Captain America: Civil War (2016) – Amazing Characters in a Story That Explores War and Responsibility

Captain America Civil War

        “Captain America: Civil War” is easily one of the best films of Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is the film that deals with the fall out of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and the past Marvel Films. At the core this is a film that tackles the nature of responsibility to self and to the larger world and what that means in regards to the Avengers. In some ways it could have been handled better (especially if they’d gone with the “Registration Act” of the comics and had X-Men in this Universe) but for what they have and the conflict at the core of the film, it is handled really well. I also wanted more loss, but that is just me.

      The film was directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and produced by Kevin Feige.

   SPOILERS ahead

    The story involves the United Nations forming the Sokovia Accords so that the Avengers have oversight after a mission leads to a lot of civilian deaths. The Avengers soon find themselves divided on the issue as things escalate when the King of Wakanda is assassinate and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is believed responsible leading Captain America (Chris Evans) and his group going rogue while Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and his team become enforces of the Accords.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and actually manages to be distinct for a Marvel film, which really shows how great the Russo’s are at expressing their vision of these stories. Trent Opaloch did a great job on this.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack feels epic and allows you to feel more fully the events on the screen. It isn’t the greatest of these soundtracks but it still a plus and compliments the film beautifully as it carries elements of “The Avengers” and the past “Captain America” films within the sound. Henry Jackman did good work on this.

The Action – This film has the best action sequences out of all the Marvel films besides “The Winter Soldier.” Part of this is due to the fight having actual meaning and us caring about the players because we’ve got to spend so much time with these characters and have come to care about them.

The Writing – For a movie that has a lot of ground to cover (introducing Spider-Man and the Black Panther) as well as the Civil War storyline and within that both Iron Man and Captain America’s arc…it does it seamlessly. Where “Age of Ultron” and “Batman v. Superman” were cluttered, this one manages to weave together all the elements in this fascinating character drama.

The Characters – The characters are why we keep coming back to these films and here they each have their moments where we get to know them and see how the last films have changed them. The only one who feels tacked on it Sharon Carter.

Thaddeus Ross – We haven’t seen this guy since “The Incredible Hulk” and how he’s running the United Nations…I really like that they did this as he more than anyone knows what the consequences are of letting those with power run around unchecked. For this reason his going to extremes and locking up all those who joined with Captain America makes sense. This is a guy ruled by fear in a Universe full of creatures that could destroy Earth easily.

Crossbones – SPOILERS, I wish he’d killed Captain America like in the comics. He has a small role in this where he is trying to get a bioweapon, and in doing so shows us that HYDRA is still active, and he puts up an awesome fight against Captain America too and nearly kills him when he tries to blow up himself. Disney, this is a character I’d like to see come back, your films don’t have enough good villains and he was a great one.

Zemo – Zemo is the one manipulating everything and turns the Avengers against each other to avenge his dead wife and child. I got his sadness and I’m glad they didn’t kill him off. He’s shown he can be a great villain as his plans succeed, he just needs someone to give him direction for future films.

Peter Parker / Spider-Man – Tom Holland might end up being my favorite Spider-Man. He’s awkward, nerdy and has great quips and conversation during his fight sequence. I’m looking forward to “Homecoming” as I’ve missed seeing Peter Parker and Spider-Man captured so well…he hasn’t been this real since the Rami ones. I like that Tony Stark is his mentor and that he is someone who is poor and does whatever he can to live. Spider-Man is about facing adversity and standing up to those who do too.

Scott Lang / Ant-Man – Paul Rudd gets to stretch his comedic chops in this and is great as the Captain America fanboy who manages to be the best weapon on the battlefield as he makes himself both large and small and wins most of the fights he gets in. Seeing him again reminded me of why I enjoyed his film.

Vision – Vision is really a fantastic character. He is very much the alien and Spock of the crew who doesn’t fully understand humans so looks at things from an empirical and logical point of view. I really liked him and Bettany does a wonderful job in the role.

Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch – Scarlet Witch like Ant-Man is one of the powerhouses in this as once she finds her confidence she saves most of the characters in the battle. She is also the one everyone fears because of how powerful she is and for her being front and center in the fight against Crossbones and her stopping him lead to the bomb he became killing civilians in a building. Her arc is embracing herself and no longer caring what the others think of her.

Clint Barton / Hawkeye – He’s back and he’s alright. I mostly like him for calling Tony Stark out (though he rightfully gets called out too). He’s sarcastic and quippy and you get that retirement didn’t really work out all that well for him.

Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow – Black Widow is the double agent in this as she believes in the Accords and oversight but believes in Captain America more as she helps Bucky and Steve escape in the large battle at the airport. I would have liked to hear more of her thoughts. Scarlett Johansson is once again amazing.

James Rhodes / War Machine – War Machine believes in the Accords and you get why as he military and military is all about oversight and he’s also seen the danger of Hulk and even the villains they’ve fought (and of course Ultron). He gets injured in the escape of Steve Rodgers and has to learn how to walk again. Cheadle is great as usual.

Sam Wilson / Falcon – Anthony Mackie plays one of my favorite characters in this universe and it is wonderful to see the reasons why he follows Captain America as like the Captain he believes in individuals and doesn’t trust organizations (after his experience with HYDRA and SHIELD makes sense). He is captured in the end but broken out by Captain America to end the film.

T’Challa / Black Panther – Boseman has me excited for the “Black Panther” film. In this we get his motivation as he believes Bucky killed his father the King and in turn he dawns the Black Panther armor to avenge his death. This leads him all over the world until he sees how revenge has consumed Zemo so he chooses not too and instead ops to turn Zemo in as he has let go of his rage.

Steve Rodgers / Captain America – Steve is both smart and stupid in this. Smart because the Avengers do need some sort of oversight (you have Gods running around who can do massive damage if something takes control of one of them or they lose control) and his trust of Bucky is dangerous as Bucky nearly kills his friends multiple times in this. I get why he fights this though as Thaddeus locks up the Avengers who joined him in a high security prison showing that he doesn’t care about balance or even using the Avengers to protect, which is the point of them. Chris Evans owns this role and his scenes with everyone are gold as well as what he represents in the fight against Liberty and Security, which in turn is the continuation of the debate started in “The Winter Soldier.”

Tony Stark / Iron Man – Tony is a man consumed by demons (Pepper left him, missing his parents, regret over his wrongs) who realizes that most of the problems the Avengers have had have been caused by the Avengers (creating Ultron, etc.). This leads to him getting behind the Accords and fighting Steve over it. In the end he is able to make peace though as he lets Captain America break out the Avengers Thaddeus had put away as we get the idea he wants the balance that is at the core of the Accords and that he forgives Steve to some degree for all that went down.

Responsibility and Oversight – This also relates to the Social Contract and Liberty v. Security. This is the core issue going on this film and why the Civil War exists in the first place between the Avengers. Oversight makes sense and the dangers of oversight are illustrated too. Who watches the watchers? The film is good at leaving this open too.

War and Consequences – Zemo and the Accords arose from the consequences of the war and the power of weapons. The Avengers are weapons and the collateral damage they cause to save lives goes addressed here. There is no going back from the trauma war brings and in the end you can end up like Zemo seeking revenge or T’Challa finding peace.

Okay: Sharon Carter – She felt shoe-horned in because of her relation to Agent Carter. I liked some of her scenes but her romance with Steve that was thrown in at the end felt tacked on. Her character wasn’t needed and wasn’t as fun as Spider-Man or Ant-Man (on the same subject of characters who weren’t needed to tell the story). It never really shows when they hooked up either.

 The Cons: Scarlet Witch and Vision Romance – Romance is once again this issue and it again feels tacked on! We never get when this love blossomed and they felt more like friends than lovers.

Lack of Loss – I wanted someone to die. We are getting close to the “Infinity War” and the lack of main character death that is permanent is annoying me. This of all films was perfect as Captain America is killed in the comics during this arc, so why not in the film too?

   For me the one thing that really brings it down is that Marvel has not been able to kill off any character for good. I was rooting for Bucky or Steve to die in this one so that Tony would fully feel the cost of what he was doing and so we’d fully feel the hit before the “Infinity War.” So often in these films characters die but not for good, unless they are a villain. This is a Marvel Problem but it is one that doesn’t detract from the overall quality of the film, and this is really the sequel that “Age of Ulton” should have been as it captures the spirit of the first “Avengers” film. “Civil War” is well worth your time and I’m super excited for the “Black Panther” and “Spider-Man” film. I highly recommend this film.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014): A Masterful and Fun Deconstruction and Celebration of Classic Spy Thrillers

Kingsman The Secret Service

    Watching this film made me realize just how much of a fan I am of Matthew Vaughn’s work and that I look forward to reviewing “Snatch” and “Lock,  Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.” He is a director who specializes in action, but it always drives the plot and his films are always so much fun. I haven’t seen the two films mentioned above but “Stardust,” “Kick-Ass” and “X-Men: First Class” are some truly great films, and “Kingsman: The Secret Service” should be added to that list as well.

      As stated above, Matthew Vaughn directed the film as well as being one of the writers and producers. The other writer was Jane Goldman and the other producers were David Reid and Adam Bohling. The story is based off the graphic novel of the same created by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons.

    The story follows Eggsy (Taron Egerton) who is brought in as a potential recruit to the Secret Kingsman after his Father who was in the Guard saved Harry code name “Galahad” (Colin Firth). He must face the class discrimination from the guard as well as help them to defeat the threat of Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) who plans to use a chip to make humanity destroy itself as his chosen few create a new humanity from the ashes.

The Pros: The Action – The action is amazing in this film! Whether it is Harry taking on a Religious Cult that has the chip turned on and winning, or Eggsy and Merlin infiltrating Valentine’s Headquarters, the action is fantastic and stands out. It manages to be both beautiful and elegant, like the Kingsman.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and compliments the music and writing as it emphasis where a character is emotionally or provides a contrast to the scenes. George Richmond did a great job.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is a lot of fun and usually country, or rock or disco will be playing over the action giving it a surreal feel while also showing just how brutal it is. It’s a great use of cinema and music to create such memorable scenes, it is thanks to the soundtracks that so many of the fight scenes stand out beyond how well they were filmed. Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson did a great job.

The Story – The story is simple, but it works. Eggsy is the outcast from a poor family pulled into high society and ends up discovering a gentlemen is not based on sex or class, it is about how you treat others and yourself. This is a story that has been done before and there have been tons of spy movies, but this one manages to set itself apart in that Valentine kills Harry and doesn’t give him a chance to escape and Valentine actually succeeds for a few minutes at the end.

The Characters – The characters are the most memorable part of the film, this is due both to the acting and the writing as all of them have distinct personalities that further elevate the plot.

Harry – Colin Firth owns this role as an older badass who manages to take on multiple people on occasion as well as emphasizing that a gentleman is not based on class, race or sex but on how one acts. This comes through all the time with his character when he confronts Arthur to his relationship to Eggsy. His death by Valentine actually means something because of it.

Roxy – Sophie Cookson is good as the nervous recruit who manages to be the new Lancelot. She is great at following orders in contrast to Eggsy but also has much more fear, though that doesn’t stop her from befriending Eggsy and standing up for him against the entitled prats. She stops Valentine by destroying one of his satellites before he can activate the chip the first time.

Gazelle – Sofia Boutella plays Valentine’s assassin and she is fantastic! She has swords for legs and only loses at the end because of a poisoned knife in Eggsy’s shoe. She is a true believer and truly loves Valentine. She is the one who isn’t afraid to kill or murder while Valentine in contrast to his goals is sensitive and afraid of murder and blood. It is great seeing her in action! She kills the first Lancelot who Jack Davenport plays. Not putting him on the list because he was around for such a short amount of time we didn’t get any character.

Arthur – Michael Caine plays the corrupt leader of the Kingsman and he joins Valentine since he thinks humanity deserves to be destroyed due to everything he’s seen in the field. His betrayal I saw coming since it is a cliche point, but Caine handles it well and he is complicated every time we see him as he truly cared for Harry.

Merlin – Mark Strong plays the hacker who manages to help beat Valentine and survive it all. He is the brains and also the one who has great chemistry with Eggsy and Valentine as he never had the same class hangups that Arthur did. Mark Strong makes this character both arrogant and sensitive.

Valentine – Jackson is such an amazing actor! In this we see him play a senstive character with a lisp who just wants to save the world and plans to do it by having humanity destroy itself and keeping the idealists all for himself in order to build a better world. He’s truly a criminal mastermind and his character reminded me a lot of the villain he played in “Unbreakable.” He is weak but brilliant and clearly villain though not a simple character.

Eggsy – Taron Egerton plays a poorer Englishman whose father was a Kingsman. He is a thief and crook who turns around and becomes a gentleman as he begins to care for others beyond his family. His arc is cliche but his character is great as he is self aware of the the spy tropes, like Valentine, this makes him smart and self aware as well as funny too.

Deconstruction of Classic Spy Films – We get to see the weapons room, the gentleman fighter and even sleeping with a princess over the course of Eggsy’s growth while at the same time Valentine and Harry referencing the films they drew inspiration from like Bond or Bourne and throwing those elements away for the smarter move. It was very well done and I like that the self awareness enriched the film.

The Cons: The Introduction – The introduction is a random military operation in a middle eastern country where Eggsy’s father risks his live to save Harry. It would have meant more if we knew something about the operation and the people but since we don’t it functions only as a motivator and was the weakest part of the film thematically and writingwise.

Professor Arnold – Mark Hamill plays this character and all he does is function as a plot devise. W enever get ot know him, we just know what he does. What a waste of Mark Hamill. Wasn’t impressed with how this character was written at all.

This was a really good film that I highly recommend. Not only does it deconstruct and celebrate the genre it drew inspiration from but it manages to be just an all around great film in both music, characters, story and cinematography. I definitely recommend this film to anyone who loves spy films and I plan on reading the graphic novel after this, given there is a lot here and this world has potential to be explored further.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

Big Hero 6 (2014): To Heal From Trauma and When Minor Characters Are the Most Interesting

Big_Hero_6_film_poster

       Walt Disney Animated Studios is back being great again. “Wreck-It-Ralph,” “Frozen” and “Big Hero 6.” Let’s see if they can continue this going forward. Suffice to say this film was awesome! It had consequences, a good message and had some of the best minor characters I’ve seen come out of this studio. I’ll explain more of what I mean in the assessment, but there is very little wrong I can say about this film.

      “Big Hero 6” is loosely based off of the Marvel Comics of the same name (which was inspired by Japanese anime and manga) which were created by Man of Action and was directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams, written by Robert L. Baird, Dan Gerson and Jordan Roberts and produced by Roy Conli and John Lasseter. Essentially a lot of people made this possible and it’s surprising that it all came together so well given when there are this many people on board if often leads to “Too many cooks in the kitchen,” and becomes a mess.

Spoilers ahead…

     The premise is Hiro (Ryan Potter) is the main character living in the future city of Sanfransokyo where he takes part in Bot Fighting until his brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) inspires him to go to college. After tragedy occurs during the event that Hiro makes it in it is up to his brother’s healing robot Baymax (Scott Adsit) to help him heal which leads them to discover the fire wasn’t an accident as  mysterious villain named Yokai is using the the nanobots that Hero created as a weapon and for a mysterious purpose. From here the story unfolds as Hero deals with the loss of Tadashi and facing this new threat. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The World – The world of Sanfransoyko is awesome! It reminds me of a city out of “Akira” or “Ghost in the Shell” and is the perfect mixture of our modern world with future tech. For example the Bot Fights that are underground but also the fact that everyone drives cars and Hiro’s Aunt’s cafe is a major area where characters go too besides the high tech. University. I wanted to visit this future world since it captured my love of robots and tech. so well…you can tell at least someone in this project has a passion for this stuff too.

The Soundtrack – Henry Jackman is amazing! This score incorporates techno-electronic with soaring orchestra pieces to capture our characters highest and lowest moments. My favorite ones were a few of the running sequences where the electronic was blended in so seamlessly it made the future world real as well as capturing the threat of Yokai.

Tadashi – Daniel Henney does a great job as Hiro’s older brother who sets him on the path to greatness. We see his awkward charm as he’s building Baymax and also his care for his Aunt and brother as he rescues Hiro from a dangerous situation after the Bot Fight and goes into to rescue his mentor Professor Callahan which leads to his death. Only issue is I would have liked to see more flaws in his character…but his death, I haven’t felt something like that in a Disney film that wasn’t made by Pixar since the death of Mufasa. They nailed the loss of him to his friends at the University and Hiro…

Hiro – Hiro is a positive but I’ll be going into some of the cons of the film later which are entirely Hiro-centric for the most part. But, he is one of the first animated heroes of Japanese origin in the United States and he has a good arc as he goes from an arrogant guy who can’t see beyond himself to someone willing to risk and be a part of a team. He really cares about the group in the end as well as Baymax and becomes the character willing to risk it all even if it means risking his own life…given he does this when we learn about why the villain is doing what he is doing.

Baymax – Baymax is a great robot! He doesn’t really have a soul the way Wall-E does (he follows his programming and doesn’t make any choices…he does what he’s told and was programmed to do by Tadashi. This makes me think he may have an arc where he gets an emotion chip later akin to Data as at one point his care program is replaced by destruction program when Hiro wants him to kill Yokai…it take all Hiro’s friends to stop him and he protects his care program more deeply after that. He is very much out Aaisimovesque in he follows the Laws of Robotics in that he programmed not to harm people and clearly regrets his program being overrun after. Great robot and curious to see where the most likely sequels will take him.

Fred – Fred is the joke character who provides the headquarters for the team. He is the mascot at the college and obsessed with comic books. It is at his home when they are hiding from Yokai that Hiro gets the idea of turning them into Super Heroes. It is done really well and is all showing and not telling for the most part. I liked his character and I am curious to see where he goes from here as he is given purpose in becoming a super hero. T.J. Miller nailed this character.

Honey Lemon – This is a character I would have liked to see more of even though she isn’t one of my favorite characters in the film. She is bubbly, smart and loves pink. She breaks your stereotypes. She uses chemicals to break down metals and is the one who takes immediately to Hiro and is the most supportive of the group towards him. She doesn’t really have an arc which is a shame, but she’s a great character. Genesis Rodriguez is wonderful in the role.

GoGo – GoGo like Honey Lemon doesn’t really have a character arc but she is one of my favorite characters. She is an extreme sports enthusiast who designs her own vehicles  and is the on who puts up with the least crap from Hiro and Tadashi…which I wish she’d called out Hiro more. We see much more of her warmer side in this movie and she rocks in the last battle and saves them all on multiple occasions. Also I really like her for this line alone, “Women up.” to Tadashi in regards to be tough and fight on. Jamie Chung is fantastic as this character.

Wasabi – Wasabi is the one support character on the team who actually has a character arc! The guy is a neat freak and obsessed with order but Hiro throws all that into wack and he’s forced to face his fear of heights and not being clean throughout the story. This gives him a lot of depth. He’s smart and when it comes to the challenges he faces his fears and rises each time. He is the voice of reason and shines through and besides GoGo he is my favorite character. Damon Wayans Jr. did amazingly.

Teen Titans Similarities – This team reminded me of “Teen Titans” and I’m putting that as a plus. Fred was like Beast Boy, Hiro and Tadashi were akin to Robin, GoGo was Raven, Honey Lemon was Starfire and it rose beyond that analogue with Wasabi and Baymax being their own characters that aren’t really similar to Cyborg.

The Message – The message is forgiveness and growing beyond trauma and it is done really well. At one point Hiro uses Baymax as a weapon and we see his hate of Yokai has consumed him to the point of revenge above all else and as a way to not face his loss of Tadashi. Baymax shows him the video of Tadashi building him and Hiro is finally able to heal and accept the love from his friends. This takes time and it is a believable process and one of the things I appreciated most about the film.

Okay: Aunt Cass – She is supportive but a one note character…we don’t really get her motivation beyond caring for Tadashi and Hiro since their parents are dead. She isn’t a bad character, just flat.

Alister Krei – This guy is set up to be the big baddie as he offers to buy Hiro’s Nanobots which Hiro refuses…and the fire happens soon after. He isn’t guilty which is a nice touch but we don’t get the motivation behind his business…he is just corrupt and rather one note. Alan Tudyk does a good job with what he’s given at least.

Professor Callaghan / Yokai – James Cromwell does a good job playing the threat of Yokai when he appears as Yokai (the villain the the kabuki mask using Nanobots like tentacles) but as Callaghan he’s not fully fleshed out. We learn he wants revenge on Krei  for an experiment that lead to as far as he knows…the death of his daughter, so he starts the fire to steal Hiro’s Nanobots to use as a weapon. He never takes accountability for anything and at one point is near the University he was teaching at before he faked his own death in the fire. We see regret after Hiro saves his daughter for the life he’ll never have, but he still wasn’t great.  I would’ve liked to see more of his motivation.

The Cons: Hiro and Accountability – None of Hiro’s friends hold him accountable, even after he puts them at risk when he makes Baymax go all Terminator and overrides his programs to try and kill Yokai. This bothered me since he’s a teen and that doesn’t mean he should get away with crap, his friend are all in college and should know better. Especially GoGo who like Tadashi held him accountable for calling the school the Nerd School and motivating him to get into it. After Act 1 the only accountability is Baymax helping him heal. Which is good in a way, but Hiro still missed a major lesson.

Not Enough Time with the Team – Honey Lemon, GoGo, and even Wasabi to a degree never get the character exploration they deserve. They are all more fascinating than Hiro but we don’t get their backstory and motivations…I look forward to sequels to see this happen though as this seemed to be Hiro’s origin story primarily.

    This is a movie I’d highly recommend. It is one of the best animated films I’ve seen that has come out recently and really is a Gold Standard. If you like a great music, interesting world, coherent plot and characters who actually change and grow…you will probably like this film. So, check it out if you are looking for something that has loss and a message that is always worth remembering.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10 Would be higher if the minor characters had been explored more and Hiro had been more accountable.