Review: Captain America: Civil War

As a big comic book fan, and especially Marvel, I’ve been hotly anticipating this film ever since it was announced.  Whilst I knew from the offset that it would only be ‘inspired by’ the comic series, and wouldn’t be a direct adaptation (after all, none of the Marvel films have been completely accurate versions of comic book events – and why should they?  Don’t you want some surprises?), I was still enthused at the idea of the film, especially as the Russo Brothers would be sticking around to direct.  They had already shown, in Winter Soldier, their adeptness in crafting a multi-character film without it being bogged down at any point, so I was excited to see how they handled a film which would bring so many characters, old and new, to the screen.

Obviously there was a bit of trepidation.  Last year’s Age of Ultron highlighted how the ‘perfect Marvel scorecard’ is far from that, and was a bit of a damp squib, seeking to replicate things we have already seen rather than delivering something genuinely spectacular.  But the trailers looked strong, and that Spider-Man reveal made me giddy with joy – at last a version that doesn’t seem to be wearing moulded plastic, and who looks like he swung straight out the pages of the comics.

Anyone moaning about the eyes moving clearly hasn't ever read a comic.

Anyone moaning about the eyes moving clearly hasn’t ever read a comic.

Now, before I continue, I’ve seen a load of reviews which felt the need to compare this film with Batman v Superman, often as an excuse to further bash that film.  Whilst I can see the tenuous links (both comics…both see one hero fight another), it would only be akin to spending half a review for Star Wars Force Awakens comparing it to Star Trek Into Darkness – they have similarities, but are different entities.  So I won’t be doing any of that.  My thoughts on BvS can be read elsewhere on this site, let’s just leave it at that shall we.

For those who have been living under a multitude of rocks, Civil War sees the ideologies of Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Steve Rogers (Captain America) pitted against each other when reactions the destruction The Avengers leave in their wake prompts the nations of the world to introduce the Sokovia Accords, restricting the use of abilities and powers without authorisation.  Cap sees it as a hindrance to the team being able to help, and also worries about the potential abuse of the team on missions for the wrong reasons, whilst Tony believes it is the best solution, seeing himself personally responsible for some of the innocent deaths caused by their antics.  Events occur which bring The Winter Soldier, Buck Barnes, into the news, and this ignites the feud between the pair to higher levels.  As we know from the trailers this leads to a forming of sides between the pair, and the inevitable fight.

However….that isn’t the whole story, and there is a lot more bubbling under the surface in this film that we haven’t been told during the bombardment of marketing.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to drop casual spoilers here (you know my philosophy – if it ain’t in a trailer, it ain’t in my review), all I will say is that the plot is craftily woven around the action spectacle, and will surprise, shock, and manipulate your loyalties to Team Cap or Team Stark throughout.

A genuinely great character. His solo outing can't come soon enough!

A genuinely great character. His solo outing can’t come soon enough!

So, if I can’t delve into the spoilerific story, let’s look at the handling of such a large cast.  Writers Markus and McFeely definitely have a handle on Cap himself, having been the guys behind the previous two films, and as they showed with Winter Soldier they can craft a plot that draws other characters in without any of them feeling shoehorned into proceedings.   There is a natural placement feel to all the old faces who return, and the new faces slide into the plot gracefully, especially Black Panther (played by the excellent Chadwick Boseman) who is introduced and progressed to ‘costumed hero’ quite rapidly, but quite naturally in the circumstances of the film.  No slow origin needed, just straight to it.  Same goes for Spider-Man, after all, does anyone not know who he is?  Whilst the inclusion of Spider-Man seems a slight unnecessary (as I mentioned, this isn’t a direct copy of the comic, so Spidey was never needed), it does fit well and introduces a new take on the character in such a great way that it fits.  Ant-Man being included is perhaps the only element that feels a little forced, but when it comes to iconic moments on screen during the big fight, you can’t help but love that he was brought in.  The Russo Brothers, handling their second Marvel film, had to ensure they played it all well, and made the story flow, and they do an excellent job, delivering a film that even at 2 hours 27 mins feels like it rattled along at a strong pace.  Never a dull moment, there is always something driving the plot forward, and the interspersed moments of hard action are as thrilling as you would expect from the guys who gave us Winter Soldier.  Their manner in controlling so many characters on screen in an effective way – and it is worth pointing out that the characters fight as teams in the big moments, using each other’s abilities to great effect, showing that they aren’t just all having individual fights in the same place – bodes well for their next Marvel project, Infinity War Parts 1 and 2, which will see pretty much everyone from the films to date come together to take on Thanos.

Action and effects are skilfully handled, although we have another instance of ‘creeping de-aging effect’ much like we saw done to Michael Douglas in Ant-Man, which is almost a good effect but then looks bizarrely ‘body-snatcher-esque’, breaking you from the film to stop being creeped out (you’ll know the scene when you see it).  Admittedly it is better than casting a younger actor who looks nothing like the main star in order to do a flashback, but the technology isn’t quite there yet.  The rest is as stunning to watch as Winter Soldier was, with that same texture and colour palette.  The airport smackdown glimpsed in the trailers is a brilliant action thrill, with some defining moments throughout, but it is not the main focus, nor (in my opinion) the best moment on screen.  There are so many stand-out moments (mostly spoilerific…so no clues here) that you would have to be truly cynical to walk away from the film disappointed.

No matter what film, the Iron Man suit still looks awesome!

No matter what film, the Iron Man suit still looks awesome!

A final nod to the musical score by Henry Jackman, which never overpowers the film, but as good scores should sits in the background, rising to a crescendo at key times, and aiding the overall story emotionally.  There are a few moments where it seemed to be inspired by Blade Runner’s theme for some reason (seriously, I heard a slow play of notes that it took me a few minutes to identify, and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t Vangelis inspired), but why not be inspired by greatness?

All in all, Civil War is the big event film that Avengers 2 should have been.  A thrill from start to finish that never outstays its welcome, and proof that Marvel have still got it (and maybe evidence that the reshuffle that took place behind the scenes last year is paying off).  Not copying previous films, not echoing similar beats, it simply delivers.


Retro Review: Man of Steel

So it arrives.  The much heralded return of Superman to the big screen.  Ever since the alleged failure of Superman Returns, and the huge popularity of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, the reboot of the Superman myth has been kicking around.  When Zack Snyder was attached to the project, the majority of people anticipated a disaster.  However, the casual tagging of Nolan’s name onto the film as producer turned many around to the idea.  You see Nolan is apparently the second coming, and he literally craps gold – or so many of his fanboy followers will attest.  This, sadly, means that negative reviews for Man of Steel so far have blamed Snyder, whilst positive ones seem to exclaim that Nolan delivered.  You have to feel sorry for Snyder, but then again he made Sucker Punch, so deserves all he gets.

Anyway, here we have a new origin tale about the destruction of Krypton, and how Kal-El was sent by his father to Earth, where he would act as their protector.  The young boy is raised in Kansas by the Kents, and discovers his alien heritage as a young adult.  This coincides with the arrival of General Zod, a merciless leader of Krypton’s armies who staged a military coup.  You see, Zod is after something that Jor-El sent to Earth, and wants Kal-El to bring it to him.  Cue danger, and action spectacle that packs a super-punch.  Added into the mix are new variations on the support cast of Superman comics and films, with Lois Lane, Perry White, and, erm, Jenny Olsen?

Jenny what now?

Jenny what now?

Okay, so this was never going to be a true comic book adaptation.  Warners wanted to reboot the franchise and make it ”darker” and ”edgier”, believing that the reason ”Returns” failed was due to it being bright, colourful, and fun.  But, you see, Returns didn’t fail – it made profit, but had thrown a chunk of the budget away on the various aborted attempts at the film through the years.  Returns was also quite well received by critics and fans.  But, of course, it wasn’t as much a success as The Dark Knight, and so they decided they wanted a Superman film to match that darkness.  And therein lies the problem with Man of Steel, which I will get to in a bit.

Suffice to say the film is well cast.  The changes to characters (Perry White is now Laurence Fishburn, Olsen has changed sex and become a girl) are fine, and don’t really make a difference.  It is helped by having such a wealth of strong names involved.  Amy Adams is a strong minded Lois Lane, Russell Crowe gets to kick some ass as Jor-El before turning all Yoda later in the film as Kal’s mentor, and Kevin Costner reminds us why he was such a big deal a few decades ago.  Henry Cavill, the one factor I was uncertain of going into the film, does a decent, if not great job.  It is Michael Shannon who steals the film away from everyone as General Zod.  Spitting menace and with a stare that would make a grown man cower, he storms through the scenes with serious intent, and manages to really portray a villain whose reasons for being have a pure validity to them.  If you imagine Magneto in the X-Men series, then you have a similar contrast – he believed his people needed saving, and would destroy any who get in the way.

Action and spectacle wise the film delivers in spades.  Buildings get trashed, cars get flipped, streets gets ripped up.  The last act of the film is one of scene after scene of devastation, with Superman versus Zod’s Kryptonian forces being of such a scale that the whole planet does feel at risk.  Gone are the comic book films of the past where all fights took place in one street…now the fight moves from one end of the city to the other and back again.  Yup, for those who complained that there was not enough action in Superman Returns, there is no way you will say the same here.

Kneel before Zod!

Kneel before Zod!

However, that is part of the problem.  There is a bit too much action and property damage this time around, and without the levity to break the tension.  Last year, The Avengers did a similar scale of damage, but it had fun whilst doing it.  You laughed, and got caught up in it all.  Here, in Man of Steel, it is all too serious and foreboding, which makes for a long, harrowing, drawn out action fest that leaves a bitter taste when you weigh it all up.  Whilst the big-S flies to the rescue of a few individuals, the level of destruction in which a plethora of others would have been engulfed makes you wonder how heroic is he?  Does he have to personally know your name to give a damn about saving you?  Why is he so flippantly disregarding everyone else?  Way back in Superman 2 (even the Richard Lester version), as soon as Superman realised that humans were in danger during the fight with Zod, he flew off to draw them away from the population.  This time around, he seems quite happy to contribute to the destruction.  Maybe that’s the point, though.  Maybe this is him learning the consequences of his actions.  Regardless, it still feels out of place.

The film also, sadly, lacks heart.  There are moments within, don’t get me wrong, such as the scenes with Kevin Costner’s Jonathan Kent teaching Clark to keep his powers secret, but we never really connect or care too much about anyone.  Even Lois Lane, who is played well enough by Amy Adams, doesn’t seem to have any chemistry with Cavill as Clark/Kal-El.  In the end I think the lack of solid heart comes from that earlier mentioned uncertain factor, Henry Cavill, who lacks the charm and presence to make us really connect with the central character.

The film isn’t a terrible film.  It stands well ahead of Superman IV, and is at times a stronger film than Lester’s version of Superman II.  Snyder has matured as a director, and his ”slo-mo” flourishes have nearly vanished completely.  Forget the Nolan name, this is a Snyder film, and it shows in the action.  But it doesn’t feel right as a Superman film.  Loads of spectacle, with a distinct lack of hope throughout (ironic given the symbol on his chest being Kryptonian for Hope) make it a film that doesn’t sit right.  Throw in the musical score, packed with ominous repetition, and a far cry from the uplifting Williams score, and it just didn’t feel like Superman.

New audiences will likely embrace it, approaching the character without expectation they may find it sit well with their idea of what a DC comic book movie should be like (given the responses to Nolan’s trilogy).  But for fans of the character of the comics, or the previous films, there will be that nagging doubt.  Maybe the second film will pick up and move in a lighter direction?  We can only hope.