Captain America: Civil War (2016)

ca12016.35: Captain America: Civil War (Cinema)

Its fascinating, the thematic similarities between this film and Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. Both films hark back to the central themes of Alan Moore’s Watchmen. In the Real World, for how long would superheroes be able to run around unchecked before the authorities stepped in? How long would it be until the number of normal humans caught in the crossfire of superhero/supervillain battles become enough to raise the questions of responsibility and blame? When does the body-count of innocents reach a Critical Mass?

Typically of Marvel, such dark and rather sober thinking doesn’t drag Civil War into the same operatic agonising that Batman Vs Superman (or Man of Steel before it)  descended into. Yes its action-heavy with a lot of allegiances and friendships stretched and broken and there are far-reaching consequences at films end, but somehow a lightness persists.

In hindsight, Civil War is the inevitable consequence of all those huge conflicts that occurred in Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the two Avengers films in particular. The body count of civilians is awfully high by this point and plenty of cities laid waste. Naturally the world and its politicians are nervous of the legality and accountability of the Avengers. The opening sequence of Civil War, in which members of the Avengers chasing down  bad guys are involved in the deaths of innocents caught in an explosion,  is the tipping point. A treaty -the Sokovia Accords- signed by the leaders of over a hundred countries is designed to block the Avengers from going into action without United Nations authority. The Avengers are divided- surprisingly Tony Stark (mindful of the loss of life in Sokovia at the end of Age of Ultron) thinks it is the way forward- Steve Rogers however is against it, wary of being controlled by the whims of corrupt politicians and nations with their own agendas- he believes the Avengers should be independent, not held to account by any nation or possible vested interest.

Battle lines are drawn. Divided, the Avengers battle each other while events are secretly orchestrated by someone manipulating things in the background with far more subtlety than Lex Luthor or Loki ever managed.

This is a great comic-book movie. There are big ideas here and big action sequences but the lightness of touch that persists through so many of these Marvel Studios movies dominates the proceedings, stopping the film being as bogged-down Batman vs Superman was. The consequences of those climatic events of the two Avengers films lends a weight to the film that makes it more interesting, and enables the film to raise itself above the one-liners and posing that scuppered much of Age of Ultron. And yet the central plot regarding the Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes and his friendship with Captain America/Steve Rogers, something that runs through all three Captain America movies, makes this much more than an Avengers 2.5; it makes it a genuinely great trilogy.

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Indeed, I’m of the opinion that this might be the best Marvel film yet. The film has an elegance and sophistication that is quite astonishing. Pacing is terrific, the fights interesting and varied, the character moments satisfying. These Marvel films make it look so effortless, particularly in ensemble films such as this, how they somehow juggle all the heroes and their superpowers with consummate ease. The appearance of Tom Holland’s Spiderman is terrific and promises a great movie of his own next year- indeed he almost completely steals the show in the scenes he appears in. All the more astonishing when you think he hasn’t had his own film to establish the character or his character beats yet. Likewise the antics (sorry, couldn’t resist) of Ant Man are another highlight. Batman vs Superman stumbled so badly trying to establish its Justice League, here Marvel shows how it should really be done.

Its a great superhero movie, and yes, possibly Marvel’s best. Until that famous webslinger comes into town, anyway.

 

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

av1Spoilers-free folks. This is just intial thoughts from having just seen the film. I’ll reserve detailed analysis for after a second viewing (if my nerves can stand it).

Has the Marvel-led superhero bubble finally burst? Well of course not. Avengers: Age of Ultron pretty much delivers on all the hype and expectation following the triumphant original, but there are a few things that are starting to annoy me about these Marvel movies. They need to break the mold sometime. Marvel Studios, following a few false starts, has largely cracked the formula for an entertaining superhero movie and has used this to great effect on the last few movies (certainly the Phase 2 era films) but I feel there is a need to do something different. And soon.

My mild irritation started early on. Ultron commences in the midst of a battle as the Avengers attack a Hydra outpost in the wilds of Eastern Europe. Its all very thrilling and impressive, as each hero gets his/her moment to crack a witty line of banter and despatch a bad-guy with aplomb in a violent beauty shot usually in slo-mo. Now I’m not sure if this is director Whedon’s attempt to de-construct the comicbook movie; each hero gets a slo-mo/still-motion beauty shot like freezing a comicstrip frame. I’m sure it gets the geeks weak at the knees and salivating profusely but it feels rather generic at this point as it seems to hammer home the fact that this is indeed a comicstrip brought to life . Each hero gets his moment, then we move on to the next, and this is so stylised and forced (it even felt like one long uninterrupted take but I maybe wrong) that it feels distracting, like a piece of camp theatre or a pop video; style over content. It just took me out of it, making me overly-conscious of the technique and form, as if I was being made aware of the creative team ticking the boxes from some ‘How To Shoot A Marvel Movie’ guide. Likewise some of the heroes are rather obvious cgi dopplegangers in some shots, as if the sheer amount of effects work in this film necessitated a lowering of the overall quality. It is all so blisteringly fast too. I saw the film in 2D but can well imagine many finding the 3D version nauseating. Its just such a cacophony of images and noise; films have gotten quicker and quicker regards cuts between shots etc but this really felt like an assault on the senses. A sign of the times/harbinger of the future no doubt, and I wouldn’t isolate Ultron alone in this but it did annoy me. Post-opening things settled down somewhat but again kicked into high gear with each inevitable action sequence. ‘Well of course’, I hear you say, ‘its a superhero movie.’ But how many times does this have to be repeated and raised to a higher level with each subsequent entry? Where will this even end?

Regards Ultron, the grand finale is as noisy and frenetic as anything before it, except raised by the power of ten- so while its scale and energy recall anything from the grand conclusions of Captain America: Winter Soldier to Thor: The Dark World (or indeed the original Avengers movie) here its bigger and louder still. And again, I just have to wonder,where will this eventually end, reaching its mad zenith of cgi spectacle? The next Avengers film will actually be two films shot back to back, so I can only imagine with some trepidation the mad crescendo the second part will end with (“We’ll need bigger cinemas”, to paraphrase a line from Jaws).  As it is, I walked out of my viewing with a pounding headache. Induced from the noise or the hectic images or the feverish combination of both, I can’t say, but I’m beginning to wonder if I’m getting too old for these blockbuster sensory overloads.