Captain America: Civil War (2016)

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A more grown up touch, insanely fun sequences and the grand ideas of fractions in the camp; this American superhero movie is certainly one of Marvel Studio’s best yet. There’s plenty to keep you entertained over the 147 minute run-time, so even though it does feel long occasionally, it still stands solidly as an action packed yet thoughtful comic book feature.

After Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and his team try and stop Crossbones in Wakanda, some collateral damage causes world leaders to unite in trying to have the Avengers as a public ideal, called into action on their terms and not when the heroes decide to; causing mayhem in the midst of their actions. Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) believes signing these Accords is the best decision and as others join his side, Steve finds himself questioning his motivation but carries on joined by a team as they come head to head in an internal battle that could see the hero squad disassembled.

Beautifully, this movie has courage in tackling the more adult idea of friends and foes. Seeing the Avengers fall apart because of their own egos and processes is darker and much more satisfying then an outside villain of robotic or space origins doing the damage. After the brilliantly political thriller vibes of Winter Soldier, the Captain America movies are doing a grand job of cementing their own tone. This outing has a brooding quality ticking away with a neat constant crisis of identity and failing comradery ensuring that theme isn’t overshadowed by action and special effects.

Captained or directed by Joe and Anthony Russo with a keen eye for giving characters, at least 14 main ones, a story arc and engaging factor is no mean feat and they do it so well. I had fears before seeing this movie that the amount of characters would bloat the plot and suffer the whole movie but even with the amount of people flying or running back and forth, it never feels messy which is a relief. The Russo Brothers manage to direct a fun yet intelligent film that keeps us hooked and expands on the motives of already well set up figures like Captain America and Iron Man whilst introducing new characters with their own narratives, goals and conflicts.

Dealing with a huge script like this, knowing audiences have expectations and want to see the moment a frozen soldier from WW2 fight a rich man in a suit as a cinematic moment of awesomeness must have been daunting but writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have successfully created a screenplay that includes all those gleeful battles but importantly they have tackled the big moral dilemma of what these heroes do, focusing a lot of the story on the worldwide destruction they leave behind, the people they hurt and all of this is written and shot in a way that feels grounded in reality which truly helps the movie feel relatable even if you know it could never happen.

Even if you know little or nothing of the comic book origins, this film has such an engrossing narrative idea that you end up mulling over the stance you’d take in this situation. This is a great use of interpolation as you question their actions and ultimately decide whose side you’d be on. There is a gut-punching aspect in this movie as we see the cracks appear and these once cartoonish characters become disillusioned, broken and hateful.

Flicking briefly over to the less than positive side, the movie did feel slightly long, not boring just a tad stretched in places. Also I know if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it but this whole Marvel formula is still evident, with the set up, opening fight, middle dilemma and grand ending battle. So even though it does stand upright with its own tone and juggles a lot of characters splendidly, it doesn’t break the mould which I hope it would. There’s also the niggling idea that I want them to be braver in their execution, literally. They should be confident that we’ll still keep coming back even if they kill off characters but you never going in expecting anyone big to die, so all threat of that feels void of feeling.

Great muscle man Chris Evans is still on form as Captain America, his shield technique and fighting growing more impressive as he goes on. Evans plays Rogers in a more developed way too, showing the confused yet patriotic nature as he believes they must continue fighting even if the world doesn’t want them too. Robert Downey Jr. gets to showcase more emotion as a haunting moment of his past plays a heavy weight on the plot. He’s still got charm and witty lines to deliver in his usual way which I’m not complaining about and he also appears as a creepy smooth young version of himself. Scarlett Johansson kicks ass with more head-smacking hand to hand combat and showcases her agent background as Black Widow more. You never know where she is in terms of what camp she’ll settle with, her performance grows as if pleading with Rogers to help stop the inevitable fallout. Elizabeth Olsen is back, and not held back as she waves her fingers creating masses of magical damage. Olsen acts as the figure people are scared of well, because she’s just like a lost girl afraid herself of what she can do and what might happen before realising her strengths. The two new main cast members are great; Chadwick Boseman is stealthy and cool as Black Panther and entices us to what else we’ll see down the line. Tom Holland is a perfectly set up Spider-Man, fast and agile in his new suit and irritatingly dweeby yet fun as Peter Parker. The film is filled with a superb ensemble from Daniel Bruhl to Paul Rudd. Also can it become canon that every CA film has someone from Community in it!

Heroes fall in this genuinely fun action movie, it may not be as good as Winter Soldier but it’s got plenty of thematic interest, a talented cast and a great sign of things to come. What a smashing way to kick off Phase Three.

7.5/10

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Miles Ahead (2016)

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I’m going to plead ignorance here, but I went into this film not knowing anything about the musician Miles Davis. Upon exiting this American biopic I feel I know more about his lifestyle but if anything it didn’t really explain much for the common place audience member. It’s as if it didn’t really capture all essences of who this man was and how he got there.

Apparent Rolling Stones writer Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor) is interviewing famous jazz icon Miles Davis (Don Cheadle). This leads us back to how they first met and what Dave discovers is that Davis has a mix-tape (reel) of new material after a long absence. Everyone wants it but Davis doesn’t want to hand it in to Columbia Records, he starts thinking back on his music and his relationship with Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi) as everything racks up.

Now, I honestly don’t know what of this movie was real, based on real events or typically altered hugely by the big Hollywood machine. Maybe this sounds stupid but I think this could have dealt with including more pandering to help push along people like myself who don’t know anything about Miles Davis. Because for all I know, what I saw in the heated action and gun fighting of trying to get a mix-tape (reel) is 100% accurate. Also the ending in an obviously now I realise poetic way for his legacy states Miles’ name, then 1926 -, as if he’s still alive, which after checking I can verify he isn’t. So it makes me wonder how much of this admittedly stylish and interesting movie was over exaggerated. Not a good point for a biographical movie.

Don Cheadle is a sturdy War Machine as director, actor, writer, additional composer and producer for this 2015 New York Film Festival closer. He does a great job in all fields and so much so as the director. The way scenes meld into each other or cut sharply into a later/earlier version of Miles or Dave is seamless and cool. It helps the story move along nicely and keep this gangster-esque vibe at sleek levels. It’s mostly a flashback and we flash further back in places, each time arriving with a piece of audio or image that effortlessly transports us to the next moment, which in a way stands for a brilliant statement of Miles Davis’ timeless persona.

It’s not like other biopics I’ve seen before which both is a good and bad thing. It’s good because it’s engaging and not boring, unlike the more conventional ‘Jersey Boys’. It has a musicality at all times, I swear there was a jazz or brassy beat behind all scenes which gave it a coffee shop lift. Then on the flip side, having it flick back and forth and meld possible untrue sequences makes it difficult to buy into and I still feel like I know zilch about the trumpet player, heck even one moment near the end made me think he couldn’t even play the instrument.

Cheadle is a powerhouse as the man behind the golden trumpet, he brings a swagger and electric edge to the role, his physicality dominating the screen and making Miles feel like a force of nature as well as music. The times when he’s more subdued and reminiscing are played nicely, showing the more broken side of Davis. Ewan McGregor is a fun part of the cast, playing a Scots fraud with a buzz kill side in the hope to scoop some story on Miles, but he plays the likable factor well as their odd friendship grows. Emayatzy Corinealdi is beautiful and human as the least cartoonish figure. She provides the drama and shattered dreams of life to great heights that help show the damage Miles can create. Michael Stuhlbarg is once again a fascinating watch, his moustached Harper Hamilton being shady and like a 1920’s honcho with a tricksy manner in his voice and look.

The plot may be hard to jump on board with and it skids off into a weird bio-pic wasteland of trying something new but it’s got style and Don Cheadle rocking the house with an expressive and enjoyable performance.

6/10