Review: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)
Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Doug Jones, Laurence Fishburne, Julian McMahon, Kerry Washington. Directed by Tim Story.

rise1The Fantastic Four returns with a pretty decent story involving their old nemesis, Victor Von Doom, and the titular, mysterious space visitor whose appearances around the globe are so damaging that the team is called into action. The Silver Surfer is a strange creature, zooming around through the atmosphere for no apparent reason, but somehow he doesn’t seem malevolent. His path of destruction includes the nuptials of Reed Richards and Sue Storm, whose wedding is again interrupted by their need to save the world. Richards and Storm consider leaving the superheroing behind for the sake of their impending marriage, inspiring bitterness from Johnny Storm.

rise2The acting, still not the greatest, is a lot better than in this film’s predecessor. Ioan Gruffudd is a passable leading man here, and the camaraderie of the four principles is again the movie’s greatest strength. There’s a fun plot element that involves the four heroes’ trading powers, a nice little twist with a satisfying payoff.

rise3The Silver Surfer story is kind of bizarre, but this character is interesting and kind of likeable. It could have been improved with a voice actor other than Laurence Fishburne, whose quiet wisdom affectation is a slight distraction. Still, I like the tensions from multiple sources pulling characters sometimes in opposing directions and others in similar directions.

It’s kind of a fun movie, if not exactly one that sticks with you. I would have looked forward to another film with this cast. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is a step in the right direction, easily on the north end of okay.

6/10
65/100

Review: Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Elizabeth Olsen, and a cast of thousands. Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo.

cacw 1Saving the world sometimes comes with collateral damage, and when the Avengers are involved, turn that “sometimes” into “always.” In Captain America: Civil War, there is huge international backlash when Scarlet Witch unintentionally blows up a building, killing several humanitarian workers, and now the United Nations wants to assume oversight and control over the Avengers. The Avengers are split over the issue: Tony Stark leads one side, while Steve Rogers takes the other.

cacw 2Further description of the plot would only be confusing, but it mostly comes down to The UN wanting to find the Winter Soldier for the assassination of a king, while Rogers tries to get to him first in order to protect him.

(slight spoilers in this paragraph only)
I knew the barest minimum about the plot before going in, and I assumed it was Tony Stark who wanted independence while Steve Rogers accepted governmental oversight. It was a nice surprise to see that it was the other way around, and it’s easy to see what would make each man go against his seeming inclinations. Stark has been his own man for a long time; success in business almost always assumes collateral damage, but when someone humanizes the casualties, he accepts the need for someone else to be in charge. Rogers has been a government weapon, always willing to do his duty, but in this role he has lost his best friend, every one of his contemporaries, and the woman who might have been the love of his life.  As a lifelong questioner of authority, there was never a doubt which side I was hoping the Avengers would take, and it’s actually kind of surprising to see how each of them lines up.

cacw 3The film is loaded with superheroes, and although there are moments where their number is overwhelming, it’s mostly handled well, especially in the big fight scene. There are a few surprise appearances, and they mostly work. There’s a lot of quick humor, too; I laughed aloud multiple times, and I appreciated that even when the Avengers are in the middle of combat against each other, there is mutual respect and affection. There’s a lot of good relationship stuff, too, the stuff that adds nice layers between all the action sequence stuff.

And now I have to say something about Scarlet Witch, played by Elizabeth Olsen. Holy moly. She’s mysterious, dark, tortured, fearsome, and beautiful. My favorite female superhero in films has been Anna Paquin’s Rogue, beginning with the first X-Men film, but here is someone to rival her. I love that she is alternatingly gorgeous and kind of hideous (witchlike, even), with a haunted goth look I can’t take my eyes away from.

I still have a few more of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films to catch up on, but this one is likely right up there with <i>Iron Man</i>, and Captain America is becoming my favorite of the comic book movie superheroes.

7/10
79/100

Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Emily VanCamp, Cobie Smulders, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson, Anthony Mackie. Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo.

winter_soldier_2Steve Rogers is still getting acclimated to his new home, carrying around a notepad in which he writes the names of musicians, movies, politicians, and cultural references as they come up in conversation. It’s a quick reminder of the underlying stress in Rogers’s life. The Rip Van Winkle motif is certainly not new, but it does give Rogers an interesting dimension, and I always appreciate layers in my superhero movies.

In one early scene, after Rogers adds “Troubleman (soundtrack)” to his list, Natasha Romanoff (played by Scarlett Johansson) drives up in a sleek sports car to give him a ride. It’s another layer, this one falling into the plus column, because if Rogers is still dealing with the abrupt ending to his blossoming romance with agent Carter (and he seems to be), a little bit of Black Widow can ease the transition, even if the relationship seems to be platonic.

winter_soldier_3S.H.I.E.L.D. is being attacked by the titular Winter Soldier, a Russian super-tough guy Romanoff is familiar with by reputation, but weird stuff is going on that cannot be explained by this villain. A S.H.I.E.L.D. program similar to the Strategic Defense Initiative of the 1980s (only a lot more badass) is about to launch, but director Nick Fury asks for a delay until he can figure out what’s going on. He warns Rogers to “trust nobody,” which of course puts Rogers in the difficult position of seeing everyone as a potential enemy.

Action sequences are about as good as in the first Captain America film while the overarching plot of S.H.I.E.L.D. vs. Hydra isn’t very interesting, but again, the driving force is really Steve Rogers’s virtuousness, and it’s not just his patriotism, sense of duty, politeness, and desire to serve. He has a way of connecting with people wherever they are, a disarming sense of compassion and comprehension that tells people he’s on their side. This interpersonal talent makes him a quick, accurate judge of character that’s as valuable an asset as his super strength and speed. It makes me eager to see more.

7/10
76/100

Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Stanley Tucci. Directed by Joe Johnston

ca3You know how, in those side-scrolling video games of your youth, you were so familiar with the early levels that you could guide your character quickly to the boss monster, running, leaping, punching, slashing, and firing your way past a hundred no-longer-challenging minions and pitfalls? There are sequences in Captain America: The First Avenger like that, and if you don’t overthink them, they’re pretty fun to watch.

Chris Evans is Steve Rogers, a scrawny young man trying and failing to enlist in the Army to serve his country in World War II. He’s beset with a shopping list of physical ailments that keep him out, but so sincere and pure are his motives that he’s an ideal candidate for a scientific military experiment that turns him into a super soldier.

ca2I’m kind of a superhero newbie, and it seems that superpowers are the
result of military ambition, science experiments gone haywire, or alien birth. Of these, I suppose the military angle is most believable, but it comes with an underlying cynicism that works against my sensibilities. I once scoffed at the rich guys with expensive toys because they don’t actually have superpowers, but their stories are dark enough for my tastes while not originating with physical and mental abuse by the government.

ca_1Despite these ignoble beginnings, Steve Rogers adds enough brains and
earnestness to rise above the intentions of his creators and become an admirable hero without cheap sentiment. My only experience (at all, in any medium) with Captain America before now had been the first Avengers film, in which he was mysteriously bland and poorly defined. I’d missed Captain America in theaters, and after The Avengers, I was in no hurry to get caught up. But then one Captain America film became three, and for some reason, I recently decided I wanted to be completely fluent in the lore of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, and I was pleased to discover such a likeable, vulnerable hero. Apparently, one needn’t be the Dark Knight to be a tortured soul with a reason to kick butt.

Supporting characters in this film are interesting if cartoonish, but I guess you can’t really complain about comic book characters being cartoonish, so I won’t. I won’t even complain about the main villain’s ridiculous visage. There’s a canon that needs to be served, and I’m a visitor in this world, so I’ll accept the Red Skull on its terms.

Captain America: The First Avenger is a fun, engaging movie with a reasonable explanation for the dorky name and costume, and the kind of main character I want to see more of.

7/10
74/100