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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.

Legend

legend 2015“Eastenders. They won’t talk to a copper. But they’ll kiss a gangster.”

“London in the 1960’s. Everyone had a story about the Krays”. Funny that, where I grew up in the 1980’s, everybody still had stories, but they were almost always complete bollocks. “My dad knew the Krays” or “my mum’s cousin knows them”. No, they don’t, shut up you twat. Dumb stories like that made me a little interested in the infamous twins and their lives though; and now, 25 years after the last good Kray brothers film, we get Legend.

Tom Hardy takes on the role of both Ronnie and Reggie Kray. Twin gangsters that were treated like rock stars back in the 1960’s when they were rising to power and still are by a country that dotes on them and idolises them as men that took what they wanted and didn’t let anything stand in their way. Jumping straight in as Ronnie is released from the psychiatric institution that is looking after him, having been certified insane towards the end of his first stint in prison. Skipping past the boys’ younger years, their time growing up and their boxing, we meet Ronnie and Reggie as they are reaching the height of their power. Casting watchful eyes across the crime in East London and looking to expand West where the clubs are more than ripe enough for a few very hostile takeovers.

With aspirations of being a big time club owner, Reggie is the classic East London gangster; a man whose words, clothes and hair are all equally slick and has a terrifyingly quiet way about him that sets him apart from the rest of the criminal element in his part of the woods. Softly spoken with a wry smile, he can sweep anyone off their feet with a look and a word. Enter Frances Shea, the young sister of Reggie’s driver, Frankie. The naive and impressionable teenager quickly falls for Reggie and his lifestyle, enjoying all the benefits that come with them and the pair are quickly married. Now Ronnie, on the other hand, isn’t slick, or suave, or softly spoken. The polar opposite of his brother, at least on the outside, Ronnie Kray was famous for his lightning quick temper and his inability to make smart, rational decisions once someone had angered him. Arguably the more dangerous of the twins, Ronnie was never too far from trouble during the brothers’ reign.

Legend takes a very small slice of the Krays’ story and puts it to screen for us to absorb. Making Reggie’s marriage to Frances the centre point of the film, we watch the gangster make very quick work of bowling the young lady over and making her his wife. All the while, with Ronnie never too far away, the suave criminal is seeing off competition from south of the Thames and expanding their empire. On the other side of the story, Scotland Yard detective Leonard “Nipper” Read is busy trying to make his career on the twins’ name. Read is relentless in his efforts to bring the Krays and their associates to justice; crossing paths with the infamous duo on more than one occasion and frustrated by their brazenness, the detective pushes back hard against the Krays.

I really don’t know where to begin with Legend; my whole experience was a bit up and down and while I had high hopes for it, the film rarely hit them. In real life, there are parts of the Krays’ story that lasted close to ten years that are given ten minutes screen time, the same amount as an event that lasted probably all of half an hour when it actually happened. No care has been taken to show the progression of time and instead audiences are left to wonder what the hell is going on. The lives of these gangsters was so hectic that just to know that six months, or six years, or whatever, had passed would have been handy.

The script doesn’t seem finished either. While there are some really great lines in it and Brian Helgeland’s brilliance shines through in a few places, it just seemed like a glossary of words Cockneys sometimes say was lobbed at a few pieces of paper and the guys thought that it would be enough. Helgeland’s direction, however, is superb and every scene just oozes class. The twins are regularly on screen together and try as you might, and I tried pretty hard, it’s almost impossible to see the seams with little or no sacrifice to the quality of the shot or the film overall.

Tom Hardy is amazing… for half of the film. His portrayal of Reggie Kray is nothing short of brilliant; suave, slick, with a hint of malice every time he casts his eye across a room. Reggie is cold, calculating and fearless when it comes to his business and his brother. And while his Reggie is great, Ronnie seems to get the short end of the stick. The problem is, while some of his scenes as Ronnie are spectacular, all too often it falls close to being a caricature performance, making it a complete exaggeration of the role to make sure you know who is who and it really isn’t necessary. Ronnie’s character is enough to separate him from his brother and the overplaying of the crazy psychopath role was just a little jarring. With his homosexuality and his temperament played more for laughs than is really right or required, it felt like they were taking the more nasty, brutal character and turning him into a bit of a punch line. The film still portrays him as cold and vicious, but something has been taken away from the man’s edge and it just didn’t sit right.

Hardy is surrounded by a great supporting cast. Christopher Eccleston brings a sterling performance as Nipper Read, the only man that had the guts and the physical size to stand up to the Krays; Chazz Palminteri, making a welcoming return to the big screen as the Firm’s American connection, and Paul Bettany filling to role of Charlie Richardson, the sadistic leader of the Richardson Gang. But standing right next to Hardy, is Emily Browning, playing dual roles herself not only as the slight and shy wife of Reggie Kray; she also acts as the film’s narrator, keeping the viewer informed when the rest of the film fails to and covering up the sub-par script with a nice voice over to soften the blow of the daft writing.

At the end of the day, Legend is a decent film, I very much enjoyed its attempt to be British Goodfellas. But a biopic can be good without it being a decent representation of real life and that is where we’ve landed here; essentially playing itself out like an East End rendition of A Bronx Tale and not really hitting the notes a film about our country’s only real “celebrity” criminals should be. There is no doubt that Tom Hardy is one of the greatest actors working today and he does a splendid job, but a poor script and haphazard story telling mar the performance. Legend is a superb flick, if a little goofy, but it feels like a gangster movie that they added the Krays to for marketing purposes. Considering the subjects of the film, this may be a poor choice of words, but the Krays deserved better than this.

Failed Critics Podcast: Age of Ultron

hulkWelcome to another episode of the Failed Critics Podcast as we use our words to describe the eleventh and latest entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron! This week we also celebrate our third birthday (hip hip!)

Joining Steve and Owen for this extravaganza is the returning Carole Petts, for the first time on a proper feature podcast this year – although she has appeared on our Avengers Minisodes and reviewed Age of Ultron on the site of course! Also on this episode is Matt Lambourne, fresh from the humiliating defeat in our very own Quizcast.

We start off the podcast as always with a short quiz (shorter than last week, anyway), followed by a very special triple bill. The team were each assigned a random actor from Age of Ultron and pick the three films featuring those actors that they’d like to share. We also have the return of Spoiler Alert at the very end of the podcast. But don’t worry if you’ve not seen the film yet! We retain our usual spoiler-free review before that if you’d just like to know if the film is any good or not.

Join us again next week as we take a look at what else has managed to miraculously squeeze its way into the cinema whilst Marvel have a film out.

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