“CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” (2016) Review

 

“CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” (2016) Review

One of the more popular story lines to emerge from Marvel Comics was the 2006 story called “Civil War” in which many comic book characters from the company’s franchise battled over a new law designed to have superpowered individuals act under Federal regulation. Kevin Fiege and Marvel Films decided to adapt this story line for the final film in their Captain America trilogy.

“CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” features some differences from the Marvel Comics comic series. The latter featured the Superhuman Registration Act, which would force those with superhuman abilities to register with the U.S. government . . . even at the expense of their secret identies. All those with special abilities – via magic, science, extra-terrestrials and even gods – would be forced to register. The 2016 movie featured the Sokovia Accords, a set of internationally ratified legal documents that provide regulation and frame-working for the military/law enforcement deployment of enhanced individuals, particularly the Avengers. To be honest, the difference between the Superhuman Registration Act and the Sokovia Accords strikes me as rather minimal.

However, the plot for “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” began with a flashback to 1991 when a mysterious assassin intercepts an automobile on an isolated road, carrying a case of super-soldier serum. The plot jumped some twenty-five years later to Lagos, Nigeria; where a team of Avengers under the command of Steve Rogers aka Captain America stop a HYDRA team led by Brock Rumlow aka Crossbones from stealing a biological weapon from a lab in Lagos. When Rumlow blows himself up, hoping to kill Steve; Wanda Maximoff aka tries to displace the blast into the sky with telekinesis. Unfortunately, the blast destroys a nearby building, killing several Wakandan humanitarian workers. Because of the Lagos incident, U.S. Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross informs the Avengers that the United Nations is preparing to pass the Sokovia Accords, which will establish a U.N. panel to oversee and control the team.

Some members of the Avengers support the Accords and decide to follow Tony Stark aka Iron Man, who continues to feel guilt over his creation of the A.I. Ultron and the latter’s destruction of Sokovia. Others decide to follow Steve, who remains suspicious of the governments’ use of enhanced individuals. But when a bombing disrupts a conference in Vienna where the Accords were to be ratified and kills King T’Chaka of Wakanda, security footage indicates that the bomber is James “Bucky” Barnes aka the Winter Soldier, whom T’Chaka’s son, T’Challa aka Black Panther, vows to kill. Steve, who has been searching for Bucky since the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D., becomes determined to find Bucky first before anyone else can harm him and find out what really happened in Vienna. The search for Bucky manifests into another story line when the latter and Steve begin to suspect that someone from HYDRA might behind

I must admit that when I first learned that the third Captain America movie would be an adaptation of Marvel’s “Civil War”, I was not happy. I felt certain that the movie would be more of an Avengers tale than another Captain America movie that would round off the character’s trilogy. But I had decided to put aside such fears and see the movie. “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” had a great deal to offer. Exciting action sequences, plenty of travel, drama, thought provoking issues and especially some first-rate acting.

One aspect of “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” that really caught my attention were the issues presented in this story. And the issues in this story seemed to focus on guilt and responsibilities. This especially seemed to be the case for the Avengers in the wake of what happened in Sokovia and Lagos. Although Steve, Sam Wilson aka the Falcon, and especially Wanda feel guilty for what happened in Lagos; they would prefer to deal with the consequences on their own rather than allow the government to take control of their lives as Avengers. Tony, James “Rhodey” Rhodes aka War Machine, Vision and Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow seemed to feel that the best course to deal with the consequences of the group’s actions is to allow the government to control their actions. What is interesting is that while various governments and especially Thaddeus Ross want the Avengers to pay a high price for what happened in Sokovia and Lagos, Ross refuses to acknowledge guilt or pay the consequences for the battle in Harlem between Bruce Banner aka the Hulk and Emil Blonsky aka Abomination in “THE INCREDIBLE HULK”. Someone had pointed out how friends found themselves on opposite sides of this conflict. I saw this theme played out with Natasha, who found herself opposing Clint Barton aka Hawkeye, Sam and Steve – three men with whom she had formed close friendships. This theme also played out with Wanda’s growing friendship with Vision, when the pair of them took opposing sides on the Accords issue.

The past seemed to weigh heavily in this movie, as well. The ghost of Steve’s past – in the form of one “Bucky” Barnes manifests on the heels of the Vienna bombing. Another ghost from Steve’s past manifested in the form of Sharon Carter, a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, whom he had first met in “THE WINTER SOLDIER”. Both Steve and Sam were surprised to discover that Sharon was the great-niece of his former love, Peggy Carter. One could say the same for Bucky, whose past as the brainwashed Winter Soldier is not only used to frame him for the Vienna bombing, but also manifests in the discovery of Howard and Maria Stark’s fates. And while I found this revelation rather interesting, I did not find it particularly surprising, after the events of “THE WINTER SOLDIER”. In fact, many fans of the franchise did not seem surprised. Tony’s ghosts from the past also formed a cloud above this story. His and Bruce’s creation of Ultron not only led to Sokovia’s destruction, but also to his support of the Sokovia Accords. More importantly, Sokovia’s destruction led a colonel from an elite Sokovian commando unit named Helmut Zemo to seek revenge for the deaths of his family during the battle against Ultron. And the newly ascended King T’Challa struggled to deal with his father’s death, as he sought to kill Bucky for the death of his father King T’Chaka during the Vienna bombing.

But “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” is foremost an action film. And the movie featured some first-rate action sequences. Many film critics and moviegoers have been talking about the battle between the two Avengers factions at a Berlin airport. And yes, I found it impressive . . . somewhat. My favorite moment occurred when Scott Lang aka Ant-Man transformed himself into a giant, taking everyone by surprise. But if I must be honest, the airport sequence is not my favorite action scene in the movie. One of my favorites proved to be the chase sequence in Berlin in which the police, Steve, Sam and T’Challa pursued a fleeing Bucky. Another favorite turned out to be the movie’s first action sequence in which Steve’s Avenger team battled against Rumlow and his HYDRA team in Lagos.

The movie also featured some excellent acting. To be honest, I cannot think of a bad performance in this film. Once again, Chris Evans stepped up to the plate and provided another first-rate performance as Steve Rogers aka Captain America. For once, his Steve proved to be a more reflective man, who had learned to control his quick temper (until near the end of the film). I can also say the same for Robert Downey Jr., who gave another excellent performance as Tony Stark aka Iron Man.

Scarlett Johansson was excellent as former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow, who desperately tried to get Steve and Sam to cooperate with the government and sign the Accords. Anthony Mackie’s portrayal of Sam Wilson aka the Falcon proved to be a little more emotional and satisfying, as his character openly expressed contempt toward the Sokovia Accords and minor distrust toward Bucky Barnes’ re-appearance in Steve’s life. Sebastian Stan continued his excellent performance as Bucky Barnes, now a desperate man trying to keep both his memories and his life intact. Don Cheadle’s performance throughout most of the movie struck me as solid. But I must admit that he really stepped up his game and gave a very poignant performance in his last scene in which he and Tony discuss the near tragic circumstances of the Berlin airport fight. Both Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany clicked on screen as Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch and Vision. This was especially apparent in one scene in which Wanda becomes aware that Vision has been trying to prevent her from leaving the Avengers’ headquarters.

Chadwick Boseman made a very impressive debut as T’Challa aka Black Panther. Boseman did an excellent job in portraying T’Challa’s barely controlled anger over his father’s death and his obsession in exacting revenge. Eight years after “THE INCREDIBLE HULK”, William Hurt repeated his role as Bruce Banner’s main adversary, Thaddeus Ross, who has become the U.S. Secretary of Defense and main supporter of the Sokovia Accords. And he was a lot more subtle and scary in this film than he was in the 2008 movie. Daniel Brühl gave a very subtle, yet intense performance as Helmut Zemo, the former Sokovian commando who wanted revenge against the Avengers for the deaths of his family. Alfre Woodard gave a very sublte, yet emotional performance as a woman who had confronted Tony about the death of her son in Sokovia. The movie also featured some solid performances from Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, John Slattery, Hope Davis and Frank Grillo.

Despite my admiration for the movie’s cast, the action sequences and some of the issues raised in “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR”, I had a major problem with it. In fact, I had several problems with it. First of all, the whole idea behind the Sokovia Accords really made no sense to me. I could say that this whole matter began because several Wakandan civilians were killed, when Steve and Wanda were trying to stop Rumlow from harming others through self-detonation. But it really began with the Chitauri invasion of New York in “THE AVENGERS”. Then came the fallout from the destruction of the HYDRA sponsored helicarriers in “THE WINTER SOLDIER”, along with Iron Man and the Hulk’s battle in South Africa and the destruction of Sokovia in “AGE OF ULTRON” and finally, the Lagos incident in this film. For some reason, people like Thaddeus Ross want to solely blame the Avengers for the civilian fallout and not the villains. In the case of the events of “AGE OF ULTRON”, Tony, Bruce and Wanda were to blame. And Wanda . . . was not an Avenger at the time. What I could not understand is that neither Steve, Sam or anyone else who supported them had bothered to point this out. In fact, no one had bothered to point out Ross’ own involvement in the Hulk v. Abomination battle that nearly destroyed Harlem in “THE INCREDIBLE HULK”. You know . . . like Tony and Natasha?

Even if the Avengers had found themselves under government control, the possibility that innocent civilians might get hurt would always be possible. Not even the Avengers or any other costumed hero/heroine can save everyone. Yet, no bothered to point this out. I also noticed that Thaddeus Ross failed to mention the Hulk v. Abomination battle in Harlem. This is understandable, considering he was partially to blame for what happened. But why did no one pointed this out? And could someone please explain why the Accords were named after the Sokovia incident, instead of the incident in Lagos, which had kick-started the international community’s decision to create them in the first place? Martin Freeman portrayed a character from the Joint Counter Terrorist Centre, who helped Ross regulate the Avengers. The problem is that . . . he really did nothing in this movie, except show up and then sneer, first at Bucky and later, at the movie’s villain. Frankly, I found his appearance in this movie a complete waste of time. Speaking of waste . . . Frank Grillo, who had skillfully portrayed Brock Rumlow aka Crossbones in “THE WINTER SOLDIER”, reprised his character for this movie. And guess what happened to him? The poor schmuck was bumped off via a suicide bombing some twenty to thirty minutes into the film. Am I to believe that Rumlow, a major character in “THE WINTER SOLDIER”, had been reduced to a cameo, a plot device for the Lagos sequence . . . and nothing else? I guess so. In the end, Marvel ended up wasted Grillo’s time, just as they had wasted Thomas Kretschmann’s time in “AGE OF ULTRON”. And what were the German special forces, the GSG 9 doing in Bucharest, Romania? Bucharest was Bucky Barnes’ home at the time. And it was at his apartment where the GSG 9 tried to arrest him. What were they doing in a foreign country, trying to arrest an American citizen for a terrorist attack (the Accords conference) that happened in another foreign country – namely Austria. What on earth was the GSG 9 doing there?

I also had a problem with Tony Stark’s discovery that Bucky Barnes was the HYDRA assassin who had killed his parents. This discovery led Tony to try to kill Bucky, and Steve to come to his best friend’s defense. Two years earlier, Natasha Romanoff and Nick Fury had released top secret S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA files on the Internet, during the battle at the Triskelion in “THE WINTER SOLDIER”. Through these files, Helmut Zemo discovered that Bucky was a brainwashed assassin used by HYDRA to kill Howard and Maria Stark back in 1991. If Zemo had been able to gain access to those files, why did Tony or any Stark Enterprises employee failed to do so? Why did he not make any attempt to access the files? A man, whose own father had been one of the co-founders of S.H.I.E.L.D. and a former enemy of HYDRA’s? Considering Tony’s nature, I find it difficult to believe that he never bothered to make the attempt. I have a deep suspicion that screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely may have deliberately ignored this issue so they would have an excuse for Tony to suddenly react to Zemo’s revelation. How sloppy . . . and manipulative.

And then there is the problem of Robert Downey Jr. The actor was first cast in “CIVIL WAR” in a supporting role. However, the actor refused to do the movie, unless he was made a co-star. And Marvel gave in to his demands, because they so desperately wanted him in another Marvel film. Why did they allow Downey Jr., who portrayed Iron Man, to become a co-star in a Captain America movie? The name in the movie’s title is Captain America. I do not recall the name of Iron Man being in the title. So, why did Kevin Fiege and Marvel allow Downey Jr. to hijack half of Chris Evans’ third solo film? Especially since Evans was the lead in one of Marvel’s biggest hits – both financially and critically. Why did a Captain America movie end up giving as much attention to Tony’s character arc as it did to Steve’s? Tony’s character arc had more screen time than Bucky Barnes or Sam Wilson, who had stronger emotional connections to Steve than Tony. Why did the movie’s screenplay featured a five-to-ten minute scene in which Tony Stark recruited Peter Parker aka Spider-Man for his team and did not bother to show how Steve recruited Clint Barton and Scott Lang? In a Captain America movie?

You know, Marvel could have saved the Civil War story line for an Avengers film and wrapped up Steve’s connection to HYDRA in this film. This movie could have focused upon Steve’s efforts to help Bucky and put HYDRA behind him for good. The movie “ANT-MAN” featured former S.H.I.E.L.D. official/HYDRA mole Mitchell Carson alive and well at the end, with a sample of Darren Cross’ Yellow Jacket serum in his possession. They could have tied this up with the Winter Soldier program . . . or create another plot featuring HYDRA. The narrative for “CIVIL WAR” could have focused on the Winter Soldier program, allowed Helmut Zemo to remain a HYDRA agent, allowed Steve’s friendships with both Sam and Bucky to become more complex and allowed his relationship with Sharon Carter to develop at a decent pace. Instead, Fiege and Marvel decided to (temporarily?) end the HYDRA story arc with former S.H.I.E.L.D. director Phil Coulson and ATCU director Glenn Talbot blowing up HYDRA bases . . . off screen in an “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” episode called (3.18) “Singularity”. I found this so unsatisfying. And since Marvel and Fiege decided that this third Captain America movie should be more about the Sokovia Accords, this left Sam and Bucky engaged in a long and rather stupid running joke regarding their mutual competition for Steve’s friendship. The latter’s romance with Sharon proved to be very rushed. And instead of admitting this, some fans are blaming actress Emily VanCamp and the Sharon Carter character, instead of the movie’s screenwriters and producers. They have also began promoting the idea of Steve becoming bisexual and beginning a romance with Bucky (and not Sam, whom I suspect was not white enough for them). And I am not the only one who has noticed that Zemo’s motivation for revenge against the Avengers bore a strong resemblance to the Maximoff twins’ hostility toward Tony Stark in “AGE OF ULTRON”?

“CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” featured some excellent acting by a cast led by Chris Evans, some interesting issues on whether government intervention is a good thing or not, and some great action sequences, thanks to directors Anthony and Joe Russo. But for me, “CIVIL WAR” turned out to be nothing more than an Avengers movie shoved into a Captain America flick. And in the end, I found this rather unsatisfying and schizophrenic.

Favorite Moments in MARVEL Movies and Television

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Below is a list of my favorite moments featured in Marvel movies and television: 

FAVORITE MOMENTS IN MARVEL MOVIES AND TELEVISION

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1. “Spider-Man 2” (2004) – After a brutal fight with Doc Ock on top of a Manhattan El Train and saving the train’s passengers, an exhausted Spider-Man aka Peter Parker is unmasked by the latter in what I regard as the most poignant moment in any Marvel production.

 

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2. “The Avengers” (2012) – During its fight against invading Chitauri troops, director Joss Whedon gave audiences an iconic shot of the newly formed Avengers, before they continued the battle.

 

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3. “Iron-Man 3” (2013) – Iron Man aka Tony Stark saves the surviving passengers and crew of Air Force One in this breathtaking sequence, using aerodynamics, one of his Iron Man bots and his brains.

 

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4. “The Wolverine” (2013) – In this exciting sequence, the Wolverine aka Logan battles members of the Yakuza on top of a Tokyo bullet train, as he tries to prevent them from kidnapping the granddaughter of a recently deceased businessman that he had briefly met at the end of World War II.

 

 

5. “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” (1.20) “Nothing Personal” – Agent Phil Coulson rescues his kidnapped subordinate Skye aka Daisy Johnson from HYDRA agents, who had hijacked the fallen agency’s C-17 plane, known as “the Bus”, with his sports car called “L.O.L.A.”.

 

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6. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014) – While staving off rogue HYDRA agents in Washington D.C., Captain America aka Steve Rogers has a brutal hand-to-hand fight with the assassin known as “the Winter Soldier”. Best fight scene in any Marvel production … at least for me.

 

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7. “Iron Man 3” (2013) – In this hilarious scene, Tony Stark finally comes face-to-face with the “terrorist” known as “the Mandarin”, who proves not to be what many had assumed.

 

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8. “The Hulk” (2003) – The opening credits of the 2003 movie featured the chilling efforts of Dr. David Banner to create super soldiers by introducing modified DNA sequences extracted from various animals to strengthen the human cellular response. This sequence gives me the chills whenever I watch the movie.

 

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9. “X2: X-Men United” (2003) – The second movie in the “X-MEN” franchise featured an exciting attack by a brainwashed Nightcrawler aka Kurt Wagner on the White House, in an attempt to assassinate the U.S. President.

 

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10. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014) – S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury is attacked by HYDRA agents and the assassin known as “the Winter Soldier” on the streets of Washington D.C.

 

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11. “Iron Man 2” (2010) – S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Natasha Romanoff aka the Black Widow fights off security guards at Justin Hammer’s factory in order to prevent Ivan Venko from using James Rhodes in the War Machine suit from killing Tony Stark aka Iron Man.

 

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12. “Ant-Man” (2015) – Scott Laing aka Ant-Man attempts to infiltrate the new Avengers headquarters for a particular device, and has an unexpected encounter with Avenger Sam Wilson aka the Falcon.

 

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13. “Iron Man 3” (2015) – An Extremis enhanced Pepper Potts saves Tony Stark from villain Aldrich Killian by killing the latter.

 

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14. “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011) – The recently enhanced Steve Rogers is recruited by a U.S. senator for a war bonds tour in this colorful montage, after the former is rejected by Colonel Chester Phillips when the super soldier formula is lost.

 

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15. “Thor” (2011) – Recently cast out from Asgaard by his father Odin, a now mortal Thor struggles to free himself from a hospital’s personnel before he is eventually drugged in this very funny scene.

 

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16. “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014) – A group of extraterrestrial misfits uses one of the Infinity stones to defeat Kree supervillain Ronan the Accuser, who is bent upon destroying the Nova Empire’s capital city, Xandar.

 

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17. “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011) – In this emotionally sad scene, S.S.R. Agent Peggy Carter gives in to tears, when communication with Captain America aka Steve Rogers is cut short, after he forces a HYDRA plane with deadly weapons into the Atlantic Ocean.

 

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18. “Spider-Man 3” (2007) – Another sad scene features Spider-Man aka Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson grieving over the dead body of their friend, Harry Osborn aka New Goblin, after the latter is skewered by villain Venom aka Eddie Brock.

 

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19. “Agent Carter” (1.07) “Snafu” – S.S.R. Chief Roger Dooley jumps to his death in order to save the lives of his subordinates from the bomb device that had been strapped to his body.

 

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20. “The Hulk” (2003) – Ang Lee directed this bizarre scene featuring the death of former military officer Glenn Talbot, after the Hulk aka Bruce Banner escapes from a military base.

 

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Honorable Mention: “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (2014) – Director Marc Webb directed this heartbreaking sequence in which Gwen Stacy falls to her death, after Spider-Man aka Peter Parker fails to save her from Harry Osborn aka the Green Goblin.

How Iron Man Ruined “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR″ For Me

 

HOW IRON MAN RUINED “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” FOR ME

I am so disappointed with Marvel. And I am especially disappointed with its latest entry for the Marvel Cinematic Universe – namely “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR”. I never thought I would be so disappointed with a Captain America film, considering how much I loved “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER” and especially “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER”.

As for “CIVIL WAR”, I found it disappointing. Worse, I left the movie theater feeling unusually angry. And a great deal of my anger was focused on Tony Stark aka Iron Man’s role as the movie’s co-lead, which the writers had allowed to nearly dominate the film. Someone on the TREK BBS forum had pointed out that “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” had sewn up the plot lines left dangling from “THE WINTER SOLDIER”. And the movie did so . . . WITH BAD WRITING!

“CIVIL WAR” started with a flashback of Tony’s parents getting killed in 1991. The screenplay tried to make a mystery of it, but even a dummy would have known who was the killer.
Steve’s romance with Sharon Carter was rushed, because the Sokovia Accords story line and Tony’s man pain made it impossible for the screenwriters to do justice to it. Now, we have fans demanding that Steve become a bisexual, so that he can have a romance with his old buddy, Bucky Barnes. One, I cannot believe that these fans are so unwilling to see how badly written that Steve and Sharon’s romance was that they would rather he become a bisexual. Really? Because the screenwriters had failed to follow up the promise of Steve and Sharon? And two, I find it ironic (or not) that they would not consider Steve having a romance with Sam Wilson, who is African-American.

Speaking of Sam and Bucky, I noticed that their relationship was never really explored. Instead, the movie presented their rivalry over the role of Steve’s “best friend” in a series of silly comedy routines in which they are mildly hostile toward one another. The movie spent 10 to 15 minutes showing how Tony Stark recruited Peter Parker (who really had no business being in this movie) for Team Iron Man. They could have saved this first meeting in MCU’s upcoming“SPIDER-MAN” movie. Yet, “CIVIL WAR” failed to explain or show why Scott Lang and Clint Barton had decided to side with Steve.

Zemo’s whole revenge plot was all about Tony finding out that Bucky, as the brainwashed Winter Soldier, had killed his parents in order to break up the Avengers for what happened in Sokovia. Again, it became all about Tony. The worst aspect of all of this is that Marvel ended Steve and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s conflict with HYDRA in such a weak manner. The studio ended it on “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” – with Phil Coulson and Glenn Talbot coordinating a series of bombing on HYDRA bases . . . off screen. I found that incredibly pathetic. Someone on Tumblr had pointed out that Steve Roger’s personal arc in “CIVIL WAR” had been weakened by the screenwriters’ unnecessary focus on Tony Stark. After seeing this movie, I heartily agree. What is really sickening about this is that Marvel Studios came up with the idea to focus the Civil War arc in a Captain America movie in order to lure Robert Downey Jr. into another Marvel film.

You would think after the box office successes of movies like “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” and“GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” that this idea was unnecessary. But apparently, Marvel thought otherwise and decided to shove an Avengers film into a Captain America movie . . . all because they could not do without the increasingly overrated Robert Downey Jr. And because of this decision, I have now developed deep contempt toward Marvel Studios.

“MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION” (2015) Review

“MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION” (2015) Review

When I first learned that a fifth movie for the “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE” movie franchise would be shot, I must admit that I was not particularly thrilled. As far as I was concerned, three or four movies were enough. The last film, “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL”, struck me as the high note of the franchise. I had doubts that the next film could be an improvement of the last film.

Paramount Pictures and the film’s producers (which included star Tom Cruise and J.J. Abrams) went ahead to produce and release the franchise’s fifth entry, “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION”. The movie begins with IMF (Impossible Mission Force) agents Ethan Hunt and Benji Dunn engaged in a mission to intercept nerve gas being sold to terrorists. But when Hunt is captured and escapes from the customer who wanted the nerve gas, he becomes aware of an international criminal consortium called the Syndicate. He also meets a disavowed MI6 agent and Syndicate operative named Ilsa Faust, who helped him escape. But C.I.A. Director Alan Hunley does not believe in the existence of the Syndicate. Hunley also goes before a Senate committee to disband the IMF, despite Agent William Brandt’s efforts to stop him. Declared a rogue agent by the C.I.A., Hunt enlists the aide of Ilsa Faust and his former IMF colleagues – Benji, Luther Stickell and Brandt – to provide evidence on the existence of the Syndicate and bring down the organization’s leader who had earlier captured him.

If anyone had been reading some of my past reviews of the Summer 2015 movies (which I doubt), that person would noticed a good number of complaints on my part regarding the pacing of these movies. I will say this about “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION”, it possesses a strong finish. And screenwriters Christopher MacQuarrie and Drew Pearce also managed to create a very interesting and complex tale that involved deception, double-crosses and misconceptions. And thanks to MacQuarrie, who also served as the movie’s director, “ROGUE NATION” featured both some first-rate dramatic scenes and outstanding action sequences.

My favorite dramatic scenes included Brandt’s clash with Hunley over the future of IMF; Faust’s attempts to convince the Syndicate’s leader, former MI-6 agent Solomon Lane, that she is loyal to him; Faust’s encounter with her MI6 Director Atlee, the quarrel between Hunt and the always skeptical Brandt on how to handle Lane, a USB flash drive that everyone seems to want, and Dunn’s kidnapping; and the confrontation between Hunt, Brandt, Hunley, Atlee and the Britain’s Prime Minister. But my favorite episode proved to be one of the last. It featured Hunt’s efforts to convince Lane to let Dunn go in exchange for the information on the flash drive. Thanks to the performers in that scene, I thought it was a phenomenon scene filled with tension.

But “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION” is also an action film. And it featured some very outstanding scenes. Trailers and television spots made a big deal of the movie’s opening action shot featuring Tom Cruise and a cargo plane. I would have been impressed if I had not seen it so many times. But I was impressed by the high tension sequence at an opera performance in Vienna. I thought both MacQuarrie and film editor Eddie Hamilton handled it very well. Another favorite sequence proved to be Hunt, Faust and Dunn’s attempt to steal information about the Syndicate from inside an underwater turbine tank in Morocco. In fact, I think I was even more impressed with MacQuarrie and Hamilton’s work in this sequence than I was with the one in Austria. And I thought the film’s last action sequence in the streets of London was well handled and suspenseful . . . especially the fight scene between Faust and Lane’s right-hand man, Janik Vinter.

There is a good deal to like about “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION”. But I would never regard it as my favorite movie from the franchise. Heck, I would not even rank it as my second favorite. As much as I liked the movie . . . I had some problems. One, “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION” featured the fourth movie in the franchise in which either Ethan Hunt finds himself on the run as a rogue agent or when the IMF is in danger of being permanently disbanded. In the case of this movie, both happened. A senate committee disbanded IMF and Hunt ended up on the run, hunted by the C.I.A. Four movies out of five . . . this strikes me as a bit too much after five movies. And unoriginal. And why would the C.I.A. director go before a senate committed to disband the IMF? I could have sworn that the latter was a division or section of the C.I.A. It certainly seemed that way in the 1996 movie, “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE”. Following the death of Jim Phelps, Ethan’s Hunt immediate supervisor proved to be then Director Eugene Kittridge (portrayed by Henry Czerny). And the IMF was located at the C.I.A. Headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Hunt also answered to Director Theodore Brassel (Laurence Fishburne), who also worked out of Langley. See what I am getting here? Why is this movie portraying the C.I.A. and the IMF as two separate agencies? I also could not help but shake my head that Hunley wanted to disband the IMF for what happened in “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL”. I understand that Hunley was upset that Hunt allowed those nuclear weapon codes to get into the hands of the main villain. But that happened four years ago. And why bring down an entire agency or division over the actions of one agent? Hunley should have simply went after Hunt. Speaking of the latter, while he was making goo-goo eyes at Elsa Faust, did he remember his estranged wife, Jules? Are they still legally married? Does he still love her?

What exactly was William Brandt’s current position at IMF? I never heard of a mere agent having enough authority to report before a Senate committee? I read somewhere that in this movie, IMF was currently without a director? Huh? This would never happen in the intelligence community. Even if there was no permanent director on hand, there would be an interim director before a permanent one could be found. Was MacQuarrie and Drew Pearce trying to hint that Brandt had risen up the IMF ladder? Why not Hunt? Why not allow Hunt to become the temporary director and allow Brandt to be the field agent? It would make more sense. What did not make any sense was that opening action sequence involving the retrieval of those nerve gas canisters. It would have been a lot easier for Hunt and Dunn to snatch the nerve gas before it could be loaded on that cargo plane. But the way the whole stunt was planned and carried out, I got the feeling it was nothing more than a glorified stunt planned to show audiences that Cruise still had what it took to be an action star. And it bored me. Also, I found myself slightly confused about the movie’s plot – namely the goals of Elsa Faust and Solomon Lane. At first, I thought Faust wanted the information that would expose the Syndicate. As it turned out, the information that she, Benji and Hunt had stolen was the same information that Syndicate leader wanted . . . MI6 funds that could finance his terrorist organization. So . . . was Faust playing Hunt and MI6 all along? Was Lane playing Hunt? Or did the screenwriters make a rather confusing switch in the plot in order to surprise the audiences? I have no idea.

I certainly had no problems with the movie’s performances. Tom Cruise gave a top-notched performance as Ethan Hunt . . . as always. But I got the feeling that there was nothing particular new or mind blowing about his performance. Many critics seemed to be more than impressed by Rebecca Ferguson’s performance as the allegedly disavowed MI6 agent, Elsa Faust. Yes, she did an excellent job in giving a very complex performance. But the “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE” movie franchise has always been blessed with excellent and interesting women characters. She is not the first. Simon Pegg was very funny as IMF tech/agent Benji Dunn. More importantly, he did an excellent job in conveying Dunn’s growing confidence as a field agent. Although he did make a cameo appearance in the fourth “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE”, it was nice to see Ving Rhames appear as a supporting player again, reprising his role as the talented hack/IMF computer technician, Luther Stickell. And it was nice to see Jeremy Renner reprise his role as IMF Agent William Brandt again. He gave first-rate performance, as always. But I was very disappointed that he was not feature in any major action sequences, other than the Morocco car chase.

The role of C.I.A. Director Alan Hunley must be the first bureaucrat I have ever seen Alec Baldwin portray. Being the consummate actor he has always been, Baldwin gave an excellent portrayal of a limited-minded man whose resentment and anger toward another man led him to disband an entire agency (or division). I was very impressed by Simon McBurney’s performance as the MI6 Director, Attlee. He did an excellent in conveying the character’s manipulative and slightly malevolent personality. Sean Williams’s character, Solomon Lane, definitely struck me as malevolent, thanks to the actor’s performance. There were times when his character came off as a one-dimensional James Bond villain. But fortunately, his scenes with Cruise later in the film allowed audiences to fleetingly see the emotional toll that Lane had endured as an MI6 agent. “ROGUE NATION” also featured a very funny cameo appearance by Tom Hollander as the Prime Minister. I find this ironic, considering the tense nature of the scene he had appeared in.

In a nutshell, “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION” was an entertaining and exciting addition to the movie franchise. I thought Christopher MacQuarrie and Drew Pearce managed to create an interesting tale filled with intrigue, double-cross, first-rate action and excellent acting from a cast led by Tom Cruise. However . . . I thought the movie slightly suffered from some plot holes and a writing formula that is starting to seem a bit tired. I understand that Paramount has already green-lighted a sixth film for the franchise. I hope that it will prove to be a bit more original.

“THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON” (2015) Review

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“THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON” (2015) Review

The Marvel Cinematic Universe, which first began back in 2008, edged closer to the completion of its second phase with the release of “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON”. This second film featured the return of the team of superheroes that saved Earth from an alien invasion in the 2012 film, “THE AVENGERS”.

In reality, the movie began with the “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” Season Two episode, (2.19) “The Dirty Half Dozen”, in which Phil Coulson and his team managed to infiltrate a HYDRA base led by one Doctor List and discover the location of the secret base of the evil organization in the fictional country of Sokovia. “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON”opened with the Avengers in Slovakia, attacking the HYDRA base. Despite Clint Barton aka Hawkeye’s injury and the team’s encounter with HYDRA’s new superhumans, Sokovia natives Pietro and Wanda Maximoff aka Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch; the Avengers prevail by arresting HYDRA leader Baron Wolfgang von Strucker and obtaining the Chitauri Scepter used by Loki in the 2012 movie. However, Tony Stark aka Iron Man has an encounter with the telepathic Wanda Maximoff that leaves him with visions of the entire Avengers team dead (except him).

Upon the team’s return to Tony’s Manhattan penthouse, which is being used as their headquarters; he asks fellow Avenger Thor Odinson if he could examine the scepter before the latter can deliver it to Asgard. Thor acquiesces and both Tony and Bruce Banner aka the Hulk discover one of the Infinity stones (Mind Stone) within the scepter. They also discover that the stone has an artificial intelligence. Tony decides to use the stone complete his idea of an “ULTRON” global defense program – an artificial intelligence that controls robotic armor to protect Earth from future danger. Unfortunately the ULTRON program becomes sentient. He believes that he must eradicate humanity in order to save Earth. So ULTRON eliminates Stark’s A.I., J.A.R.V.I.S., and attacks the Avengers at their headquarters. ULTRON escapes with the scepter and uses the resources at Strucker’s Sokovia base to upgrade his rudimentary body and build an army of robot drones. After killing Strucker, ULTRON recruits the Maximoffs, who hold Stark responsible for their parents’ deaths by his weapons. Once the Avengers learn what Tony and Bruce had created, they set off to track down ULTRON and prevent the latter from carrying out his agenda for the destruction of humanity.

I might as well put my cards on the table. “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON” is not as good as its 201 predecessor. I fear that writer-director Joss Whedon may have gotten a little sloppy with the execution of his story. The first problem I had with the movie is its use of the HYDRA organization. Since 2014’s “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER revealed that HYDRA leader Baron von Stucker was in possession of the Chitauri scepter, it is obvious that Whedon used HYDRA for the Avengers – especially Tony Stark – to get their hands on it and the Mind Stone. More importantly, he wanted to use the Mind Stone for the creation of both ULTRON and the newest Avenger team member, Vision. But after the movie’s opening action sequence, Stucker was captured and later killed by ULTRON, making his appearance in the film a complete waste of time. In fact, it seems as if the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has been hellbent upon the misuse of HYDRA since Season Two of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”. Personally, I wish that producer Kevin Fiege had allowed the HYDRA/Chitauri scepter plot line to be used for the third Captain America film and allowed both ULTRON and Vision to be created without the Mind stone. And why on earth did Whedon allowed the Mind stone to contain artificial intelligence? Was this an attempt by him to remove a possible supernatural or spiritual aspect of the Infinity Stones, due to some lack of religious beliefs?

What other problems I had with the movie? Honestly, I found the action sequences in the movie rather over-the-top. I was not that impressed by sequence featuring the Avengers’ attack upon the HYDRA Sokovia base and their final showdown against ULTRON in the same location. And if I must be brutally honest, I was especially put off by the fight between Iron Man and an enraged Hulk (courtesy of Scarlet Witch’s mind games) in the fictional country of Wakanda (home of the Black Panther). Speaking of the movie’s final action sequence, I was not particularly fond it. I hated the methods ULTRON used to finally destroy humanity. What did he do? ULTRON used vibranium from the old HYDRA base to build a machine that would lift a large part of Sokovia’s capital city skyward and crash it into the ground in order to cause global extinction. And I had to sit inside that movie theater and watch the Avengers battle robots and ULTRON in a city that was rising in the air. There was a point in which I found the whole thing simply fucking ridiculous. Speaking of robots . . . the sight of ULTRON’s killer droids brought back memories of the Sentinels from 2014’s “X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”, a movie that is not high on my list of favorite Marvel flicks. And there was the vision that Thor had received from the Scarlet Witch. One, how on earth did a human managed to force an image upon an Asgardian? Especially one as powerful as Thor? Two, was this vision supposed to be of Wanda’s creation . . . or a genuine vision of the future? I do not recall the Scarlet Witch possessing the talent of precognition. And why was Thor’s dream or vision edited in such a choppy manner? It is a miracle that I managed to understand it in the end.

The movie also featured the death of a major character in the film. Whedon claimed he wanted to reveal the emotional impact of war. Personally, I think he wanted to rectify his decision to resurrect the Phil Coulson character for “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”, who had originally been killed off in “THE AVENGERS”. And frankly, I found it unnecessary. The MCU could have saved a character death for the third “AVENGERS” film. Speaking of characterizations, I was not particularly thrilled by Whedon’s handling of some of the minor characters. As I had earlier pointed out, I thought he had mishandled the HYDRA story line that began in “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”. Which meant he also mishandled both the Baron von Stucker and Dr. List characters and wasted the time of actors Thomas Kretschmann and Henry Goodman. I was really looking forward to watching Kretschman’s portrayal of the HYDRA leader. And what the hell did Whedon to do the James Rhodes aka War Machine character? Poor Don Cheadle! Whedon turned his character into a one-note joke, as Rhodey continuously recalled the time he saved the President’s life in “IRON MAN 3”. Even though he helped the Avengers save Sokovia’s citizens in the final battle, Whedon still decided to make Rhodey a “machismo” joke. Only Cheadle’s skillful comic acting skill made Anthony Mackie made two brief appearances as Sam Wilson aka the Falcon – during the victory party at Stark Towers and in the final scene in which he had joined the Avengers at their new headquarters in upstate New York. That is all. Perhaps he was filming another movie at the time. Who knows? But Whedon really wasted his role in this film. Another wasted performance came from Cobie Smulders, whose appearance and relevance as Maria Hill in the Marvel Cinematic Universe seemed to be shrinking with each film. As for Stellan Skarsgård’s performance as Dr. Erik Selvig, it appearance seemed to be a case of “now you see him . . . now you don’t”. At least Idris Elba’s Hemidall managed to have a stronger impact on the story, due to his appearance in Thor’s vision. And Hayley Atwell’s appearance as Peggy Carter in Steve Roger’s vision had a strong impact on his psyche.

It is a good thing that I actually managed to enjoy “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON” very much . . . despite its flaws. Fortunately, the movie possessed a lot more flaws than virtues. The ensemble created for the film seemed strong as ever . . . especially in the sequence featuring the Avengers’ victory party at Stark Towers. Although I was not that enamored of the ULTRON storyline idea, I must admit that overall, Joss Whedon managed to make it work. Whedon did an excellent job of connecting the dots between the HYDRA base attack, one of the Infinity stones and the creations of both ULTRON and Vision. And the two characters that served as the connections to these different aspects of the plot were Tony Stark and Thor. I never understood why Nick Fury sent the Avengers after Baron von Strucker and HYDRA. There were plenty of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents still around who could have done the job. But it made sense that Thor would want to retrieve the Chitauri scepter, since it contained one of the Infinity stones. And knowing Tony’s penchant for curiosity, it made sense that he would want to examine the scepter. Whedon even managed to create connections between Tony and the Maximoff twins – Wanda and Pietro. Missiles created by Stark Industries were responsible for their parents’ deaths.

It was a relief to see that Whedon did not shortchange the major characters. Although previous MCU movies have shown some of Tony Stark’s more unpleasant traits, he really came close to being very unlikable in this film. This was especially obvious in the scene in which Tony refused to acknowledge his mistake in creating ULTRON. Robert Downey Jr. did a great job in conveying Tony’s ugly side and at the same time, still maintain the character’s “hero” status. I feel that “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON” also conveyed a good deal of Bruce Banner’s ugly nature as well . . . and I am referring to those scenes in which he did not morph into Hulk mode. Mark Ruffalo gave a sweet performance as a Bruce who seemed to be developing feelings for former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Natasha Romanoff aka the Black Widow. But there were moments when Bruce did not seem that likable. Some have cited that one moment in which he threatened to harm Wanda Maximoff. I can think of two other moments. He seemed incapable of understanding Natasha’s own personal demons during one conversation between them . . . to the point that he eventually ran off, making their potential romance all about him. “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON” finally verified that Natasha had been trained in the Soviets’ Red Room Academy, the same organization that Leviathan agent “Dottie Underwood” had been trained in the ABC series, “AGENT CARTER”. Natasha’s visions, along with her conversation with Bruce, made it clear that her training had left scars on her psyche. Scarlett Johansson performance certainly made this clear . . . especially in the scene in which she revealed Natasha’s demons in a conversation with Bruce. It was a truly superb moment in an otherwise first-rate performance by Johansson.

Jeremy Renner had more ample time to shine as former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and expert marksman, Clint Barton aka Hawkeye. Not only did we see Renner interact with the cast a lot more, but audiences were allowed an in-depth look into his personal life as a happily married man and father. In many ways, Renner’s down-to-earth performance as Barton served as the film’s emotional backbone. One would think that role should have belonged to Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers aka Captain America. However, I got the feeling that Steve was still reeling from the aftermath of the events from “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” and his continuing grief over the loss of Peggy Carter, as shown in Steve’s heartbreaking vision of a possible date with Peggy at a 1940s nightclub. It is amazing how much Evans has made the Captain America role his own after three films. Hell, he made it his own back in the 2011 film. Chris Hemsworth’s role as Thor did not strike me as “major” in compare to the other members of the Avengers team. Without the presence of Thor’s half-brother Loki, I got the feeling that Whedon did not really know what to do with him . . . other than help create Vision. But Hemsworth’s performance was my favorite in the film. That man has such a superb comic timing. And he providing some of the film’s funniest moments, including that hair-raising moment in which Steve nearly lifted his hammer, Mjolnir. Samuel L. Jackson gave a very interesting performance as former S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury. He seemed rather introspective . . . almost weary. At first, I wondered if Jackson had become tired of the role. But he had made clear his desire to continue portraying Fury beyond his current contract. I suspect that Jackson was conveying the toll of Fury’s worldwide search for HYDRA bases and agents and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s downfall.

James Spader gave one hell of a performance as the voice for the artificial intelligence being, ULTRON. Spader gave one of those memorable voice performances that I believe I will never forget. Since ULTRON is Tony Stark’s creation, it seemed as if Spader was portraying Stark’s personality . . . but with his own particular twist. It was an interesting and brilliant performance to watch . . . or hear. “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON” proved to be the first role in which I have seen actor Aaron Johnson-Taylor portrayed an extroverted character – namely Pietro Maximoff aka Quicksilver. And being the first-rate actor I have always believed he was, Johnson-Taylor did an excellent job in conveying Pietro’s impulsive nature, protectiveness toward his twin sister and cockiness – especially in his interactions with Clint Barton. In fact, his ability as a speedster seemed to correlate well with his personality. And who portrayed his twin sister? None other than Elizabeth Olsen, who portrayed his wife in the 2014 blockbuster, “GODZILLA”. Man, the irony! And she gave an equally superb performance as the more serious, yet emotional Wanda Maximoff, who possessed the talents of telepathy and telekinesis. Paul Bettany, who had served as the voice of Tony Stark’s artificial intelligence program, J.A.R.V.I.S., acquired a new role in the MCU. He is now portraying Vision, an organic-based android who eventually became a member of the Avengers. Bettany gave a very skillful, yet ethereal performance. His Vision struck me as a quiet, naive being, with a surprising penchant for wise and occasionally sardonic barbs. The movie also featured solid supporting performances from Linda Cardellini, Claudia Kim, Idris Elba, Andy Serkis and Julie Delpy.

What else can I say about “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON”? Well, nothing really. The movie’s special effects and musical score by Hans Zimmer did not exactly blow my mind. Come to think of it, Ben Davis’ cinematography failed to impress me, as well . . . even if I found his work competent. But I thought it lacked the sharp and colorful beauty of the 2012 movie. In fact, I would go as far to say that “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON” is not as good as “THE AVENGERS”. But . . . it did continue the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s main narrative. And this continuation was marked by Josh Brolin’s appearance as Thanos in the movie’s first post-credit scene. “AGE OF ULTRON” may not have been perfect or even near perfect. But I thought it was still a first-rate film.

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Ranking of Movies Seen During Summer 2015

Usually I would list my ten favorite summer movies of any particular year. However, I only watched ten new releases during the summer of 2015. Due to the limited number, I decided to rank the films that I saw:

 

 

RANKING OF MOVIES SEEN DURING SUMMER 2015

1. “Jurassic World” – In the fourth movie for the JURASSIC PARK franchise, a new dinosaur created for the Jurassic World theme park goes amok and creates havoc. Directed by Colin Trevorrow, the movie starred Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard.

 

 

2. “Ant-Man” – Convicted thief Scott Lang is recruited to become Ant-Man for a heist in this new entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Directed by Peyton Reed, Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lily and Michael Douglas starred.

 

 

3. “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” – Guy Ritchie directed this adaptation of the 1964-1968 television series about agents for the C.I.A. and KGB working together to fight neo-Nazis in the early 1960s. Armie Hammer, Henry Cavill and Alicia Vikander starred.

 

 

4. “Tomorrowland” – Brad Bird directed this imaginative tale about a a former boy-genius inventor and a scientifically inclined adolescent girl’s search for a special realm where ingenuity is encouraged. George Clooney, Britt Robertson and Hugh Laurie starred.

 

 

5. “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” – Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are forced to prevent an artificial intelligence created by Tony Stark and Bruce Banner from destroying mankind. Joss Whedon wrote and directed this second AVENGERS film.

 

 

6. “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” – Tom Cruise starred in this fifth entry in the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE” film franchise about Ethan Hunt’s efforts to find and destroy a rogue intelligence organization engaged in terrorist activities.

 

 

7. “Mr. Holmes” – Ian McKellen starred in this adaptation of Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel about the aging Sherlock Holmes’ efforts to recall his last case. Directed by Bill Condon, Laura Linney and Milo Parker co-starred.

 

 

8. “Fantastic Four” – Josh Trank directed this reboot of the Marvel comics series about four young people whose physical form is altered after they teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe. Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell starred.

 

 

9. “Entourage” – Doug Ellin wrote and directed this fluffy continuation of the 2004-2011 HBO series about a movie star and his group of friends dealing with a new project. Kevin Connolly, Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara and Jeremy Piven starred.

 

 

10. “Terminator: Genisys” – Alan Taylor directed this fifth movie in the TERMINATOR franchise, an unexpected turn of events creates a fractured timeline when Resistance fighter Kyle Reese goes back to 1984 in order to prevent the death of leader John Connor’s mother. Arnold Schwartzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney and Jason Clarke starred.

“AMERICAN HUSTLE” (2013) Review

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“AMERICAN HUSTLE” (2013) Review

For the past three years, the career of David O. Russell seemed to be on a roll. During said period, he has directed, produced or both three movies that have garnered a great deal of acclaim and awards. The latest of this “Golden Trio” happened to be a period comedy drama called “AMERICAN HUSTLE”.

Set mainly in 1978, “AMERICAN HUSTLE” is loosely based on the ABSCAM operation, set up by the F.B.I. as a sting operation against various government officials in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The movie begins with two con artists and lovers, Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser, who are caught in a loan scam by F.B.I. Special Agent Richie Di Maso. The latter proposes to release them if Irving assists him in a sting operation against Mayor Carmine Polito of Camden, New Jersey and other officials. Sydney tries to convince Irving not to agree with Richie’s proposal. But desperate to avoid prison and reluctant to leave his adopted son with his verbose and slightly unstable wife Rosalyn, Irving agrees to assist Richie and the F.B.I. The sting operation nearly starts off on the wrong foot, thanks to a clumsy tactic on Richie’s part, but Irving manages to woo back the charismatic and popular Carmine, who is seeking funds to revitalize gambling in Atlantic City. The scam seems to be going fine, despite Sydney’s growing relationship with Richie. But when Carmine introduces Irving, Sydney and Richie to the notoriously violent Mafia overlord Victor Tellegio into the plan to raise money; and Rosalyn’s jealous nature and notoriously big mouth threatens to expose the sting operation; Irving realizes he has to come up with an alternate plan to save him and Sydney from the Mob and the F.B.I.

While watching “AMERICAN HUSTLE”, it occurred to me that it is filled with some very interesting and eccentric characters. First, there are the two lovebirds – Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser – with his odd toupee and her fake British accent. Then we have Richie Di Maso is an ambitious “Mama’s Boy” with hair permed into tight curls, who is a bit too eager to prove himself with the F.B.I. Irving’s wife Rosalyn is an unhappily married woman with a big mouth and a careless and self-involved personality. And Mayor Polito is a happy-go-lucky politician with a rather large pompadour hair-style and questionable connections to the Mob. The movie is also populated with a Latino F.B.I. agent recruited by Richie to potray a wealthy Arab sheik, a charming Mob soldier who ends up falling for Rosalyn, Richie’s frustrated and wary F.B.I. supervisor, and a very sinister Mob boss that can speak Arabic. If I have to be perfectly honest, I would have to say that the movie’s array of characters struck me as being the movie’s strong point.

This should not have been a surprise. “AMERICAN HUSTLE” is also filled with some great performances. Christian Bale gave a wonderfully subtle and complex performance as the aging and stressed out con man who reluctantly finds himself involved with a scam operation set up by the F.B.I. He certainly clicked with Amy Adams, who gave one of the most subtle performances of her career as the charming, yet desperate former stripper-turned-con artist, who found herself in a state of flux over her freedom and her relationship with her partner/lover. Bradley Cooper was practically a basket of fire as the aggressive F.B.I. Agent Richie Di Maso, who become over-eager to make a name for himself within the Bureau. Mind you, there were moments when Cooper’s performance seemed to border on hamminess. I could also say the same for Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of Irving’s not-so-stable wife, Rosalyn. However, I must admit that Lawrence also provided the movie with some of its best comic moments. Jeremy Renner was a joy to watch as the charismatic mayor of Camden, Carmine Polito. The latter must have been the most happy-go-lucky role he has ever done.

“AMERICAN HUSTLE” also featured some first-rate performances from the supporting cast. Louis C.K. was very effective Richie’s long suffering boss, Special Agent Stoddard Thorsen. Michael Peña provided some memorable comic moments as Special Agent Paco Hernandez, who surprised everyone with his ability to speak Arabic. Robert De Niro, who also made a surprising appearance as mobster Victor Tellegio, gave a subtle and intimidating appearance . . . especially in a scene in which he tested Agent Thorsen’s ability to speak Arabic. The movie also featured solid performances from Jack Huston as a young mobster, Alessandro Nivola as Richie and Thoren’s boss, Anthony Zerbe as a corrupt congressman, and Elisabeth Röhm as Mayor Polito’s equally happy-go-lucky wife Dolly.

I was also impressed by the production designs for “AMERICAN HUSTLE”. Judy Becker and her team did an exceptional job of bringing the late 1970s back to life. She was also assisted by Heather Loeffler’s set decorations and Jesse Rosenthal’s art direction. Michael Wilkinson’s costume designs did an excellent job of not only capturing that particular era, but also representing the major character. This was especially apparent in his costumes for the Sydney Prosser, who used low-cut dresses and gowns to distract her marks. And I mean very low cut.

If there is one problem I have with “AMERICAN HUSTLE”, it is probably Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell’s screenplay. At first, it seemed perfectly fine to me. But eventually, there were aspects of the screenplay I found either troubling or confusing. One, I noticed that Russell tried utilize the use of multiple narrations that Martin Scorsese used in his 1995 movie, “CASINO”. At first, he used Irving and Sydney’s narration. Then he added Richie’s voice to the mix. The problem is that I can only recall Richie’s narration in one scene. Nor do I recall Sydney’s narration in the movie’s second half. Also, the first half of the movie seemed to hint that Richie’s mark in his operation was Camden’s Mayor Polito, who wanted to raise funds to revitalize Atlantic City. Why? Why would the mayor of Camden be interested in revitalizing the fortunes of another city, located in another county? And why was the F.B.I. so interested in Camden’s mayor? At first, I thought the agency was aware of his mob ties. But when Carmine introduced Irving and Richie to mobster Victor Tellegio, both the con man and the Federal agent seemed by the mobster’s appearance. So, why did Richie target Carmine in the first place? To make matters even more confusing, Richie extended his sting operation to several members of Congress. There seemed to be no focus in the operation and especially in the story.

Despite the confusing screenplay, I must admit that “AMERICAN HUSTLE” was an entertaining movie. Not only did it recaptured the era of the 1970s, but also featured some superb performances from a cast led by Christian Bale and Amy Adams. I thought it was entertaining enough to overlook its flaws.