Friday, June 3, 2016

Film Review: Marvel's Captain America: Civil War

Directed by: Joe and Anthony Russo
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Martin Freeman, Marissa Tomei
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Action/Adventure
Runtime: 2 hr. 27 min.

Captain America: Civil War is one of Marvel's finest to date. Although the film does focus on -yet another- team up, the plot fluidly picks up after the events of Winter Soldier, focusing largely on Captain America and Bucky. Age of Ultron plot threads fit in as well, which could easily have been overcomplicating matters, but instead drives the central plot forward. As you may have heard, or at least garnered from the title and poster, events in the film eventually lead to our heroes -particularly Cap and Iron Man- having different opinions when it comes to signing a contract, which places the Avengers as a government-controlled regime, rather than a private source for good. After his many perilous decisions over the last few films Tony Stark decides control is necessary to make sure the team doesn't go AWOL, but Cap, of course, is against such control and believes the team should continue to work free from political agendas. The setup may seem like boring politics, but it's also deeply ingrained in the characters' behaviors up to this point, and the recruitments for Team Iron Man and Team Captain America do not seem out of place or forced.

Some new recruits for this film, Black Panther and Spiderman (thanks to Sony's new deal with Marvel), are shining examples of how, even in such an already packed narrative, Marvel continues to define its characters without submitting them to caricatures, subpersonas, or plot devices. Sure, Spiderman plays a major part of Civil War in the comics, and his previous solo films have made a lot of money, so throwing him in seems like no-brainer fanservice. Again, however, the way in which both him and Black Panther are introduced feels organic to the storyline, and both are given enough screen time and character growth to be meaningful and memorable. As a side note, Tom Holland is easily the best Peter Parker we have had yet.

If the film has any problems it's the final act. The second act consists largely of the build up and finally outbreak of the "Civil War" feud; I won't go into details, but it's up there with the New York battle in terms of pure joy and visceral action. Afterward, the final act consists largely of falling action, which services the Captain America plot thread well enough, but seems out of place and not nearly as exciting as the act two progression. Still it's a solid enough finale, and the final fight -while not nearly as grandiose in scale- is definitely filled with white-knuckle intensity.

Captain America: Civil War admittedly has a few narrative setbacks, particularly when focusing on tertiary plot threads, but overall it stands as one of the premiere entries in Marvel's canon, and one that reignites a franchise heading into its third act. 4/5

- The Catalyst

Film Review: The Jungle Book

Directed by: John Favreau
Starring: Neel Sethi, Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray, Christopher Walken, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong'o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito
Rating: PG
Genre: Adventure, Drama
Runtime: 1 hr. 46 min.

Lush with gorgeous, breathtakingly realistic animation, The Jungle Book is certainly a sight to behold. Sadly, I was unable to fully appreciate its scenery until about the final third of the film, since my theater was accidentally showing us the 3D version of the film in 2D. Either way, what I was able to witness in that final sequence was certainly worth revisiting.

The voice cast is stupendous with a particular nod to Idris Alba as the ominous Shere Khan. The story was a bit lacking and follows the original film almost exactly, so there's not too much in the way of surprises for those who have seen Disney's original animated classic (though, again, that final act sequence certainly delivers).

On top of this, Mowgli never really comes off as a character in his own; always being talked at and about rather than really having a voice of his own. Even his final act proclamation is half-hearted in earnestness. This is partly the responsibility of the screenwriters, and also an issue with casting a child role. Neel Sethi seems to give it his all, but never believably exists in the same reality as the animals; always staring and speaking in the direction of a character rather than directly at it. Acting in a totally CG film is no easy feat and it's commendable that Sethi is as convincing as he is, but it seems with a little more direction Mowgli could have been more powerful in certain scenes.

Overall, John Favreau has delivered a solid entry in Disney's live-action canon with The Jungle Book, and one that provides hope for future Disney adaptations. 3.5/5

- The Catalyst

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Film Review: Zootopia

Directed by: Byron Howard and Rich Moore
Starring: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Alan Tudyk, Shakira
Rating: PG
Genre: Action/Adventure, Animation
Runtime: 1 hr. 48 min.

Zootopia could easily have utilized it's bipedal protagonists to tell a fun and fluffy tale to keep the youngsters entertained for a few hours, but luckily those involved don't underestimate their audience. So many animated films -otherwise regarded as "family films" or "films for kids"- cater to the funny bone, but sadly never push a worthy message or show true emotional baggage in the starring characters.

From the start of Zootopia's first act it's clear the audience is in store for something more as a young bunny Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) gets bullied by a fox; not just verbally, but physically. This subversion sticks with the audience throughout the whirlwind storyline, which touches on plenty of societal issues including race, sexuality, and more. The film is never afraid to show the truth in interactions, and really make both adults and children feel engaged in what is happening. One such scene under a bridge shows such true and honest character growth that I don't believe I've personally ever seen in an animated film (targeted at kids). Among this emotional torrent there are still plenty of fun and laughs, but they don't feel superfluous and help to drive the action.

Overall, Zootopia is a fast and funny film made not for kids, not for adults, but for people, animals and human alike. 4.5/5

- The Catalyst