Marvel Cinematic Universe-Phase Three
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016)
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Elizabeth Olsen, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Rudd, Daniel Brühl, Tom Holland
This is the thirteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The number 13 is typically an unlucky number for some, yet Marvel is in top form with its third Captain America film. With so many characters it may seem like the next Avengers film, but Captain America/Steve Rogers (Evans) and the relationship he has with best friend Bucky Barnes (Stan) is front and center. Bucky’s known as The Winter Solider and has been on the run following the events of the previous film, The Winter Soldier. He is believed to be the man responsible for an explosion at the United Nations headquarters in Vienna killing the Nigerian leader. Steve knows that Bucky wasn’t behind the explosion and seeks to find him before the authorities catch him. The man behind the explosion is Captain Helmut Zemo (Brühl) who’s after secret HYDRA reports from a December 1991 mission involving Bucky.
This isn’t the only problem plaguing Steve; the Avengers are starting to unhinge after witnessing and realizing their actions and attempts at saving the world come with a cost. Many innocent lives have been taken and an incident in Lagos, Nigeria left a shattering death toll. This all leads to the creation of the Sokovian Accords. If this passes, it would mean that the Avengers are no longer a private organization. The government would step in and control them. This concept drives a sharp divide between Captain America, Iron Man/Tony Stark (Downey) and the rest of the Avengers.
For those following along closely at home, we have now entered Phase 3 of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. Marvel continues to make smart choices with the direction of their franchises. The Winter Soldier has been lauded as one of the best in the franchise, so it was a wise move for producer Kevin Feige to keep that creative team in place with directors Joe and Anthony Russo and writers Stephen McFeely and Christopher Marcus. As I think back on the entire Marvel canon, the Captain America entries have been the strongest and most consistent as they continue to evolve and raise the stakes for our central characters. You can’t just keep making the same “good guys vs. villain” film over and over or else they start to all feel the same. To a certain extent we have that here with Daniel Brühl in the villain role. The real conflict and heart of the movie falls with Steve’s relationship with Bucky and the core group of Avengers. Like many long-lasting friendships, there are times when you realize you vehemently disagree on a position. The film tackles that very concept and it’s a sharp move to ask the audience to take on that journey of how we act when we’re wrong but think we’re right. There’s an impactful image of each side lining up as if they are in a shootout at the O.K. Corral.
A majority of the fan favorite characters are back with the exception of Thor and the Hulk. Steve continues to play the role of loyal friend to Bucky as that’s the one friendship he can’t let go of from his past. It’s easier for him to turn against Tony. This is Robert Downey Jr.’s sixth film playing Tony, and we’re starting to see a very different side to the character. He’s worn down, exhausted, and no longer the hotshot playboy that we’re used to from previous films. He’s really starting to feel the ramifications of what Iron Man has done to his personal life with Pepper Potts and the lives that have been taken due to the Avengers.
Civil War also acts as the introduction to new heroes who will be getting future movies in Phase 3. Chadwick Boseman (42, Get on Up) is donning the claws as T’Challa/Black Panther. T’Challa’s father is the Nigerian leader who is killed in the U.N. attacks. It’s a relief to feel like he is given a proper arch in the film with a true conflict at hand against Bucky. The other noteworthy appearance is that of Peter Parker/Spider-Man. There had been some studio disputes involving the rights to the character who was previously played by Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. While it seems redundant to have yet another Spider-Man, Kevin Feige is taking a new spin on the character by reminding the audience he is actually a high school kid. This time he’s played with a spritely sense of humor by newcomer Tom Holland with Marisa Tomei popping up as lovable Aunt May. For those who were hesitant or feared he was a one-scene cameo, he is given more to do than what’s been shown in the trailers.
This film clocks in at being the Marvel film with the longest runtime at 146 minutes. In case you hadn’t noticed yet, the film has a lot of ground to cover with the multiple storylines and characters. It all coalesces together well without feeling gimmicky or a ploy to add unnecessary characters which I was originally afraid of with all of the hype surrounding the film. This can easily happen when screenwriters try to bite off more than they can chew, but I never felt lost or confused by their choices. The pace is kept up and never drags, as the action sequences are swift yet controlled in how they are edited together. I never felt like any of them suffered from being too long, which plagued Avengers: Age of Ultron and many other superhero films like DC Comics’ Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
I’m drawn to the superhero movies that feel like they have plausible stakes at hand. I am far more invested when the emotion and conflict is grounded in reality. Yes, you can have fun with a man who can shrink down in size, use a deadly shield, or fly around in an iron suit, but finding the proper balance is key. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo have masterfully crafted their film and found that balance. Despite the serious tones and heavy weight put on Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, there is still so much humor in the film thanks to the witty script and comedic entries of Paul Rudd as Ant-Man and Tom Holland as Spider-Man. It’s a globe-trotting spectacle which fully utilizes every Avenger, side hero, and villain along the way. Just when you thought you might need a break from the superhero genre, it pulls you back in again. I need to find time in my calendar to see it a second time.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? It’s the best Marvel film in years.
RATING: 4 out of 5 TICKET STUBS
DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)
Director: Scott Derrickson
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt, Benedict Wong
Benedict Cumberbatch is no stranger at playing characters with super egos as that is how he interprets Sherlock Holmes. He brings a similar quality to Doctor Stephen Strange. He’s a neurosurgeon in the top of his field. He’s massively rich, a music savant, and probably smarter than his own good allows. His colleague Dr. Christine Palmer (McAdams) happens to be a former flame, and there is still a spark between them. On a stormy night he cruises along a curvy road headed to dinner with the elite where he is to make a presentation. He gets a work call about a potential procedure with accompanying scans to view on his phone. It’s that split second he took his eyes off the road that forever changed his life. I hope all the teen drivers out there are paying attention. His loses control and his precious sports car veers off the cliff. The horrendous accident results in massive surgeries on his arms and hands rendering him unable to work. That is his whole life and now he’s lost it.
When he comes to the realization that no other experimental surgeries will fix the nerves in his hands, he heads to Nepal to seek out a mystic healer who has been known to work miracles. There he meets the Ancient One (Swinton) who opens his mind to the concept of reorienting our spirit to better heal our body. He adapts to the practice at lightning speed as he harnesses energy to cast spells and magic. What he doesn’t know until it’s too late is that the Ancient One has chosen him to go after Kaecilius (Mikkelson), a former master who has now switched to the dark side. Any further explanation of this rabbit hole would over complicate things.
I went into Doctor Strange without any knowledge about the comics. Then again, I basically go into every Marvel movie like that when they start introducing a new character. Marvel Studios has anchored their films with the likes of Iron Man, Captain America and the rest of the Avengers, and now they’re breaking into their deeper cuts with stories and characters that may be new for many people. Like Guardians of the Galaxy, we’re reaching further into the obscure. Strange can be viewed without any previous knowledge of the Marvel Universe, as there are no direct tie-ins to other characters or story lines. There’s no mention of S.H.I.E.L.D, Hydra, Loki, or any member of the Stark family. Marvel knew that this film wouldn’t work early on in their foray into big screen adventures as you have to be willing to go on a very “experimental” type of journey with these characters. They trust that if you enjoyed a wise-cracking raccoon and a talking tree in Guardians, you can settle in for the mystic arts and viewpoints presented here.
One thing you’ll notice right away is that it stands apart from many of their other films in its approach all the while keeping it on brand for Marvel. It’s very sci-fi and fantasy based with an Inception meets Harry Potter tone. I had feared it would follow the typical origins type story about some arrogant man getting used to a new suit and powers thanks to advancements in technology. Okay, so maybe that premise is here but only to an extent. There are no mad scientists or bugs. It fully acknowledges that it doesn’t try to live in the reality of present day. There’s a paradox at hand as it tackles a variety of philosophical questions about how we see life, ancient healing, surrendering your ego, and the consequences of trying to break the natural order but it throws in opening time portals, shifting dimensions, and Doctor Strange’s new magical cloak. It’s also worth noting that it appears to be one of the most special effects heavy Marvel films due to how the imagery constantly bends and manipulates on itself. It’s a bizarre mix of colors and shapes as if you were looking into a kaleidoscope. Don’t worry, you shouldn’t get sick with the 3D but it provides a drug trip for the eyes.
Like the others in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, casting is spot on. Benedict Cumberbatch wears the surgical gloves and cape with ease making him feel perfectly in tune with the character. It’s fun to see him as this egocentric fellow and the humor that comes from him exploring this new world. Only ardent readers of the comics will know how well he fits that version of the character. Having Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer, Michael Clayton) as the Ancient One is a risky casting choice due to the way the character is written in the comics, but Swinton handles it the only way she knows how to by bringing her quintessential avant-garde style to the Ancient One. A big blockbuster franchise doesn’t seem like the kind of project she would go for, but I’m ecstatic she went for it. She’s often accompanied by Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) as Mordo. He’s one of her students learning the mystic arts and feels a bit in competition when Strange starts to excel at a faster pace. I’ve been a big fan of Rachel McAdams for years, and she’s another natural fit as Doctor Strange’s former love who finds herself thrust in this new idea of portals and dimensions. What would a Marvel movie be without its token villain? That belongs to resident antagonist Mads Mikkelson who has previously ruffled feathers as the bad guy in Casino Royale and the television version of Hannibal.
Doctor Strange follows in the line of having a relatively unknown director in charge. Scott Derrickson primarily has a horror background with the likes of The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister, and Deliver Us from Evil. This is by far his biggest project, and he does a fine job of keeping Doctor Strange fun and exciting even if it’s a little bit “out there”. He has aptly brought forth the Marvel sense of humor that reminds us why these movies set themselves a part from the DC Comics movies. Many Marvel movies leave me wanting more. Not necessarily from that movie I came out of, but knowing that they’ve set up a great foundation and I’m looking forward to what’s going to come next. Mr. Cumberbatch will likely appear in the next Thor film and Avengers: Infinity War. Don’t get up too soon once the credits start as there are two post-credit sequences.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? Probably not for a Marvel newbie, but it will surely please the fans.
RATING: 4 out of 5 TICKET STUBS