The Silver Bullet ~ Captain America: Civil War

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Synopsis: An incident leads to the Avengers developing a schism over how to deal with situations, which escalates into an open fight between allies Iron Man and Captain America.

Release Date:  May 6, 2016

Thoughts: It’s the beginning of the end of the latest phase of the Avengers Marvel Universe.  After two movies where he was clearly top dog, Captain America (Chris Evans, The Iceman) has to contend with the larger than life  presence of Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr, The Judge) and some familiar Marvel faces from movies past.  While I’m a fan of Captain America: The First Avenger and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I must admit that I’m getting a little fatigued with these films.  With so many other studios jumping on the bandwagon and an oversaturation of Avengers-related entries slated for release over the next several years everything is just starting blur together for me.  Focusing on a battle between allies, Captain America: Civil War has a lot riding on it, and hopefully by next summer I’ll be ready for a dose of superhero adventures.

Movie Review ~ Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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The Facts
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Synopsis: Steve Rogers struggles to embrace his role in the modern world and battles a new threat from old history: the Soviet agent known as the Winter Soldier.

Stars: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Redford, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Georges St-Pierre, Hayley Atwell, Toby Jones, Emily VanCamp

Director: Anthony & Joe Russo

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 138 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Though it made the kind of money that would make most studio heads drool as they dreamt of summer homes and winter cabins, Captain America: The First Avenger was the second lowest grossing Marvel film released to date. That’s too bad because it’s probably one of my favorite entries thanks to its old school tone and the strength in which it stands on its own two feet. After joining the crew in The Avengers and popping up for a brief cameo in Thor: The Dark World, Captain America is back in his fourth appearance on the big screen and he’s better than ever.

Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger all were designed to set the stage for the mega-wattage hero orgy known as Marvel’s The Avengers. That gathering of multiple blockbuster figures appropriately blew the roof off the box office and was one of the best superhero films in history. Following the success of The Avengers, Marvel moved into Phase II of their series by releasing Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, and now this sequel to the 2011 film as offshoot Guardians of the Galaxy preps for an August release and as Avengers: Age of Ultron continues to film with plans to release in 2015.

After being thawed out after a long nap in ice, 1940’s hero Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, The Iceman) is still adjusting to the modern era and a world with a different ideal than the one he’d left behind. While there are multiple references to previous (and future) Marvel franchise characters, like the recent Iron Man and Thor adventures this film is squarely Captain America’s to do whatever he wishes. Though at times you may wonder why Tony Stark doesn’t fly in to lend a helping hand, I liked that the films are allowed to stand on their own strong cast of characters and adventures.

Like the previous installment, Captain America: The Winter Soldier has an appealing story to launch its next chapter with. Touching on the age of spy technology that we find ourselves in, the plot of the film has Captain America and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, Her, with a performance as stoic as her haircut) racing to stop plans to use S.H.I.E.L.D.’s own creations to wipe out citizens that may be a threat in the future…all the while avoiding corruption from within. Oh, and there’s also the matter of a steel armed assassin (the titular character) that wants them dead.

I’ll admit the film took a tad longer than I would have liked to grab me thanks to a been-there, done-that kind of prologue that impresses on a visual scale but suffers in comparison to the type of action sequences we’ve seen in previous films. No matter, once Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, Django Unchained) engages in a rip-roaring and bullet-ridden car chase you’ll forget about the iffy opening and get swept up in the adventure.

With a nice bag of tricks and more than a few twists to keep fans engaged, Captain America: The Winter Soldier makes good use of its lengthy running time by tapping into that Marvel magic of mythology that makes sense even though its patently ridiculous. Directors Anthony & Joe Russo (don’t be scared off when I tell you their previous film was the odious comedy You, Me, & Dupree in 2006) keep things moving thanks to a solid screenplay from returning writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and all the bells and whistles top of the line visual effects can bring.

Evans clearly spent every waking moment in the gym for the last several years because he’s reaching Hulk-like muscle proportions; nevertheless that same relatable all-American charm remains his biggest selling point. Johansson’s icy butt-kicker is no Girl Friday sidekick, though I wonder if she’ll ever have the same impossible to mess up hairstyle in consecutive movies. With Tommy Lee Jones not returning for this sequel (since his character was from the 40’s and this is new millennium all the way), there was an opening for another craggy faced grumpy looking Oscar winner and Robert Redford (All is Lost) fits the bill nicely. Though he isn’t required to do all that much, his presence lends a certain gravitas to his character. I’d tell you about a few more people in the film (like Anthony Mackie, Pain & Gain, as a veteran that becomes an ally), but that would be spoiling some nice surprises.

As this is a Marvel film, make sure to stay through the entire end credit sequence. While there is an exciting major reveal several minutes into the cool closing credits, at the very end of the film you’ll find a short morsel that smoothes over a rough patch from earlier in the movie.

If the first film didn’t catch fire like other Marvel entries, I’m hoping that Avengers fever is high enough to get audiences to try out this second round with Captain America. It’s terrific popcorn entertainment and gives you a taste of summer blockbuster even as the cold weather clings to so much of our country.

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Down From the Shelf ~ Captain America: The First Avenger

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The Facts:

Synopsis: After being deemed unfit for military service, Steve Rogers volunteers for a top secret research project that turns him into Captain America, a superhero dedicated to defending USA ideals.

Stars: Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Toby Jones, Neal McDonough, Derek Luke, Stanley Tucci

Director: Joe Johnston

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 123 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: When Captain America: The First Avenger came out, I was feeling all together ho-hum about the Marvel franchise so far. Full disclosure, I was more of a DC Comics fan growing up and the Avengers universe was a bit of a foreign entity to me. That being said, I always had an appreciation for Captain America…even allowing myself to like (just a little!) the disastrous 1990 failed attempt to bring the character back to the big screen.

In July of 2011, audiences had already met Iron Man (twice!) and Thor and while I liked the initial Tony Stark adventure way more than I liked the muddled snoozer centered on the Norse warrior, I wasn’t totally sold that Captain America would live up to my expectations. So it was a nice surprise to find that not only was Captain America: The First Avenger a hugely entertaining film but that it achieved this by relying on an old-fashioned style of filmmaking that put the characters first and the special effects second.

Beginning in the present with the discovery of a familiar calling card, the film jumps back in time to the early 40’s when America was in the early stages of World War II. Looking for a few good soldiers, the US recruited an entire generation of men and women to serve their country overseas. Longing to be of service to Uncle Sam, scrawny Steve Rogers (a digitally wimp-ized Chris Evans) can’t make it past the medical exam after half a dozen attempts. His passion catches the eye of a German scientist (Stanley Tucci, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) and Rogers is soon in basic training as a candidate to create a new soldier.

Under the watchful eye of a grumpy Colonel (Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln) and pretty but tough Peggy Carter (dynamite Hayley Atwell), it isn’t long before Rogers is beefed up and buffed out thanks to a procedure concocted by Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper, Need for Speed, as Iron Man’s pappy) that makes him a freedom fighting machine. As much a piece of pro-America propaganda as was produced in the same time period, Captain America: The First Avenger occupies the rest of its run length with Rogers weathering the good and bad of his newfound power and a deadly battle with the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving, Cloud Atlas) a nasty Nazi with a typically nasty Nazi plot for world domination.

With his all-American looks, Evans (The Iceman) is the perfect figure to play such an all-American hero…even though the effect to make him look small at the beginning of the film is kinda goofy. Though he had to be convinced more than once to take the role, he’s the right man for the job. Weaving is appropriately frightening as the red-faced terror and Jones hrumphs with the best of them. I still feel that Atwell’s plucky heroine is the best female character to date in the Marvel franchise…here’ s hoping the rumored television series based on her Agent Carter comes to life.

A worthy origin story, the film reminded me a lot of The Rocketeer, Disney’s notorious 1991 flop that coincidentally was also directed by Joe Johnston. I liked The Rocketeer, flaws and all, and Johnston seems to be trying to redeem himself in the eyes of comic book aficionados everywhere. Unlike Iron Man and Thor, I never felt like Captain America: The First Avenger existed only to bridge the gap to the film that would become The Avengers a year later in 2012. It does supply the last bit of info before that movie arrived but is still enjoyed on its own merit.

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Movie Review ~ Iron Man 3

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When Tony Stark’s world is torn apart by a formidable terrorist called the Mandarin, he starts an odyssey of rebuilding and retribution.

Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Stephanie Szostak, James Badge Dale, Jon Favreau, Ben Kingsley, Wang Xuequi, Ty Simpkins

Director: Shane Black

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 130 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  Last May, Marvel’s The Avengers roared onto screens around the world becoming the crown jewel of a tent pole franchise that Marvel Studios has been carefully planning for quite some time.  If everyone’s being totally honest the thanks should go to Iron Man and Iron Man 2, films which bore the weight of lofty expectations while other Avengers-themed material got underway.  Though subsequent films like Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor did solid box office, they couldn’t hold a candle to the kind of money that the Iron Man films brought in.  Of course, when Marvel’s The Avengers was released it set box office records a blaze, becoming the first film to gross over 200 million dollars in its opening weekend.

Now it’s a year later and Phase II of Marvel’s film series begins with Iron Man 3 and if this is any indication on what’s to come with Thor: The Dark World releasing in November and Captain America: The Winter Soldier releasing in 2014…it will be nothing but blue skies from now on for fans of these superhero films.

A lot has changed in a year for our Iron Man, aka Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) as he battles nightmares and paranoia brought on by the events that took place in Marvel’s The Avengers.  (This is a case where having some knowledge of the previous films is nearly required to get the most out of the story that Iron Man 3 is putting forth.)  While his relationship with his former assistant now CEO Pepper Potts (Paltrow) has moved forward, he struggles with being vulnerable in the face of protecting the one he clearly loves. 

Opening with a brief flashback to 1999 where we meet Aldrich Killian (Pearce, Lawless) and Maya Hansen (Hall, The Awakening), the film lays a groundwork for a plot of revenge that will take our hero on a difficult journey of redemption as makes a personal mission to take down a terrorist called The Mandarin (Kingsley, The Dictator, in a role that provides several nicely unexpected twists). 

Revealing anything more would spoil some of the surprises that new director/screenwriter Shane Black has in store for audiences.  Working with Drew Pearce, Black skillfully takes everything that we know about Stark from the previous films and gives the character a hefty shove forward into uncomfortable territory – and it works quite well.  Black first came to attention by penning such hardscrabble action films like Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, and The Long Kiss Goodnight (not to mention The Monster Squad) so he feels at home with melding the action-comedy genre to fit Downey Jr’s talents (the two previously worked together on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang).  Like Iron Man 2, having less screenwriters makes the film feel like it’s one voice rather than many that are bringing ideas forth to keep our characters growing and evolving.

What I enjoyed about this film (and all of Iron Man’s appearances on the big screen) is how willing everyone is to let Tony Stark be as irascible as possible.  His relationship with a fatherless boy (Simpkins in one of the better child performances lately) in the films mid-section is refreshingly off-the-cuff and very in line with how Stark would relate to an adult that crossed his path the way this kid does.  That’s what makes Downey Jr. so perfect for this role – he’s able to make an unlikable character very likable without making sacrifices.

Iron Man 3 marks a turning point for Paltrow’s character as well – it appears that someone finally took note that Paltrow can do more than just play the straight-woman to Stark’s childish behavior because her role is amped up here to good effect.  Pearce looks mighty buff in the arms but old in the face and is a nicely smarmy villain. Hall is, unfortunately, typically bland and Cheadle does the most with what is still a sadly underwritten role.  Director of the first two installments, Favreau literally sits this one out as his character (looking like a meatball in a too-small suit) is laid up for most of the film.  Nice turns from James Badge Dale and Stephanie Szostak as fiery henchman top off a decidedly eclectic cast.

What sometimes bothered me about the movie is that we all know by now that Iron Man has some friends in super places yet no one shows up to help him out as he goes through a particularly rough patch (spoiler alert: Samuel L. Jackson doesn’t appear in this one as Nick Fury).  I kept waiting for someone to pop in and lend a hand but as the movie has a theme of isolation it winds up working well that Stark has to go it alone.

Though it can’t match Marvel’s The Avengers for sheer jaw-dropping action sequences, it comes close with a finale set on an abandoned oil dock that seems right out of a Lethal Weapon movie.  Wildly ambitious and easy to follow, it’s quite overwhelming…especially in 3D which for the rest of the film doesn’t add much to the proceedings or your ticket value.  What it does add is parting excitement as you leave the theater because the way that things are left the movie can go in any number of different ways.  With a Captain American and Thor movie set for release before the next Avengers movie in 2015, who knows if we’ll see Tony Stark again for a few years…but based on the series famous end credits of cameos (this is no exception…please stay until the end) I bet Stark will pop in again soon.

Mid-Day Mini ~ Iron Man 2

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Tony Stark has declared himself Iron Man and installed world peace… or so he thinks. He soon realizes that not only is there a mad man out to kill him with his own technology, but there’s something more: he is dying.

Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Jon Favreau, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Garry Shandling, John Slattery, Kate Mara, Clark Gregg, Olivia Munn

Director: Jon Favreau

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 124 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: I’m going to say it, okay?  I’m just going to come out and say it.  The time has come for me to state something publically for all the blog-world to read.  Are you ready?   I liked Iron Man 2 more than I liked the first Iron Man.  Wow…ok…that felt really great to say.  I realize I’m in the minority here and that many, many, many people would disagree but at the end of the day and after watching both films back to back I still find the second entry to be a tad more entertaining and fulfilling than the first.

Now that’s not a knock on the first film which in and of itself was a strong film and a great kick start to the Avengers franchise that we have today.  What shaved a tiny fraction of a point off for me was an iffy first half where I always find my mind wandering whenever I see it.  Robert Downey Jr.’s performance in the first Iron Man is strong but I think everyone that was carried over into the second entry (good-by Terrence Howard, hello Don Cheadle) just has more to work with.

Maybe that’s because the script for Iron Man had four writers while Iron Man 2 was penned solo by Justin Theroux (recommended by Downey Jr. after writing Tropic Thunder) and the script feels more like the voice of one rather than the voice of many.  There’s more character development, a tighter beginning, and enough material to carry the film from start to finish.

After the success of Iron Man in 2008, Marvel Studios stumbled again with yet another attempt at The Incredible Hulk.  Though that film did decent business (and included a cameo from Iron Man), it wasn’t the homerun that Iron Man was so there was even more pressure on Iron Man 2 to right a listing ship.  Aided by more action and visual effects, the movie really delivers on a massive scale…even more impressive when I saw it on an IMAX screen that awed me even as I was deafened by the booming sound design.

Adding more layers to Tony Stark, Downey Jr. feels at home in the role and Theroux adds some opportunities for Downey Jr.’s wry comedic strengths to shine.  Once again Downey Jr. and Paltrow exhibit a great chemistry and even the introduction of a sultry new Stark Company employee (Johansson) can’t drive a wedge between the two.  Johansson (who replaced Emily Blunt) is here to introduce the Black Widow that would play a part in later Avengers films and her presence adds a decent amount of anticipation for what would come next.  Rockwell and Rourke are nice yin/yang villains with Rockwell’s hyper charm working well alongside Rourke’s reserved blood boiler. 

I found the first Iron Man to be an entertaining superhero movie but nothing truly spectacular.  Iron Man 2 falls into largely the same category but it does what sequels should do – deliver something bigger while also moving our characters forward at the right pace.  It’s clear that these Avenger movies have been very carefully plotted out because they need to tie into each other at key points – Iron Man 2 fits nicely into the grand scheme of this world.

Mid-Day Mini ~ Iron Man

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When wealthy industrialist Tony Stark is forced to build an armored suit after a life-threatening incident, he ultimately decides to use its technology to fight against evil.

Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Shaun Toub, Leslie Bibb, Bill Smitrovich, Nazanin Boniadi, Micah Hauptman

Director: Jon Favreau

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 126 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  Though highly successful with their Spider-Man films, Marvel Studios had long tried to get a solid franchise started around The Avengers and it wasn’t until 2008’s Iron Man that things started to click.  After failing to start a fire with 2003’s Hulk, the studio treaded carefully until they saw an opportunity with Robert Downey Jr. to really take things to the next level.  The end result was truly the start of something great and five years later the character and the franchise are raking in the big bucks all over the world.

Iron Man was one of the comic book heroes that wasn’t much on my radar when the film opened in May of 2008 and I didn’t really get why the film was so highly anticipated.  Aside from seeing the character on the big screen, many fans knew that this really was the first film in a new series of planned superhero films that would culminate in a gathering of The Avengers.  All eyes were on the film when it opened and when it was so well received, a collective sigh of relief was heard from fans and studio bosses alike.

The success of the film can really be attributed to Downey Jr.’s well formed portrayal of mega-billionaire Tony Stark who becomes Iron Man after nearly losing his life in a terrorist plot that takes up a good 40 minutes at the start of the film.  These crucial 40 minutes have a lot of mileage to cover and for me the movie just skimmed along at the beginning.  When Stark returns to his life after a spectacular break-out is when the film really started to jive in my eyes with the script allowing more interaction with Stark and his surroundings as he hones a new idea about where his life is headed.

Most definitely an origin story that seems like more of a set-up for the films that would follow it, there’s still no denying that there’s a lot of excitement to be had in this first installment of Iron Man.  Downey Jr. is pretty excellent as the flawed anti-hero that comes into his own over the course of the movie.  There’s nice support from Paltrow and even if her role isn’t as developed as it would be in future films, she has a great rapport with Downey Jr. that feels right.  Director Favreau takes a small role for his own and one wonders why he even bothered because there’s not much for him to do.  Knowing now that Don Cheadle would replace Howard as Stark’s best friend, it’s hard to give the peformance much of a review…only to say that Cheadle is much more suited to the role than Howard was.  Future Oscar-winner Bridges is the very essence of movie villainy but there’s a curious lack of danger as the film thunders toward a conclusion.

For an introduction to Tony Stark and the Iron Man world, this is a very entertaining film…even with some bugs in the system.