Captain America: Civil War

Director: Anthony & Joe Russo (2016)

Hard on the heels of the showdown between Batman and Superman in Dawn of Justice  (2016) comes another super-powered spandex smack down.

This time it’s Chris Evans and Robert Downey, Jr. facing off as Captain America and Iron Man.

Although nominally the third stand alone Captain America film, it plays like a third Avengers movie and deals with the fall out of Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015).

But Civil War lacks writer/director Joss Whedon’s ability to build a strong narrative and offer a spotlight for each major character.

Although the Russo’s bring a harder edge to the action, they haven’t Whedon’s grasp of group dynamics or comedy. They seem unable or unwilling to nurture interesting female characters, which is Whedon’s absolute stock in trade.

Here the blunt banter and sparse stabs of humour seem forced rather than growing organically out of character.

Many jokes seem parachuted in by executives and there are more than a few about gags about ageing. They lend the movie the stale air of a spandex version of Sylvester Stallone’s Expendables franchise.

The ferocious and superbly choreographed opening action scenes are at the very top end of Civil War‘s 12A certificate.

But the story is cluttered with too many minor characters. New ones are introduced to flag up their own stand alone solo movie and there’s a much herald appearance of a rebooted favourite.

Anthony Mackie and Don Cheadle return respectively as sidekicks War Machine and The Falcon. The Hulk and Thor are noticeably absent.

Young Brit Tom Holland steals the film with his wide eyed chatterbox take on Peter Parker.

It’s a shame his Spider-Man CGI alter-ego is so poorly rendered, all the more puzzling as the generally the film looks fantastic in its IMAX 3D version.

A great deal of time is set up the Black Panther (2018) movie. Marvel seem so eager to involve and so self pleased at promoting a black character they haven’t looked too closely at how he’s presented.

Removed of the cowl and claws of Black Panther, Chadwick Boseman is fine in the undemanding role as the urbane and irony free African prince T’Challa.

However he’s prone to beginning sentences with ‘in my culture..’. Maybe people do speak like this but it reminded me of Ron Ely era Tarzan. His dialogue and demeanour seem freshly minted from the preconceptions of the white New Yorkers who created him back in 1966.

William Hurt and Martin Freeman are introduced as part of the Black Panther thread.

While Jeremy Renner gives the most lacklustre performance of his career as Hawkeye, Paul Bettany does some lovely work as the Vision.

The script can’t work out what to do with him or his ill defined powers, so opts for ignoring him whenever it can. Notably during the fighting.

Dragged down into the melee and still without a film to call their own, the only two female heroes are Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch.

At heart Civil War wants to be a hard hitting action thriller. The tone is suitably subdued as the script deals with politically compromised ideals, murdered parents and revenge.

Then it remembers the audience and bursts into blasts of candy coloured action.

Remorseful at collateral deaths of civilians during an Avengers mission, the once independent Iron Man is ready to accept UN oversight of The Avengers team.

Bizarrely for a soldier, Captain America doesn’t agree with operating under a hierarchal command system.

A UN conclave are about to sign an accord to will curtail superhero activity when they suffer a terrorist attack.

Number one suspect is Captain America’s friend turned terrorist agent Bucky Barnes. AKA The Winter Soldier.

Despite being played by the physically impressive Sebastian Stan, he remains an irritatingly anonymous figure.

Captain America is convinced Bucky is innocent and sets off to find him before the CIA do.

This puts him at odds with Iron Man, leaving the rest of The Avengers team to decide with whom they stand.

As allegiances shift and romance blooms across the barricades, loyalties are stretched and snapped.

Meanwhile there’s a sinister plot involving Daniel Bruhl’s shady scientist and a super enhanced elite death squad.

Easily the best part of Civil War is the promised punch up between the host of heroes.

It’s an imaginatively conceived and entertaining executed bout which leaves the heroes damaged and divided.

Unfortunately it happens about half way through the running time, so the rest of the film feels very anti-climactic.

And after two and a half hours of spandex clad action, I was beginning to chafe.

 

Iron Man 3

Director: Shane Black (2013)

Fresh from super heroically saving the world in 2012’s mega successful Avengers Assemble, Robert Downey Jnr returned in 2013 as wayward genius Tony Stark and his Iron Man alter ego in this souped-up, buddy movie throwback to the ’80’s.

Downey Jnr’s usual accomplices Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle are joined by Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall and Ben Kingsley.

Stark has been suffering from insomnia and nightmares. The result is more conflict in his personal life.

Meanwhile, the US is rocked by bombs planted by a terrorist called the Mandarin, played by Kingsley, who seems immune from capture.

After Stark challenges the Mandarin on TV his home is attacked and destroyed. His armoured suit is broken and his girlfriend Pepper Potts (Paltrow) is kidnapped.

In three films Potts’ demeanor has changed from mother to wife to cheerleader girlfriend.

The President’s life is threatened and Stark, lost in the middle of nowhere, sorry,Tennessee, and has to find a way back. He’s helped by a reasonably annoying schoolboy to whom he thankfully gives short-shrift.

Then another, more creepy, danger appears in the shape of blonde mullet-wearing biotech genius Aldrich Killian (Pearce). In Starks’ world, the bad guys have the worst haircuts. It’s why he doesn’t get along with Thor.

Any subtlety this film series might have aspired to is abandoned in favour of an explosive pace. There are super-enhanced bad guys with red eyes, a jaw-dropping mid-air rescue from Air Force One and a thunderous fight in a dockyard.

The plot rockets along to its explosive conclusion on the rickety roller coaster of a 1980’s action movie vibe, scooping up characters and jettisoning them overboard as soon as their ability to fuel the ride is extinguished.

Stark and Col. Rhodes (Cheadle) are cartoonly heroic under fire as they bat endless quick-fire banter between each other like a super-powered Murtaugh and Riggs from the Lethal Weapon franchise. No great surprise as the first of those films was written by one Shane Black.

But the women don’t fare so well. Paltrow has killer abs and is very cute when she’s angry. The hugely talented Hall is wasted in a small role. A bikini pageant takes place in winter – but it’s Christmas so that’s OK. Ho ho ho.

It is all very familiar but never dull; the comedy is broad, the girls are sexy and the special effects are state of the art.

I was thrilled by the first Iron Man movie, this is a return to form after the disappointing ‘difficult’ second film.

Coherence

Director: James Ward Byrkit (2015)

When a passing comet causes a space-time anomaly, it turns a dinner party into disaster in this dull and derivative sci-fi thriller.

Glossy, arty, unlikeable and poorly established characters bicker their way through a catastrophic storm of hyperactive camerawork and weak writing.

When phone signals, the internet and external power fail, Hugh (Hugo Armstrong) and Amir (Alex Manugian) head off to the only other neighbourhood house with lights on.

They intend to call Hugh’s physicist brother who warned about possible ill effects of the comet, it’s a wonder the brother isn’t called Bill Mason.

With no obvious leaders, the guests start squabbling like contestants on The Apprentice. Glamorous Emily (Emily Baldoni) starts to give partner Kevin (Maury Sterling) a hard time over a perceived slight at the table. Others make passes at each other’s partners. Their sense of priorities are more puzzling than their situation.

Someone turns to the bottle which seems a reasonable response to being cooped up with these idiots.

With close ups, shallow focus, jump cuts and restless shaky cam we’re treated to a full range of found-footage effects without this being a found-footage film – which is annoying when we realise there’s no character behind the camera to interact with the ones we can see.

Presumably the intention is to create intimacy and suggest forthcoming danger while visually preparing the ground for when these effects will be usefully employed.

But this distracting approach heightens the script’s failure to sufficiently identify the characters for the audience; we fail to engage with them or care what is happening. At times it would have been useful if they’d worn names on the backs of their clothes.

Having being lost in the dark space between houses, Hugh and Amir return injured and with a metal box. They’d encountered the inhabitants of the other house who were unfriendly and disturbingly looked exactly like themselves.

The box contains photos of themselves taken that very evening. Notes are stuck to their front door written in their own handwriting and personal items unexpectedly appear.

A book containing Hugh’s brother’s lecture notes is discovered in the back of a car. They offer a mercifully brief explanation using the coherence variation of quantum mechanics. Gwyneth Paltrow is mentioned alongside Schrodinger’s cat – which must be a first.

There’s more bickering and another splinter group wander off outside. A second Hugh arrives claiming to be the first Hugh and it dawns on the inmates there are more than two houses with identical occupants, increasingly mixed up between identical houses.

But when the comet passes the quantum anomaly will collapse and everyone must find their correct house – or be trapped in the wrong dinner party forever. Paranoia, suspicion and violence follow.

☆☆☆