Short takes: Captain America: Civil War, Green Room & more

Captain America Civil War

Captain America: Civil War — The third Captain America film is a stagnant if serviceable summer blockbuster buoyed by the introduction of two promising characters.  The first is Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), a sleek, nimble force of nature who slashes his way into the film hoping to avenge a fallen loved one.   The other is Spider-Man (Tom Holland), making yet another debut after Sony and Marvel reached a deal that allows him to finally appear in the Avengers storyline.   Holland injects the web-slinging teen with a contagious earnestness, and Marisa Tomei’s brief appearance as Aunt May makes the upcoming standalone film even more promising.

Sadly, Civil War offers glimpses at more interesting movies and never really becomes one.  Focused on a feud between the title character (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), the movie starts off as an exploration and critique of the massive casualty counts caused by the heroes’ world saving in the Avengers movies.  The United Nations wants to reign them in and regulate them; Iron Man agrees, Captain America does not.  Other familiar faces from the Marvel Cinematic Universe pop up to choose their respective sides, including Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).

The epic clash between the two sides at an airport seems to exist in a different, better movie.  Directors Anthony and Joe Russo are attuned to each character’s powers and stage the scene with a welcome lightness that is otherwise sorely absent.  Civil War can’t seem to decide how it wants to grapple with its central conflict, and as a result the movie splinters from it so often that it feels like a feature length coming attraction for better installments.  Grade: C-

Green Room

Green Room — An unsuspecting punk rock band is forced to do battle with skinheads in the gory, claustrophobic Green Room.  Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier sustains a terrifyingly tense atmosphere throughout, as the band becomes trapped by their audience after stumbling upon a body in the green room while collecting their gear to leave.  They’re locked inside while a calm, sinister fixer (Patrick Stewart) tries to figure out how best to get rid of them.  The movie works as well as it does because Saulnier takes just as much pleasure in showing each side planning their point of attack as he does in the attack.  Green Room initially struggles to find its footing, but Saulnier sustains an irresistible, relentless rhythm once the body shows up.  Grade: B-

The Huntsman Winter's War

The Huntsman: Winter’s War — An exemplary cast is completely wasted in this stilted, messy follow-up to 2012’s Snow White and the HuntsmanWinter’s War can’t decide if it wants to be a sequel or a prequel to that movie, and instead tries and fails to be both.  The lengths this movie goes to avoid showing Snow White are embarrassing; it seems to be more focused on her absence than the presence of some of the finest working actresses.  Charlize Theron reprises her role as the sinister Queen Ravenna, joined now by her equally sinister sister, the ice queen Freya (Emily Blunt). Blunt and Theron have a captivating, conflicted relationship that sadly book ends the movie instead of being its central focus.

Instead, Winter’s War spends much of its time with Chris Hemsworth’s titular huntsman Eric, a generic action hero who he plays with the perfect amount of self-deprecating charm.  Along with four dwarves (two of the seven from the original movie and two added female ones) and the warrior Sara (a miscast but game Jessica Chastain), he tries to locate Ravenna’s vanished magical mirror (of “Mirror, mirror on the wall” fame) before Freya uses it to unleash even more wintry terror.  Winter’s War spends too much time on its generically edited action sequences and not enough on its decidedly more interesting performers.  As in the first movie, a legitimately great performance from Theron is almost buried by needless, stale fight scenes. Grade: C-

Everybody Wants Some

Everybody Wants Some!! — Richard Linklater’s latest is a warm, contagiously relaxed stroll through the exploits of a group of college baseball players in 1980 Texas.  Billed as a spiritual sequel to his ’70s high school stoner epic Dazed and Confused, the bros of Everybody Wants Some!! are as equally obsessed with sex and their own standing within the group.  Like its high school predecessor, Everybody Wants Some!! captures and enhances the minutia of its characters by constricting the amount of time the narrative observes them.  Told largely from the perspective of Jake (Blake Jenner), a freshman who just moved into the team’s home, the movie takes place in the three or so days before classes start.

Jake’s teammates, who sport a memorable array of porn mustaches, tank tops and tight shorts, waste no time in inducting him into their masculine rituals.  Before long, he’s chugging beer, disco dancing and trying to get his roommate out of their room so he can have sex.  Everybody Wants Some!! spends little time on the baseball diamond, though many of its characters, especially the seniors, talk about the sport with religious fervor.   Like its high school predecessor, the characters’ seeming aimlessness is underscored by the story’s ticking clock.  They’re partying harder now because they know they’ll eventually have to get their shit together. Grade: B+

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