He SAID: War of Marvels

Scott F. Evans

Marvel Studios continues its winning streak with Captain America: Civil War.  If nothing else, Marvel/Disney knows how to pick its talent.  After triumphing with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the Russo Brothers return to helm what may very well be the best superhero movie ever made.  They’re assisted by returning screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.  This cinematic dream team seems to have taken the Marvel formula and redefined it, to make two of the best entries of the genre.  Forget Nolan.  Forget Whedon.  Forget Singer.  This squad has the superhero thing down to a science.

Civil War somehow manages to pull triple duty. It functions as the third in the Captain America franchise, addressing situations created in The First Avenger and continuing through The Winter Soldier.  It can be seen as the third Avengers film, following through on scenarios created in both of those earlier editions.  Civil War also works as a fourth Iron Man movie, with Tony Stark evolving beyond just Cap’s foe.  It also introduces two new major characters into the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Black Panther and the studio’s version of Spider-Man.  These two heroes will headline their own solo films in the next couple of years.

Even as it juggles a massive supporting cast (every character gets at least one shining moment) Civil War is Cap’s story.  Markus and McFeely boldly present the character with a situation so personal, that he behaves in an uncharacteristic but completely believable way.  The film tackles some weighty issues: responsibility, duty, friendship, loyalty… and has a fair amount of pathos.  But it never becomes ponderous. Even with a run time of two and a half hours, it never drags.  Civil War is a serious film that knows it’s still a comic book.  The Russo Brothers keep the pacing breezy, and pepper in enough action to more than satisfy fans of the genre.

civil war cover

The cast is key. Most of the players from practically every Marvel movie make an appearance.  Chris Evans turns in another excellent performance as Captain America.  He nails this character each and every time.  Robert Downey Jr is (as always) so good as Iron Man, that you almost forget that he had a decades long career before landing this iconic role.  Maybe it’s the script, but he feels even more dialed in than before.

Anthony Mackie and Scarlett Johansson once again lend their expert support as The Falcon and Black Widow.  This is the fourth time both have played these characters so it’s no surprise that they handle the roles with aplomb.  Johansson has shined as Black Widow since her debut in Iron Man 2, with her best performance coming out of Winter Soldier.  She’s just as good in this one but isn’t afforded as much screen time.  Mackie absolutely resonates as Falcon. He was good in Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Ant-Man.  But in Civil War, the filmmakers give Falcon much more to do, and Mackie relishes every moment of it.  Returning as Bucky Barnes, Sebastian Stan finally gets to show off his acting chops.  He’s been good in all of the Cap movies, but this time he gets to show that he’s more than just an action figure.

Chadwick Boseman and Tom Holland nearly steal the show, bowing as Black Panther and Spider-Man respectively.  Boseman brings a fierce nobility to the role.  And even with his limited screen time, Holland already shows signs of being a better Spider-Man than previous iterations.

I could continue to gush about Captain America: Civil War, but I think you get the point.  On its own, it’s a great film.  As part of a specific genre. it’s easily in the top five.  As the last of a trilogy, it makes the Captain America series arguably one of the best, most consistent franchises in recent cinema history.

RATING: Theater

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He SAID: Dare/Punish/Electrify

Christopher M. Enis

Daredevil Season 2 hit Netflix with all the fanfare worthy of a superhero comic. But to be honest, even with the appearance of two new major characters, I wasn’t that jazzed about it. I honestly thought that it wouldn’t reach beyond the classic adventures of Matt Murdock: Blind Lawyer by day and Vigilante by night.

Turns out I was wrong.

Season 2 might just be better than Season 1, and that’s saying something.

The new season starts with Murdock (Charlie Cox) moving forward, after taking down crime kingpin Wilson Fisk. Business is booming at the law firm he shares with partner Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and assistant Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll). There are plenty of clients, but none of them are able to pay in actual money. But a client in need is a client indeed, so no one is turned away. Alter ego Daredevil is just as generous, going out of his way to protect his residential Hell’s Kitchen.

But his efforts are not enough to satisfy the man we come to know as The Punisher, who takes things a step further. Where Daredevil works to disable wrong doers, The Punishimages-2er goes out of his way to specifically target and kill all known gang members and associates.

The Punisher is Frank Castle, a man brilliantly brought to life by Jon Bernthal. He is unapologetic, unyielding, and brutally thorough in his one-man mission against crime. When he finally comes face to face with Daredevil, the confrontation leaves the latter shaken to the core with the recognition of Castle’s determination.

If that’s not enough to grab you, our hero’s story is further complicated with a gorgeous blast from the past in the form of ninja-trained assassin (and former love ELECKTRAinterest) Elecktra Nachios (Elodie Young). She commands the screen from the moment she shows up, and performs so well that we’ve nearly forgotten that horrible movie starring Ben Affleck and his ex-wife.

There is a lot going on in Season 2, but it never feels overloaded. Everything that made season 1 great is expanded and easily lays the groundwork for the next great chapter in this series. It’s not a stretch to say that Daredevil’s second season is the best superhero event of 2016 (fans of the big DC debacle will disagree, but the thinking among us know better… much better).

RATING: Catch it on Netflix and consider it Must See TV.

 

He SAID: Messy Marvel

Christopher M. Enis

Marvel might be mostly straight-laced on the big screen (Tony Stark nonwithstanding), but it’sjessjones1 a different story on the small screen. First, we were led to the dark side with Daredevil. Now, Marvel is following up with an equality morally ambiguous Jessica Jones. This is the second installment of the collaboration with Marvel and Netflix, and so far it’s working very well.

Based on the Alias comic book series, Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) is former super-powered vigilante. These days, she’s a hard drinking, PTSD suffering, super-powered (’cause that’s what we call small screen ‘superheroes’. What, you didn’t get the memo?) private detective. And she’s moving around the very same Hell’s Kitchen where Daredevil resides. Her former and current lives collide when she takes on the case of finding a missing girl, the ironically named Hope (Erin Moriarty).  Jones’ case leads her to the very person responsible for destroying her life.

The show is similar to Daredevil in terms of grit and violence. But where Daredevil’s first season an R-rated superhero show, Jessica Jones reads like a psychological thriller about people who just happen to have super powers.

jessjones2

Ritter is great in the title role.  She’s physically strong, cynical, emotionally distant, scarred, and downright unlikeable… sometimes all in the same scene. It’s a demanding role, and Ritter appears more than up for the challenge.

Creator Melissa Rosenberg has been trying to bring the series to television since 2010. Operating within the Marvel universe is not for the faint of heart, what with all the references to other characters and easter eggs designed to keep old fans and attract new ones. Rosenberg manages to do jessjones3all of it and more, even previewing Luke Cage (coming soon to a small screen near you).

And parents, please be warned: Jessica Jones is based on a comic book but it is NOT for kids. If you want superheroes who pick up after themselves and go to bed by 9, stick with the blockbusters on the big screen. Jessica Jones has been through hell and lived to tell the tale, and she makes no apologies for any of it. If you’re down to ride, Jones will take you on one that you’re not likely to forget.

Marvel’s Jessica Jones is currently streaming on Netflix.

RATING: Must See TV

He SAID: Little Man = BIG Movie

Scott F. Evans

Of all the various studios in town making comic book superhero movies, none of them quite ‘get it’ like Marvel Studios. They know their properties, and how to sell them to audiences. They also know that the Marvel brand is such a draw, that they can dig deep into their catalog and make critical and financial hits with even C-list characters. antman2

Their latest?

Ant-Man.

Who?

Exactly.

The character has been around for more than fifty years, debuting in 1962 in the comic book Tales to Astonish. Even as a founding member of The Avengers, the character has never really reached the public consciousness in any significant way. At least, not until now.

antman1This is what a ‘fun’ movie should be. Even though it clocks in at just under two hours, it breezes by with a solid pace that never feels rushed. Although it’s the most obvious comedy in the Marvel filmography so far, Ant-Man never plays it broad. Not that it wouldn’t have been easy for Reed and the four credited screenwriters (Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay and star Paul Rudd) to go in that direction. The humor comes from character and dialogue, not from situation. There’s also just enough drama, with themes of familial ties aantman4nd human redemption, to prevent Ant-Man from turning into the superhero version of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. It’s charm and wit that carries this film. This, so far, has been the Marvel formula. And once again, it simply works.

Paul Rudd plays the film’s lead Scott Lang, a reformed thief who becomes the titular character. On the surface, Rudd as a superhero seems like an odd choice. But Lang was tailor made for him, perfectly molded to fit the actor’s strengths. Known almost strictly for his comedies, Rudd is still physical enough to pull off the action here. He’s believable as an affablantman5e burglar and later, an affable superhero. Of course he’s funny, but never broadly comedic. And his easygoing charisma makes it easy to root for him.

Ant-Man also features a strong supporting cast. Topping that list is Michael Douglas as original Ant-Man and Lang mentor, Dr. Hank Pym. Douglas brings an old school gravitas to the proceedings. He does fine work here and is absolutely believable as a scientist, industrialist and retired hero. Evangeline Lilly also clocks in as Pym’s daughter Hope van Dyne. She’s the skeptic for much of the film, so it’s largely a thankless role. Bantman6ut there’s a nice setup during a post-credits scene that should serve to make her character much more essential going forward. Corey Stoll is good as the film’s fairly stock villain Darren Cross. He is given a little dramatic weight as Pym’s spurned apprentice and eventual rival, but this is a Marvel film so the villain is practically an afterthought. Michael Pena nearly steals the show as Luis, one of Lang’s crew. Luis is comic relief in a film that’s mostly a comedy anyway so he goes a little broad occasionally. But Pena handles the role with assurance. You can see the actor having fun walking that line, but never stepping over into caricature.

Ant-Man had a troubled production, losing the original director and writer team of Wright and Cornish three months before principal photography was supposed to begin. That Reed, McKay and Rudd were able to salvage it (particularly rewriting the script at such a late stage) and still turn in such an excellent film, is a remarkable accomplishment.

antman2Ant-Man is truly a fun, popcorn, summer movie, with solid writing, acting, directing and action. You don’t have to “turn off your brain” or make excuses for it because it delivers exactly what it promises, another winner for Marvel Studios.

RATING: Theater