Movie Review: “Captain America: CIVIL WAR”

Captain America: CIVIL WAR

The third installment of Captain America’s franchise is the darkest yet of the lot, a sprawling, globetrotting adventure that draws in a veritable kitchen sink of Marvel heroes. The story opens in 1991, with Cap’s friend James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) being thawed out and mnemonically pried open by a few choice words in Russian, setting him out on a quick mission to recover several packets of super-soldier serum and leave no witnesses. Fast-forward to present day, and Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) is casing out portions of Lagos, Nigeria, with the team assembled at the end of “Avengers: Age of Ultron”. Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) are there to help Cap take down Hydra baddie Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo), who emerged from the wreckage of the former S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters as the enhanced and completely psychotic Crossbones.

While the team seems to have its game down, for the most part, a miscalculation by the Scarlet Witch ends up creating more than the usual amount of destruction and the unseen body count ticker starts running. Badly. Speaking of body counts, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) is enjoying a bittersweet celebration at MIT, lauding the launch of his grant program to fund new technology, when he’s confronted by Miriam Sharpe (Alfre Woodard), the mother of a fatality from the Avengers’ battle in Sokovia. It’s a consistent theme for Stark–his past (or his father’s past) is constantly coming back to haunt him. Licking their emotional wounds, the team (including Paul Bettany’s Vision and Don Cheadle’s Lt. James Rhodes/War Machine) retreats to their compound in upstate New York, where U.S. Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) subjects the Avengers (sans a “retired” Hawkeye and the M.I.A. Thor and Hulk) to a dressing down, reminding them that they go in with the best of intentions but end up leaving without so much as picking up a broom and dustpan. If only they could clean up their messes so easily.


Captain America at Avengers HQ

Captain America (Chris Evans), facing ominous music


Ross explains that over 100 countries have come together to create the “Sokovia Accords”: an agreement that puts the Avengers under the management and oversight of a UN panel. The days of the Avengers’ autonomy are numbered, and they have precious little time to submit to the UN’s authority or face being shut down altogether. At this point, a rift begins to form between those on the team that are wary of the negative impact of the agreement and those willing to take that risk. The words spoken by the grieving Wakandan King T’Chaka (John Kani) following the Nigerian tragedy are obviously ringing in their ears: “Victory at the expense of the innocent is no victory at all.”

Captain America, in his usual indifference to any authority other than his own, frets about the new oversight being “run by agendas, and agendas change”. Called away to attend the funeral of one of the few people about whom he intimately cares, Cap manages to connect briefly with the former Agent 13, Sharon Carter–yes, CARTER–played by Emily VanCamp. The reeling Cap then joins the Avengers in Vienna for the signing of an agreement he has no intention to autograph himself. The team’s division becomes crystal clear: Iron Man, War Machine, Vision, and Black Widow all signed, but Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, and Falcon have refused. The divide widens as an explosion rips apart the UN compound, killing King T’Chaka and leaving evidence that points to Bucky as the culprit. There’s enough set up with the shadowy Zemo (Daniel Brühl) to suggest that perhaps Bucky’s not 100% in control of his own decisions.


Tony Stark and Steve Rogers

Bromance on the rocks: Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) and Steve Rogers (Evans)


The second act focuses primarily on Captain America’s hunt for Bucky and the lengths to which he will go to protect his friends from just about everything–except himself. In one of the few cases where Cap puts the individual in front of the team, Rogers is willing to sacrifice it all to save his long-lost best friend. Of course, Bucky is more than just lost; he’s a ticking time bomb. The half of the team that forms behind Stark settles on the idea that Bucky needs to be put behind bars and anyone who stands in their way is a criminal. Rogers rebuffs Stark’s renewed offer to sign on the dotted line for the Sokovia Accords, and the counter-team forms up behind the Captain and his shield.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a kitchen sink approach without adding even MORE superheroes into the mix. Team Iron Man adds Black Panther (the Wakandan heir–now King T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman) and Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland); Team Cap adds Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and a not-truly-retired Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). What follows is a messy brawl where neither side really, truly wants to hurt the other. More like, they all just want to stop the other team from getting their way without inflicting too much damage. Unfortunately, this is the Avengers, and if there’s one message we’ve learned from prior movies (and the high-tech PowerPoint Ross put on earlier), it’s that things will get out of hand quickly. The injuries, both emotional and physical, take their toll, with Cap and Bucky barely escaping to chase after Zemo.


Partial view of TeamCap

A partial view of Team Cap: Hawkeye (Renner), Scarlet Witch (Olsen), Captain America (Evans), and Bucky (Stan)


It’s impossible to go into much detail on the third act without spilling spoilers left, right, and center, so suffice to say that the action continues apace. Cap and Bucky are a comfortable pairing–both are damaged goods, men out of time who’ve seen and done things they wish had gone differently. Stark is a man haunted by the ghosts he will never shake, and he’ll swing at anything that will make the pain go away.

This movie is very much a Captain America film–a slower burn with plenty of action and character development. On the other hand, it also tries really hard to make sure that no one feels left out, which only seems overdone when it comes to Ant-Man and Spider-Man. Black Panther fits in well as a superhero who has no real need for a team (and will suffer an alliance), but Ant-Man and Spider-Man seem there for only two things: 1) comic relief, and 2) setups for 2018’s “Ant-Man and The Wasp” and Disney’s reboot of the Spider-Man franchise, respectively. The subtler sarcasm of Falcon and Hawkeye fits well with the vibe of the movie, but the slapstick and neophyte humor of the insect and arachnid just don’t work nearly as well.


TeamIronMan: Black Panther, Vision, Iron Man, Black Widow, and War Machine

Team Iron Man: Black Panther (Boseman), Vision (Bettany), Iron Man (Downey Jr.), Black Widow (Johansson), and War Machine (Cheadle)


Even so, this is a great film and a worthy addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe–dramatic, action-filled, and intense. Everyone is bringing as much A-game as they can, and the team leads (Evans and Downey Jr.) are just outstanding. Each plays their role with a genuine approach that shows these two actors really understand how to play tortured souls.

When it’s not heart-stopping, it’s heart-wrenching; “Captain America: CIVIL WAR” isn’t just about the chasms that form between friends when they sit on opposite sides of an issue, it’s also about the internal struggles that people face when they have to make tough choices that have real and painful consequences.

Is “Captain America: CIVIL WAR” for kids? Well, not really. I’d probably peg this as for ages 10-and-up, but if the child has already seen and ably managed “Captain America: Winter Soldier” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron”, they’ll do fine here. The screening I attended was in IMAX 3D and the fight scenes were somewhat hard to follow due to the format’s poor handling of incredibly fast movement. I recommend aiming for 2D or regular 3D for this one unless there’s an absolute preference for IMAX 3D. As per usual, there are two extra post-credit scenes for this movie–one immediately following the initial set of cast credits and one at the very end of the full credit roll. In other words: stick around until the screen is completely unlit.

3-1/2 out of 4 stars

“Captain America: CIVIL WAR” opens nationwide on May 6, 2016. This movie is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of violence, action, and mayhem.


Movie Review: “Zootopia”

ZootopiaIn the latest outing from Disney Animation, “Zootopia”, we see up close what happens when someone gets the bright idea to put animals of all stripes (and fur) together with some of the most beloved movie tropes and characters. The cast of anthropomorphized animals is ably led by the charmingly plucky Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin of “Once Upon a Time”). Though a tiny bunny, Hopps has always aspired to be a police officer in Zootopia, so she can protect the weaker from those who would prey on them. The predator/prey dichotomy is a constant theme in the movie–an easy ploy with this particular set of characters, since humans don’t always have such obvious predator or prey markers.

Though she’s small, Hopps finds a way to excel at the Police Academy, and she graduates at the head of her class–winning a coveted spot on the police force responsible for the City Center. And so, off she goes to explore the incredible place where “predator and prey live in harmony”, a city containing twelve unique ecosystems ranging from an urban cityscape to a frozen landscape.


Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) graduates from the Police Academy

Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) graduates from the Police Academy


Upon arrival at the police station, Hopps gets a harsh lesson in reality when she’s given meter maid duty by her brutish buffalo police chief, Bogo (played by the only man who could make a buffalo sexy, Idris Elba of “Luther” and the “Thor” movies). There is a plethora of missing persons cases, but Bogo is insistent that Hopps spend her days distributing tickets instead of doing detective work. Hopps puts on a brave face, but she soon lets her instincts take her off task.


Chief Bogo (Idris Elba)

Chief Bogo (Idris Elba)


While out and about, Hopps runs into Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman of “Arrested Development”), a con-artist of a fox whom she manages to blackmail into helping her try to solve one of the missing persons cases. Chief Bogo gave Hopps 48 hours to crack the case, and she intends to use any means at her disposal to do so. Despite his chafing at the conscription, Wilde ends up befriending Hopps and assisting her ably with her search for the missing Mr. Otterton. Truly, for all of the wonderful little jokes sprinkled liberally throughout, this really is both a buddy-comedy and a mystery–a multi-layered view into what it means to be predator or prey. (Keep an ear out for when Disney Animation favorite Alan Tudyk delivers a “Frozen”-related joke. He’s clearly to Disney Animation what “Cheers” actor John Ratzenberger is to Pixar.)


Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) confronting Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman)

Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) confronting Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman)


“Zootopia” has a lot of clever humor, sometimes subtle and other times far more overt. Of course, there are the sly in-jokes (like the icon of the carrot with a bite taken out of it that adorns the back of the characters’ smartphones) and the more overt plays for the adult crowd–such as “Mr. Big”, the mini-mafioso ably voiced by the man of a thousand tongues, Maurice LaMarche (“Animaniacs” and 1001 other things), channeling Marlon Brando in the most delightful way. It’s through these bits that “Zootopia” plays to audiences across the generations, not necessarily being more of a kid or a grown-up movie. In fact, this is actually the one area where I found it almost missed the mark: it may not be quite enough to get the adults lining up for tons of repeated viewings, but the jokes may go over kids’ heads (especially the younger set). Perhaps that’s what happens when you have seven story writers.


Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) faces off against Mr. Big (Maurice LaMarche)

Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) faces off against Mr. Big (Maurice LaMarche)


Is “Zootopia” okay for kids? Oh sure. It clocks in at a PG rating, mostly for some rude humor here and there, although there are a handful of scary scenes. Thankfully, this one wasn’t nearly so over-the-top as “Cars 2” when it comes to the violence, but it does have a few spots where those under 7 or 8 may be looking for a parent’s hand to hold.





As far as how to see this film, I would definitely recommend seeing it in 3D if possible. The lush landscapes are really quite well-rendered, and the Disney Animation folks keep upping their game on texture. The fur, in particular, was just so very well done that though it was obvious these weren’t real animals, they still looked like you could reach through the screen and touch real fur on their backs. Obviously Disney felt the animators deserved some love, too, since the closing credits (headlined by a performance from “Gazelle”, played by the songstress Shakira) spend most of their time giving the top billing to effects folks and animators. These folks weren’t going to get relegated to the end of the credits line, it seems, and that was one in a long series of good calls by the folks at Disney Animation here.


3-1/2 out of 4 stars

“Zootopia” opens nationwide on March 4, 2016. This movie is rated PG for some thematic elements, rude humor and action.

Movie Review: “Eddie the Eagle”

Eddie the Eagle

Inspired by the story of that most amateur of Olympians, Michael “Eddie” Edwards, “Eddie the Eagle” is the kind of feel-good dramedy that comes along every few years to remind us that even the Everyman can have his day. Much in the spirit of underdog films like 1993’s “Rudy”, “Eddie the Eagle” tells the story of a never-will-be who has his moment in the spotlight.

The eponymous lead character is played by the distinctly more chiseled Taron Egerton (“Kingsman: The Secret Service”), who mimics the original’s goggle-glass squinting, resting underbite-driven grimace-face, and happy-go-lucky attitude without making Edwards a complete caricature. As it is, it seems almost too good to be true that Edwards managed to make the impossible happen–to be the first Olympic ski jumper from England in nearly 60 years. He came from seemingly nowhere, a mildly accomplished skier who didn’t qualify for the 1984 Olympics and spent his off-slope time following in his father’s footsteps as a plasterer.

From an early age, Edwards ignores the misgivings and discouragement from those around him; much like the 22-year-old self portrayed by Egerton, a 6-year-old Edwards simply collects his things and heads for the bus station to go to compete once he sets his mind to it. His tradesman father (Keith Allen of “Trainspotting”) believes all these dreams nothing but folly and continually urges Edwards to focus on his plastering and build a career. Edwards’ mother (Jo Hartley of “This is England”) is one of the few people who consistently supports him (and, oddly enough, it’s really only three women in “Eddie the Eagle” who encourage him; the males are anywhere from ambivalent to downright hostile and bullying).

When he’s rejected by the British Olympic Ski Team as unsuitable (whether due to demeanor, lack of experience, or general class issues), Edwards is ready to hang up his skis until he realizes that ski jumping could offer him another avenue. With no other Brit poised to represent in that event for the 1988 Games, Edwards decides to move to Germany to train with some of the best in the sport. It’s there that he meets his primary on-screen foil, a boozy jerk of a slopes manager who turns out to be Bronson Peary, a fallen-from-grace former Olympian (“X-Men” alumnus Hugh Jackman, sporting an American accent). Edwards pursues Peary with the persistence of a love-struck teenager, hoping experienced guidance will far outstrip self-training. Where Edwards has limited ability and unparalleled tenacity around reaching his goal of competing at the Olympics, Peary has talent without discipline–although he’s awfully attached to his “jacket” (a flask of liquor sporting a faded American flag). It becomes clear that Peary let down not only the coach-to-end-all-coaches, Warren Sharp (a muted Christopher Walken), he let himself down.

Edwards’ mix of fascination and panic when trying progressively longer jumps shows that he isn’t completely without his wits, but he is fairly oblivious to the obvious danger posed by his über-novice status. This is evident as he describes ski jumping as “still skiing…just a bit higher.” Peary (who apparently is not intended to be representative of either/both of the real Edwards’ coaches from his training in Lake Placid, NY) sees Edwards as a fool: sixteen years too late to start training and completely out of his depth. Edwards is often the butt of jokes by his fellow jumpers, particularly the Norwegian team helmed by Bjørn (Rune Temte, the menacing Ubba of “The Last Kingdom”). Once Edwards finally breaks down Peary’s resistance and gains him as a coach, his effort begins in earnest. Of course, there are setbacks–including a spectacularly brutal wipe-out. Ski jumping, as they so often point out to Edwards, is for the brave and crazy, and he’s warned that the 90m jump would be more likely to land him in a coffin than on the winners’ podium.

For those of us who watched Edwards in the Olympics nearly 30 years ago, this story is somewhat familiar, and Edwards tends to trigger either amusement or resentment. Some of this is visible in the movie, where crowds in Calgary warm to his enthusiasm following landing an important jump–but where “Eddie the Eagle” fails to deliver is in truly laying bare how much backlash he faced. According to the real Edwards’ own accounts, he received threatening letters from fellow athletes who felt he made a mockery of the sport by taking the Olympic stage without paying years of dues in blood, sweat, and training. While you do see Edwards face some hazing and pranking, it’s not at a level where he seems to be thrown off by any real measure. Egerton’s Edwards brushes most of it off–if he registers it at all–not really processing the massive amounts of shade thrown in his direction by nearly everybody in his life. As close as you see him feel the weight of dismissal comes in one tear-filled phone call with his parents and a separate conversation with Peary where he protests: “I was kicked off every team I was on before I got a chance to prove myself.”

When it comes to deciding whether “Eddie the Eagle” is okay for kids, I’d probably say that it’s fine for many. The majority of the violence is limited to the types of jump wipeouts that comprised the “Agony of Defeat” in the old ABC Sports intros, and the sexual innuendo is represented primary by a clumsily dodged come-on attempt aimed at Edwards and a “When Harry Met Sally” deli-style moment for Jackman’s Peary. You’ll never look at a jump again without thinking of Bo Derek.

Overall, the message of “Eddie the Eagle” is that sometimes grit and determination are enough to reach life goals, although Edwards never expected to win gold. He wanted the chance to compete, and his very presence and ability to make it onto the scoreboard without crashing out was a miracle of sorts. The movie has a vibe that’s distinctly afterschool special, but it sports some impressive scenery and able acting on all counts–especially by Egerton. “Eddie the Eagle” is certainly one to watch for some inspirational viewing. It’s not 100% faithful to the story leading up to the Olympics, in terms of locations and people, but actual Olympic footage makes it into the film and the scenes of Calgary are based on what happened for the real Edwards. The synth-heavy soundtrack is pure-80’s, and a training montage set to Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Two Tribes” is derivative in the most delightful way (at least for those of us that are FGtH fans).

Three out of four stars.

“Eddie the Eagle” flies into theatres on Friday, February 26, 2016. It is rated PG-13 for some suggestive material, partial nudity, and smoking.