Wednesday 4 May 2016

Captain America: Civil War

To the intense embarrassment of his son Martin, Kingsley Amis insisted, without a whiff of irony or condescension, that Terminator 2 (the James Cameron movie with Arnold Schwarznegger) was 'an unimpeachable masterpiece'.

It's nothing of the kind of course, and I expect Kingers was contentedly winding up Mart and his pal Christopher Hitchens, who had accompanied him to see the movie. But - and here's the point - I've just seen the latest product from Marvel Studios: Captain America: Civil War, and I had a Kingsley moment.  You can be among the 54,000,000 other folk who have watched the trailer online by clicking here. Mustering my critical facilities I can say, confidently, that it's absolutely terrific.

Robert Downey, Jr. plays Tony Stark aka Iron Man and Scarlett Johanssen is 'Black Widow'. A bunch of other actors unknown to me play a bunch of Avenger superheroes equally unknown to me but Frank, aged 10, was by my side as a Virgilian guide to this complex CGI underworld. He thought it was wonderful too, and he's a jaded veteran of this kind of thing.

The film begins with a colossal climax - a huge battle in downtown Lagos in which the Avengers take on some bad guys. What follows has an excellent and oddly plausible premise - that the United Nations finally calls time on the Avengers because they wield unlimited power with no regulation or responsibility (analogies with bankers are downplayed). They must either disband or be imprisoned. Stark supports this move but the group is split and the factions fight each other. The extended real climax takes place in a conveniently evacuated international air terminal (so there's no collateral damage) where these 'augmented humans' can knock the stuffing out of each other (and comic book violence is just fine by me - there's no blood, nobody actually dies). Best of all is the recruitment of a very young and gauche Spiderman (played by Tom Holland) who joins the Stark team and is more the startstruck fanboy than superhero, unable to utter anything more insightful than a regular 'Awesome!'.

The hyperkinetic battles alternate with serene and elegantly shot interiors. Downey is terrific - and I don't think he's wasted on this kind of thing; but brings a richness to the project. The other guys are two-dimensional (which is the natural state for comic book characters) and fail to register much. There a guy called Ant Man who can become very small or colossally large simply by straining - and it prompts the excellent line 'Tiny dude's just got big!'). Scarlett Johannssen  has a stunt double - hell a stunt treble more like - for the fight scenes but kicks, as they say, ass. The other female Avenger (Elizabeth Olsen playing Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch) is a bit drippy and new age, controlling things with her mind (again, by straining). She has the croakiest vocal fry of any actress I've ever heard. There's a really excellent, subtly detailed villain (Helmut Zemo) played by Daniel Brühl.

My tastes still lie with Tarkovsky, Renoir, Rohmer, Vigo, Welles, Hitchcock and Murnau. But it's a refreshing change to come out of a movie completely satisfied.

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