Movie Review: “Captain America: Civil War”

Starring
Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Chadwick Boseman, Daniel Brühl, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Don Cheadle, Emily VanCamp
Directors
Anthony & Joe Russo

By all rights, Captain America should be the lamest, worst Avenger. He came of age decades before the topic of segregation was even entertained. Rock & roll hadn’t been invented yet. If Steve Rogers is a real person, he’s likely a racist crank, yelling at the other Avengers to get off his lawn.

Thankfully, the Cap in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is none of those things. Steve Rogers is an open-minded skeptic, for whom Japanese internment camps are still a recent event. (It is not a coincidence that the word ‘internment’ is used in a crucial scene here.) He is mistrustful of the government — and who can blame him, after the events of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” – and therefore loath to see the country he loves overstep its bounds a second time. This makes him a perfect foil for Iron Man/Tony Stark, a man whose genius is eclipsed only by his ego, and for whom reparations and accountability make sense, as long as everyone else pitches in to help him pay his bar tab.

This is the crux of “Captain America: Civil War.” The plot is more streamlined than the ’70s-era, conspiracy-minded “Winter Soldier,” but there are still some unsettling themes at play here, chief among them the concepts of freedom and safety, and the fear of compromising one for the other. The comics on which this film is based were written 10 years ago, presumably to point a finger at the George W. Bush administration for overreaching in terms of surveillance. Sadly, they’re even more prescient now.

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Movie Review: “Get on Up”

Starring
Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Viola Davis, Lennie James, Octavia Spencer, Dan Aykroyd, Craig Robinson
Director
Tate Taylor

Every movie trend has its fans. Monster movies, disaster movies, chick flicks, tearjerkers, conspiracy thrillers, they all have people who love them regardless of their financial viability at the box office. No one, however, misses the biopic, films based on the life of a famous person. In fact, after “Walk the Line” and “Ray,” people were so done with biopics that most people passed on arguably the best biopic of that era, even though it expertly lampooned the biopic structure and had a damned good soundtrack to boot (“Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” we still love ya, baby). To further prove this point, earlier this year, Clint Eastwood’s “Jersey Boys” sank like a stone, despite the fact that the musical of the same name sells out everywhere it goes, and last year’s Princess Diana film starring Naomi Watts fared even worse. No one misses the biopic.

Everyone misses James Brown, though, which is why “Get on Up: The James Brown Story” has something those other movies didn’t: instant swagger. It actually has a couple of things the others don’t, namely a non-linear timeline that would give Doctor Who pause, and it does the unthinkable by occasionally breaking the fourth wall, at times to hilarious effect. The story line is too slight, opting for depth of event coverage over depth of character, but thanks to a, um, showstopping performance by Chadwick Boseman, “Get on Up” is quite entertaining despite its flaws. It is also genius counterprogramming to this weekend’s box office juggernaut, “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Someone at Universal should get a bonus for that decision alone.

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Movie Review: “42”

Starring
Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie, Andre Holland
Director
Brian Helgeland

Every time Hollywood releases another civil rights sports movie, it calls to mind comedian Bill Burr’s funny bit about white guilt, because audiences have been inundated with so many of these films recently that they’ve begun to lose the potency of their message. Of course, if you are going to make another civil rights sports movie, the story of Jackie Robinson is pretty much the definitive version, so it’s surprising that only one other film (“The Jackie Robinson Story”) has been made on the subject, and that movie starred the famous baseball player as himself. It’s probably because no matter how inspiring Robinson’s tale may be, he’s not a particularly interesting figure apart from his contribution to history, and that’s something that director Brian Helgeland constantly wrestles with in “42.”

Unlike most biopics, the film only covers three years of Robinson’s life, beginning in 1945 when he was still playing in the Negro league after serving in World War II. Spring training has just begun and Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) has decided to make the bold move to break the color line and bring the first black player into the National League. Initially assigned to the Dodgers’ minor league team in Montreal, Jackie (Chadwick Boseman) must overcome immense racism from both the fans and his teammates, much to the concern of his wife Rachel (Nicole Beharie) and black sports journalist Wendell Smith (Andre Holland), who’s aware that there’s much more at stake than Jackie realizes. But instead of lashing out against his detractors like everyone is expecting, Robinson lets his talent do the talking on the baseball field, eventually earning a spot with the Dodgers and leading them to the pennant in his first year.

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