01/05/2016

Captain America: Civil War - Whew!

Thoughts On: Captain America: Civil War

Stuff about collateral damage--but who cares!? Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, Ant Man, SPIDER MAN and other superheroes are in a film, they hit each other and yeah, let's get on with it.


If you've read my Batman V Superman posts (which I highly recommend) you might think I hate superhero movies. I don't. You'd have to be an idiot to say you hate a genre or category of movie. That said, I don't even dislike the majority of superhero films. I don't know why I'm defending myself, just... keep that in mind as you read the Batman V Superman post. The reason I brought up Batman V Superman is because Civil War is almost exactly the same film. But it's not bad - not at all. Sitting in the theatre for the first few minutes of the film and I was just hoping and praying we didn't get the same dark, serious and boring movie. After about fifteen minutes it kind of looked like that was going to happen. Then, explosions, guns, excitement, but, oh, wait, humans die. Oh, no. And then the movie devolves, it does turn into Batman V Superman for a while with a lighter tone and better, much better, sense of structure and pacing. So, the first act is... meh... it's ok. But, then something magical happens. We'll get into that in a minute though. I'm not going to spoil the film at all here by the way, to be honest there's nothing much to spoil--oh wait... or is there? Either way, no spoilers. I will be talking specifics though. The first set of specifics come with the opening act. This is, in my opinion, not a very good looking film. It looks much like all that came before with a bright, flat and textureless palette. Most Marvel films, especially the Avengers look like they were shot with the same lighting systems used for T.V--you can even see it in the poster up top. The lighting isn't at all realistic. Yes, this is fantasy and I don't want things to be realistic, but they need to make sense. For instance, there's a few important scenes at night time. Watching the characters faces and how they are lit, there is just no verisimilitude - you don't believe it. Look back up at the poster and you can tell Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans and so on standing in front of a green screen with a huge light being blasted at their face. That said, many movie posters are absolute horrible in this respect. That doesn't mean it should translate to the movie though. Whilst I'm talking about technical details, you're probably expecting me to rant about CGI. Not at all, I have no objections to the form in itself. In some respects practical effects do look better and are more believable, but not always - and CGI's constantly evolving. The CG throughout this film is obviously quite good. There are, however, some laughable moments that don't work on the big screen. Quite a lot of the physics - especially in the first act - is bad. The way characters jump, hit the ground and so on is clearly a mush of pixels. The physics does get better throughout the film, especially entering the second act - where the film really steps up a level. For the first act, however, there will definitely be parts where we look back in 10 maybe 5 years and wonder how they got away with it. There's a part where characters are running faster than cars in an underpass and it looks a segment from Kung Fu Hustle. It's really bad. They flit past and the camera half pans along as a intentional mistake and... yeah... I felt embarrassed for the movie.

So, the movie doesn't look great and the CG isn't always there (but I'm talking mainly about the first act) there's a few more things wrong with the movie though. The mixture between drama and comedy at a few points doesn't work, especially for a very important moment for Robert Downey Jr. Obviously there's a big speech moment (there's quite a few) but one in particular went in with the wrong tone. It jumped from joking to very serious in a way that didn't work that really plays down on the acting. I wasn't taken in by any serious moments and that's because they're all based off of conflict between Iron Man and Captain America. As we all know, Stark/Iron Man/Downey is where the sarcasm comes from. But there isn't a balance in this film, he's too sarcastic for the tone they want to go for - which is Batman V Superman-esque - which was completely joyless. So, in terms of acting, nothing impressive in the way of drama - it's on the edge of melodramatic even. Which is a shame. The comedy hits though and in the mid-section it hits hard. Most comedic elements in Marvel movies come from smart-ass screenwriters. I mean, Deadpool. Almost all jokes are for fans or anyone who's seen a CinemaSins video and has been inspired to be a bit of a dick about movies (like me). I was getting tired of this with Avengers 2, but then Deadpool happened and slapped my mouth shut. I didn't have many problems in this either. But, I'm slightly worried (scared for the screenwriters) of Deadpool 2. If its comedic game doesn't take a step up it's going to bomb. The same goes for the Spiderman stand-alones/future pop-ups. This is because the jokes centering around Hawkeye explaining how absurd it is that he's on a floating mountain thing, fighting A.I robots with a bow and arrow and oh, yeah, why is he in the Avengers? is clever, but not sustainable. It's the screenwriters taking shots at themselves so they don't have to fix problems. You see this also with them trying to explain away plot holes. It should be done cinematically - made obvious with images. Leone does this best by the way. There's a lot Marvel could learn from The Dollar Trilogy, especially with the Hitchcock influence sections. Anyway, the jokes are tantamount to cop-outs and while we can laugh at each new original version of this smart-ass' joke, the more they make them, the more offended we as an audience will probably get. This is because they are leaving in mistakes, or at least oddities, without fixing or even attempting to solve them. Ok, we've got one more negative to do, don't worry it gets really positive in a bit.

This negative is a big one. The directors of this film, Joe and Anthony Russo... yeah... I'm not a fan. In fact, I'm quite annoyed at these two. First, because of the way the film looks. Not great, but I can deal with that. Secondly, these two show no talent at directing action set-pieces at all. They can visualise them, but that can't execute them. The fight choreography - especially of Black Widow - is mind blowing. BUT YOU RARELY SEE IT! The editing and direction is so frustrating. The final action scene (don't worry, no spoilers) is one of the best directed and is because it's in a closed space and the directors choose (are forced) to utilise a wide angle. We can actually see things happening. At almost all other points in the film the camera is doing way too much, it's too close and it's honestly just a shame. It's like watching a kid spend hours painting a beautiful picture. It's got his mum, dad, sisters, his dog, Rustles, and his house - just like you'd expect. They're standing in a line next to their home on a green strip, with a huge blue sky behind them, a massive yellow sun beaming down from above. The kid's just about to put the final black ring around the sun. But... splash... he knocks over the pot, spilling black paint everywhere. It goes all over the table, the floor, his clothes. But that doesn't matter. It ruined the painting. That makes you mad, it was just what you wanted it to be - a few mistakes, but he stayed inside the lines where you didn't think he was going to - but then he went and ruined it. You want to be mad, but you just can't. You have to sigh and put up with it... that's how the direction made me feel. Just... disappointed. What's worse is, like I said, some of the action is absolutely great. Some of the set-pieces are truly original - some, however, not. There are elements of the other Marvel films and even Batman (Dark Night) in the highway/underpass sequences. There's very nearly a scene stolen from Ip Man where you see a few hits and shots almost directly lifted - but it's cut short. There's references to Tarantino's Kill Bill with the fight in front of windows, just like in one of the newer James Bond films (sorry, I can't remember which). On top of this there is camera direction lifted from The Raid, but completely bodged. I'm talking about the move where the camera falls down sideways with a character. Yeah, that's attempted, but it has no effect as it's cluttered and messy. There's also a moment where I thought they were going to go into the amazing bit from Old Boy with the long tracking shot - didn't happen. Some of the things that you do miss are acceptable though. You know that in a teen's film your not going to get excessive face pounding and truly hard hits, so... what can you do? The only upside to the direction was the movement through the plot. It was efficient - not so fast that it was trying to hide mistakes, but quite quick. That said, the plot isn't strong - I can't get into that though. Suffice to say if this where a thriller or mystery then it would bomb. Logic stretched over the narrative is not great.

But, let's jump into what is great, almost perfect, about this film--so much so that I'm getting shivers already just thinking about it. Spiderman. Wow. The first two Spiderman movies are my favourite comic books films ever--I like them more than the Dark Night Trilogy. And the second he comes on screen, the film steps up--many levels. His suit does looks crap, it's textureless and... nah. It is implied that it's not the final design and I just hope they improve it. That said, damn! Everything about the character is perfect. Toby Maguire's Spiderman and Peter Parker are great. But, they are Toby Maguire's. Spiderman and Peter Parker (forget Tom Holland - though he did do a good job) are great in this film. I've never read a comic book in my life, but I hear fans like him too. So there's that. Also, Paul Rudd and Ant Man... YES! These two characters in the mix with all the others shine brightest. When watching them I had a very rare reaction. It was the kind of joy where your face get's really hot, you're heart starts beating harder, your hair stands on end and you just smile. Joy is simply the best word for the mid-section of this film. From Spiderman's intro until the end of the main fight (of which we all knew was going to happen) the film is perfect. It does devolve a little afterwards and we're going to go into why in a minute, but first I want to talk about a few more characters. I do want to say a tonne more about Spiderman and Ant Man, but I can't without spoilers, just know they are great. Black Widow is quite good, her fight scenes especially. Everyone else? Save Wanda, they were fine. Nothing remarkable. Iron Man was quite interesting, but Downey's acting brought him down a bit. Captain America... there's not much to say if you're not a huge fan of the comics. He's simply the good guy archetype. The same goes for almost every other character. To be honest, they aren't characters, more so superpowers. But, I have absolutely no problems with that. We don't need complex, brooding, multi-layered (whatever that all means) people. The lie that I hear a lot about comic movies is that the characters should be deep, complex and interesting. First of all, they never are. Second, we don't want them to be. Heroes aren't supposed to be human, they are our projection of perfection. That doesn't mean they can't face challenges and be beaten down (please let them be). It simply means that there should be a clear rift between human and super-humans as expressed by the complexity of character - archetypes are what we need, what we fall in love with, what we root for. More on that in a second. Before that, Wanda Maximoff as played by Elizabeth Olsen is laughable. The accent sounds like a joke (just like those in Ant Man). And the hand thing with the orb and mind control? No. Every single second of acting during her action based moments is horrific. Ok, it's not horrific, but it is bad. Pay attention and it gets an awful lot worse. I can't go into too much detail, just say that she is probably the worst thing about the movie--which isn't too bad overall.

**VERY MINOR SPOILER**

Oh! I almost forgot. Aunt May as played by Marisa Tomei? Whew... I can say with all confidence that Scarlett Johansson is not the screen presence I'll be waiting to see in the future. Damn. You can argue personal preference here, but I'm not listening. Tony Stark saying she's a sexy Aunt is an understatement. I think that Scarlett Johansson in Lost In Translation stands a chance against Marisa Tomei, but... questionable. I don't know tell. Comment. Tell me I'm wrong or a misogynist pig. I'm not even sure if this counts as a spoiler though. Either way, on we go...

**VERY MINOR SPOILER OVER**

Now, if this film were put down on a graph. This is what you'd get...


... a very simply bell curve. Ok, maybe this is all not that simple, but if you imagine the x-axis was the run time and the y-axis was an ambiguous scale of how good the film is/how much you enjoy it, there's a rise and fall. It starts out ok, then Spiderman steps in and there's a brilliant set-piece. The film sky rockets here. Then it peters out again. This is because of everything I put forward in the Human Cinema aspect of the Batman V Superman talk (I'll link at the bottom again). This film starts out on a serious note, grounded in reality. There's a lot of talk about politics, the U.N and other stuff I don't feel belongs in a fantasy film with characters with names like Iron Man, Ant Man and Spiderman. We don't get incredibly political, we don't fall into a court room drama, but at points it feels like you could. This doesn't make for a boring film, a film that is disinteresting, but when you promise fantasy, that's what we're buying. Notice I didn't say action. Yes, I went into this film wanting to see faces get punched, guts kneed, thighs wrapped around heads, cracking necks, elbows dislocating jaws, metal fists shattering... all that good stuff, but I wanted it from superheroes. For comic book movies to be films, they need to incorporate dramatic narrative devices with a sense of pacing and flow. A perfect example of this is Spiderman 2. The criticism behind this film is that it's got too much Peter Parker - too much Toby Maguire. That is, however, why I and many others love this film. Chris Stuckmann probably says it best here. Peter Parker is just beaten into the ground over and over, so much so that he loses his powers, gives up on being Spiderman. Yes, the film is quite cheesy, but I love what Sam Raimi done with it. What this film demonstrates best is how to induce the dramatic elements into a comic book movie whilst sustaining fantasy. By drawing conflict from the human side of Spiderman we're kept centred with character. When multiple extraneous sources of conflict are introduced (the U.N, law, rules, regulations, the world as a whole) you are not just taken away from characters, but from the fantasy. This is what killed Batman V Superman. There was just too much news and studios apologising to sensitive audience members about senselessly killing people. And in the process they give Batman a gun. What the fuck? Let's not get into that. Captain America keeps its characters on screen with the political elements, but it does not keep the fantastical elements. This all comes down to the idea of consequence. There needs to be consequential parts of films - it's best when it's between characters and when action peaks. Consequence is supposed to remind us that superheroes aren't invincible. Whilst Spiderman 2 does this perfectly, Captain America beats us over the head with a half-assed idea of this.

The consequential in this film is there to take our archetypes away from us. They literally say we don't want you to be superheroes. This takes you out of the film, massively. The tone just doesn't work. This isn't nit picking either, not only did I feel this, but the full theater I was sat in did. The atmosphere throughout the first act was of simple contentment. Most where happy watching the film. And then Spiderman comes in and there was a buzz, everyone was laughing, leaning forward, locked in on the picture. You couldn't help but feel that absolutely everyone was enjoying themselves. This happened because everything became inconsequential for a moment. We had Tony Stark making a few cheeky jokes and then absolute hilarity with Peter Parker. This was followed by the introduction of more hilarious characters culminating in the inevitable conflict of the film. All rules where forgotten, no one was thinking about the U.N, about world treaties, no one was worried about the buildings that were crumbling, the structures being destroyed. We were given fantasy, a moment to breathe. Levity! After that mid-point came a lull, consequence started to seep back in and the film turned ok again. This is all about fantasy. Think of some of the best fantasy films of all time and you get E.T, Wizard Of Oz, Labyrinth, Bill and Ted (talk on that coming soon) then almost everything by Disney and Pixar. What all these films have in common is their own sense of verisimilitude. They create the rules of their worlds and abide by them. The sad thing about this film was that rules of the modern world where being applied. When watching this film I was thinking about ideas of chaos, justice, boundaries and so on to talk to you about. But this film isn't that complex, it doesn't present questions in a profound manner - but that's completely ok. We have genres so writers and directors know what to focus on, so an audience knows what kind of ticket they are buying. When you start grounding a fantasy film you screw with its tone. Yes, the fantastical can happen in realistic circumstances, but it should be our focus. Spielberg made sure that you were locked into E.T by taking the adults, newcasters and wider consequences out of the film. When you don't have that noise you can fall in love with the fantasy of the movie, believe for a moment that this alien might just exist. Cinema is an allusion, but so is the stuff David Blain does. But, what dos he call it? MAGIC! There is so much emotional investment behind having a card appear in your pocket somehow because you're locked into this idea of fantasy. But say David Blain does makes a card disappear, everyone is wowed, he then want to sit down a play a game of poker with you. But, oh, no, we're missing a card. How can we figure this out? Well... maybe--no! Boring! You've done your tick and that's good enough.

Let's not get too emotional though. Overall, Civil War is a good picture. It's ok at points, quite good at others, but amazing in certain sections. Most of its problems are technical and overseeable. Most won't pay attention to how it looks, or the minutia of the acting. The particularly bad direction at certain points in action will frustrate most viewers, some would say it's a bit long, but everyone will feel the bell curve. Fantasy needs to stay fantasy is all I want to say here. Just... please. Before you go, make sure you check out the Batman V Superman talks if you haven't already...

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Oh, and comment. Tell me what you think of the film. And if you read that spoiler section I bet there's someone out there who agrees with me. Come on, prove me right...




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