Tag Archives: Mark Millar

Captain America: Civil War

Civil War

“Sorry” might always seem to be hardest word, Elton, but “accountability” might be the most unsexy. Particularly so if you’re trying to build a 147 minute long action movie around such a concept.

Let’s chuck in a few more terms, shall we? How about “legislation”, “treaty” and “U.N.-Accord”?

Captain America: Civil War could easily have suffered from dry, phlegmatic, po-faced earnestness, wallowing in miserableness as a collection of dumbfounded superheroes sit on the naughty step and think about what they’ve done.

Instead, fresh from the Sokovia fallout of the dreary misstepping Avengers: Age of Ultron, our eclectic band of merry super-powered chums begin the third instalment of Marvel’s Captain America trilogy with a skirmish in Lagos. As perpetually happens around these unregulated vigilantes / brave protectors (delete as applicable), chaos, destruction and collateral damage is never too far behind.

Just as they were after the hundreds of deaths from the New York alien-attack in Avengers Assemble, the crashing helicarriers in Washington DC during The Winter Soldier, and of course the omni-shambles of Age of Ultron‘s Sokovia rescue, it’s the Avengers who are held responsible for the loss of innocents’ lives in Nigeria. Thus begins a slow dissection of the role played by a group existing outside of the law, punctuated by enormous and often exceptionally well paced inter-fighting punch-ups.

Policing the planet as they see fit in this fantasy world of magic crystals, impenetrable metals and super soldiers, it takes no time at all for General Secretary of State Ross (William Hurt) to step in on behalf of a world scared half to death by a rogue, unregulated group of suited, walking, fighting nuclear bombs, tick-tocking their way towards a potential armageddon.

Although in name this is a Captain America sequel, it certainly feels much more comfortable as the Avengers follow-up many hoped for last year. Returning after a successful stint helming The Winter Soldier, directors Anthony and Joe Russo’s wizardry with a camera has thankfully kept consistency in tone with the franchise, as Civil War continues to be a hard-hitting, politically-charged commentary with genre-defining action sequences and equally solid performances from a cast slotting back into place like a well-worn suit made of iron with a robot friend called Friday inside of it.

Friends and ideologies clash frequently during the blockbuster – and only some of the time by using their words and not their vibranium inventions. OK, most of the time the hullabaloo breaks out into bouts of armour-clad blows, rather than democratic discussions. But it’s still much more “talky” for a blockbuster than perhaps one is used to. And, crucially, it just isn’t boring. It’s full of engaging and often thought-provoking dialogue. Quips and visual gags worm their way into some of the more serious conversations, but it still attempts to raise some tough topics.

Just as Mark Millar’s 2006 comicbook series (upon which this film is loosely based) dealt with a post-9/11 society, fearing a self-appointed world-police, too powerful to stop – or even if stopping them was the right or wrong thing to do – so too does the Russo’s version relate events to the real world. Civil War could quite passably be an analogy for gun control in the US, amongst other things.

For example, on one side, there’s Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr) position as the man doing his best to negotiate a fair deal for his pals, arguing that the best way to arm is to disarm and sign the UN’s proposed Sokovia Accord (akin to the “superhero registration act” in the comics). On the opposite side is Steve Rogers’s (Chris Evans) team who feel it’s their duty to step-up whenever they need to, operating without the bias of any government agendas.

It could be argued that one side represents the regulation and control of firearms, with the other in support of the people’s right to bear arms (albeit briefly). The moment that the two teams clash in an epic showdown – the likes of which we haven’t seen performed as accomplished as this since Whedon’s Phase One concluding team-up some four years and six movies ago – puts paid to this exact notion from that point onwards. But there’s still a lot to be read into this movie. Prepare for more astute observations crossing your path in the weeks and months to come from thousands of other bloggers and writers.

Anyway, let’s take a quick look at the teams on either side of the scrap:

Team Cap
Against the idea of becoming United Nations controlled agents, restricted to fighting only the causes upon which they determine suitable

  • Captain America / Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) – Leader of the movement and the main protaganist for whom the film’s perspective is mainly viewed from. Evans appears to be having a blast and his enthusiasm is infectious – but my God those are some seriously intimidatingly large muscles.
  • Falcon / Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) – Cap’s best friend and winged companion has an increased role in Civil War and benefits greatly from it. The first time that Falcon has been more than a bit-part character and Mackie handles the responsibility with aplomb. He actually appears to have a purpose on the team rather than being Cap’s fluffer.
  • Winter Soldier / Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) – Previously the ex-Hydra assassin was a feared villain, but Stan’s portrayal of the man, turned into a complex and emotionally fragile victim with an edge of danger, sees him sit comfortably alongside his former buddy in Rogers’ motley crew.
  • Scarlet Witch / Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) – The only Sokovian in the Avengers; traumatised and emotionally scarred by the events in her home country and those in Lagos, Wanda adds an extra dimension to the story, even if it is somewhat unrealised potential.
  • Hawkeye / Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) – Thank Christ there’s no longer any weak attempts to puff out Hawkeye’s background with side-plots about his family that go nowhere and add nothing. He’s about as close to writer Matt Fraction’s version of the character that we’ve had so far and, although brief, is Renner’s best turn as Hawkguy yet.
  • Ant Man / Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) – Continuing to surprise, despite only a small (excuse the pun) part to play in Civil War, what Rudd does, Rudd does well. Fantastically well, even. He’s a highlight in what was already the best scene in the entire movie.

Team Iron Man
In favour of the UN’s Sokovia Accord, ensuring the Avengers are regulated by defence experts in order to limit the civilian casualties from their endeavours to save mankind

  •  Iron Man / Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) – For all intents and purposes, RDJ might as well share equal billing. It’s as much Iron Man 4 as it is Captain America 3. His role shows just how much the former weapons manufacturer has developed since first outing himself as a superhero in 2008’s Iron Man, bringing things full circle.
  • War Machine / James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) – If Falcon plays the role of Captain America’s sidekick, then War Machine fits as Iron Man’s. Provides the logos to the debate relative to Falcon’s pathos. But man, Don Cheadle is looking old.
  • Black Widow / Natasha Romanov (Scarlett Johansson) – The cynical may say Black Widow is only on this side of the fence to balance the teams’ female quotas. Nevertheless, the role she plays provides a contrarian narrative and further develops her relationship with Rogers from The Winter Soldier.
  • Vision (Paul Bettany) – The suave-voiced red-skinned being is reduced to the role of babysitter for much of his screentime, but twice Bettany gets to show off his acting talents with moments of profundity that keep the near God-like being grounded and relatable.
  • Black Panther / T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) – Making his debut, the Prince of fictional African country Wakanda is forced to pick a side in his pursuit of vengeance. Boseman’s suitably unplaceable accent aside, he makes as much of an impact as one could hope for (if not more) in such a role. Bring on his solo film in 2018!
  • Spider-Man / Peter Parker (Tom Holland) – Yes. Yes, yes, yes. This is how to do Spider-Man. It’s only taken 14 years, but this is it. Holland is perfect as the web-slinging wall-crawler in a larger role than perhaps expected. Currently in pre-production ahead of release next year, Homecoming looks set to be the fun adventure that the character deserves, if Civil War is any evidence to go by.

Regardless of the fact that we already have twelve characters squished into the two-and-a-half-hour long film, some people might be wondering where the other chaps are. Where’s Thor, Hulk, Fury, Maria Hill, Phil Coulson (still) – heck, why are Ant Man and Spider-Man being invited to the big leagues but Daredevil, Jessica Jones, et al left un-namechecked?

It’d be pure speculation to suggest answers. It could have been a creative decision made by the Russo brothers or writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, with Thor and Hulk especially deemed too over-powered for a film like this.

It could have been Marvel big cheese Kevin Feige laying down the law. Ruffalo and Hemsworth might have been too busy with other projects. Who really knows? The same principle applies as it always does in these situations: It really doesn’t matter. These are the characters selected. This is all you’re getting. Deal with it, as the meme goes.

The biggest issue lies not with who isn’t in it, but with who it does include. Incorporating Daniel Brühl as Baron Zemo (an arch-nemesis of Captain America’s in the comics) structurally speaking makes a lot of sense when you lay out a blueprint for the entire movie.

However, the motivations behind his actions are at best understandable and at worst weak, predictable and a disservice to the character’s history. Also, he doesn’t wear purple pyiamas. What’s up with that?

Oh, right, yeah. It’s a bit naff.

Realistically, Zemo is somewhere in between the two, languishing around the “ordinary” mark. Hats off to Brühl for a competent account of himself as an actor, but Zemo is far from necessary in a film already overstuffed with characters. He adds nothing that couldn’t have been done equally well with, say, the returning Frank Grillo in a beefed up role as Crossbones.

Either way, it’s irrelevant as Captain America: Civil War is still very much worthy of your time. With a larger cast than any previous Marvel film, it somehow manages to balance screen time to an extraordinarily even degree, putting much of Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to shame.

Yes, it may gradually escalate towards a big climactic fight scene, as happens in every Marvel superhero comic book action film ever, but the route it takes to get there combined with the rationale behind it makes the deciding brawl more meaningful than your average crash-bang-wallop finale.

Civil War is interesting, exciting, often fun and slightly unconventional. It goes straight into the top tier of the studio’s output and will doubtless only improve on future rewatches.

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Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kingsman: The Secret Service is not particularly intelligent, mature or able to fully escape the shadow of a certain other Matthew Vaughn film, but it is a hell of a lot of fun.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

kingsman 2Matthew Vaughn is now one of the best action directors working today.  That feels really weird and kinda wrong to type and say, but it’s honestly true by this point.  The guy who got his start producing Guy Ritchie crime films and directing Layer Cake is now one of the best action movie directors working today.  It all, however, becomes more than clear when one actually watches Kingsman: The Secret Service.  In stark contrast to the typical way of shooting action films, Vaughn doesn’t shake the camera around like a drunkard who is sobering up, he doesn’t keep it tightly zoomed in on the characters in a misguided attempt to make the viewer feel like they’re there, and he doesn’t rapidly cut between sixteen different shots to mask any violence in incomprehensibility.

Instead, Kingsman is fond of actually showing you stuff.  He prefers longer takes with slightly steadier cameras, although they do shake, that keep enough distance from the people that it’s filming without losing the impact of the various hits.  In addition, Vaughn is a man of style, flinging himself into the comic book world of Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons’ source material with gleeful abandon.  Choreography is wild and exaggerated – many unnecessary flips, highly impractical moves, and operating on rule of cool more than anything else – and he plays with speed to great effect.  There are instances of the obvious Zack Snyder super-slo-mo-then-speed-up-then-slow-down-again school of filmmaking, but most of the time things are more subtle, employing brief doses of hyper-speed to enhance the kineticism of the fight scenes as well as purposefully jarring usages of CG’d environments and stitched together shots.

This all ends up creating action scenes that feel very reminiscent of the Lucas Lee fight from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and the entirety of The World’s End, like Matthew Vaughn saw what Edgar Wright was doing and, instead of merely taking notes, lifted pretty much the whole aesthetic for himself.  It really, really works, though.  When Kingsman does get into its action scenes, they end up being a tonne of glorious fun.  Much like when he directed Kick-Ass, Vaughn displays a gleeful rather teenage enthusiasm for action sequences, prioritising fun and coolness over logic, reality and good taste.  In its standout sequence, Vaughn ends up crafting an utterly ridiculous brawl that starts off feeling like slightly uncomfortable wish-fulfilment bad taste, but becomes so gloriously deranged – aided by a perfect music cue – and so impeccably staged and shot that I ended up revelling with the film in its excessive line-crossing mayhem.  It’s the kind of action scene that films don’t have the balls to make nowadays.

That’s what Kingsman has going for it.  Pure glorious debauched fun, where you can also actually make out what’s going on, which is an incredibly nice change of pace from humourless incomprehensible dreck like Taken 3, The Equalizer and their ilk.  I mean, it’s not the only thing going for it, but it is the main thing going for it and the thing that powers it through most of its problems.  Vaughn’s direction is always pacey and stylish, the performances are all excellent – in particular, relative newcomer Taron Egerton really nails lead character Eggsy’s innate goodness without losing sight of the fact that he’s a mischievous young adult, whilst Colin Firth legitimately (and surprisingly) impresses as a halfway convincing action movie star – and there are many legitimate belly-laughs to be found within.

This all being said, Kingsman does have many problems.  For one, at two hours and change, it is too long and that sustained energy eventually starts feeling a bit tiring at many points where the film isn’t going full-tilt.  For two, whilst I do give the film points for a female lead character, in the shape of competing Kingsman candidate Roxy (Sophie Cookson), I do take those points back for the film not really giving her much to do, despite making a big deal out of her existence.  This is actually a problem with the film overall, lots of time is spent on certain characters and plotlines – the main ones involving chav Eggsy beings groomed by Colin Firth’s Harry Hart to become the latest Kingsman, a member of an elite and highly secretive spy organisation, whilst tech billionaire Richmond Valentine (a lisping Samuel L. Jackson) puts into play an evil plan that threatens the world – and that split can, at times, leave the film feeling unfocussed and underdeveloped in parts.

More of an issue than those, though, is the simple fact that Kingsman is not Kick-Ass.  And I’m not just saying that because it’s the same people who made Kick-Ass the film (Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman) adapting work by the same people who made Kick-Ass the comic (Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons).  Kingsman has that same anarchic tone, that same gleeful desire to revel in immaturity, that same stylish nature, the same attempt at melding action and comedy, that same irritating self-conscious insistence on having characters refer to the type of movie the film is trying to be in-dialogue, that same shock death of [REDACTED] at the two-thirds mark…  I think you see what the problem is.

Kingsman ends up hitting a lot of Kick-Ass’ beats only without the surprise impact that Kick-Ass had back in 2010.  It’s also kinda just a lesser movie in general.  It’s nowhere near as funny, most of its cast isn’t as developed, its pace over the runtime isn’t as well managed, and I rarely found it as giddy and grin-inducingly brilliant as I found, and still find, Kick-Ass to be.  It feels less vital, less like a shot in my movie-going arm, and less brilliant than that film, basically.  When it’s going full-tilt, pushing itself well past the typical limits of immaturity and backing utterly ridiculous extended displays of violence in sync to “Pomp And Circumstance”, that lower-quality Xerox feeling rescinds completely and the film is a delight to watch.  When it slows down from that, though, my personal being was filled equally with enjoyment for what I was watching but also a desire to just watch Kick-Ass again.

That all being said, Kingsman: The Secret Service is still a delight and a far better film than its last minute delay and eventual January release date would have you believe.  In its lesser moments, it’s a less-great version of Kick-Ass.  In the moments when it’s on fire, and those do eventually come and my word are they glorious, it sets a high bar for the rest of 2015’s action films to clear.  Superbly directed, very well acted, and a great deal of fun, Kingsman is very much a delight that, although it never overcomes the shadow of Kick-Ass, is another excellent entry into the filmography of Matthew Vaughn: one of the best action movie directors working today.

Still feels weird saying that.

Kingsman: The Secret Service will be released in UK cinemas on January 29th, and in US cinemas on February 13th.

Callum Petch is as free as a bird now.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

Failed Critics Podcast: Kick-Ass 2

kickass2 smallA group of amateurs who know nothing about the harsh realities of film criticism band together to review a film about a group of amateurs who know nothing about the harsh realities of crime fighting and and band together. Nobody does meta like the Failed Critics, here with our review of Kick-Ass 2.

And while the Gerry’s away, the others will play, and we have our largest ‘What We’ve Been Watching’ section for a long time. James reviews new releases We’re the Millers, and Blackfish, Owen discusses his new man-crush John Wayne, as well as hipster classics The Big Lebowski and Adaptation, while Steve continues his quest to get scared with Dark Skies. The proposed increase in sound quality didn’t happen, but it’s coming. We promise.

Join us next week for our review of Elysium, and even more excitingly, Gerry’s return. We hope he brings weird foreign sweets.

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GFF13: Diary of a Failed Critic 19/02/13

Mark Millar discussing Kick-Ass 2 as much as he is allowed to
Mark Millar discussing Kick-Ass 2 as much as he is allowed to

I started this diary with a combination of high hopes and great ideals. The trouble is, I’m having so much fun at Glasgow Film Festival I’m struggling to find time to do the boring work of actually writing things down. Today was one of those rare days of relative rest; no screenings planned and just the one event to attend. Still, I somehow ended up watching a couple of films and writing up my diary at nearly midnight yet again.

I won’t bore you with the details of my non-festival life (I got a haircut, and handed in a lost phone to the police). What I will do is tell you what I’ve learned about Kick-Ass 2, and Mark Millar’s other projects in the pipeline.

I watched Kick-Ass in the afternoon, in preparation for the Mark Millar (creator of Kick-Ass, and comic-book writer extrordinare) event, and it was even better than I remembered. It’s one of the strongest comic-book adaptation storylines in a very long time, and the cast are uniformly excellent. It’s very funny, the action is brilliantly directed, and it has a killer soundtrack. Plus it has Nicolas Cage doing an Adam West impression. In short, it’s pretty perfect. So the news that original director Matthew Vaughn, and screenwriter Jane Goldman were no longer involved in the sequel, and that their roles would instead be carried out by the director of Never Back Down, worried me greatly. I went to listen to Millar talk about the sequel hoping he would allay my fears.

And to an extent, he did. Millar’s openness used to get him into trouble, and he told a few anecdotes that demonstrated his previous lack of media training, and willingness to ‘play the game’. He’s a big Hollywood player now though, and while the talk was very interesting with regards to his work and the film-making process, this wasn’t the place to come for gossip and unguarded comments.

Millar was very open with his thoughts on the adaptations of his work, and admitted that he would “rather kill a project than have it come out crap”. Apparently an American studio was very interested in adapting Millar’s American Jesus series, but he had to turn them down when they wanted to remove the Jesus aspect of the story. He is also sticking to his principles in writing just one more Kick-Ass book (which he all but confirmed would make it onto the big screen) and finishing the story there.

As a Nicolas Cage fan (yes, that is a thing), I was particularly interested to hear about his input on the first Kick-Ass film. Millar was full of praise for Cage, and told the audience how Big Daddy’s Adam West-style staccato delivery was Cage’s idea, as was the stroke of genius for his moustachioed character to disguise himself with a slightly larger moustache. Millar went on to say that Jim Carey is a similar presence in the sequel, and that his character, though not pivotal, ends up stealing every scene he’s in. It sounds like Kick-Ass 2 may be in safe hands after all.

Millar’s next project with Vaughn and Goldman is Secret Service, a story Millar describes as “My Fair Lady meets The Spy Who Loved Me”. Casting is complete, and shooting should start soon, although Millar is now getting too good at playing the game to reveal any more than that to a room full of strangers.

Other little tit-bits we learned yesterday:

  • Plans for a Wanted 2 movie are “at a stage”
  • Millar was four days into filming Miracle Park when he found out about Josh Trank’s Chronicle, and had to kill the project as the two were pretty much identical
  • Although we sadly didn’t get a sneak peek at Kick-Ass 2, there will shortly be 3 “really good” teaser trailers online
  • Most worryingly of all, Millar said that the Dawn of the Dead remake is his favourite of all of the ‘Dead’ series!

I spent the evening relaxing at home with one of my favourite Scottish films in preparation for a big day of screenings and podcast recording tomorrow.

“I trust the sight of the young people refreshes you”.

Pick of the day for Wednesday 20th February – The Thieves

The surprise film has become a staple of the festival circuit in recent years, and Glasgow Film Festival usually delivers in spades. Recent choices for this slot have included David Lynch’s Inland Empire, and last-year’s mumblecore delight Jeff, Who Lives At Home. We’ll be recording our GFF Podcast Special directly after this screening with our instant reactions.

The only disappointment will be from those who miss out on a ticket for a screening that will almost certainly sell out.

The GFF 13 Surprise Film is showing at Glasgow Film Theatre at 8.30pm.

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The Failed Critics coverage of Glasgow Film Festival is sponsored by Brewdog Bar Glasgow – providing award-winning beers and brilliant food in one of Glasgow’s friendliest bars.

We would have spent most of the festival there regardless, so we’d really like to thank them for their generous hospitality.