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“Captain America: Civil War”explodes with fun and emotion

captain_america_civil_warAfter watching “The Winter Solider” right before seeing the new entry in Marvel’s line-up, I had a feeling it would be a tough act to follow-up a sequel that is edgy and asks if the famed stars and stripes superhero is a symbol of his country or something else. The idea of comparing and contrasting him and his old friend, Bucky was a unique element. How S.H.I.E.L.D was using Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans) despite giving some leeway in contrast to Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) who is so brainwashed to the point you can’t tell if he’s good or bad. “Winter Solider” was packed with plenty of action, but something felt lacking. I wanted it to go deeper into the psyche of Steve as well as where he stands in a world of superheroes. Long story short, thank goodness “Civil War exists. It easily trumps the old saying that “lightening rarely strikes twice.” And already, it’s become my 2nd favorite Marvel movie next to “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Chris Evans returns as the thawed World War II veteran who is caught in a huge cross fire. As it turns out, the damage made in his previous Avengers victories were causing more harm than possible with lives lost during their battles. The government plans to crack down on the superhero business, but all that changes when Steve’s buddy Bucky gets in the mix. Without spoiling too much, a series of assassinations leads to the Winter Solider’s blame while Steve thinks otherwise.

This part of the story alone sets up a unique mystery that keeps us guessing to the very end. When the story is not engaged in fist-fighting, things take a back seat as we try to connect the clues behind the true mastermind. Is this Bucky’s real doing or is something else in play here? Again, without giving too much away, when we do find out the truth, the answer is satisfying and certainly shocking. Dare I say, “Civil War” has one of the most biggest twists in all of film history and already I’m in shock about how well it plays out. Rarely does my jaw drop to the floor, but this has to be one of the few moments in my life a reaction like that was needed.

As for everything else, viewers will be treated to a very serviceable and explosive summer blockbuster. Every character motive has a purpose to exist on why one is after another. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is upset over Steve’s will  to co-operate as Steve feels the country he serves is starting to not feel the same as it once was. This gives all the more reason for these two to duke it out. We’re not just interested in seeing who has the upper hand, but get reasons for why these two can’t compromise. It makes the drama more intense considering how used we are seeing Tony and Steve play off each other like close college buddies.

As for the fight scenes, they are satisfying and serviceable. Each one is well-choreographed and packs with edge. The best one is easily the brawl at the airport as Marvel characters ranging from Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) to Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) take sides with each team having equal advantages. Both have one who is inventive while another has supernatural abilities like Vision (Paul Bettany). With both sides evenly matched, it makes this fight scene the more enjoyable to watch as each one tries to outwit each other.

Surprisingly, the biggest highlight I found was not Tom Holland making his first incarnation as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Though granted, I thought he was a great fit coming off of Toby Maguire’s decent run and the disastrous Andrew Garfield (less said the better.) For me personally, the biggest thing I’m taking away is Chadwick Boseman’s performance as Black Panther. In a way, I felt like I was watching the origin of the character even if I knew little about him. His character arch fits nicely with the one of many themes about the effects of vengeance. Boseman was sleek, bold and very intimidating when it came to his moments on why he has a beef with Bucky. In a nutshell, I hope this character gets his own movie, because Boseman deserves it.

And as said before, Tom Holland is a surprisingly good fit for the web head. In hindsight, the filmmakers should have opted for a younger incarnation. Holland is able to carry the charisma as well as be crass yet likable. He isn’t annoying and I found myself laughing at every quip and joke they threw at him. Despite his purpose being nothing but an extended cameo, I am more than curious to see how well Holland does in his future solo film.

As for the rest of “Civil War,” I really can’t praise too much. Though if I did have to nitpick, the first 20 minutes are a tad slow and some odd editing choices are made (like having the name of countries be told to us in BIG WHITE LETTERS THAT SPAN ACROSS THE SCREEN.) But more curious are the allusions and references to “The Empire Strikes Back.” I don’t know if this was intentional, but I did find them interesting to be honest. Truly we get a sequel that is powerful, fun and emotionally gripping. In a way, I wish this was the movie “Batman Vs Superman” tried to be and failed in the end. “Civil War” is well written, packed with action and knows when to linger between comedy and tragedy. If you want a grand start to the summer, this is an explosive start.

“Deadpool”vulgar, violent and nasty fun

There are few movies today that rarely make an impact or hit the mark. In fact, last year’s “Fifty Shades of Grey” rocked theater seats for the wrong reasons. The hyped killed the movie along with its boring script and unsexy scenes of foreplay. Why do I bring this clunker up? Because it was released during Valentine’s Day. Jump to a year later and finally we get a movie around the holiday that is unapologetic, offensive, sexy, loaded with harsh language and very ultra violent in spots. And I loved every minute of it.

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Best movie to take your girl out on a date to…ever

“Deadpool” is another Marvel adaption done right as the red-suited, breaking the fourth wall superhero has languished in development hell for 10 years. Now, he finally gets his due with Ryan Reynolds donning the suit he was born to play in. The character as a whole is fun to watch. Armed with two katanas and limited gun ammo, this baddie spends most of his time chasing down folks that damaged his life and poking jabs of his own movie to the audience. Not only is he immune to bullets, his body can regenerate new limbs while also cracking one comedic catchphrase after another. Reynolds clearly is having a ball playing the ultimate satire of brooding superheroes here.

Without spoiling too much, Deadpool’s true face is Wade Wilson, a mercenary whose fun life is turned upside down when he’s diagnosed with cancer. I always find it odd when a movie like this goes from ultra-fun to a serious tone shift. But the way it gets executed works. It provides there is more dimension to this pun-spewing maniac and even some tragedy like other superheroes.

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Best movie to take your girl out on a date to…ever

At his reluctant aid are two X-Men members, the metallic Colossus (motion capture by Andre Tricoteux, voice by Stefan Kapičić) and the cynical Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand). While most of the comic relief is played up from their interactions with the hammy ego, they both have a unique yin and yang personality with Colossus believing in the moral ways of a superhero while NTW just wants to see stuff blow up. Seeing these two mutants makes me wonder why they weren’t used as much (with the exception of Colossus who was performed originally by Daniel Cudmore in previous X-Men installments. He declined when he found out his voice was to be dubbed), but it opens the door for more under used Marvel characters to be seen.

Also enjoyable are Deadpool’s adversaries in the form of a blind roommate (Leslie Uggams donning a foul mouth) and a social bartender (T. J. Miler) that assist the loony ranging from weaponry to advice. Even if they don’t make a big difference, you can appreciate the fun personalities when it comes to taking bets on who is going to die or stashing a supply of drugs for fun.

As fun of a thrill ride “Deadpool” is, there are only two minor problems. On paper, the story is not that interesting. If you took away the comedy and the incredibly, graphic action scenes, you get a run of the mill origin and revenge story. Guy goes through chemically imbalanced transformation, seeks to avenge those who wronged him and so forth. I feel without the comedic moments or the over-the-top environement, this would have been a generic “Darkman.” Thankfully, this is not that kind of movie. This is almost like if “Darkman” mated with “Wayne’s World” and gave birth to an R-rated “Freakazoid.” And that’s the G-rated description.

The only other fault I can think of is the villain Ajax (Ed Skrein). There really is nothing that memorable I can think of outside of giving Wade a reason to go after him. They don’t him much of a motive outside of using people to test a mutagen on for study. But when you consider the amount of harm he caused, it does give Wade reasons to get back at him. I just wish they made this Brit baddie a little more interesting outside of being a mutant that has great strength and can’t feel pain.

deadpool-tickets-166826But I can ignore those flaws because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. I can hold my head up high and be glad we got another Marvel movie done right. Like “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Ant-Man,” we are giving a movie that is straight to the source and all out fun. Heck, I would actually like to see what direction they would take this insane character for at the next movie. Overall, “Deadpool” is the first movie I have seen in theaters this 2016 and can say its going to be hard trying to top this one. Now of course, a little minor caution that this movie has tons of bloody action and bare nudity to the fourth base. But hey, would you rather see this with your girlfriend or sit home and watch Jamie Dornan seduce Dakota Johnson by eating a piece of toast shirtless? I think the answer is very obvious.

And like with all Marvel movies (well some), this one has a post-credit scene. Please do stick around because it is worth it. To quote a wise man, “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around for a while, you could miss it.”

P.S. Best Stan Lee cameo to date…ever

“Ant-Man” is bite-sized fun

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) tests out his new abilities as the Ant-Man in the latest fun romp from Marvel

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) tests out his new abilities as the Ant-Man in the latest fun romp from Marvel

Ever since Marvel came on the scene with their Cinematic Universe, Hollywood has never been the same. Who would think such simple concepts like a man who can get big during his anger or a Norse god with family issues become box-office gold? Not to mention, the studio is also testing the waters with unknown characters to see if there is some franchise potential. “Ant-Man” happens to be one of them and it nearly succeeds despite some flaws.

Paul Rudd plays Scott Lang, a bugler with a heart of gold who is looking for redemption and be a hero in his young daughter’s eyes. Only problem is that one big “steal from the rich” heist landed him in jail and a distant and divorced relationship with his wife. Paul really channels the wise-cracking tone of Robert Downey Jr but you also really care for him. He understand the problems the character is going through and will risk anything to get his family back together and his name cleared of crimes.

Unfortunately, that all changes when a professor played by Michael Douglas asks him to pull off a huge heist that not only keep a big invention under wraps but also save the world. Dr. Hank Pym (Douglas) has invented a suit that is powered by a serum that can shrink a man down to the size of an ant while also be giving superhuman strength. Sounds silly on paper but looks good when executed.

Problems are afoot when an evil tycoon (Corey Stoll) has taken over Hank’s labs in hoping to duplicate his powerful suit for militant purposes and other assorted evil plans. The motive is very misty but its another situation where apprentice sees and tries to overcome his mentor. Its a basic motive that really doesn’t have much driving power. Without giving too much away, there’s an explanation about the chemicals of the shrinking serum messing with his brain but we never get that implication outside of telling and not showing.

When it’s not rehashing the usual tropes of a superhero origin tale, “Ant-Man” survives with the premise, humor and well-staged action scenes. Giving that Scott can be the size of a bug, it opens the door to many creative spectacles like trying to survive a three-story building drop within the building and a surprisingly creative fight on a kid’s toy train set. If this movie wasn’t made today, it would be hard to see such convincing special effects and not to mention some CGI ants that look cute while retaining their realistic body structure.

The main theme(s) deals with redemption as Scott hopes to rekindle with his young daughter while even Hank has to deal with his (played by Evangeline Lilly). Their relationship feels cold and distant compared to Scott’s who only wants to be a hero to his little girl. When the action and effects take a break, we do get some good character depth that only makes us wish there was more there as Hank reveals the fear of losing his child as much as Scott does yet differently.

While it doesn’t raise the bar or prove to be perfect like last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy, “Ant-Man” does provide a lot of fun and gives us characters that are unique to watch. Unfortunately, a strong story is sadly missed here as the focus is primary on a lot of tongue-in cheek dialogue that borderlines at a near self-spoof. “Ant-Man” has not had a smooth pre-production history as Edgar Wright was to helm this entry but left due to creative differences. In a way, I do wonder how much of Wright’s material made it to the final cut considering his co-writing credit and there are times when the comedy feels self-aware like in Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz. One example is when Scott breaks into a home and notices the heavy amount of security ranging form a fingerprint scanner to the basement to a safe made of the same metal used to craft the Titanic. Its ridiculous on paper but somehow feels plausible in execution.

The better way to describe this movie is a mix between The Rocketeer and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids as the rocket jet-pack is substituted for a suit and we explore more than just someone’s backyard from time to time. I was honestly surprised by the amount of fun and effort but it falls short when compared to Iron Man or Captain America. Its obviously not trying to raise the bar and just be an entry for the sake of enjoyment. And seeing how many times they play around with the shrinking and use the microscopic words to great potential, I found myself feeling satisfied with this fun-sized flick. Its very rare we get a film to show the wonders of inside an ant hill while also the danger of a bathtub from a bug’s point of view. While it doesn’t do much new and uses the same cliched notes and beats from the casual origin story, the fun factor is so high here that I can’t help but recommend it.