When Heroes Collide – Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War: Review

civil-war-poster-3by Aaron Einhorn
We’ve come to a time where superhero movies are no longer rarities that come along every now and again, but to the point where they are a regular part of the cinematic landscape. Case in point – when Marvel began creating their own films in 2008, the previous year had only given us the poorly received Spider-Man 3.

Here we are less than ten years later, and Captain America: Civil War is the third big-budget superhero film of the year, with another four yet to come. Which means it’s a great time to be a geek – because if you don’t like a given superhero film, there’s another one coming along soon enough.

Comparisons between Captain America: Civil War and Warner Brothers’ Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice are almost impossible to not make. Both movies feature the greatest heroes of their respective universes battle. I’m going to do my best not to draw direct comparisons between the films, because they’re very, very different. BvS is trying to kick off the DC Cinematic Universe while Civil War is the thirteenth film in an ongoing series. This of course means that the stakes are very different – instead of two heroes fighting on their first meeting, instead we see a team of heroes that have history being torn apart. They’re completely separate films, and so I’ll do my best not to compare them.

But of course the real question is “Does Captain America: Civil War live up to the hype?” Well, read on to see my thoughts.

Synopsis

After another incident involving the Avengers results in collateral damage, political pressure mounts to install a system of accountability, headed by a governing body to oversee and direct the team. The new status quo fractures the Avengers, resulting in two camps, one led by Steve Rogers and his desire for the Avengers to remain free to defend humanity without government interference, and the other following Tony Stark’s surprising decision to support government oversight and accountability.

The Feature

Civil War begins with the Avengers in action again, tracking down Brock Rumlow (former Hydra-mole and Cap’s faux friend), who is now known as the mercenary Crossbones. This current team of Avengers is slightly lower powered and lower-profile than the team we saw in action at the beginning of Age of Ultron, but they’re still powerful enough that they unexpected collateral damage can occur during their battles and one such incident is enough to provoke the creation of the Sorkovia Accords.

In short, the governments of the world have become concerned about the abilities of the Avengers coupled with their relative lack of oversight. Their desire is to put the Avengers under the control of the United Nations.

Obviously, this decision tears the Avengers down the middle, with Iron Man, War Machine, Black Widow and the Vision being in favor of the accords, while Captain America, the Falcon and Scarlet Witch are afraid of being used as political tools.

Into this tense situation, enter Bucky – the Winter Soldier – still looking for keys to his past, and still wanted for atrocities committed while under the control of Hydra. When the Avengers are sent to take Bucky down, Steve and his allies can’t help but get involved, which brings them into conflict with their former friends.
In addition to this already heavily crowded film, we also see the introduction of T’Challa, King of Wakanda and the Black Panther, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s version of Spider-Man, the return of Hawkeye to the team, and the addition of Ant-Man for Cap’s side.

The film picks up steam from here on to the climax, with heroes battling one another while realizing that they’ve been manipulated, and when we finally reach the climax, the Avengers may have been irreparably damaged. At least until The Infinity War.

The Good

The list of things that are good in this film could almost be the entire review. We’ll begin with the script. Unlike the comic book version of Civil War, this script does a remarkable job of keeping any of the heroes from having to pick up the Idiot Ball to justify the conflict. Although this is unmistakably Cap’s film, and our sympathies are supposed to lean towards him, the perspective of Tony Stark and his allies makes sense – and the reasons for the conflict, and each betrayal or changing of sides – make sense.

Next is the cast. We’ve had time to get used to these actors in their roles – so much that it’s hard to imagine a version of Tony Stark that doesn’t look like Robert Downey, Jr. The veterans in the cast have grown into their roles, and Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, RDJ, Jeremy Renner and Don Cheadle are all comfortable in the skin of these heroes, which allows the emotion to be conveyed realistically and effectively. They never feel like they’re acting – it’s easy to just get lost in the performances. They are well matched by the other returning heroes, and Sebastian Stan, Paul Bettany, Anthony Mackie, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd and Emily VanCamp all fit in easily next to them.

But it would be irresponsible to mention performances without addressing the two newest heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa/Black Panther and Tom Holland’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Bosemna provides a delightfully nuanced performance as the Warrior/Inventor/King, and his Black Panther commands attention every time he appears on the screen. This is a character who is equally compelling in-costume or out, and proves himself to be a statesman ready to match the intensity of Tony Stark while still being a warrior capable of going toe-to-toe with Captain America. I am eagerly awaiting seeing more of him when Black Panther arrives in 2018.

As for Holland? While his introductory scene feels like it was cut a bit short (we see very little transition between his recruitment and his battling alongside the other heroes), this kid nails Spider-Man in a way we have never seen in live-action. He takes everything that worked from Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker with the best parts of Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man and synthesizes them into a perfect whole. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man may have helped start the superhero movie craze, but based on what we’ve seen so far, I think that 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming will be the Spidey film fans have been waiting for.

On top of a solid story, and a fantastic cast, the last good thing that has to be addressed is how well balanced this film. With a cast this large, it would have been very easy for Captain America: Civil War to collapse underneath its own weight, and for the leads to get lost in the shuffle. That doesn’t happen. While every character gets moments to shine, this is not Avengers 3. It is very much still a Captain America film, and the movie is focused on Steve, Tony, and Bucky. This is incredibly impressive.

The Bad

Captain America: Civil War does a great job of giving us hero vs. hero conflict in a way that is believable and doesn’t force us to start cheering against any of the heroes we’ve grown to love over the past dozen films. But it doesn’t do quite as well with giving us conflict between the heroes and the villains. Crossbones is almost wasted in his initial scene in this film, and it’s unlikely we’ll see him again. For one of Cap’s most feared foes, I expected better. He doesn’t get much more credit than Batroc did in Winter Soldier, which I also thought was criminally underusing the character.

I could forgive this, if they had managed Zemo better. But they didn’t. This Zemo isn’t a long-time Hydra operative, nor does he have the legacy connection to one of Captain America’s WWII enemies. He’s a modern villain with modern motivations rooted in the previous films, and there is no sign of his classic costume. Zemo – and especially the actions he took with the Thunderbolts – has been one of my favorite Captain America villains for over a decade, and I feel like he was wasted here. Rather than co-op a classic villain, they could have just made him a new character without losing anything. Considering how we’ve seen other Captain America villains handled – including the underuse of the Stuckers in Age of Ultron and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., I was really hoping for a better treatment.

There’s also a romance in this film that very much feels shoved in. The characters – and their relationship – deserves a better treatment. This is doubly annoying because we see a different relationship forming through the course of the movie and handled masterfully and deftly.

The Ugly

I gave mention to how well they avoid having the heroes pick up the Idiot Ball earlier in this review. This is true. That said, there is a phenomenal example of Cap grabbing the ball and not letting go near the climax of the movie. It’s realistic enough to imagine that Cap might’ve said what he did at that point – but it was glaring enough that I had to lean over to my wife at that moment and exclaim “Or, you know, don’t say that and start fighting your best friend again.”

Also, while this may be personal, I found that the 3-D effects led to a lot of blurring during the film. When I saw clips of action at home on TV during Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., I was astonished at how much clearer it was.

Final Thought

At the end of the day, Captain America: Civil War didn’t manage to become my new favorite of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. That honor still goes to Winter Soldier. That said, being my third favorite of these movies still puts it head-and-shoulders ahead of almost every other superhero film that has been released as of yet.

I’m unsure when I’m going to get back to see this movie. I’d like to see it again (not in 3-D this time), but as mentioned, this is one of the darkest entries from Marvel to date (although it doesn’t hold a candle to any of the Netflix series). And while I don’t think it’s too dark for my daughters to watch, it is a film I think I’d like to be able to pause to explain elements to them when they see it.

That said, Captain America: Civil War was a deeply satisfying experience, and it’s a movie I highly recommend.

Bonus

There are two things that every Marvel movie is expected to have, and I’m happy to say that Captain America: Civil War includes both stingers (one mid-credits and one at the very end of the credits), and a cameo from Marvel CEO Emeritus, Stan Lee. This time around, Stan comes in near the end, and while his cameo is slightly less hilarious than some of his others, it’s still deeply satisfying.

The mid-credits stinger is a bit of a miss for me – in that it feels like it belongs as a part of the main film, not as a tease for future films. The post-credit stinger is a more traditional tease which helps move us towards Spider-Man: Homecoming. Both are entertaining, and well worth sitting through the credits for.

(Disclaimer: I was provided a free preview pass screening to attend Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War. I received no other compensation for writing this review, and all opinions and views expressed are my own.)

Dad in a Cape Podcast Episode 9

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Musicals and Mira

Jekyll_And_Hyde_Complete_Works_The_Gothic_Musical_Thrillerby Aaron Einhorn
I’m a huge fan of Broadway musicals, and by extension, many film musicals. I think that my love of Disney films at least partially is due to that.

I’ve been trying to share some of my favorite musicals with the girls lately. And while Cordy is pretty indifferent to them, Mira finds them quite enjoyable, although I have to spend a lot of time while we’re listening explaining them to her. “Ok, so in this song, Tarzan’s ape father, Kerchak, is talking to Kala to show that even though he banished her and Tarzan, he still loves her.”

We started with Broadway adaptations of Disney, logically enough. At least in those cases she knows the characters and the stories, and some of the music. Tarzan was the first stretch there, but she got through it. And both Cordy and Mira have loved listening to the music of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once More With Feeling and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog.

At her school, Mira and Cordy are both a part of the Chess Club, so I thought I’d share Chess: In Concert with them. It’s got good music, they enjoy the game of chess, and that version at least features the voice of Elsa from Frozen. And they’ve liked it a lot.

Recently, Mira has been asking me about the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and while I’m going to grab a copy of the book for her to read, it made me think about one of my favorite musicals that I haven’t listened to in years, so I figured I’d get Jekyll and Hyde (the concept album, not the Broadway cast recording) downloaded back onto my iPhone for them to listen to in the car. I haven’t actually been in the car with them since we discussed this, but I’ve been listening to it myself over the past two days and remembered how much I loved it.

I also made some observations on this listen-through.

1) Linda Eder is freaking amazing. The way she mixes in the lower-class London accent with her amazing singing voice in the same line is nothing short of astonishing.

2) “This is The Moment” is right up there with “Love is an Open Door” (from Frozen) for Most Ironic Song in a Production. In any other film, “Love is an Open Door” would be a really great, really cute love song between Hans and Anna. The problem with it, of course, is that in the rest of the film you discover that Hans is a manipulative sociopath who was playing Anna like a fiddle. Similarly, “This is the Moment” is an incredible, awesome, inspiring “Seize the Day!” kind of song… until you realize that it’s the song where Jekyll decides “Ok. Going to use the formula on myself.” In other words, if you look at the rest of the show, “This is the Moment” is really a song that should make you go “Ya know, maybe not. Maybe I’ll think about this a little longer and not do something rash and life-altering.”

Dad In A Cap Podcast Episode 3

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“I Didn’t Get Small… The Pictures Got… Oh, Wait…” Marvel’s Ant-Man: Review

Antman_posterby Aaron Einhorn 
The Marvel Movie machine rumbles on as they bring us the biggest tiny heroes to the screen. The saga of bringing Ant-Man to the big screen is kind of a fascinating one. Originally, this was to be the second of Marvel’s self-produced films. Edgar Wright, of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead fame was to write and direct the tale, on the heels of Iron Man. This was before there was any idea of such a thing as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the interconnected world of superhero films based on Marvel comics. Due to one delay or another, Ant-Man kept being delayed, and as such, the need to rework the film to fit into the greater MCU arose, and eventually Edgar Wright and Marvel parted ways (although Wright has kept both a writing and a producing credit on the film).

What this means is that we have a very different Ant-Man then we would have had Wright made his film, but we also have one that was set to tie in to the greater narrative that Marvel and Disney have been crafting.

But does it work? That’s the big question. Read on.

Synopsis

The next evolution of the Marvel Cinematic Universe brings a founding member of The Avengers to the big screen for the first time with Marvel Studios’ Ant-Man. Armed with the astonishing ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength, master thief Scott Lang must embrace his inner-hero and help his mentor, Doctor Hank Pym, protect the secret behind his spectacular Ant-Man suit from a new generation of towering threats. Against seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Pym and Lang must plan and pull off a heist that will save the world.

Marvel’s Ant-Man stars Paul Rudd as Scott Lang aka Ant-Man, Evangeline Lilly as Hope Van Dyne, Corey Stoll as Darren Cross aka Yellowjacket, Bobby Cannavale as Paxton, Michael Peña as Luis, Judy Greer as Maggie, Tip “Ti” Harris as Dave, David Dastmalchian as Kurt, Wood Harris as Gale, Jordi Mollà as Castillo and Michael Douglas as Hank Pym.

Peyton Reed directs Marvel’s Ant-Man with Kevin Feige producing and Louis D’Esposito, Alan Fine, Victoria Alonso, Michael Grillo, Edgar Wright and Stan Lee serving as executive producers. Marvel’s Ant-Man delivers a high-stakes, tension-filled adventure on July 17, 2015.
(from Marvel.com/movies)

Antman_004The Feature

There were a lot of interesting creative choices to be made in this film, beginning with the decision to use a Hank Pym who is more a contemporary of Howard Stark than Tony, whose superhero career (alongside his wife, Janet Van Dyne) started in the 1970s and ended in the late 1980s. In the present, set to become an Avenger alongside Captain America, Iron Man and Thor, we will see not Pym and Van Dyne as Ant-Man and the Wasp, but instead Scott Lang taking on the mantle.

It’s a curious choice from the point of view of a comic fan, but from the perspective of a film fan, it does give us an Ant-Man who is not a genius scientist, which frankly the Avengers will already full of. And the good news is that Paul Rudd is amazingly charming as Scott Lang.

As Lang, Rudd gives us a character who is motivated not by wealth or power, not by guilt or a strong sense of moral fiber, but is instead by a drive to try to not let innocent people be hurt while sticking it to the “Man”, and simultaneously driven by the need to provide for his daughter. In fact, the thing that unites Lang and Pym more than their shared mantle as Ant-Man is the need for a father to connect with and protect their daughter, while being completely unsure of how to do that. Being an ex-con, convicted for stealing from Lang’s former employer, Lang is unable to find a legal job to prove his responsibility and get access to his daughter again, and a heist gone wrong proves to Pym that Lang is the man he needs to be his successor.

Antman_005Pym, played fantastically by Michael Douglas, is an older man, driven by the desire to protect the world from his Pym Particles being used by the wrong person. After all, a two-inch high assassin with the strength fifty times that of a normal man would be nigh-unstoppable. Pym’s former protégé, Darren Cross, has spent years trying to unlock the secrets of the Pym Particles, and is finally on the verge of both using the formula and unleashing his armored, flying, “Yellowjacket” suit. Pym’s daughter, Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lily) is working for Cross while secretly still aligning herself with her father. Hope is everything the daughter of a superhero could hope for – brilliant, driven, a skilled fighter, and capable of the mental discipline needed to control an army of ants – but for reasons unknown to her, her father doesn’t want her wearing the Ant-Man suit.

Along the way, we meet Lang’s former cellmate and other criminal compadres, who end up assisting Lang and Pym in their crusade against Cross; and experience the drama surrounding Lang’s ex-wife Maggie, daughter Cassie, and Maggie’s fiancée Paxton (who also happens to be a cop).

The entire film is fun and moves along briskly to the climax where Ant-Man and Yellowjacket fight for both control of the Pym Particles and for the safety of Lang’s family, and ends with a set-up to see Ant-Man in the next films in Marvel’s Phase Three of Films.

Antman_006The Good

The casting is spot on in this film, with Rudd, Lily and Douglas especially standing out. The action is solid, the dialogue is sprinkle with quick one-liners, and the effects are superb. This is a very solid entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and seeing the different cast members introduced here in future films will be very welcome.

Antman_003The Bad

Cross is one of the least interesting villains to enter into the realm of the MCU. He’s almost exactly a carbon copy of Obadiah Stane from Iron Man, and lacks all of the nuance and interest we’ve found in Loki, the Winter Soldier or Ultron. He’s not awful – but he definitely represents a step back.

Antman_002The Ugly

The remnants of Wright’s script are still visible, sometimes in awkward places. There are lines that feel like they were directly lifted from his pen in scenes that otherwise seem like they were completely reworked, and beats in the script that would have worked in a film that was more consistently marked by Wright’s style, but which stuck out like a sore thumb on their own.

Final Thoughts

I would have loved to see what Edgar Wright wanted to do with Ant-Man, but the truth is that once the Marvel Cinematic Universe became a thing, that was never going to happen. Wright is at his heart an independent film-maker, and being forced to rework his script to coincide with events that happened in other films, and to set up future films, was always going to be something he fought against – and Marvel has made it very clear that no creative talent is more important than their overall vision of the MCU. No actor, no director, no producer is more important than the whole (with the possible exception of Robert Downey Jr), and it is probably better to see Peyton Reed directing Ant-Man than to see Wright’s version of the film being hamstrung by Marvel’s requirements.

That said, as someone who is a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I think that this film is ultimately more satisfying than a stand-alone, Edgar Wright-driven Ant-Man like we might have gotten back in 2008. It’s a very solid middle entry into the overall saga of the MCU, and is probably at the right level of “everything changes” drama to be a good palate cleaner between Age of Ultron and Civil War. Scott Lang brings a different kind of personality, background and skills to the Avengers than we’ve seen in any of their other members, and this film is perhaps the perfect example of a popcorn film.

The one complaint I have was that it was remarkably predictable. There are tiny little moments that surprised me, but overall, there were no big twists to the film. It was enjoyable, but nothing hit me with the kind of “Wow, did not see that coming,” that I’ve experienced in most of the Marvel films. On the other hand, if I wasn’t surprised by anything in the film, I suspect the reviewability of the movie will be high, since my enjoyment wasn’t based on being surprised – something I’ll find out when I take the girls to see Ant-Man this weekend.

Ant-Man is a very solid superhero film, and if we hadn’t already seen almost all of the elements of the formula that made the movie already, I’d have been thoroughly wowed. Instead, I found myself thinking that there wasn’t a lot new to find here (other than the father-daughter relationships being the driving force of the film), but that it was still a perfectly enjoyable way to spend a few hours. And it’s not like superhero tales don’t all have a certain degree of similarity to begin with, but I still read comics each week. If I’m willing to buy six to ten comics each week that all have elements I’ve seen before, I can certainly afford to spend the money to watch a superhero film that has elements I’ve seen before. And I was happy to do so.

Antman_001Bonus

Stan Lee makes his requisite cameo, and true to form, it’s a pretty darn funny one. Also as we’ve grown to expect (grown… because Ant-Man shrinks… get it?), there is a mid-credits stinger scene that addresses the question that has been on the minds of all of us ever since Ant-Man was mentioned as coming to cinemas – when do we get to see the Wasp? Finally, stick around all the way to the end credits for a sneak peek look at Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War.

(Disclaimer: I was provided a free preview pass screening to attend Marvel’s Ant-Man. I received no other compensation for writing this review, and all opinions and views expressed are my own.