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Siraj Syed


Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 

 

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Captain America-Civil War, Review: Danger...Us?

Captain America-Civil War, Review: Danger...Us?

Emerging from the 2006 Marvel Comic storyline, Civil War, this is a top heavy assembly, where the heroes get divided into two camps and battle it out, before realising that unity in diversity must come first, and egos should take second billing. It is about two superstars taking opposing, dictatorial stances, but with so many characters doing their bit for the fans, the film is a democratic treatise. Villains, by comparison, are poorly delineated. Marvel regulars will have smooth sailing. For others, the lack of back-stories means some things are amiss, and when you are trying to grasp a narrative, with several insider jokes, ignorance is not bliss.

In 1991, towards the end of the Cold War, Hydra operatives in Siberia revive Bucky Barnes from a cryogenic state, and condition him to be completely obedient to anyone who recites certain trigger words. He is dispatched to intercept an automobile, carrying a case of super-soldier serum, and assassinate its occupants. Approximately one year after Ultron's defeat at the hands of the Avengers, Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff, Sam Wilson, and Wanda Maximoff, stop Brock Rumlow from stealing a biological weapon from a lab in Lagos, Nigeria. Wanda attempts to levitate away Rumlow as he detonates a suicide bomb, but the explosion destroys a building, killing several Wakandan relief workers. The international community responds with alarm, and distrust of the Avengers.

At the team's headquarters, Secretary of State, Thaddeus Ross informs the Avengers that, unsupervised, they pose a danger, and the United Nations is preparing to pass the Sokovia Accords, which will establish an international governing body, to oversee and control the Avengers. The team is divided over the accords: Tony Stark supports supervision, because he feels guilty for creating Ultron, leading to the subsequent destruction in Sokovia, while Rogers is distrustful of governmental agendas, and prefers the Avengers to remain free, to act on their own.

Unable to convince Rogers to support the accords, Romanoff attends their ratification in Vienna, immediately after which a bombing kills King T'Chaka, of Wakanda. T'Chaka's son, T'Challa, vows to kill the bomber, whom security footage indicates is Barnes. Rogers recruits Wanda, Clint Barton, and Scott Lang to join his team. Stark convinces Ross to let him bring his renegade comrades in, and assembles Romanoff, T'Challa, James Rhodes, and Vision, as well as young hero, Peter Parker, the to-be Spider-Man.

Bankable franchise writer-duo Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely (Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) are back in business, and have even signed a deal for the next two films in the series. Due credit is given to Mark Millar (comic book), Joe Simon and Jack Kirby (characters). Yes, the Markus-McFeely partnership has their hands on the pulse of Marvel Universe aficionados.  Yet, whether they have been able to make this sprawling, expansive foray a comprehensible entertainer is open to debate. Their script has four or five applaud points, and the audience plays along: when Iron Man presses a button to get into his costume mid-flight, when Spiderman is introduced, when Captain America makes a chopper come a cropper, etc. But it becomes predictable and repetitive, when you realise that none of the heroes are going to die (only one gets severely wounded), in spite of the endless banging, flying and spinning overdrive. Even the stand-off between Rogers and Stark, though elaborated in some detail, remains unconvincing.

Two other scenes that make you wonder whether you are missing something are the ones where Stark makes his presentation, and then slips out to encounter a black woman near the elevator. And, pray, why is the villainy so weak in its motivation? Meant to trigger off obedience and a subjugated state in Bucky Barnes, the spell-binding code words are more comic (as in funny) than codey. How did T’Challa, a black African tribal king’s son, gain his flying and combat abilities remains unexplained. Every three scenes, a super-imposed title tells you that you are now in a different city. Titled Captain America, it is as much an Iron Man film.

Brothers in arms, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Welcome to Collinwood, You, Me and Dupree) love long, wide, comic-book framing, and used the (then) brand new, just launched IMAX 65 camera. They cite The Godfather as their influence in terms of a spread-out canvas and an individual character arc, and Brian De Palma, because, “... he’s so good at tension and empty space.” Cinematography is impressive, in whatever little real-time action there is. Effects are effective too. For a 2 hours 26 minutes film, the punches are just not enough. The directors are indulgent in allotting footage when it comes to Stark and Vision, perhaps over-indulgent. A pulse-pounding opening chase and some webby battles at an airport are well-constructed. Action is generally very well-choreographed.

It will just not be possible to discuss performances in such an all star assembly. It might not serve any purpose either. Yet, a few observations: Chris Evans as Captain America is good-looking, Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man looks his age and retains his humour, Scarlett Johansson as The Black Widow kicks as always, Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier is rugged and full of vigour, Anthony Mackie has a genial presence but Sam Wilson/The Falcon is, pre-ordained, always 10 steps behind the action, Jeremy Renner as the anachronistic archer Clint Barton/Hawkeye has his moments, Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa/Black Panther did research on the cultural aspects of the character and found a regional accent, based on where the fictional Wakanda nation would be! Way to go, Chadwick!

Paul Bettany as Stark’s robot Vision gets to touch emotional chords among his human fans, William Hurt as Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross is still the clever old William Hurt, sympathies also to Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch), who is blamed for the deaths of some hospital inmates, collateral damage in her attempt to neutralise Rumlow. German-Spanish actor Daniel Brühl as Helmut Zemo, the Sokovian survivor baddie, is ruthless and maniacal, but needed a better written part. Where have they hidden Paul Rudd (Scott Lang/Ant-Man) in the film? Last, but not the least, Spider-Man! Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, discovered and recruited by Stark, set many a (female?) heart flutter, every time he spun on to the screen, at the press preview in Mumbai. Some webcast, that!

Civil War is a highly exaggerated title. Yet, what do you expect when a bunch of armed and dangerous super-heroes have differences of opinion? “I am not going to take you to the next baseball game!?” But hold on. Armed and dangerous? The law-keepers of the world? Says who? In fact, it would have helped add excitement to the IMAX 3D screens, had they been more armed, and more dangerous.

But then, they wouldn’t remain heroes, would they?

Rating: ***

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FkTybqcX-Yo

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


Bandra West, Mumbai

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