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GHOSTBUSTERS Movie Review: It’s Got Spirit

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What do you say about a film that inspired almost a million YouTube users, many of the masculine variety, to give thumbs down? I’m sure scores of women felt like me and it got their dander up.  This weekend director Paul Feig’s gal-fronted reboot of Ghostbusters is releasing across the country and, fingers crossed, will bring out female fans in droves, in support of women in film, and not least to smack down and dissuade the kind of girl-bashing behavior so pervasive online prerelease .  But is it any good?

The short answer is it’s good enough to enjoy, but not as great as representing total vindication. There are certainly moments that shine so brightly the entire audience glows like, say, Slimer. In particular, Kate McKinnon’s character Jillian Holtzmann, and Leslie Jones as Patty Tolan are wonderful, and without question, raising their stock to A-listers. Chris Hemworth makes himself nearly intolerable by being so funny and entertaining he nearly steals the movie.

This is not a sequel or a remake.  These four female ghostbusters have their own back stories, their own quirks, and exist in their own shared world.  Interestingly, the New York where they ply their trade is somewhat out of time.  We don’t see lots of cell phones or trappings of the now, and only the occasional plot-driven reference to the internet.  Kristen Wiig is Erin Gilbert, a professor of physics working to get tenure at Columbia, trying to live down and forget a book about the paranormal she wrote with her childhood friend.  Melissa McCarthy as Abby Yates is that friend, who still does research in the basement of a barely accredited college, with the help of genius loose cannon Holtzmann.

When an investigation into a haunting leads to a video that gets Gilbert fired, the three decide to continue their work together.  Bored transit agent Patty Tolan (Jones) joins the team after having an encounter with a belligerent ghost on the metro tracks, and the rest is ghost fighting, quip tossing, and slime cleaning fun, especially when dumb as dirt hottie Kevin (Hemsworth) acts as their entirely inept receptionist.

There are a few weaknesses that bring the proton power down…Cameos come fast and fierce, as do other nods to the original franchise, and they tend to pull the audience a bit out of the proceedings. While McKinnon’s character is an oddball hoot and entirely magnetic, some of her moments seem to hang out in the stratosphere in a way that makes them feel out of place and badly paced.  Some jokes don’t seem to land particularly well.  The movie is probably a good ten minutes too long.

On the other hand, the camaraderie is off the charts.  I can’t remember ever feeling more excited to see four people in costumes together, especially as a woman who yearns for cosplay options that don’t involve over 80% of exposed skin.  This isn’t just women kicking butt, this is women kicking butt without any help from men, or talking about men, with confidence, fearlessness, and humor.  The moment where McKinnon’s character wreaks havoc while wielding two weapons is really worth sitting through the looser aspects of the rest of the film.

The next time the powers-that-be in Hollywood say women can’t open and carry a film, I hope they will be reminded of this one, and strong box office numbers mentioned as proof.  Ghostbusters may not be a film for the ages, but it’s definitely deserving of a thumbs up…maybe even a million of them.

B

NOW BOTH MARVEL & DC REPRESENTED ON SDCC WOMEN ROCKING HOLLYWOOD PANEL!

Leave it to the women of the world to bring together Marvel and DC in peace and harmony.  As if it wasn’t already an embarrassment of riches to have the director of Women in Film LA Kirsten Schaffer, the director of Twilight Catherine Hardwicke, and respected Indie and TV writer/director Angela Robinson on the inaugural Women Rocking Hollywood panel, we also now have both Marvel AND DC represented with Victoria Alonso and Deborah Snyder! Now you really have to drop everything else and come be a part of it!

OUR NEW UPDATED PANEL DESCRIPTION:

Saturday July 23rd:

2:00 – 3:00 Women Rocking Hollywood-This exciting new panel features powerful, talented women changing Hollywood from the inside.  As creatives, directors, and producers, they are breaking box office records and showing Hollywood altering the status-quo just makes for better movies. Scheduled to appear are Victoria Alonso (exec producer, Doctor Strange, Captain America: Civil War), Deborah Snyder (producer, Wonder Woman, Justice League) Angela Robinson (writer/director, D.E.B.S., True Blood, How to Get Away With Murder) Catherine Hardwicke (director, Twilight, upcoming Love Letters to the Dead) and Kirsten Schaffer (exec director, Women in Film: LA)  talking about positive changes in tinsel town, their work, and future projects. Marvel, DC, blockbusters, indies, and powerful women-This panel brings it all! Moderated by Leslie Combemale of Cinema Siren. Room: 25ABC

LIFE, ANIMATED Film Review: Life Affirming and Full of Love

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Opening in wide release around the country is the highly anticipated feature documentary based on Pulitzer prize winner Ron Suskind’s book Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism. If you haven’t heard about this bestseller, it recounts the Suskind family’s experience with their younger son Owen’s autism, and their discovery of how to reach into and expand his world through his affinity with Disney movies.

The movie inspired by Ron Suskind’s book, Life, Animated, garnered the Special Jury Prize, a Best Director Award, and a nearly 10 minute standing ovation at Sundance this year. It is particularly pedigreed, given its director Roger Ross Williams is the first African-American director to win a Oscar, in 2010, for best documentary short subject with the film Music by Prudence. Life, Animated also got complete approval by Disney to use whatever they needed without editorial control, a rarity with the company.  Those who see it as simply promotion for Disney are missing the point.  Through the Suskind’s discoveries, what they first named ‘Disney Therapy’ has been expanded to include all sorts of subjects.  Now called ‘Affinity Therapy’, this technique has become studied and utilized by a growing group of psychologists, parents, and educators around the world.  What do you say about a documentary that is part of creating a whole new way of unlocking the worlds of people who otherwise might have always been trapped without any communication with those around them?

When Owen Suskind was around three years old, he went inside himself and stopped speaking completely.  His parents had no idea what happened, but they knew they had to help him emerge from his isolation.  In his retreat,

he spent many hours repeatedly watching Disney feature films.  They began seeing Owen mouthing the words spoken onscreen.  When he speaks out loud the words he has heard onscreen, a door to communication opens for Owen and his family.  Through a series of interactions and discoveries that spanned years of trial and error, disappointments and victories, and a lot of love and hard work, they unlocked a way to communicate through the stories and characters in Owen’s beloved Disney films.

This movie, however, is not a commercial for the studio.  It’s really about the power of leveraging the passionate interests of those on the autism spectrum, now called affinity therapy, as a way into learning, expanded thinking, and connectivity.   (Click here to read my interview with director Williams and Suskind family)

Williams chose not to simply create a film of Ron Suskind’s best-selling book, but rather expand upon it at a pivotal moment of transition in Owen Suskind’s life.  While the audience is shown some family history, and the years of struggles they experienced in helping their son develop into an independent, largely self-directed adult, the focus is on how Owen experiences life in his 20s, as he navigates relationships, work, and moving away from his family. The way Williams pivots back and forth between Owen’s childhood and the now exposes the ongoing challenges of Owen’s life with Autism in a way that ultimately achieves his larger goal of fostering understanding and compassion.

One of the most powerful tools, and most compelling aspects of the movie, is the animated sequences Williams believed were an essential part of the storytelling. They were created in 2D by the owner of the French animation studio Mac Guff, Phillipe Sonrier, and his hand picked animators. Artist Olivier Lescot, in particular, is responsible for the look of the animated sequences.  In fact, Williams and the Mac Guff crew began to call these sequences “Olivier style”.  Williams also used, at the suggestion of prolific animation producer Emily Hubley, all music and no dialogue in those parts of the film.  Electronic musician Dylan Stark created the music by incorporating recordings of VHS tapes fast-forwarding and rewinding and Owen’s self-talking into the soundscape.

Also fascinating, is what this film inadvertently says about the power of fan art. Owen creates quite a lot of it in his attempt to work out his feelings, and express what is locked inside himself.  At many points in his life, creating these images often literally expressed how he felt when he could find no other way to say it.  In a very real way, Life, Animated not only celebrates the art of 2-D animation, it also shows the value and importance of visual self expression for anyone searching or yearning for connectivity.

A

The Secret Life of Pets Movie Review: Furry Frenetic Fun

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This weekend there’s a new toon in town to compete with the juggernaut that is FINDING DORY. THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS aims squarely at the animal lover in us all, and hopes to triumph at the box office by tapping into the attachment pet owners feel for their four-legged, furry, and feathered friends.  Is the end result worthy of winning the hearts of animation fans, still singing the praises of a sequel only newly in theaters from a much larger studio?

If you’ve gotten used to the bittersweet poignancy of the Pixar films, you won’t find it in THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS. This new release from Illumination Entertainment (MINIONS, DESPICABLE ME) is all fun, and that’s not a bad thing, especially as it relates to the eccentricities of our beloved pets, and the hilarious anthropomorphized, yet diverse characterizations the filmmakers ascribe to this quirky animated menagerie. 

The story centers around an apartment complex in New York City, where scrappy, optimistic terrier Max (Louis CK) lives the good life with his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper), and hangs out while she’s at work with his various furry-friend neighbors. There’s aloof, yet loyal fat cat named Chloe (Lake Bell), and white Pomeranian Gidget (Jenny Slate), who is clearly burning a major terrier torch. When Katie comes home with another pup, a big, shaggy wannabe-alpha named Duke (Eric Stonestreet), his canine world gets turned upside down.  The mile-a-minute ensuing plot is like an urban INCREDIBLE JOURNEY that involves a gang of cats, Animal Control, and a creepy collection of abandoned animals  called “The Flushed Pets”, headed up by a deceptively cute bunny named Snowball (the hilarious Kevin Hart). Part of their odyssey include a meeting with a terrifying, deranged sort-of Siamese Ozone (Steve Coogan), a paralyzed hound dog named Pops (Dana Carvey), and a hawk named Tiberius (Albert Brooks), who is exhibiting extreme self-control in not turning half his new friends into snacks.

Where THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS excels, and richly, is in the voice casting.  Between Louis CK, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Albert Brooks, Dana Carvey, and Lake Bell, the film has some of the most comical, yet nuanced voicings in recent history. Brooks, Carvey, and Bell are particular standouts. I have the feeling that between the three of them, they could voice any character, in any cartoon.  It’s a belief that writer Brian Lynch shares. When I spoke to him, he waxed poetic about the number of choices each of these actors bring to the table, and the additions to their characters their talent and invention that are evident in the final film. I can believe it.

There are a number of scenes where at least 10 characters are on screen together, and at one point, there are many dozens, all with their own character, and very clearly delineated.  That is no small feat. Look for a clear ode to Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW, which apparently was the basis for the entire movie. Max was supposed to see something happen across from his apartment that was meant to begin his adventure. How fun that they still incorporated a reference to that in the film.  How nice too that there’s a level of sweetness to that scene that leaves audiences smiling as they walk away from the theater. 

As it happens THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS doesn’t need to make nearly as much money as FINDING DORY to prove profitable. Illumination has stuck to their business model of being relatively lower budgeted for animated features, and comes in at around $75 million versus $200 million for FINDING DORY.  Whether this model translates to success from larger risks in story, is up for argument. There’s no question, though, that the studio repeatedly churns out entertaining and diverting feature animation.  They have developed a particular niche that has served them well.

It isn’t in the plot, which treads some fairly familiar territory, but rather in the characters that THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS that makes it so winning, it’s nearly best in show.

B+

FINDING DORY Review: Pixar Dives into New Technology

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In 2003 FINDING NEMO won Pixar’s first Oscar for best animated feature. A lot has changed in the technology and landscape of the world of animation since then.  Can this week’s highly anticipated release FINDING DORY capture the imaginations of fans old and new, and become its own box office sensation?

FINDING NEMO made a huge splash in 2003 and filmmakers, as most of the crew are back from the original, are hoping Finding Dory wins the hearts of not only those who love the first one, but also those who are new to the expression it made famous, “Just keep swimming”.  Director Andrew Stanton says that a few years ago he was struck by the feeling that Dory’s story was unfinished.  He noticed that for a fish that was so open hearted and nonjudgemental to others she apologized way too much for her own short term memory loss, and he says he heard the call to help her find self-acceptance.  Helping her take that trip is the challenge he created for himself, and the cast and crew of FINDING DORY. I’m happy to say he does make worth taking the journey with them.

Certainly some of our favorites are back.  In addition to Dory, Marlin and Nemo play a major role. When Dory remembers she has a family she misses, the three embark together on a trip across the ocean in search of her parents, based only on her feeling and useful fragments of memory that come back to her.  We get to visit again with Crush, Squirt, and Mr. Ray.  It’s the new characters, however, that allow FINDING DORY to stand on its own as a worthy entertainment that will stay with you.  Most notable is Hank. Anyone aware of the elements that go into character animation will recognize the design challenges, but for the rest of you, suffice to say Hank took 2 years to come to life, instead of the usual 6 months.  A cantankerous septipus (part of his personal history involves losing an arm in an undisclosed trauma, but it was also a character design solution that dovetailed perfectly with his persona) Hank just wants to be left alone. As voiced by Ed O’Neill, he is the standout newcomer that will connect with Pixar fans, especially as the foil for Dory’s eternal optimism. Also notable are characters Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) and Bailey (Ty Burrell), both of whom are being rehabilitated and have various disabilities that Dory accepts without question.

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Look too for the animated re-partnering of Idris Alba and Dominic West from The Wire as two lazy sea lions who steal every moment they have onscreen.

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As an animation geek, it is incumbent upon me to point out the advancements courtesy of a new computer rendering system that allowed FINDING DORY to set a new bar in the animation of underwater and surface water scenes.  It turns out the kelp forest, which Stanton wanted to use in the first film but wasn’t appropriate to the environment of the Great Barrier Reef, was perfectly suited to this the new technology used for FINDING DORY. They could simulate each and every leaf, both below the surface, suffused with light, and above the surface, floating on the water.  These new advancements lend a quality of visual depth and emotional truth to them that deepens connection  with the viewer, whether they are aware of the source of that connection or not.

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On the down side, as the name implies, FINDING DORY follows similar plot points as FINDING NEMO and might feel far less surprising for those looking for originality, although I believe the new characters make up for that. Also be warned that Finding Dory could be a bit difficult for younger viewers, as I can imagine it spawning some abandonment issues or fears of parental loss.  There are several protracted scenes that are poignant yet very sad, and could be hard viewing for the tenderhearted.

Still, the dip back into the flow of some of Pixar’s best work building a world has its rewards. Not only is Dory’s story charming and engaging, the new characters and impressive advancements add new reasons to spend a little time under the sea again this summer.

B+

Now You See Me 2 Review: No You Don’t

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Magic is everywhere. At least that’s what the filmmakers of this week’s release NOW YOU SEE ME 2 would like its audiences to believe. Do they succeed with their task to thrill and amaze as magicians do, or is the decidedly uninventive name indicative of the film as a whole? Did they deliver more of the same slight of hand as the first, but with less excitement and little surprise?

The Four Horsemen have been in hiding since their flamboyant caper enraged the FBI and made them heroes in the first film. Ego-driven Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt (Woody Harrelson), Wilder (Dave Franco) and newcomer Lula (Lizzy Caplan, replacing supposedly too-pregnant yet smartly absent Isla Fisher) take their orders from detective and closet magician Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), who has a direct line to “The Eye”, a sort of illuminati of worldwide magicians righting wrongs Robin Hood-style.  They resurface together to perform a dramatic stunt meant to take down a crooked internet wunderkind. Instead, they get derailed and subsequently blackmailed by tech prodigy Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe).  He tells them they have to steal some kind of computer hardware in order to stay alive and clear their names. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, who reprise their roles from NOW YOU SEE ME, both figure in important ways to the plot, but have little screen time, perhaps to their benefit.

As you might have guessed by the title of the review and description of the movie, this retread, while it boasts some A-list and highly skilled, talented actors, is so much worse than anyone could imagine, that it led to a number of critics actually walking out mid-screening.  The trouble starts early. The script, from minutes in, repeatedly telegraphs information as if the audience is ignorant and devoid of any powers of deduction.  The jokes, which are mostly Caplan and Harrelson’s domain, fall flat. That can be blamed on the bad editing and dialogue, as can much of the failure of NOW YOU SEE ME 2.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m one of the people who enjoyed NOW YOU SEE ME.  It was a fun, flashy flick that I found a pleasure to watch.  The credit for that must go at least in part to director Louis Leterrier, so when he was replaced by Jon Chu, of the ill-fated JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS, it sent up red flags, or should I say red-eyed rabbits. These actors, who can claim number of Oscar noms between them, can’t be held responsible for such a disastrous final product. That means we’re looking at you, Chu. You’d better regroup and reassess before filming the already announced NOW YOU SEE ME 3.

What little fun that can be had is courtesy of scenery-chewing performances by Harrelson and Radcliffe.  As identical twins, Harrelson finds a way to bring viewers along as he pushes his roles over the top into camp territory. Radcliffe amuses as the petulant, dangerous little turd fouling up everyone’s plans.

Caplan is playing such an obvious odd-girl-out that half her lines reference sexism, yet she her character does little but moon over pretty boy Franco. What a waste. Caine, Freeman, Ruffalo, and the woefully underused Sanaa Lathan as Agent Natalie Austin are all just reflecting their journeymen day-player skills, raising, or attempting to raise material so beneath them, it could be trash stuck to their loafers.

A disappointment so pervasive that it leaves heads shaking at the end credits, this movie could entertain a few diehard fans of those who star in it, but only if they leave their discernment and brains at the door.

C-

The Nice Guys Review and Interviews: Worth the Standing O at Cannes?

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FULL TRANSCRIPT:

Shane Black writer/director of this week’s release THE NICE GUYS is a veteran and pioneer of action flicks, having written among others the buddy-cop classic Lethal Weapon. THE NICE GUYS was just shown at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.  Is this new flick starring Russell Crowe and Gosling the must-see that its standing ovation at Cannes suggests?

Last year, buzz got out and spread far and wide about the fun stars Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe had filming THE NICE GUYS. This lead to conjecture as to whether off-screen chemistry and friendship would translate to chemistry onscreen, and subsequently, a great movie. Gratefully, it does.

Playing like film noir starring Abbott and Costello, THE NICE GUYS screenwriters expertly weave offbeat, often physical humor and action with some great noir elements. A complex plot, investigators with their moral compasses on the fritz, a beauty both dangerous and in danger, heavy drinking, fast paced dialogue, and valuable stolen property that’s worth murdering for, all surround the two men and precocious 13-year-old girl thrown into the mystery together.

Jackson Healy (Oscar winning Aussie Russell Crowe) is an enforcer, debt collector, and strong arm-for-hire who teams up with 10% detective 90% con artist Holland March (Ryan Gosling) to investigate the death of a female porn star, and find a missing girl, only to embroil themselves in an ever unraveling conspiracy.  The brains of the operation is March’s daughter, foul-mouthed good-girl Holly played by Angourie Rice. Imagine a youthful, slightly softer Eve Arden. The diminutive wise-cracking dame is essential to the redemption neither Healy nor March are aware they both yearn for and deserve.

Director Shane Black has decades of experience as a screenwriter in Hollywood, writing scripts for the Lethal Weapon franchise, The Long Kiss Good Night, as well as for movies like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3, films he directed. He has done something here that seems effortless, but is deceptively difficult.  He has subverted a large number of expectations in both buddy comedies and neo-noirs.  Ryan Gosling talks about Black’s directing:

The way Crowe and Gosling interact and ricochet lines off each other is like watching an ace juggler on a street corner.  As actors, they are both committed listeners, and both look for opportunities to build a scene as a team, not as separate entities spewing lines, and those qualities are highly effective in the service of THE NICE GUYS. The result is a pervasive authenticity that invites the viewer to feel a part of their experience, and thereby elicits curiosity, loyalty, and a strong desire for the characters’ success. Here’s Crowe talking about director Shane Black giving him and Gosling room to create:

With an Oscar winner and nominee heading this cast, you’d think a 13 year old co-star would be left floundering behind, but Angourie Rice shines as brightly as either of these international stars.

A great find who showed her talent in 2015’s apocalyptic indie bummer THESE FINAL HOURS, she is not only one to watch, but a nearly guaranteed ingenue A-lister in the making. For fans of Matt Bomer, (and they are legion) the role he plays is unlike any other in his career, and he takes to it alarmingly well.

There’s no better way to sum up the value of THE NICE GUYS than to watch Angourie Rice explain perfectly why THE NICE GUYS is the potential box office bonanza badly needed for Warner Brothers going into the summer movie maelstrom, whilst showing her considerable sass:

I loved THE NICE GUYS, and so will those of you who commit to seeing it.  You’ll find it a hoot and a pleasure to be taken along on this cinematic adventure. Their fun in making it translates to our fun in watching it.

A

Money Monster Review: Worth investing your time?

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Full transcript:

MONEY MONSTER reunites George Clooney and Julia Roberts and it’s directed by Jodie Foster, who, has been operating successfully for many years as a women behind the camera and under the radar in Hollywood. Shouldn’t we be supporting these actors and director? Is MONEY MONSTER worth your time and money?

Financial advisor Lee Gates (George Clooney) struts around the set of “MONEY MONSTER”, his market analysis and forecasting cable show shepherded by the producer in his ear Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts). Kyle Budwell (played by the ever-rising star Jack O’Connell), a blue-collar worker who has lost his nest egg, disrupts the studio and takes over on-air by waving a gun and strapping a bomb-vest on Gates. He wants answers about a company, IBIS Clear Capital, and their disastrous 800 million dollar stock loss that rocked the market. Chief Communications Officer Diane Lester (Caitriona Balfe) is poised to speak on his show about the computer glitch that is supposedly to blame, but Budwell’s not buying it. The rest of the film is a taut thriller that balances the sweat-inducing placation-filled dialogue between Gates and Budwell, and the race to get to the truth behind IBIS’s claim about their losses before Budwell blows himself and the whole building up.

There’s much to enjoy in MONEY MONSTER. The lean script whisks audiences through the movie’s 90 minutes, while the dialogue reveals character motivations, and creates connection with all the co-starring cast members. The plot continually subverts expectation, setting them up only to later knock them down. This is what a movie for adults looks like, folks. Without question harkening back to the 70s and 80s films of Sidney Lumet and Alan Pakula, MONEY MONSTER has the guts to be entertaining at the same time as asking more of itself. Clooney, Roberts, and O’Connell are all in top form. In this particular role, Clooney’s proclivity for head bobbing works as the recognized signature movement of a self absorbed star, and the actor uses it as he does his character’s props. As the nervy, desperate man with his hand on the trigger, O’Connell, who is an award-winning A-lister in Europe may finally become a household name in the US.

On the downside, the story requires a colossal suspension of disbelief, most markedly in some idealistic-leaning plot-points. Foster and her team seem to know all this, and accept it as part of the story they want to tell. The subject matter also seems dated rather than of-the-moment. While all this is slightly distracting, it doesn’t deter viewers from buying into the convoluted threads that lead to an exciting climax.

Regardless of the optimism and moments of lightness peeking through, Foster as the director succeeds in making a film that keeps audiences connected to the drama through its conclusion. Clearly, it is meant as a diversion first and foremost. Sophisticated and suspenseful, Money Monster is grown-up entertainment and a solid investment.

B

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR Review – Super Showdown or Marvelous Mess?

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transcript:

Captain America Civil War opens too wide release this weekend. Have we finally reached superhero saturation or will civil War directors the Russo Brothers keep audiences Crazy and clamoring for more? Cinema Siren has the answer for you!

Let me start with not so much a warning, as a tease. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is not really a Captain America movie, It’s an Avengers movie standing behind a starred shield. While Cap is the central figure, he is so only by small margin. It’s a story comic book fans know and love, and its interpretation for the screen has been much anticipated.

As the name implies, the central storyline of CIVIL WAR, is that our favorite costumed characters, once friends, are now at odds. Being asked to allow oversight by the powers-that-be, has lead to a rift. Captain America leads one side, and Iron Man leads the other. They enlist a whopping 10 other superheroes to their teams. Colossal clashes ensue. There are battles. Who is on what team and why?

Does the idea of two major comic book creations tussling while politicians cry for more control sound somewhat familiar? Indeed, in that way, Captain America: Civil War shares more than just a passing similarity to Batman v Superman. So what? Any comic book fan knows there are many shared themes and stories. With that in mind, why can’t Marvel and DC coexist, and even, dare I say, intermingle in the hearts of fans?

That being said, Captain America: Civil War benefits greatly and keeps their audiences in thrall leveraging the basic Marvel trait shared by most of its characters: a snarky sense of humor. Or perhaps we should say, a stark-y one. There is no shortage of darkness, death, and destruction in this film, but comedic touches offer welcome shifts in mood. In that, directors Anthony and Joe Russo create a nearly perfect balance. Kudos, also, to the screenwriters who somehow divvy up just the right amount of screen time to heroes we know, such as Cap, Iron Man, and Black Widow, those we want to know better, like War Machine, Vision, Scarlet Witch, and Ant-Man, and those we meet for the first time. With cheers often erupting when onscreen, Black Panther, as played by Chadwick Boseman and Spider-Man, ably embodied by Tom Holland nearly steal the entire film, and both beg for their own features.

There are some strong, surprising character arcs, especially for Steve Rogers, which is as it should be. Chris Evans has made the character so his own it’s hard to imagine any other actor donning his shield. Downey Jr. himself is quite a standout in the film. We learn a great deal about Stark’s backstory and the personal demons that plague him, and as usual the actor is up to the challenge.

With this many characters and aspects to story, it’s possibly inevitable that things get a bit unnecessarily convoluted, especially with regards to the villain’s and even several of the heroes’ motivations. These are forgivable trifles in the face of such entertainment and spectacle.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR has thrown down the gauntlet for any other would-be blockbuster released in 2016. I pity any film, regardless of genre, opening in the next four weeks.

It would be easy to nitpick about confusing plot lines and an over abundance of characters. That would mean unfairly discrediting the colossal job of successfully integrating so many superheroes while maintaining distinct personalities and points of view. Ultimately Captain America Civil War is fun & exciting, and will make even more fans, if that’s even possible, for the Avengers franchise.

B+