‘Captain America: Civil War’ is an allegory for American politics

You’d think that an ultimate showdown between superheroes would be funny and absurd as Lemon Demon’s “The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny,” but Anthony and Joe Russo’s superhero showdown “Captain America: Civil War” isn’t funny.

The only part that’s remotely funny is the banter in an almost 12-minute battle sequence at an airport.

Other than that, the painstakingly long two-and-a-half hour film is mostly about what keeps bubbling up in conversations: politics.

Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, “Captain America: Civil War” centers on a political debate America’s all too familiar with: the battle between whether governmental bodies should have more or less oversight. In it, the Avengers become an allegory for America and representatives within the organization aren’t willing to compromise on how the Avengers should be governed.

Armed in his red Iron Man costume, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) stands with democratic values, believing that the United Nations should oversee the Avenger team. Donning a red, white and blue shield, Captain America (Chris Evans) sides with traditional republicans beliefs, advocating for less governmental control and more freedom of choice.

The resulting arguments aren’t pretty. They’re nasty, vindictive and very, very physical (These are the Avengers after all). Plenty of people get hurt. And even after the battles are over, the fissure remains.

“Captain America: Civil War” was directed by brothers Joe and Anthony Russo. The screenplay was written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. 

There’s no saving ‘Suicide Squad’

“Suicide Squad” was doomed to begin with.

This squad, assembled by director and writer David Ayer, are tasked with the impossible, made even more so by the elevated expectations of comic book fans.

This was D.C’s team going head to head with Marvel’s successful “Avengers” franchise.

But the squad — made up of Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) and Croc Killer (Adewale Akinneuoye-Agbaje) — were set up to fail.

They’re the “The Dirty Dozen” of supervillains — the bad guys assigned to save the world. Not only are they tasked with battling badder guys, but these guys are fighting their instinctually human urges of serving their own self interest.

“Suicide Squad” has many problems, but the first is its ridiculous premise: that a group of supervillains could actually be the next Superman or Batman — and that they’d want to be heroes to begin with.

The film overcompensates for these villains inherent natures by giving them sympathetic backstories and editing out scenes showing truly evil stuff. By omitting this material, the filmmakers are also editing out important context clues crucial to our understanding of these characters.

These guys are bad guys for a reason yet those reasons aren’t explained. Instead, we’re given reasons we should sympathize with these protagonists. El Diablo accidentally killed his wife in a fire and Croc Killer was born looking like a monster — so he became one.

Casting directors Lindsay Graham and Mary Vernieu also cast one of the most likable and charismatic human beings alive to play Deadshot, a jaded paid assassin for hire. You don’t have a problem believing Will Smith’s a hero after seeing him in previous roles such as “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “Men in Black,” “The Pursuit of Happyness” and “I am Legend,” so its hard to believe that Smith’s Deadshot is actually a villain.

“Suicide Squad” focuses on Deadshot’s role as a loving father to his daughter Zoe (Shailyn Pierre-Dixon), but while that’s enough material to make a two hour film with, that’s only a fraction of what “Suicide Squad” is supposed to contain. Remember the other villains? We don’t remember most of them either.

That’s quite a letdown since the film features one of the most interesting and iconic cinematic characters of all time. Yet “Suicide Squad” treats Jared Leto’s Joker as a gloried sidekick, using him to play to Prince Charming to Harley Quinn’s mad acid party.

“Suicide Squad” might have worked better if each of these villains were built up prior to the film, living in their own separate franchise films until this movie brought them together. (We certainly wish Robbie’s Harley Quinn and Leto’s Joker got their own movie.) Or perhaps “Suicide Squad” would have worked better if we were presented real anti-heros instead of “Suicide Squad’s” poor excuses.

Whatever the case, perhapses won’t alleviate the feeling of being cheated.

“Suicide Squad” was written and directed by David Ayer, based on John Ostrander’s comic books. 

‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ sedates us with non-stop action

Director Matthew Vaughn has once said that his film, “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” is a “postmodern love letter” to James Bond.

It shows.

james bond vs kingsman

Directed and co-written by Vaughn, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is chock-full of fun gadgets, expensive liquor, leggy women, “far-fetched theatrical plots,” and “futuristic colorful megalomaniacs.”

His script — co-written with Jane Goldman (who was also Vaughn’s writing partner during “Stardust,” “Kickass,” “The Debt,” “X-Men: First Class,” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past”) — even says so. “Kingsman’s” hero, Harry Hart (Colin Firth), and villain, Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), have a conversation about their shared love for old-school spy movies.

Loosely based on the 2012 comic series by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is the fictional British spy equivalent of the American freemasons. The secret independent organization models themselves after King Arthur (Michael Caine) and the “king’s men” — the modern knights of the round table.

Hart’s secret code name is Galahad. Gary “Eggsy” Unwin’s (Taron Egerton) father was the former Sir Lancelot, who saved Hart’s life during a Middle East mission circa 1997. When the Kingsmen’s latest Lancelot (Jack Davenport) is sliced in half, Hart recruits Eggsy to audition for Lancelot’s position.

Filmed by George Richmond and edited by “Kick-Ass'” Eddie Hamilton and Jon Harris, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is a magic show, akin to Louis Leterrier’s 2013 picture, “Now You See Me.” This time, director Vaughn is the magician — orchestrating highly stylized and precise fight scenes that could be from video games such as “Assassin’s Creed” or “Mortal Kombat.”

Egerton’s character performs parkour — jumping off buildings in order to escape bullies. Firth’s cane whips a glass on a poor bloke’s head. Gadget after gadget fires. A grenade that looks like a lighter. An umbrella that doubles as a shield and stun gun. Appendages of razor blades. Cars driving backwards and spinning donuts. And then there are the fireworks — heads exploding in syncopation.

It’s a deadly dance of stunt work, special effects and computer mishaps. But not all of the final picture is an optical illusion. On the first day of filming, actors and crew were accidentally submerged in 20 feet of water.

“Those actors were not acting, they were absolutely terrified,” Vaughn said.

Perhaps we should be too. Underneath the R-rated bloodbath, Vaughn and Goldman’s write a subversive geo-political plot, disguising evilness with altruism. Sure, it’s over-the-top (and it’s hard to remember any didactic moments when everything’s coated with blood), but as Vaughn swings his pendulum back and forth, you have to wonder if all of the masses were sedated by the non-stop action, cheap almost-deaths and other parlor tricks.

“Kingman: The Secret Service” was directed by Matthew Vaughn and written by Vaughn and Jane Goldman, based on Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons’ comic books. 

‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ plays a familiar tune

It starts with a mixtape labeled: “Awesome Mix Vol. 1” — filled with tracks from the ’70s and ’80s. The mixtape, like the music, takes you into another era — the one when new “Star Wars” movies were being released into theaters and “Star Trek” was still running on TV. The force was with us as we “explored strange new worlds, seeking out life and civilizations, going boldly where no man has gone before.”

That’s the tune director James Gunn sets up with his Marvel film, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” a time capsule to the “old” frontier.

The “Guardians of the Galaxy” aren’t your conventional superheroes. But neither are the crew of Josh Whedon’s “Serenity.” These intergalactic guardians are rogues, thieves and smugglers, assassins and killers — all with their own agendas. And their origin story starts in prison.

The captain of this Space Western (written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman based on Andy Lanning and Dan Abnett’s comic books) is Peter James Quill (Chris Pratt), or, as he likes to call himself, Star Lord. When we first meet him, he’s stealing this orb while rocking out to Redbone’s 1974 hit, “Come and Get Your Love.”

But Quill’s not the only one that wants the orb. “This orb has a real shiny blue suitcase, Ark of the Covenant, Maltese Falcon sort of vibe,” says Quill.

Quill’s mentor Yondu (Michael Rooker) would love nothing more than to sell the orb to the highest bidder. The Collector (Benecio Del Toro, “The Usual Suspects”) wants to add the orb, and the infinity stone it contains, to his collection of outer worldly treasures (which includes the Terrasect from “Thor: The Dark World“). Green-skinned Gamora (played by Zoe Saldana of the modern “Star Trek” films) is sent to secure the orb for Ronan (Lee Pace), but she wants to betray him for killing her parents. Ronan, like all evil-doers, wants the orb for world destruction. Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) wants to inflict revenge on Ronan. And Rocket the Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and his pal Groot (an Ent-like structure voiced by Vin Diesel) are hired mercenaries, looking to capture Quill for their own financial gain.

As you can imagine, the rest of “Guardians of the Galaxy” plays out like a 121-minute game of capture the orb, accompanied by flying ships and explosions. We’ve seen this story dozens of times before with varying degrees of special effects. (The visual effects artists of “Guardians of the Galaxy” successfully disintegrate the faces of men while animating CGI and rotomation animals.) But “Guardians of the Galaxy” strikes a chord.

With the help of Blue Swede, David Bowie, the Runaways, Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye and the Raspberries, Gunn drums up our nostalgia — reminding us how awesome the ’80s were while paying homage to the science fiction stories we grew up on. Now that’s a tune we can listen to.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” was directed by James Gunn and written by Gunn and Nicole Perlman based on Andy Lanning and Dan Abnett’s comics.