell Beach and why is it nobody can remember how to get there? Why does everybody in this city of eternal night, this DARK CITY fall asleep at midnight? Why do The Strangers use their power to rearrange the very city itself and swap identities of the sleeping inhabitants?

If you’ve never seen DARK CITY I wouldn’t dream of spoiling the fun of you discovering the answers to those questions and many others. Because DARK CITY is just as much a neo-noir detective story as it is so many other genres. It’s also a horror movie. A live action graphic novel. A science fiction movie. A suspense thriller. In a way, it’s even a superhero origin movie. It’s so many different genres blended together and amazingly, they all work thanks to the utter brilliant screenplay and direction. I know people who go on and on and on about how great “The Crow” is but they can keep that movie. Just give me DARK CITY which for me is the best thing Proyas has directed so far.

The visual look and texture of this movie is just as unique as the story. The architecture of the Dark City itself looks European mixed with Art Deco and German Expressionism. It’s a look like no other city in a movie has ever has. It’s even more impressive when you find out that it was all constructed on a set. The production design alone is worth seeing the movie.

This is the first movie I ever saw Rufus Sewell in and right from there I said to myself I would have to keep an eye on this guy. He’s one of those actors who I just can’t take my eyes off when he’s on screen. He’s always doing something interesting with his eyes, his body or his hands. And he’s one of the few actors who I can actually see thinking. He’s flat out terrific in this movie. Kiefer Sutherland is equally terrific. People who only know him as Jack Bauer really need to watch DARK CITY to see just how good an actor he really is. William Hurt has a lot of good scenes as Inspector Bumstead. I liked his relationship with a uniformed policeman who admires Bumstead and who acts as his unofficial sidekick in police work. Bumstead has long had his own suspicions about the origins of the city as he reveals when he asks Emma Murdoch questions about her own memories. And as usual, I can’t say a bad word against Jennifer Connelly. Not only is she gorgeous as hell she’s an amazing actress as well.

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What else can I say? Not much else. Chances are most of you reading this have already seen DARK CITY and so you know what I’m talking about. As for those of you who haven’t. Please do yourself a favor and this weekend get yourself a Blu-Ray of DARK CITY. I’m advising you to get the Blu-Ray because not only does DARK CITY look astounding in Blu-Ray, it also has a commentary by Roger Ebert who was a major champion of this movie from Day One. ‘Visionary’ is a word thrown around far too often when describing movies but in the case of DARK CITY it’s more than well deserved. It’s one of the most imaginative and fascinating movies I’ve ever seen. It tells a great story and does it in a memorably thrilling and original way. Enjoy.

Rated R

100 Minutes

The Incredible Hulk

2008

Universal Studios/Marvel Entertainment

Directed by Louis Leterrier

Produced by Avi Arad and Gale Anne Hurd

Screenplay by Edward Norton (uncredited) and Zak Penn

Based on the comic book “The Incredible Hulk” created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

For those of you who haven’t heard my yelling in the wilderness before now, allow me to yell some more: I thoroughly enjoyed the Ang Lee directed “Hulk” and still think it’s one of the best superhero movies made.  For years fanboys whined that superhero movies weren’t treated with the respect or dignity the characters deserved.  Well, they got a movie with an intelligent script, an A-list director, a top notch cast, photographed with style and imagination and what did they do?  BMW’ed that there wasn’t enough “Hulk Smash!”  They certainly can’t say that about THE INCREDIBLE HULK as there’s enough action in this one to make up for any lack of action in the first.  And it’s well directed action that serves the needs of the story and just isn’t put in there for “Hulk Smash!” value.  I enjoyed THE INCREDIBLE HULK for a lot of reasons I like “Hulk” They both share intelligent scripts, a top-notch cast and it’s photographed with style and imagination.  I don’t know if Louis Leterrier can be considered an A-list director but if he keeps on making movies this good, he will be.

THE INCREDIBLE HULK hits the ground running by giving us a condensed, reworked version of The Hulk’s origin.  In this one, General Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross (William Hurt) enlists the genius of radiation expert Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) to revive a World War II era experiment: The Super-Soldier Project.  The idea is to physically enhance human beings to the pinnacle of peak human perfection.  If you’ve seen “Captain America” then you know how that worked out.  Ross thinks that Bruce can speed up the process.  Well, Doc Bruce Banner gets belted by gamma rays, turns into The Hulk and in the process injures not only Ross but his daughter Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) the love of Bruce’s life.  Now, when Bruce gets angry or outraged a startling metamorphosis occurs and he changes into a seven-foot tall, thousand pound, green skinned powerhouse driven by rage.  Bruce goes on the run, hiding from Ross and the United States Army while trying to find a way to control the raging spirit that dwells within him.

We pick up Bruce working in a bottling plant in Rio de Janeiro.  He’s studying martial arts to help him control his anger.  He’s working on a cure for his condition with the help of the mysterious Mr. Blue who he communicates with via laptop and satellite uplink.  Ross finds Bruce due to a set of circumstances involving a cut finger, a soda bottle and the second funniest cameo Stan Lee has done in these Marvel movies.  Ross sends a team of Special Forces commandos to capture Banner.  They’re led by Blonsky (Tim Roth) a Russian born British black ops type of guy who’s past his prime.

The team finds Banner and they make the mistake of making him mad so you can guess what happens after that.  But Blonsky wants another crack at capturing Bruce and The Hulk and willingly volunteers to take the Super-Soldier serum himself so that he can have a fighting chance against The Hulk.  In the meantime, Bruce and Betty have reunited and decide to go toNew Yorkand seek out Mr. Blue themselves.  That plan is complicated by Ross, Blonsky and The Army showing up and in one of the movie’s really amazing battle sequences Bruce Hulks out and takes on the Army and Blonsky.  Blonsky’s able to actually hold his own for a while against The Hulk before the big green guy shows exactly why there’s ‘The Incredible’ in front of his name.

The fight leaves every bone in Blonsky’s body shattered but in a few hours he’s totally and completely healed.  This gets Blonsky to thinking: if he’s like this just from having taken the serum, what’ll happen if he gets a dose of gamma rays like Bruce Banner?  The answer leads to a simply fantastic showdown inNew York’sHarlem between The Hulk and Blonsky who has been transformed into a gamma powered Abomination.  But will Bruce be able to find a lasting cure?  Will he and Betty ever be able to have a normal life?

The really fun thing about THE INCREDIBLE HULK is that it follows the old school formula of storytelling that Marvel did so well way back in the 60’s/70’s: a healthy dose of plain ol’ superheroics with just enough soap opera elements to give the characters and the story the illusion of being something more than just the opportunity to have guys with bulging muscles whomping the piss outta each other.  But it’s done so well and with such respect for the source material that like “Iron Man” and “Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer” it’s elevated out of just being just another superhero movie and is A Good Movie, period.

I liked Edward Norton a lot in this movie.  He’s one of the best actors working today and his Bruce Banner really isn’t that far from the way Eric Bana played Banner in the 2003 movie.  Norton’s Banner is less repressed and more proactive but five years on the run from the government will make a man come out of his shell real fast.  I liked how even General Ross had to admit that Banner isn’t to be underestimated and not just because he can turn into The Hulk.  This is a Bruce Banner who in his own way can be as dangerous as his monstrous alter ego.  And speaking of General Ross, William Hurt did a far better job of playing ol’ ‘Thunderbolt’ than I thought he would.  It’s almost a shame he had to follow Sam Elliot’s definitive performance as General Ross because I think if William Hurt had done it first, we all might be saying that his version of Ross is the definitive one as William Hurt is just that good.  And saying Tim Roth is a terrific actor is as obvious as saying water is wet.  It’s just a given that in any role, Tim Roth is going to do his usual excellent job.  The only acting disappointment in the movie was Liv Tyler.  Not that she’s terrible as Betty Ross.  Far from it.  She’s quite good.  Just not as good as Jennifer Connelly.

The CGI Hulk in this one is an improvement over the 2003 version.  He’s way more muscular and it looked to my eyes as if the CGI guys tried to find a medium between the gray and green versions of The Hulk in that there are some scenes where he looks greener and others where he looks grayer.  In any case it’s a more natural looking green and this Hulk is a truly terrifying creature.  I’ve always considered The Hulk’s arch enemy to be the entire United States Army and in the comics The Hulk had some truly epic battles with them and so he does in this movie.  And the final fight between The Hulk and Blonsky/The Abomination is jaw-droppingly awesome in its sheer savagery.

So should you see THE INCREDIBLE HULK?  Chances are you probably already have. I’m not even going to get into which is better, this one or the 2003 “Hulk” I like and enjoy each of them for what they are.  Both are extremely well made movies with valid interpretations of the source material.  There’s a whole lot of references and nods to the comic book, the TV show starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno as well as the animated ‘Hulk’ series from the 80’s and 90’s that will give long time fans a chuckle and there’s more than enough action and character drama to ensure a good time at the movies will be had by all.  Enjoy.

114 minutes

Rated PG-13