Tag: chris evans

Avengers: Endgame


Avengers: Endgame (2019)
★★★ / ★★★★

It requires a daring decision to surprise me when it comes to modern superhero films and, quite miraculously, “Avengers: Endgame” manages to do so about fifteen minutes in. It has been a while since a Marvel film left me wondering, “So then… what’s next?” and it is a most refreshing feeling, a promise, a question mark followed by an exclamation point, that there is plenty more to unbox considering its hefty running time of three hours. The well-paced and consistently entertaining direction by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo gives the impression that just about anything can or will happen given that the material at hand is meant to be a closing chapter to one of the most ambitious projects Hollywood has given moviegoers.

The expectation is enormous and the picture delivers for the most part. The action sequences are busy but always given context in addition to being well-choreographed and so those giving at least a modicum of attention would not be lost; the special and visual effects are first-rate—certainly ostentatious at times but not once do they come across as empty decorations; there are enough moments of silence and ponderation given the fact that the characters remain in mourning over their fallen comrades and loved ones after Thanos (Josh Brolin) succeeds in eliminating half of the universe’s population; and the direct and indirect nudges to Marvel films that came before are throughly entertaining—handled with creativity, humor, and a solid sense of foreboding.

And yet the picture is not without notable shortcomings. The screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely takes on a monumental task of putting together more than a decade’s worth of stories and creating an unforgettable, possibly instant-classic, culmination. While I admired that the goal is nothing short of magnificent, the work scrambles at times at trying to be everything at once.

Most noticeable is the humor, how it comes across as shoehorned—at times cringe-y—when events begin to feel a little grave. In previous films, the well-written and well-delivered comic lines succeed in alleviating tension. Occasionally, it works here. But not nearly all the time. I think the reason is because the heavy atmosphere of foreboding consistently points to the demise of characters we’ve learned to love. Laughter fizzles rather than helping to elevate excitement. In the middle of it, I wondered if it would have been a more daring decision to minimize the humor that Marvel films thrive on. It absolutely would have been more challenging.

Considering the running time, it is curiosity that there isn’t more in-depth character development. Instead, we receive one too many scenes or shots of our heroes looking solemn or trading conciliatory handshakes. Sometimes there are close-ups of tears flowing down one’s cheeks. I found the melodrama to be unnecessary; a more elegant choice might been to trust the audience to grab onto the story and understand the gravity of the plot without such dramatic signposts.

The remaining tension between Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), for instance, may have been worth exploring. Instead, the two leaders are given only about three to five minutes to sort out their personal issues. People forget that Evans and Downey Jr. are dramatic actors; they work best not when the charm is on but when it isn’t, when the material demands that they let go of their masculine chain mail and reveal their character foibles.

While the chosen strategy is understandable from a point of view of an action-centric story, an argument can be made that an amplified drama leads to stronger moments of catharsis. Here, catharsis often comes in the form of surprise deaths and teary reunions. I was not particularly moved by any of them—with one exception that comes late into the picture.

Avengers: Infinity War


Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Those not well-versed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe need not fret: “Avengers: Infinity War,” the accumulation of preceding works of the franchise, as directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, is a supremely entertaining movie, made for viewers who like their action films big and loud without sacrificing creativity and heart. Compounded with the requirement that screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely must juggle over twenty personalities throughout its behemoth running time, while maintaining a breezy forward momentum, the film is without a doubt a successful mainstream entertainment.

It is the correct decision to keep the central conflict at bare minimum: Stop Thanos (Josh Brolin) from acquiring six Infinity Stones. If successful, this would grant him the ability to eliminate half of the universe’s population by merely snapping his fingers. With so many moving parts—some events happen on Earth, others take place in outer space; under each setting are strands designed to come together for climactic battles—it is critical that the story is simple and clean as possible. But the masterstroke is its treatment of the villain.

It is inaccurate to categorize Thanos simply as good or evil. He believes he is saving the universe by performing genocide. On the most basic level, he argument makes sense: resources are scarce while populations continue to rise. His method just so happens to be monstrous, at least based on our morality. But that is not only the reason why he is complex, perhaps even a tragic figure. He is not written to be deranged psychopath who simply wishes to see the universe burn; like the heroes we root for, he is capable of feeling and caring. He is equally determined as those who wish to thwart his plans which makes for a compelling watch.

The special and visual effects are seamless. Hoards of rabid aliens clashing with elegant Wakandan warriors made me think of the epic battles in “The Lord of the Rings” with even more camera acrobatics. When Falcon (Anthony Mackie) soars above the battlefield or when Spider-Man (Tom Holland) swings from one collapsing piece of skyscraper to another, there is an urgency to the aerial shots and danger when the viewer looks down from great heights. When Thanos beats Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) with his bare fists, pieces of his armor fall off like broken teeth. These effects create images that are exciting, brutal, and realistic. I wish more blood and bruises were shown, but perhaps the brand hopes to keep such barbarous images at a minimum.

Having only a limited time to tell the story in an efficient way, characters we wish to get to see or get to know more do not get the attention they deserve. I wanted to bathe in the bromance between Captain America (Chris Evans) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), the hilarious banter between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), as well as the brilliance of Shuri (Letitia Wright), a young scientist with countless inventions. Although not a perfect superhero film, not even a near-perfect one (“The Dark Knight,” “Spider-Man 2,” “The Avengers,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”), the picture delivers fresh popcorn entertainment. Notice there is almost always something to laugh at, be nervous about, or worth being curious over.

“Avengers: Infinity War” delivers upon its ambitions. If its risk-taking and playful crossovers is a portent of what is yet to come, not just within the “Avengers” movies but within the Marvel brand as a whole, then it can be assumed that the apices of the franchise remain territories to be discovered. It is only a matter of time.

Puncture


Puncture (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

A pair of personal injury lawyers, Mike Weiss (Chris Evans) and Paul Danziger (Mark Kassen), are contacted by a nurse (Vinessa Shaw) who contracted HIV because she had struck herself with a needle accidentally while working on a patient in a state of convulsion. Because of what had happened to her, a friend, Jeffrey Dancort (Marshall Bell), invents safety needles—the kind that automatically retracts upon usage and cannot be used again. Although Dancort has contacted many hospitals about his invention, all of them—because of a highly influential medical supply business—refuse to use his product even though it can save millions of lives of healthcare workers around the globe.

Although propelled by good intentions, a potentially fascinating case, based on a true story, is diluted by an uneven subplot involving one of the lawyers’ drug addiction. The former demands more attention than the latter and so when the film turns its attention to explore Weiss’ personal demons, the urgency of the story is diminished.

Part of the reason why I could not buy into Weiss as a character is due to the casting of Evans. It is not that he does not do an adequate job with the role. He is often let down by his looks. We are supposed to believe that his character is a hardcore drug addict and still somewhat functional as he obsesses over the case. Sure, we see him with ugly bruises on his arm and looking pale from time to time, but it all appears as make-believe. I noticed an actor, covered with make-up, playing a role of a drug addict, still handsome despite supposedly looking undesirable.

The other half of the partnership is not developed. Even if the subplot involving the drug addiction were effective, I wanted to know more about Danziger as a real person. Instead, his character is written simply as a man who always strives to do the right thing. We are asked to feel sorry for him—unwarranted because we do not get a chance to know him beyond the superficial level—as he deals with piling amount of bills and a pregnant wife.

How does the newfangled needle work exactly? The picture does not provide enough close-ups or comparisons to the “standard” needle in order for us to appreciate the novelty of it. We need to see how it operates so we can then understand why it is better than the alternative. Instead, it relies on our current knowledge, if any, with regards to the differences. Show this movie to someone fifty years from now and it is likely that the person will not be aware of all the hubbub.

Directed by Adam Kassen and Mark Kassen, “Puncture” is a drama that might have benefited greatly from a scientific approach of telling its story. Its core involves a monopoly within the business of medical health supplies and the lives being put in unnecessary danger because of it. That is enough human drama (greed, exploitation, power) to explore. The rest, for the most part, come off as padding.

Before We Go


Before We Go (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

“Before We Go,” directed by Chris Evans, takes inspiration from Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” in which two people meet and by the end of their limited time together, they realize that perhaps there is something between them worth exploring further. Although the film has an identity of its own, the romantic elements do not come together in such a way that leaves us enraptured and wanting more.

Perhaps it is due to the dialogue. At times Nick (Chris Evans) and Brooke (Alice Eve) share some amusing and touching exchanges, but platitudes are inevitably come up—especially when they offer each other advice. The experience is like listening to really nice song but a split-second or two the player skips and it is just enough to ruin the moment. Credit to Evans and Eve for trying their best to work with a script that occasionally comes across as false. These two have a lot of natural charm—together and apart—and it makes up for moments that ought to have been reshot or eliminated altogether.

Shooting onsite in Manhattan elevates the picture. During its slower moments, it is worth taking a look at the background: the kinds of people out on the streets late at night, how they walk, what they are wearing, the multicolored lights dancing in the city. The urban milieu is quite beautiful because it is taken as is. We could almost smell the stench of the garbage and sewers as the characters walk through rougher neighborhoods.

The characters express plenty of inner turmoil, but it feels like something is missing. Maybe it is because they talk about their past and regrets so often that it does not give enough time for them—and us—to appreciate the present. Part of the reason why this film’s inspiration is so successful as a character study is because Linklater makes a point of focusing on the present. Céline and Jesse do talk about their pasts but we get a strong sense that they are not defined by them. Here, Brooke and Nick are superglued to what has happened (or has not happened) to them that their conversations feel like a pity party at times.

The film, written by Ronald Bass, Jen Smolka, Chris Shafer and Paul Vicknair, offers a few standout scenes. The performance on stage with Nick playing the trumpet and Brooke singing “My Funny Valentine” dares the viewer not to put on a smile. Another highlight involves a psychic (John Cullum) with wisdom to impart. But three or four well-executed scenes are not enough to make the movie a completely romantic experience. The dialogue, the environment, the themes, and the performances must dance together and share the same rhythm.

Captain America: Civil War


Captain America: Civil War (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★

One of the main reasons why “Captain America: Civil War,” directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, succeeds as a mainstream blockbuster entertainment is its willingness to contain as many colorful personalities as seemingly possible, shaking it vigorously like a soda bottle, and allowing such natures and temperaments to explode. Though at this point many of us are familiar with the many zany superheroes showcased here, I have a good feeling that someone who remains alien to the Marvel universe will enjoy this picture regardless as an action film.

Its energy is highly infectious, from the opening minutes involving a highly exciting chase in an outdoor market in Lagos to the bone-crunching duel between Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) in a secluded base where a big secret is revealed. Just about every action sequence sandwiched between these defining scenes build on top of one another and the film creates formidable momentum.

Credit to the screenwriters, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, for consistently increasing the ante. Because we feel there is always something significant at stake, we look forward to how the next scene might play out. At times it is even able to surprise by taking us on certain detours designed to introduce a new character or one that is familiar but now played by a new performer. All the while there is humor dispersed throughout. There is a darkness to the film, especially when it comes to Captain America and Iron Man’s increasingly strained relationship, but it never looks and feels depressing, or a drag to sit through.

The plot, while interesting, is almost secondary to the big personalities that grace the screen but here it is: After the mission in Lagos goes horribly awry, which cost the lives of humanitarians, the U.S. government insists that the Avengers require some form of oversight in order to, in theory, minimize unnecessary collateral damage in the future. Tony Stark/Iron Man supports the idea while Steve Rogers/Captain America rejects it. The schism between the two factions worsens when the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) is seemingly captured on camera before a bomb went off and killed innocent people.

Providing depth—whether it be in terms of character development or recurring themes—is not the movie’s strong point because there are numerous characters to juggle. Regardless, the filmmakers do a solid job in providing each character two or three moments to shine. Particularly impressive is the battle between Captain America and Iron Man’s teams which take place in an airport.

The teams are so well-matched. During the ten- to fifteen-minute sequence, beautifully choreographed, we are able to ascertain each character’s fighting style, learn about some of his or her strengths and weaknesses, and appreciate his or her motivations—superficial they may come across at times—for joining a certain side. There is a sense of childlike joy in the fray and I wished it had gone longer.

“Captain America: Civil War” tells an engaging story and expands upon its universe at the same time. There is an effortlessness felt here that is missing in less successful Marvel offerings like in Joss Whedon’s very disappointing “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and Shane Black’s downright dreadful “Iron Man 3.” The approach here should be used as template or inspiration for future outings because it achieves a healthy balance between brain and brawn.

Snowpiercer


Snowpiercer (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

In an attempt to stop global warming seventeen years earlier, CW-7 was released into the air. But instead of lowering the temperatures to a desired level, the entire planet is inadvertently thrown toward a whole new Ice Age. The remaining human survivors are aboard a self-sustaining train called The Rattling Ark. The rich live lavishly in the front end of the train while the poor barely subsist in substandard conditions at the tail end. Naturally, the latter group revolts.

Based on the graphic novel “Le Transperceneige” by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette, “Snowpiercer,” directed by Joon-ho Bong, has a fairly entertaining although standard first half but it is derailed almost completely by the second half when the lead actor must bring to life the motivations and inner turmoil of a reluctant hero. Because the performer is unable to communicate that he is playing a man who has seen a lot of unimaginable horrors over the years, the overall struggle of the class he represents loses traction. By the end, it is just another science fiction film with an interesting premise but fails to deliver its potential.

Chris Evans plays Curtis, one of the handful of survivors in the back of the train who still has all of his limbs intact. Evans is effective in conveying believable toughness and determination, but when he is required to be vulnerable and tortured, I could see through the performance. This is especially problematic with the scene in which Curtis reveals what had happened in the tail section when there was no food for about a month. I felt Evans trying to put on a mask of angst and trying to get the tears flowing. A more seasoned actor would have been more successful at getting us to pay attention to the story being told rather than noticing the forced performance.

This is problematic because Curtis is a reluctant leader of the oppressed. People around him believe that he can lead but just because they believe it, does not necessarily mean that we automatically do, too. In addition, the aforementioned scene does not work because his character is not given a well-defined arc. Clearly, the screenplay needs work.

I enjoyed the dinginess and darkness of the tail section, how one can barely discern, for instance, a person lying down, covered in gray clothing, from, say, a pile of boxes or pipes. One gets a real impression that people have lived in that environment for years so one could almost get an idea of the stench of the overcrowded cars.

Jamie Bell, who plays one of the unhappy oppressed, plays his character to match the environment: rough around the edges, desperate, filled with rage. He and Tilda Swinton, whose character is so despicable surely she deserves everything that is coming to her, are highlights of the picture. I wished, however, that Octavia Spencer, playing an enraged mother whose son is forcibly taken from her to see Wilford (Ed Harris)—the man who runs the train, were given more to do.

There are images that come off completely fake. Every time the camera shows the icy terrain outside, just about everything looks computerized. The buildings that have collapsed look like something I have already seen from a video game back in the early 2000s. The director shows the frozen wasteland several times and it just looks cheap.

“Snowpiercer” will give the impression that it is compelling to those distracted by the action—which are mostly well-executed. Looking closer upon Joon-ho Bong and Kelly Masterson’s screenplay, however, reveals obvious questions gone unanswered, poor characterization especially that of the lead protagonist’s, and its preoccupation toward introducing surrealistic elements that do nothing to progress the pacing and the story. Ultimately, in order for a science fiction picture to impress or set a standard, it must go beyond its cool premise.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier


Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

In my original review of Joe Johnston’s “Captain America: The First Avenger,” I asserted that the picture is nothing more than a movie that happens to have a superhero in it. The predecessor, though the action sequences are beautifully shot, is flat, boring at times, and has a villain with an endgame so confusing and paradoxical, the material never gets a real chance in engaging the viewers. The core is hollow.

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” based on the screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the same writers as the original, feels and looks like a completely different movie. It has more inspiration, enthusiasm, well-timed comedic moments, and characters worth caring about. As a result, a highly entertaining and confident mainstream blockbuster is created and just about every scene gets it right.

Each time a vehicular chase is involved, one can always expect three elements: a ridiculous amount of wasted bullets, glass shattering in every direction, and, perhaps most importantly, an increasing level of suspense. If one comes to think of it, the approach is not dissimilar to the better installments of “The Fast and the Furious” franchise. Let us take the pivotal scene with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), director of an espionage agency called S.H.I.E.L.D., behind the wheel as an example. It is, in a way, inspired by horror greats: utilizing a simple thing as space to trigger our hearts to beat that much faster.

It begins with a glance at a man in a police car while at a stop light. Notice as the action unfolds, although the violence grows incendiary, accompanied by a boost decibels, there is increasingly less space for our eye-patched hero to wiggle through. Assuming that one has seen him in other Marvel installments, we already know how effective of a fighter he is when he is free to move around. But this time the conflict is fresh because not only is there no room for escape, no one is coming to help him. We believe that he is in genuine danger. We hold our breath as the intimidating masked man with a metallic arm gets ever closer.

The plot is technical and almost irrelevant but here it is: S.H.I.E.L.D., under the direction of a senior official named Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), is about ready to launch its latest creation called Project Insight. It involves three heavily weaponized helicarriers that, in theory, will protect seven billion people across the globe. They are so advanced that once they are in the air, they never have to land. By sharing a connection with satellites, these helicarriers will supposedly be an effective tool to terminate acts of terrorism before they even occur. Though a man born in the 1920s and later cryogenically frozen for about seventy years, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) sees through the flaw in the project immediately. He claims what will be achieved is not true freedom but fear.

The final statement above hints at a more interesting Captain America. While I find his background to be sufficiently absorbing because he was so determined to become a soldier despite weighing only ninety-five pounds and standing at about five feet four inches, I have always found his reasons for wanting to become a soldier lacking special depth. He always wants to do the right thing—not like Iron Man, who can be a jerk sometimes, or The Hulk, who is almost always out of control. Here, the definition of the “right thing” is a muddled a little bit. And yet it is enjoyable that his character arc is not so obvious as to cause his change to come off as false. Thus, we look forward to the further changes in his reasons for fighting in the inevitable sequels.

Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is a superior follow-up in every single way. The action is more thrilling, the motivations of the villains make more sense (even though their identities are able to be seen from a mile away), and we learn something new about our heroes. It is—without a doubt—a step forward for both the “Captain America” franchise and the Marvel universe.