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MARVEL v. D.C. (pg. 5) 



* The Avengers (5/6/12)  * MEMORIAL DAY 2012 – Red Tails, Memphis Belle, Flyboys, The Blue Max (5/28/12) 
Prometheus (6/11/12)   * The Amazing Spider-Man (7/9/12)   * 42 (4/17/13)   * Iron Man 3 (5/9/13)  
Godzilla – 2014 (5/18/14)   * Jurassic World (6/21/15)   * Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2/18/16)
Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice (6/21/16)   * Captain America: Civil War (5/13/16)

* Kong: Skull Island (3/12/17)    Star Wars: The Last Jedi (12/17/16)  Black Panther (3/5/18)

The GRINDHOUSE: Reviews     


    Print Version.pdf

Fan made poster collage by Punmagneto @ deviant art   
(original art images by Alexander Lozano, Ryan Meinerding   
and Andy Park) / Image Copyrights © Marvel Entertainment   


No Spoilers Review:


by CEJ 
(posted 5/13/16)


(Marvel Studios / Walt Disney Studios ) 
GullCottage rating (***** on a scale of 1 - 5)

Dir. by - Anthony Russo & Joe Russo
Screenplay by - Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
Joe Simon & Jack Kirby

Based on CIVIL WAR by Mark Millar
Prod. by - Kevin Feige
Exec. Prods. - Victoria Alonso,
Louis D'Esposito, Alan Fine, Stan Lee

Dir. Of Photography - Trent Opaloch
Edited by - Jeffrey Ford, Matthew Schmidt
Production Design by - Owen Paterson
Costume Design by - Judianna Makovsky
Music - Henry Jackman
Running Time: 147 mins.


Chris Evans(Steve Rogers / Captain America), Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark / Iron Man), Scarlett Johansson
(Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow), Sebastian Stan  (Bucky Barnes / Winter Soldier), Anthony Mackie 
(Sam Wilson / Falcon), Don Cheadle (Lt. James Rhodes / War Machine), Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton / Hawkeye), Chadwick Boseman (T'Challa / Black Panther), Paul Bettany (Vision), Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch), Paul Rudd (Scott Lang / Ant-Man), Emily VanCamp (Sharon Carter), Tom Holland (Peter Parker / Spider-Man), Daniel Bruhl (zemo), William Hurt (Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross), Martin Freeman (Everett K. Ross), Marisa Tomei (May Parker),  John Kani (King T'Chaka), John Slattery (Howard Stark), Hope Davis (Maria Stark), Alfre Woodard (Miriam), Stan Lee (FedEx Driver)


Back on track?”.Uh,huh! Yup,!  For first let’s acknowledge that, as generally wonderful as they are, the Marvel series of films (just like any series of films) isn’t perfect. Since restructuring itself into the production company powerhouse it’s become since 2008s original IRON MAN (and it is hard to believe it’s been sixteen years, isn’t it?) Mighty Marvel has - just like Tony Stark using his palm repulsor beams in combat - had its share of hits and misses. 2010’s IRON MAN 2 was a bit of a letdown after the first film instantly became one of the best comic book to movie adaptations of all time, following closely on the heels of Richard Donner’s SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE. And we’re still scratching our heads as to how IRON MAN 3 (2013), with enough narrative “collateral damage” in the form of gaping crater-sized plot holes and character dunderheadedness as to warrant a “Sokovia Accord” to keep it from happening again, became not only a record breaking box office smash, but a critical darling as well. Because honestly folks, while a heck of an action movie ride, it sure as hell wasn’t IRON MAN.


     We also have to acknowledge that with the just released AVENGERS 2.5 … . Oops! Sorry, couldn’t help that one! Some of you know that was the satirically tentative title given to CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR a couple of years ago when its multi-hero storyline was first unveiled. Anyway, one has to acknowledge that with CIVIL WAR, for as much as each individual Marvel film functions as a “stand-alone” narrative in and of itself, with the latest release it’s become near impossible to not view the studio’s sixteen year-long MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) as anything other than one long single film series narrative now into its 13th chapter. As such the MCU is not unlike the long running, globally successful James Bond, STAR WARS and STAR TREK franchises wherein some entries are not only better executed than others, but where some take a lighter slant on said series, such as Bond’s MOONRAKER (1979) and STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (1986 – yes, that one with the whales!), while others are more straight-ahead representations of their source material – like the more recent CASINO ROYALE and STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY (1991): that one a deliberately politically aware TREK analogous to the then thawing relations between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union.

  The tone of the much lighter GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014) ...

Similarly the Marvel films have wisely (and perhaps necessarily) adjusted the tones of their various entries, with two of their most recent, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and ANT-MAN, taking a decidedly less serious tonal point of view than did their comic book bases. While both were / are enjoyable films, this tonal shift worried some (us included) as those more comedic entries shared common MCU characters and plot material which were to be exploited later down the line in other Marvel films leading up to the climactic AVENGERS: INFITY WAR pts. 1 & 2 slated for release in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

     Ultimately how does a filmic series reconcile the comedic sensibility of GUARADIANS’ Peter Quill (portrayed by Chris Pratt) hilariously undulating his hips, belting out the Five Stairsteps, and proclaiming to heinous intergalactic nemesis Ronan “It’s a ‘Dance Off’ bro!”; or perhaps to an even greater extent reconcile ANT-MAN’s giant choo choos and other toys hurled across suburban lawns, with the more real world post 9/11 political thematics (and hard edged violence) of say CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER?

... vs. the harder edged CAPT. AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014)  

     And no, this kind of dissection isn’t sacrilege against Mighty Marvel's slate of apparently unassailable, so-popular-you-can't-say-anyting-which-can-possibly-be-perceived-as-negative-against-them films. We’re some of the biggest comic book (and not just comic book movie) fans from waaay back in the day. Drop us a line and we’ll chat about it one-on-one sometime. No, it’s not sacrilege, just old school critical thinking wherein you realize there’s no such thing as “either / or”. The kind of overview where one realizes that, even within the best of something there can be negatives, and how even within the worst of something there can be one or two positives, … which is kinda / sorta what the stunningly realized and breathlessly entertaining CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is itself all about. And oh yeah, it also happens to be one of the most intelligent “political” films since, … well, … since 2014s CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER. In other words, like we said, Marvel is definitely back on track. Now, about this “critical thinking” thing. We have to touch on it to explain what makes this new film so damned good.

     But hey, those not so inclined can skip over the next few paragraphs. We won’t be offended. In fact that’s kind of the “Steve Rogers”-like point we’re getting at. Where it’s okay (even sometimes necessary) to color outside the lines / step outside the box, and follow one’s own instinct, even if it means going against the generally accepted / expected paradigm.

  Frank Herbert (1920 - 1986)

     A couple of weeks ago we got into a fascinating conversation with a fellow writer about how, while loving the access of / to social media and the Internet in general (being able to instantly purchase and download music, books, etc.), we both however felt that to a certain degree the art of learning “how to think critically but not judgementally” was maybe being lost to an entire generation becoming increasingly used to the wonders of instant access.

     Stephen King once opined how true genre fans are like street people in that they’ll sift through mounds of garbage in order to find one decent piece of meat. And for us the “sifting through the garbage” aspect was / is always part and parcel of the learning experience. Not necessarily in that what you chose / choose to discard was / is garbage per se. But you come to realize that, while maintaining intrinsic value to many, some particular thing may just not be for you. You begin to develop the ability to respect and admire something while you may not necessarily enjoy it.

   See, that's exactly what we're talking about.
Right there, just now, to a percentage of you that last sentence at first seemed to make no sense whatsover. But to us Frank Herbert’s DUNE comes to mind.

     We’ve got friends who’ve read all the Herbert DUNE novels multiple times. They can’t get enough of them. But we have to admit it took us forever to slog through the first book alone. Now, Herbert masterfully creates an entire universe down to the smallest of details; and it’s amazing how he does it. There’s a reason DUNE is one of the best-selling publications in world history – up there with the Bible and Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. But for us it's just consistently maddening how Herbert seems to grind his narrative to a halt in order to spend the next chapter describing say the minute inner workings of a stillsuit. We find the same intolerable “grinding to a halt to explain” aspect in the western novels of legendary author Louis L’Amour as well. Tolkien is much better at filling his audience in on the necessary (and fascinating) aspects of his created world while at the same time keeping the narrative moving at an engaging clip. So, we admire and respect Herbert and L’Amour to no end. They are phenomenal writers. We just don’t enjoy them. And that’s okay.

Louis L'Amour (1900 - 1988)  

     On the other hand we admit that Michael Crichton and Tom Clancy do the same “grinding to a halt to explain” thing. Only with them we tend to forgive the narrative offense because (quite subjectively, and admittedly unfairly) we’ve always been personally interested in the subjects for which they “grind their narratives to a halt” to explain. So in both instances we’re admitting that within the best there are negatives, and vice versa. If you’re seeing how we’re starting to sound like ‘ol Cap himself – Mr. Steve Rogers, then yeah, we’re all on the right track.

     Our aforementioned fellow writer related how over the years as she read the HUNGER GAMES novels to her son, on more than one occasion she’d come across paragraphs of text where she felt author Suzanne Collins was being carelessly redundant in regards to what was already earlier well established in necessary character and narrative info. So, desiring to keep her audience (her son) engaged, she simply skipped over them. Hey, that’s what publishing and film editors are supposed to do, right? At any rate …

     The great thing about going into a library, book store or record shop (remember those?), and reading flaps, deciding to take a chance on something, and taking it home – sometimes glad that you did, and sometimes regretting it - is that one learns that ability to respect a certain something while thinking critically about it at the same time. On a smaller (microcosmic) level we’re talking about books, music and film. But on a larger (macrocosmic) level we’re talking interpersonal relationships with family, and those at school and at work, and of course about our socio-political spectrum at large – perhaps the most pronounced and obvious current example being the recent American Presidential primaries. Talk about having to sift through things!


Whether one was / is a supporter of Sanders, Trump, Clinton, Cruz or whomever, one can’t help but see that many followers of all of the above view their candidate, in relation to the other candidates, in an “either / or” manner wherein their guy (or gal) is all but the savior of the future of the American dream, whereas the opposing candidate(s) is / are the AntiChrist come to dinner a half hour too early. And, in regards to that last part, it's intriguing (as well as maddening and inherently dangerous)  how said supporters tend to sweep under the rug their candidates’ faults – as if somehow acknowledging their shortcomings is in some way being disloyal to them, one’s party, and / or a well cherished ideal. That's the dangerous part - that failure to be able to look below the surface of both optimistic rhetoric and distracting faults to (hey, such often is life - like it or not / agree with it or not) discern what sometimes is the lesser of a choice of evils, or to the compromise which can possibly serve the greater good. All of this brings us back to the somewhat subversive yet uber-intelligence of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR.

Captain America: Civil War (Trailer 2)

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Directors Anthony & Joe Russo on CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR



CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016) score - "Civil War" / "Catastrophe" (H. Jackman)

     CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR arguably features one of the best structured scripts of any comic book film to date. This is a “no spoilers” review, so we’ll limit the plot capsule to no more than has already been revealed in numerous trailers, TV spots, and film clips accompanying actor appearances on talk shows over the last few weeks.

     Approximately one year after the events of AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, Steve Rogers (Captain America), Natasha Romanov (Black Widow), Sam Wilson (The Falcon), and Wanda Maximov (Scarlett Witch) catch up to Brock Rumlow in Lagos, Nigeria. You’ll remember Rumlow (portrayed by actor Frank Grillo) as Robert Redford’s right hand man / second in command in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER – the fellow who led the attempted ambush of Steve Rogers in the S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters elevator. His face disfigured after the climactic events of that film, he now wears a mask and is known as the Hydra operative “Crossbones” (in the comic books he frequently in the company of Captain America’s arch nemesis the Red Skull).

     After Rumlow’s attempt to steal a bio weapon is thwarted by Cap, he attempts to take out not only himself, but the present Avengers and a large part of the civilian population, by self-detonating a powerful explosive device. Maximov’s attempt to telekinetically contain and refocus the blast is partially successful – she saving Cap and most of the populace, but part of the redirected explosive discharge destroys the upper floors of a high rise which houses, among others, a group of humanitarian workers from the African nation Wakanda.

     Back in the U.S., after chairing a jovial MIT student conference, Tony Stark (Iron Man) is confronted by the mother (actress Alfre Woodard) of a young man who was one of the killed Wakandan humanitarian workers; she accusing Stark and the Avengers of having little concern for the “smaller” scale collateral damage and death caused by their “larger” scale battles for western justice. Stark’s conscience is irreparably pierced.

     At the same time former General / now U.S. Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt reprising his role from 2008’s THE INCREDIBLE HULK) arrives at Avengers HQ to explain how, after the collateral damage caused during the Battles of New York (in 2012s THE AVENGERS), Washington, D.C. (in 2014s CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER), and Sokovia (in 2015s AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON), many nations of the world, while grateful to the Avengers on one hand, on the other hand fear their lack of oversight in how they cross international borders and engage in conflicts on sovereign soil based on their own small organization’s internal decision making process. And how in response the U.N. has crafted the “Sokovia Accord” which in essence would make the Avengers part of the U.N.’s international peacekeeping force - they subject to the international body’s orders / directives as to where they will and will not intervene.

     Weighted by his own personal guilt stemming from both his weapons manufacturing past, and his more recent creation of Ultron (who nearly conquered the world), Tony Stark is in favor of the accord which is to be ratified within a week in Vienna. Steve Rogers, while understanding the fear experienced by some at the thought of "enhanced" individuals in the world, is weighted by his own conscience, as well as his and America's past (in seeing the corruption and damage caused by too much power placed into the hands of one governing body who’s motives - and modus operandi - too often change for unjust reasons); and he is against the accord. As for that past, refer back to not only S.H.I.E.L.D.’s recent infiltration by Hydra, but to the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950s and more. At this point CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR begins to show its true political “stripes” (if you’ll forgive the pun) – its agenda if you will.

     Award winning screenwriters Stephen Marcus & Christopher McFeely (THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PETER SELLERS, THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA film series, THOR: THE DARK WORLD) began writing CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR in late 2013, nearly half a year before the debut of CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, which they also scripted.  The central “CIVIL WAR” concept was taken from the seven issue Marvel crossover series of the same name, published between 2006 – ’07, wherein a “Superhero Registration Act” leads to a fierce division within the Marvel superhero world – it affecting not only the Avengers, but the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the X-Men, Ms. Marvel and more. As it is such in the film version, so to in the graphic novel series are the two opposing camps led by Iron Man and Captain America.

     Written by Mark Millar - of Marvel’s THE ULTIMATES, as well as creator of the comics KICK-ASS, WANTED and (KINGSMAN) THE SECRET SERVICE (the last three also adapted into films), CIVIL WAR was a blatantly deliberate analogy to the controversy surrounding the question of civil liberties vs. national security. In particular it was a response to the impending 2006 “sunset” of the Patriot Act. Passed by the U.S. House on Oct. 24th, 2001, and by the Senate on Oct. 25th, the “Patriot Act”s designated purpose … “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism…” was enacted in response to 2001s anthrax and 9/11 attacks.

CIVIL WAR (2006 - 2007) / Mark Millar

     Granting unusually broad search, seizure, and indefinite-detainment-of-suspects latitude to national security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies against not only suspected terrorist threats from without U.S. borders, the “Patriot Act” also granted similar (hitherto unauthorized) surveillance license on America’s own citizenry – this license including seizure of financial, business and library records, as well as the authority to enter and search a home without court-appointed warrants - all of this against the uproar of a large part of said citizenry who, reflecting on the past, Steve Rogers-like, feared a possible repeat of abuses by a government given “emergency” latitude in the “temporary” suspension of civil rights, all of it supposedly enacted for the “greater good”.

     As the December 31st, 2005 “sunset” of the “Patriot Act” approached (the built-in provision which states an act will cease to be in effect by a certain date unless it is renewed / re-ratified) the controversy and debate over whether the “Patriot Act” should be completely scuttled or altered (which is what eventually happened) reached a fever pitch. It was during this time that Millar penned the seven part CIVIL WAR comic book mini-series.

     The directors of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR the film - brothers Anthony & Joe Russo (formerly known for comedies such as TV’s ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT and the 2006 Owen Wilson romp YOU, ME & DUPREE) were offered the latest Marvel installment long before their first, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, was released or even finished - the decision based upon the overwhelming praise received from early showings of WINTER SOLDIER footage to the Marvel brass. .

     While not the first Marvel film to do so, WINTER SOLDIER certainly brought to the creative front burner something which the Marvel films had for the most part done, and continue to do, exceedingly well -  namely the deft manner in which they manage to simultaneously pay homage to, while filtering and repurposing the tone and thematics of earlier classic films into their current superhero universe while refusing to outright “rip off” those thematics then pass them on as their own. On the contrary, Marvel has largely been very good / very successful in integrating the essence of what made those earlier films so memorable into the warp & weft of their newer high tech universe, thus creating a contemporary twist on classic themes and archetypes which make their present films equally just as memorable on their own merits as those which came before.


     The cleverness of Joss Whedon’s original 2012 THE AVENGERS was in his funneling down multiple characters with multiple backgrounds into a lean and manageable storyline by making his film the modern day equivalent of a “Robert Aldrich bromance”. Pay attention to THE AVENGERS and you’ll see elements of Aldrich’s THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967) cannily repurposed in the making of Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury the Lee Marvin “Col. Reisman” character in charge of lassoing a group of rugged individualist into a single fighting force with a single purpose. And the death of the character “Caretaker” in Aldrich’s original THE LONGEST YARD (1974) – it functioning as the “unifying moment” which brings the disparate prison football team together, is brilliantly re-realized with the same narrative purpose in THE AVENGERS with the shocking murder of Agent Coulson by the villainous Loki.

Dirs. Anthony & Joe Russo on set with Sebastian Stan & Chris Evans

     Because of Captain America’s WWII origin, and his comic book reawakening into the Civil Rights Movement of the 1970s, co-director Anthony Russo acknowledges, “The character was invented for an explicitly political purpose, so it's hard to get away from that nature”. And as such the brothers formerly best known for comedy gave the world one of comic book filmdom’s most overt political thrillers with 2014’s THE WINTER SOLDIER. Intending it to stem from the thematic bloodline of films such as THE PARALLAX VIEW, THE DOMINO PRINCIPLE, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN and THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, the Russo’s even persuaded the legendary Robert Redford (who starred in the later two iconic Watergate era thrillers) to be a part of their newer take on 70s era political paranoia repurposed into the post 9/11 age.

The Redford political thrillers: ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN (1976),

     Oh, and while on the 70s political thing, we’ll mention that, while it’s probably a loony idea, we think it’s loony enough to be intriguing as all get out. Namely, some of the rumors darting around social media that Redford’s Alexander Pierce character in THE WINTER SOLDIER is actually the Red Skull. Yeah, we know. But the character did do that sort of thing now and then back in the comics of the 70s - adopting a contemporary identity within the mainstream business or political world. Of course the idea back then (which actually still rings true today) was / is that if one isn’t careful, it’s far too easy to overlook the traces of neo-fascism sprouting like weeds in even the most legitimately “Middle America” (so to speak) of places. Hmmm? At any rate …

     In lesser hands the contemporary retrofitting of Robert Aldrich films and 70s political thrillers could ring as hackwork perpetrated by film makers who hope the audience won’t notice from which (most times obscure) cinematic sources they are cribbing their material. We’ve always felt 2005s INTO THE BLUE (starring Paul Walker & Jessica Alba) – a none-to-subtle carbon copy of Peter Yates’ 1977 Peter Benchley thriller THE DEEP; and 2015s SELF/LESS (with Ryan Reynolds & Ben Kingsley) – a blatant (uncredited) rehash of John Frankenheimer’s 1966 sci fi / psychological drama SECONDS, were two of the most noticeable apprehended offenders of such hackdom.

     On that note keep in mind how the Luc Besson produced sci-fier LOCKOUT (2012) starring Guy Pearce so blatantly lifted its story skeleton from John Carpenter’s ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981), that last year Carpenter won a plagiarism case against Besson’s EuroCorp Production company. This lawsuit was lodged however after the release of EuroCorp’s similarly ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK-lifted action thriller DISTRICT 13 (2004) and its American remake BRICK MANSIONS – which also starred the late Paul Walker. Damn dude! And all of this to reiterate the difference between the art of cleverly paying homage to classic thematic inspiration as opposed to the hackish carbon-copy narrative rip off. It’s not our usual manner to eviscerate films to which we may not personally be enamored. But the “lifting narrative material without giving credit” thing is something which gets our juices boiling. That said ...

     Marvel’s to date clever rifting on classic homage makes their films consistently engaging on multiple levels - they appealing to not just the younger demographic audience, but also to the older generation who grew up on both those original comic books as well as on the beloved films of the same era of the 60s – 70s. Kudos to all involved.



CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016) score - "Ancestral Call" (H. Jackman)

     While the Marvel series of films have always depicted Tony Stark and Steve Rogers as having a philosophical “world view” fissure between them, the two characters have always managed to keep it at the level of a sibling-like love / hate relationship. Any remnants of the former in that equation are blasted to hell in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR.  

     Rogers and Sam Wilson (the Falcon) refuse to sign the Sokovia accord or attend the conference. But they’re pulled into action when a terrorist bomb goes off in Vienna, killing Wakandan President T’Chaka, and the bomber is photo identified as Roger’s former friend Bucky Barnes – the brainwashed assassin “The Winter Soldier” from the previous film, but who, in a partial flashback of memory, semi-recognized Rogers, and subsequently saved him from death at that film’s climax

     Knowing Barnes will be killed on sight, Rogers and Wilson race to Vienna where, after locating Barnes, the trio outrun not only a Viennese SWAT team, but the relentless pursuit of the mysterious Wakandan figure known as "The Black Panther", who beneath the mask and super-strong vibranium suit (the same material from which Cap's impenetrable shield is constructed), is T'Chaka's son T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman of "42" and the James Brown biopic GET ON UP) - now President of Wakanda, and vowing to kill the man he believes responsible for the death of his father. 

     From this point on the film takes a number of narrative twists (a couple of them genuinely shocking) which are not divulged in the trailers, so we won’t divulge them here. But, just as THE AVENGERS took inspiration from the Aldrich films, WINTER SOLDIER from those 70s political thrillers, and AGE OF ULTRON from cinematic A.I. nightmares such as COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT and DEMON SEED, so does CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR continue the classic thematic filmic hit parade.

What if Mrs. Kintner's grief turned her into a villain?

     During the scene at MIT, when Alfre Woodard’s character “Miriam” dresses down Tony Stark as part of the cause for her son’s death, while there are hints she may be an early version of the LUKE CAGE villainess “Black Mariah” (Woodard has recently signed on to the upcoming Marvel / Netflix LUKE CAGE series) you can’t help but recognize it as a just-as-emotionally-jarring update of the scene where the mother of shark victim Alex Kintner slaps the face of Amity police chief Brody (Roy Scheider) in JAWS. Just as that moment of personal guilt is a crystallizing one for Scheider’s character, so is it for Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark.

     Other wonderful classic cinema thematic homages? For a while, during the extended pursuit of Bucky Barnes - who proclaims his innocence of the terrorist action in Vienna, CIVIL WAR becomes the superhero version of THE FUGITIVE, only with the pursuit this time directed at an actual “One Armed Man”. And when T’Challa / The Black Panther catches up with Barnes, in response to Barnes’ protestations the Panther even utters Tommy Lee Jones’ immortal words from 1993s THE FUGITIVE film, “I don’t care”.

     In CIVIL WAR we also actually get to see the mechanics of Barnes’ / The Winter Soldier’s brainwashed assassin’s verbal “activation code” – a’la THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, which was only hinted at in the previous CAPTAIN AMERICA installment. And in the new film’s third act, when we discover the villainous motivation behind the entire plot, it’s a heartbreakingly chilling allusion to a core aspect of Mimi Leder’s underrated 1997 nuclear nightmare thriller THE PEACEMAKER with George Clooney & Nicole Kidman.

     Remember the scene where Kidman says, “I’m not afraid of the person who wants ten nuclear weapons, I’m terrified of the person who just wants one” – expressing how the most dangerous foes are those with a personal near-suicidal agenda rather than a more easily recognizable political one? CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR drives that point home in spades.

     In recent days the D.C. comic-to-film adaptations have taken considerable heat from some for supposedly being “too dark” while the Marvel films have continued to be more “light” and “fun”. And while “AVENGERS 2.5”, … Sorry, we did it again! We mean while CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR arguably covers some of the darkest thematic material to date outside the “Marvel Knights” films (such as GHOST RIDER, BLADE and THE PUNISHER) and their Netflix series (DAREDEVIL, JESSICA JONES), it manages to buoy its non-jokey socio-political theme with a deft combination of humor and most importantly an ending which, after all of the bitter battles, severed friendships, loss of life and more, offers a ray of hope for all involved. In fact the film’s final shot (not including the traditional credit and post credit add-ons) damn near makes you want to jump up and shout.

     It’s a difficult thematic balancing act, and (let’s be honest) CIVIL WAR isn’t always successful in carrying it out. While Joss Whedon’s THE AVENGERS had the seemingly insurmountable task of mixing down many characters, backgrounds, a complex narrative and “plot implants” for future films into one film, CIVIL WAR has the same challenges (with even more characters) as well as the equally more difficult challenge of smoothing over the “tones” of all of the previous Marvel characters who now inhabit this current story. We’re not giving anything away by mentioning that Paul Rudd returns as Scott Lange / “Ant-Man” in CIVIL WAR.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016) score - "Stepping Up" (H. Jackman)

     The Lang incarnation of Ant-Man was a member of The Avengers in the comic books too. But, as mentioned earlier, last year's film version of ANT-MAN had a decidedly more comedic tone than not only the lighter Marvel IRON MAN films, but in very stark contrast to the hard-edged / hard hitting / at times violent real-world nature of CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER. So, how does one include / interject the considerably lighter wise-cracking Paul Rudd Ant-Man into the world of THE WINTER SOLDIER and CIVIL WAR? Very very carefully.

     The truth here is sometimes Rudd / Ant-man (and the tone) fits, and other times he / it doesn't. But, as we opened with in our "critical thinking" exploration - it's okay to acknowledge that. That simple fact doesn't scuttle the entire film. In fact we give kudos to CIVIL WAR for the way in which it mostly maintains its tonal balance throughout. It's no secret we've long felt the "insurmountable" (maybe even necessary) narrative conceit of most comic-to-film is the inevitable climactic "world destroying super-slam battle". CIVIL WAR however cleverly places its" WWF-like showdown" near the middle of the film, where all of the "maybe yes" / "maybe no" cliched' and stereotypical but expected wisecracks, grizzled "Sgt Rock"-ish dialog, and cartoonish property damage can be dished out in great big heaping helpings before returning to more serious matters. 

     And hey, we're not gonna lie or front (that means "pretend" to those of you who didn't grow up in the 70s and 80s) that it's not an enjoyably bad-assed CIVIL WAR superhero "smackdown" on the tarmac of Germany's Leipzig / Halle Airport: the kind of thing you and your friends argued over and played out during recess back in elementary school. Y'know, the endless "Who would win, Batman or Superman, Iron Man or Captain America, Darth Vader or Doctor Doom?" debate - the only way in which to settle it being to actually carry it out live under the bars of the jungle gym with homemade cardboard repulsor gloves, trashcan lids as vibranium shields, and kite thread as Spider-Man tensile webbing. Make no mistake, it's the responsibility of comic book films to stay faithful to that aspect as well. And Marvel and D.C. sure as hell aren't going to sell all of that merchandise lining the shelves of Target, Wal-Mart and elsewhere if they aren't faithful to that aspect. 


     But the combining of the “gee whiz” kids fun aspect of say ANT-MAN with the dark political nature of THE WINTER SOLDIER is a tough Promontory Point-like union of tones. CIVIL WAR doesn’t entirely solve the problem. But it does manage to “smooth it over” by getting the more fanciful “who would win” battle aspects out of its system by the film’s halfway point, so that when we reach the third act we’re back into more adult-oriented THE PEACEMAKER territory. To not be a perfect tonal solution, it is a pretty darned good one nonetheless.


     Speaking of CIVIL WAR’s more actionful aspects, one can’t help but be blown away by the film’s hard-hitting stunt work – mostly under the veteran supervision / coordination of Sam Hargrave (a stunt performer on films such as THE AVENGERS and THE LONE RANGER, and fight coordinator on THE MECHANIC, HANSEL & GRETAL: WITCH HUNTERS and more), Doug Coleman (a stuntman on MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, and coordinator on THE REVENANT, BLACKHAT, POSEIDON and CAPT. AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER), and Andy Gill (who’s performed acts of derring-do in MINORITY REPORT and THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW, and supervised / directed 2nd Unit stunt teams on, among others, BAD BOYS II, TALLADEGA NIGHTS, DEATH RACE, FURIOUS 7 and CAPT. AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER).

 (L to R) Sam Hargrave, Doug Coleman, Andy Gill

     One of the biggest (actually wonderfully shocking) impressions upon our initial viewing of 2014s CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER was, during that opening nocturnal stealth raid upon the seagoing satellite launch vessel the Lemurian Star, how Cap’s punches not only f**king hurt!, but how as depicted they could genuinely kill. Far and beyond the standard fisticuffs of most films, the blows landed by the characters in that film (especially in the bouts between Cap and the hijacker Batroc, and Cap and Bucky / The Winter Soldier) made the audience feel as though they were being head-clocked by Mike Tyson in a cold sports colosseum off the Vegas strip. It genuinely almost hurt watching and listening to the punches thrown in THE WINTER SOLDIER.

     Similarly in that film, for the first time outside of the comic book realm, Cap’s shield felt like a bone-slicingly dangerous and efficient weapon of massive destruction in the right (or wrong) hands. Notice how you and the audience freaked when the Winter Soldier actually caught it in mid-air, then hurled it back at Rogers. You wanted to duck. And the same with that film’s auto chase and ambush of Nick Fury. This wasn’t THE A-TEAM, where cars did all manner of aerobatic spiral flips, then upon landing the occupants scurried out slightly dazed but lucid enough to kick and mop up more than a little bad-guy ass. Uh uh! Fury was on the brink of bruised and internally battered death when he arrived at Roger’s apartment.

     With WINTER SOLDIER’s hard-edged opening, and continually executed real-world grittiness, the Russos reminded us that, as much as we loved Joe Johnston’s retro (and at times charmingly quaint) CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, that in the later film Steve Rogers the “super soldier” was indeed a physically enhanced trained special forces soldier!  The Russos continue that vibe in CIVIL WAR. And, as we see Rogers as a “genetically advanced Rambo” – a literal human weapon if you will, it gives both credence to Tony Stark’s argument that “We need to be put in check” as well as to Roger’s opposing argument that, “We may not be perfect, but the safest hands are still our own”.

As such CIVIL WAR’s action sequences take on more narrative and character gravitas / weight than say the average mind-boggling James Bond stunt sequence. Because everything the characters do here, and the repercussions of those actions, adds more fuel to both sides of the “national security vs. civil rights” / Sokovia Accord debate at the heart of this fascinating film. In combining stunt coordinator / supervisors Hargrave, Coleman and Gill’s hard hitting 2nd Unit work (some of the most stunningly impressive hand to hand sequences since 1973s ENTER THE DRAGON) with a narrative which leaves the audience with no easily buttoned-up answers at its climax, CIVIL WAR rightfully takes its place as one of the most thought-provokingly intelligent action adventure films ever made. It succeeds on multiple levels, which after sixteen years of Marvel movie entries is no mean feat.

  Composer Henry Jackman

score -
"The Smithsonian" (H. Jackman)

We’ve got a few minor gripes here and there of course. Chief among them? Well, we absolutely love Henry Jackman’s score! His WINTER SOLDIER score was (with the exception of that stirring William-esque lone horn piece heard in the Smithsonian) mostly an exercise in electronic atonality. And appropriately so given Bucky / The Winter Soldier's programmed state of mind. But here Jackman has the narrative liberty to not only pull out all the orchestral stops, but to go downright operatic! Once again appropriately so given the narrative subject matter.

There's a gutwrenching “Civil War” motif, the skeletal strands of which are first heard tragically during the opening sequence when the explosion kills the Wakandan humanitarian workers. Ever building over the course of the film it comes to identify itself  (to us at least) as either the destructive living force tearing the Avengers apart, or the noble glue which once held them together now heartachingly being burned and melted away. It's perhaps one of the most effective pieces of music in any Marvel film to date. However ...

      There's nothing here linking it thematically with the previous two CAPTAIN AMERICA films. W
e’re consistently both dumbfounded and frustrated as to how / why Marvel so often changes composers and / or musical thematics mid-stream. Have you noticed every IRON MAN film thus far has had a different composer and a different IRON MAN theme? The three THOR films have had two different composers and main themes. The three BLADE films had three separate composers and musical identifications. The two AVENGERS films have had three composers with varying new and adapted themes and motifs. And in the end most of them haven’t had the identifiable and memorable staying power of most of D.C.'s filmic music – be it John Williams’ SUPERMAN, Danny Elfman, Elliot Goldenthal and Hans Zimmer’s various BATMAN films, ... or hell, even James Newton Howard’s stirring score to 2011s otherwise largely forgotten GREEN LANTERN.

We love what Silvestri did with the first CAPTAIN AMERICA and THE AVENGERS, what Brian Tyler did with THOR: THE DARK WORLD, and absolutely what Henry Jackman gives us with CIVIL WAR. We kind of just wish Marvel would make up their mind and get their music act together as in these kinds of films music is a primary emotional and psychological component. For proof take a look (and give a listen) to THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, THE SEA HAWK, STAR WARS or any James Bond or STAR TREK film.

In films which deal with powerful archetypal concepts, and where characters give damn near Shakespearean soliloquies after every third action sequence ... . And make no mistake, while they may be wearing jeans and vests and khakis, that's absolutely what the Avengers are doing when they're having that "There Is A Choice" debate. That's also what's going on during that climactic fight between Rogers and Stark - when that he
artbreaking truth is revealed. They're just not battling with poison tipped sabers on a theater stage is all.

      With these kinds of films however IMAX theater is still theater. And in any such highly stylized drama (contemporary opera) such as this, m
usic is character. While now and then hitting a home run, like here with Jackman and CIVIL WAR, for the most part over the last sixteen years Marvel has literally been cutting the guts out of their otherwise sterling filmic adaptations by not allowing them to have … well, … any musical guts at all. Maybe in the grand scheme of things all of this is, as we said, a minor gripe. But it is a gripe nonetheless.

     Otherwise, once again hats off (or should we be saying shields raised) to the Russo brothers and writers Markus & McFeely - all of them presently hunkered down and at work on the upcoming two part AVENGERS: INFITY WAR, ... which will bring everyone’s favorite villainous bad-ass, Thanos, to the forefront. If the narrative, character and thematic care they've taken in crafting CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is an indication of things to come for the next phase of Marvel's Cinematic Universe, then we feel that (after maybe a minor tonal misstep or two) the franchise is back on track with its compass pointed towards comic-book-to-film greatness. As Stan the man is keen on saying ...



IGN Comics History 101

Pg.  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

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