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.

 

Thor 2: The Dark World (2013)

thor2This was a great superhero film- indeed I do believe this must be one of the very best superhero films that I’ve ever seen.  How weird is that? Somehow I didn’t see a film as good as that coming, but here it is.

Certainly its better than the first Thor movie, taking everything to the next level. Its confident, its bold, its fun, it’s superbly paced and it doesn’t take itself at all too seriously. Its a ‘proper’ superhero movie; while I appreciate the realistic/moody Batman films they aren’t by any means honest to the original comics. Thor, though, at least feels like a ‘sixties comic book brought to cinematic life, in that respect more authentic than, say, Man of Steel, which was so far up its own self-important arse that it beggared belief. Thor 2 is a far better movie. The cast in particular is note-perfect; they look amazingly relaxed in their roles, particularly Hemsworth and Hiddleton. They simply are Thor and Loki. The supporting cast are uniformly excellent. Its amazing how well the whole film just works.

But the funny thing is, what I kept on thinking of whilst watching Thor 2 was, of all things,  Star Wars. It was just the sense of ease and confidence that the film has, and how the Dark Elves that feature as the villains were a great analogue for how the Sith could look like in a future Star Wars movie. And the architecture of Asgard, the ship designs, even the sound effects… Frankly, the whole look and feel and sound of Thor 2, it somehow felt like a Star Wars movie, at least the nearest thing since the John Carter movie. As a huge Star Wars fan (well, of the Original Trilogy anyway) this meant the film was right up my alley, offering tantalising glimpses of what we may be in for in Christmas 2015 if Disney gets it right.

These superhero films seem to dominate modern cinema nowadays and its easy to forget how difficult they are to make. Actors might find it hard not to feel silly in a costume, and the stunts and effects work needed to match the simplest brush-strokes of a comic-book artist in a single panel don’t come cheap. But when it works, as it does here, it looks and feels like the easiest thing in all the world. I thought The Avengers and Iron Man would take some beating, but here we are. I think its that good.

This disc even features the best of the Marvel One Shot’s– Ben Kinglsey’s thespian arch-villain Trevor Slattery from Iron Man 3 returns in All Hail the King, which is such a scream from start to finish its almost worth the price of the disc alone, and nearly had me hunting down a copy of Iron Man 3 to watch him again.

Bigger, Louder, Dumber, Safer: Iron Man 3 Reaches the All-Time Top Five.

iron3Well, there’s no accounting for taste.

According to Box Office Mojo, the online tracker of film box-office takings, summer super-hero film  Iron Man 3 has become the fifth top-grossing film of all time,  having now made $1.14 billion worldwide, surpassing the takings of previous fifth place movie Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Well, its certainly true that one shouldn’t confuse financial success with quality, as that Transformers film’s success proves, but I must confess I was frankly gob-smacked at this news regards Iron Man 3.  I thought it was an ‘okay’ movie but in no way did I ever suspect it would prove to be the hit it apparently is.

I guess if nothing else it should make Robert Downey Jr’s negotiations regards Iron Man 4 something of a headache for the notoriously level-headed and cost-concious Marvel Studios executives.

But what is it about Iron Man? I remember feeling rather ‘meh’ several years ago when the first film was announced, as I had thought the character rather low-tier/ second-rate Marvel, but I was proven wrong back then and look to be continually so-proven today. The public sure loves the metal hero, or at least Robert Downey Jr’s charismatic, stylish performance (really, though, considering his other movie performances, is Downey ever playing a character or just himself? Is his Tony Stark a great leap from his Sherlock Holmes?). To what then do we account for the huge success of the film, and indeed the character/Downey’s presence towards the success of the Avengers movie, which is even higher up in third place on the all-time list?

The public certainly doesn’t seem to be tiring of super-hero movies, which no doubt has Warner Bros drooling at the prospects of its imminent Man of Steel movie. Personally while I enjoy the movies I’m beginning to think Marvel Studios is becoming some kind of monster devouring critics and box-office records in its path. Where will it all end?

This does bring to mind something I saw on BBC News a few weeks ago. It was an item raising the perceived low-importance of female characters in current films, poor roles for actresses and the perhaps continuing male-dominance of the film industry, particularly in America.  One of the women interviewed was a UK producer, I forget her name but she did state that it all may be symptomatic of the way Hollywood makes movies now, particularly its blockbusters. Her point was that as Hollywood is aiming its films at an ever-more international market (I believe the Chinese print of Iron Man 3 actually has a few scenes/shots unique to that territory), its easier to ‘sell/translate’ these films to foreign markets by minimising dialogue and simplifying plot-lines, and emphasising the visuals. An action sequence translates into any language and can be understood by anybody on the planet, as opposed to a dialogue-heavy, twisting plot that might be culturally unique or have elements at odds with certain beliefs/cultures. So women play a minor role in blockbuster films which instead of characterisation extol action and visual spectacle.  Likewise we get stupid films like Star Trek Into Darkness (currently $258 million worldwide after about two weeks) that is littered with crowd-pleasing vacuous ‘wow’ moments that sell just as easily to a kid in California as to a kid in Shanghai or Sydney.  Let’s have a shot of the Enterprise-in-hiding raising itself out of the ocean in a huge fx shot to wow the cinema-goers who won’t think about how more secret and low-key it would have been just to keep the damn ship out of sight in orbit.

I guess what this means is that I’m going to be even more annoyed by crass stupidity in script-writing in future, as the box-office takings of these films seem to prove it actually works. Hollywood is more about making money than making great films after-all (its nice when both happen together but that seems to be a rarity). Films apparently don’t have to really make sense as much as they need to be making money. Nothing new I know, but as bigger budgets infer bigger financial risk, studios will increasingly play it safe in a need to sell their product to ever-more international markets. Which is a bit of an ominous prospect for me at least, because that seems to translate as Bigger, Louder, Dumber, Safer.