Tuesday, 20 September 2016

De Palma

Brian De Palma is not a man who has issues calling a spade a spade. If he could, not only would he call a spade a spade, but he would put a wig and a dress on the spade and follow it round with a Steadicam for sixteen minutes while having John Lithgow shout "SPADE!" at it, such is his penchant for frankness. All of which is to be celebrated, because it's this frankness that makes De Palma, Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow's celebration of one of their movie-making idols, such a fun watch.

Plonked in front of an unassuming fireplace in one of the least De Palma-esque shots it's possible to compose, the 76-year-old director opens up about the highs and lows of his career over 110 minutes of delicious tittle-tattle and self-deprecation, while his interrogators regularly intersperse the chatter with clips from his remarkable 50-year filmography. It's as prosaic a format for a talking head as you could get, but it doesn't matter a hoot: firstly, BDP is so comfortably avuncular you just want to bathe in the glow of his chubby cheeks and tales of Hollywood madness, and secondly, most of the clips are so exhaustingly kinetic that anything more exciting than a septuagenarian in front of a fireplace would wear you out by the halfway mark.
Navigating De Palma's career chronologically and methodically, Baumbach and Paltrow tease out some tremendous nuggets of gossip. Precious actors are not rare in movie history, but evidence of their preciousness from their own directors is, so there's immense pleasure to be had in De Palma's bean-spilling over Orson Welles and Robert De Niro's unwillingness to learn their lines, Sean Connery's reaction to getting dust in his eye while filming a brutal death scene, or Cliff Robertson's questionably orange face in Obsession. Behind-the-camera squabbles are willingly aired too: juggling both David Koepp and Robert Towne's conflicting scripts for Tom Cruise's producing debut Mission: Impossible seems like it must have been, well, some kind of Task: Unachievable, and you boggle at how the film ever got made, let alone ended up as good as it did.

It's not all scandal and scuttlebutt though: De Palma talks at length about the difficulty of swimming against the Hollywood tide, particularly in the context of his movie brat friends Marty, George, Francis and Steven. "What we did in our generation will never be duplicated," he proudly boasts, but fully admits that his path was not necessarily as successfully navigated as those of his contemporaries. "I'm driven by unrealistic ideas [...] my movies tend to upset people a lot," he understates while musing on some of his frankly numerous critical and commercial failures. But his sheer energy and ambition shine through, emanating from the same well of indomitability that makes all his films fascinating to watch even when they spectacularly fail.
The De Palma process gets a good going over too, with split screens, split diopters, long takes and ludicrously elongated build-ups to comically overblown climaxes all covered by the man who made a lurid, lip-smacking art form out of a combination of all of them. Where it worked, De Palma allows himself a smile (the section on Carrie sees him deliver a glorious takedown of every successive project based on it), and where it didn't, he pragmatically shrugs and moves on. "It did good, it didn't do great" seems to be his career in a nutshell, yet at no point does he appear regretful or bitter.

Baumbach and Paltrow bookend their film with clips from Vertigo, and not without good cause: De Palma's well-documented love of Alfred Hitchcock not only set him on his way but has also been the source of some of his fiercest criticism. He ends the interview with a rousing defence of his decision to frequently homage the master of suspense so blatantly, and it's hard to counter the argument without coming across as the dullest of sticks. Ultimately though, his work speaks for itself and for him, and the carefully curated clips within this loving tribute illustrate this. As a document of its subject's fury, obsession and passion, De Palma is untouchable.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Hunt For The Wilderpeople

Taika Waititi has built a respectable rep over the last few years, to the point where he may well find himself nestled snugly between Peter Jackson and Jane Campion in the category "Vaguely Well-Known Film Directors From New Zealand" on a future episode of Pointless (if not in real life, I don't know how close these guys are). Marvel Big Nob Kevin Feige has so much faith in him that he's handed him the keys to the Thor franchise, and if Waititi's CV is anything to go by, the drapes-wearing Norse god's third solo outing will be exactly as serious as its subject matter demands, i.e. not remotely.

I'm very happy about all this, because Taika Waititi seems like a decent chap, and he certainly makes interesting films. I'm just not quite sure if they're *good* enough, and while I don't really care a right lot about whether or not Thor: Ragnarok is premium Marvelry, I wouldn't want a bad blockbuster to have an adverse affect on a promising career, because I still think Waititi's best film is ahead of him. All of which is an inordinately long-winded and convoluted way of saying that Hunt For The Wilderpeople is fine but could have been better. I don't know why I didn't just say that to begin with. Sorry.
Firmly in the tradition of Delightfully Quirky Indie Films Made In Places Where Everyone Talks Funny, Hunt For The Wilderpeople is very much all of those things. Unhealthily rotund tween Julian Dennison plays Ricky Baker, a kid nobody wants around them, while Sam Neill is Hector Faulkner, a gruff old bugger who wants nobody around him. Thrown together and placed in an extreme situation, the pair form an unlikely bond (well, unlikely if you've never seen a film in which two mismatched people are thrown together and placed in an extreme situation), undergoing an episodic bush-based odyssey that forces them to truly find themselves and yadda yadda yadda. Waititi knows his characters' arcs won't surprise anyone, so his job is to make their journey as Delightfully Quirky as possible, and at that he more or less succeeds.

Neill and Dennison are a joy to watch, tramping through the wilderness like Up's Carl and Russell made flesh. Neill's beard and chunky-knit sweaters made me want him to hold me throughout the entire winter, while Dennison is a 12A version of Summer Heights High's gloriously awful Jonah Takalua, a wannabe gangsta who composes half-baked haikus as a form of anger management. Supporting characters are mostly successful, not least Rachel House's unbalanced social worker Paula, although what seems like an obligatory cameo from Rhys Darby (alumnus of Waititi projects Flight Of The Conchords and What We Do In The Shadows) feels like it stumbled in from a much broader comedy.

Hunt For The Wilderpeople's appeal stems more from its situation than its comedy (one incident recalls The Revenant, probably inadvertently but no less amusing for it), to the point where a good proportion of the jokes stumble when a more honed script and tighter direction and editing could have made them soar. I suspect I'm in a minority, but I had this problem with Waititi's Eagle vs Shark and What We Do In The Shadows: great ideas that just felt a little lacking in the execution. Characterisation is the director's strongest point though, and - like those earlier films - Wilderpeople boasts enough of that to forgive it its flaws. And if Waititi can find a part for Dennison in Thor: Ragnarok, I'll forgive him anything.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

The summer of '16: fine

Top Cat Begins not included

Prickled by a nagging suspicion that the summer of 2016 was going to be one of the worst times to be in a cinema since the day someone cracked one off watching Skyfall, I made the decision in May to take a semi-earned sabbatical from this year's blockbuster season. This accounts for The Incredible Suit's sole remaining reader having to look at a still from X-Men: Apocalypse every time they visited the blog in the last four months, and for that I apologise.

It didn't last, though. Like when you pass a horrific car accident on the motorway so get off at the next exit and come back for a better look and a few selfies (come on, we all do it), I couldn't resist finding out exactly what was so grim about this summer, so I binge-watched much of it in the last couple of weeks. Turns out it hasn't actually been apocalyptically bad, so much as just stultifyingly average. Not a single one of these films has improved my existence, and only one of them made me want to scoop out my eyeballs, although I have thus far avoided Suicide Squad. So here's a look back at some of the humdrummery that's passed for entertainment in cinemas recently, which might come across as an exercise in futility but does at least get rid of that X-Men: Apocalypse still.

The Nice Guys
If I could wish for the movie of my dreams, it would probably be a '70s-set buddy action comedy written and directed by Shane Black and starring Ryan Gosling and Hugh Jackman. Eh, four out of five ain't bad. So it's kind of upsetting that I didn't care much for The Nice Guys: an unexceptional plot, precious little action or comedy for an action comedy (although Gosling at last gets to prove he can do funny), damp squibs of dialogue that should have sparked fireworks and a general sense of low-key mediocrity. Struggling to remember anything about it now, except for one hilariously sick shot that was in the trailer so doesn't count. Not terrible, but way short of the movie of my dreams.

The Neon Demon
This isn't a film, it's a Fuck You, with NWR finally (and quite deliberately) becoming the thing his critics have been accusing him of for years: a vain, surface-obsessed director wanking himself silly over the beauty of horror at the expense of logic and plot. It's a celebration of superficiality, as pretentious and vacuous as its subject matter... or is it? As monstrous greed and ambition plague an industry where purity has a brutally short shelf-life before it's devoured by envy and success from within and without, The Neon Demon might just stand as one of the most honest semi-autobiographies ever filmed. I just have no idea if I like it or not.

Ghostbusters
Personally I'd have preferred a sequel set in the original films' universe 30 years on to a remake, but taken on its own terms Ghostbusters: The XX Generation acquits itself admirably. Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold cherry-pick the sturdiest structural beats from the '84 vintage to establish their team and, if anything, improve on the rest: the villain here, while thinly sketched, is far more satisfying than Gozer and the ill-defined Zuul. The cast are delightful, with Leslie Jones making the most of her character's better thought-out integration into the team compared to Ernie Hudson's token tacking-on, and Kate McKinnon licking her proton whip-gun doohickeys is a sight I won't forget in a hurry. As always with Feig, some of the humour doesn't land, it's too long and there's some downright sloppy editing, but if Ghostbusters (2016) is ultimately a ramshackle romp that sometimes doesn't work, then it can at least hold its head high and proudly claim to be the equal of Ghostbusters (1984).

Star Trek Beyond
What a difference a JJ makes. The man who boldly went and rebooted Star Trek for the 21st century may not be perfect, but he could direct Justin Lin under the table any day. Lin's Trek is a baffling, disjointed mess: characters have to yell screeds of expository dialogue to explain what's going on in the action scenes, and the fun that permeated every frame of Abrams' first film has been blown out of the airlock along with Gene Roddenberry's founding principles. There's little sense of camaraderie, tension or what's at stake, and it's so gloomily-shot for the most part that it's more deserving of the title "Into Darkness" than its predecessor. Thematically and aesthetically desolate, the only thing this Star Trek is Beyond is hope.

Jason Bourne
With Jason Bourne's arc neatly tied up in the first film, and then again in the third, a fourth excuse to have him efficiently beating up civil servants while avoiding CCTV cameras was always going to be a bit of a push. Greengrass and co-writer Christopher Rouse toss off a humdrum truth for Bourne to uncover this time, and pack him off through all the same motions to the point where he's become as clichéd as that other JB guy, but without the fun. The film moves like a shark (few people shoot tippity-tapping on a PC as thrillingly as Paul Greengrass) and it's great to see Vincent Cassel on villainous form, but this is an unmemorable instalment that squanders the chance to push the genre like its predecessors did. Furthermore, it has been unacceptable to accompany your end credits with Moby since 2002. Like its permanently brow-furrowing hero, the Bourne franchise simply cannot move on.

Finding Dory
It's a sign that Pixar have spoiled us too much over the years by repeatedly and flawlessly executing the search and/or rescue plot blueprint, when even something as delightful as Finding Dory feels like a stop-gap between better films. The lack of novelty value here means stronger character arcs are required to deliver another masterpiece, but both Dory and Marlin's inner journeys feel underdeveloped and forced. That said, there isn't a character that isn't exquisitely realised, and the ante-upping of the bonkers final act pretty much papers over the cracks in the formula. It's Pixar by numbers, but what beautifully arranged numbers.

Sausage Party
MAYBE IF I FUCKIN' YELL THIS AT THE TOP OF MY FUCKIN' VOICE AND SAY FUCK EVERY OTHER FUCKIN' WORD AND GENERALLY BE AS FUCKIN' OBNOXIOUS AS I FUCKIN' CAN THEN MAYBE JUST FUCKIN' MAYBE I'LL HAVE WRITTEN THE FUNNIEST FUCKIN' THING THIS YEAR!!!!!!! OR MAYBE I'LL JUST COME ACROSS AS A HORNY DOPE-ADDLED FUCKIN' TEENAGER WHO THINKS THAT REPEATEDLY FUCKIN' SHOUTIN' FUCK IS AN ADEQUATE FUCKIN' SUBSTITUTE FOR, YOU KNOW, ACTUAL FUCKIN' JOKES!!!! AND MAYBE I HAD THE FUCKIN' EMBRYO OF A VAGUELY FUCKIN' INTERESTING IDEA FOR WHAT I WAS WRITING BUT THE FUCKIN' ASININITY OF THE FUCKIN' EXECUTION MEANT YOU COULD ACTUALLY FUCKIN' FEEL YOURSELF GETTING MORE FUCKIN' STUPID THE LONGER IT DRAGGED ON, MOTHERFUCKER!!! I DON'T KNOW!!! FUUUUUCK!!!

Thursday, 19 May 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse

Let's be honest: X-Men: Apocalypse is not a film without its problems. I would struggle to discuss it in any great detail without reeling off a catalogue of poor directorial choices, script nonsenses or examples of bad acting. It is certainly the least good of Bryan Singer's four X-Men films to date, and I actually spent some time deciding whether or not it was better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which - as we all know - is not nearly as terrible as you all say it is. What Apocalypse is, though, is knowingly camp, occasionally bold and - at the very least - well-intentioned, even if its intentions are frequently crushed to smithereens under the weight of its own hubris. And if you ask me, which I'm afraid you already have by virtue of reading this far, it's still better than First Class.

After a satisfyingly exhausting unpicking and rethreading of the X-Men universe's chronology in Days Of Future Past, Singer and writer Simon Kinberg have opted for the easy way here: big bad guy threatens human extinction, recruits bad mutants to his cause, good mutants fight back. It's not big and it's not clever, but it is a lot of fun: the pre-title scene alone features some spectacular Cairo-based carnage which sets the tone for the FX-heavy two and a bit hours that follow, and while some of it is kind of baffling, none of it is boring - and certainly not the opening titles, which play out like the complete history of mankind as recalled by a hyperactive child who was once shown a picture of the Mona Lisa.
Oscar Isaac is thanklessly tasked with the role of Mr Apocalypse (first name not given; possibly Alan), buried under enough blue prosthetics and daft armour to question the wisdom of hiring an actor this good to play what is essentially an angry smurf. Rudely awoken from a millennia-long snooze in 1983, Alan Apocalypse does what we'd all like to do when yanked out of a nice dream and sets off to enslave mankind, recruiting the three most useless mutants he can find along the way and giving them terrible haircuts for reasons best known to himself. Meanwhile, Erik Magneto (Michael Fassbender, still undecided on which accent to plump for) is living happily in Poland until shit goes down that tests his patience to the ruddy limit, rendering him an ideal candidate for the currently vacant position of Fourth Horseman Of Alan.

Meanwhile meanwhile, dozens of other mutants are doing stuff and saying things and noticeably failing to look twenty years older than they did five years ago when they were in the 1962-set First Class. At some point they all get together and have a superpower-off, and that's basically it. I can't defend Apocalypse on the grounds of intelligent, soul-searching, groundbreaking storytelling, but I can defend it on the grounds that a) it doesn't really claim to be any of those things - unlike, say, Batman v Superman - and b) it gleefully rewrites both the history we know (leaving us in a world with no nukes and no Auschwitz) and the series' own internal history, and expects you to keep up with it. It doesn't really take the time to ponder what any of that means, but never mind because OOH LOOK THERE'S WOLVERINE!
The social commentary that marked out Singer's previous X-films is a little thin on the ground here and struggles to make itself heard over all the explosions, but it is there, and even if it amounts to little more than "with great power comes great responsibility", that still seems more admirable to me than pitting heroes against each other for the sake of a lacklustre extended fight sequence. Also to its credit, Apocalypse is at least very funny; I mean sure, the climax is overlong, hideously misjudged in its bloodless slaying of innocents (the removal of a couple of shots of landmark-destruction could have helped) and ill-advisedly quotes Return Of The Jedi (for the second time in the film, in fact), but come on, Nightcrawler wears Michael Jackson's Thriller jacket! What's not to like? Apart from all the things I just said were bad.

Ultimately, whether or not you'll go for X-Men: Apocalypse can probably be ascertained by your reaction to two specific sequences within the film: the first shamelessly rehashes the best scene of Days Of Future Past; the second is a lengthy plot diversion which exists solely to insert an inevitable cameo. Both scenes betray a disappointing lack of originality, but they're also undeniably entertaining, delivering the kind of magic only the X-Men can provide. There are better and worse films, there are better and worse superhero films, there are better and worse X-Men films. In fact there are better and worse films in this current trilogy of X-Men films. But in a series sixteen years and eight movies old (nine if you must insist on including Deadpool), it seems to me you could do a lot worse than produce a new entry that slots somewhere in the middle.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Sing Street

Oh God, it's all coming flooding back. I was in the third year, she was in the sixth form. I was besotted. It was pathetic. She knew real men, seventeen years old with hair everywhere. What chance did I stand? I was fourteen and may as well have been made of air. So I became a rock star, and naturally she fell for me and we ran off together and lived happily ever after.

I suspect I wasn't alone in this experience (even the entirely fictional last sentence); certainly writer/director John Carney knows what I'm talking about, which is why he's very kindly made a film about our joint obsessions. Sing Street is that film: a nostalgic glance back at the glorious mid-1980s, its life-shaping music and the heartbreak of being catastrophically incapable of getting off with a fit sixth-former.

Improbably-named newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo plays our surrogate, Cosmo, dumped into a new school with no friends and immediately bullied by a potato-shaped moron. Into this bleakness - which is somehow still funny, because John Carney doesn't do realistic bleakness - shines Raphina (these names, man), a stunning, untouchable older girl sculpted from equal parts starlight and hairspray. Carney's fantasy begins the moment Cosmo approaches Raphina and asks her to be in a video for his band's new song: the first fantasy being that there is no song yet, nor even a band; the second that any boy in Cosmo's position would surely have sooner spent the rest of his school days peering over a book at Raphina in the distance than actually attempting to talk to her.
Still, that fantasy is Sing Street's biggest pull - it's the story you wish could have happened to you (OK, me), and that wish-fulfilment drives it through a series of genuinely hilarious scenes, fuelled by some of the 1980s' great standards of carefree pop. More enjoyable, though, are the original songs Cosmo's band toss off with suspicious ease (Carney's fantasy extends to the kids becoming slick musicians and songwriters after spinning a few Cure LPs): the Duranesque 'The Riddle Of The Model' slots into the era as if it's always been there, while the infectious Hall-&-Oates-meets-Busted pop of 'Drive It Like You Stole It' accompanies the greatest dream sequence I've seen for yonks.

That sequence is also notable because, despite coming across like a rousing climax to the band's story, there's a whole other act left to unfold in which Cosmo and Raphina determine their fate. It's to John Carney's credit that he purposefully structures his film so as not to focus on the relationships between the band members but to celebrate the naive optimism of young, stupid love. The cruel side of the music business belongs in a more downbeat sequel, just as the hinted-at darkness of life in a catholic school is drowned out by the unstoppable power of a heart-stopping bass riff or synth line.
Like last week's Everybody Wants Some!!, Sing Street also concerns itself with a young man's search for identity, and one of its best running gags sees Cosmo turning up to school each week with a fresh hairstyle and makeup regime based on whoever he saw on Top Of The Pops last night. Freedom of expression and rebellion against authority also figure strongly, as you'd expect, and while these themes court accusations of cliché, Carney brushes them aside with a delightful cast, a soaring soundtrack and a succession of pop videos that recall the madcap antics of Flight Of The Conchords.

Carney dedicates his film to brotherhood, and Cosmo's relationship with his big bro (Jack Reynor) is undeniably heartfelt and endearing. But to me - poor, brotherless me - Sing Street is more powerful in its offer to let me spend a couple of hours in an alternate universe where that third-year kid plucked up the courage to chat up the hot sixth-former and became a rock star in the process. I can only hope that in that universe, the other me is equally enjoying a film about a short-sighted, balding film blogger and thinking how great it would be to be him. Well sorry pal, only one of us can live this dream.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Everybody Wants Some!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

Richard Linklater describes his new, somewhat over-punctuated movie Everybody Wants Some!! as a "spiritual sequel" to Dazed And Confused, his semi-autobiographical, 1976-set meander through a day in the lives of a dozen Texan teens, and that seems a fair assessment. It's now 1980, and while the characters, clothes and music are different, the song remains the same: the bucking bronco ride between boyhood (yep, it's a "spiritual sequel" to that too) and manhood doesn't last long, so grab it by the horns and enjoy it before it flings you off into a world of mortgages, taxes and a lifetime spent trying to recapture the good old days by repeatedly making films about them.

The first day of college - again, remember the end of Boyhood? - is just over three days away, and freshman Jake (Blake Jenner) rocks up on campus, The Knack's My Sharona thumping from his car's speakers like a fanfare announcing not just a new wave of music, but a new decade and a new chapter in Jake's life. It was at this point, seconds into the film, that I suspected I would fall for it; my suspicions were confirmed shortly thereafter when Jake and his crew of new housemates executed a flawless drive-by rapalong to The Sugarhill Gang's Rapper's Delight. A mile-wide smile slapped itself across my chops and hardly budged until the end credits, when it only got wider. (Trust me on this one: Marvel can only dream of a post-credits sting as fantastic as this film's.)

You don't have to be a fan of '80s music to love Everybody Wants Some!!, but it helps. You do have to be a fan of Richard Linklater's style of filmmaking though; don't go looking for convoluted plotting or far-reaching character arcs here. You're spending a few days following the adventures of a group of young men whose principal interests are babes, booze, bongs and baseball, and the pursuit of all these forms what can loosely be called the plot. But there's much more going on beneath the surface: Jake's new digs are in one of two houses containing other baseball-playing freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors, and his navigation of the shifting social structures at work in this animal kingdom form his journey through the film.
The guys we're asked to care about here are, for the most part, complete dicks. They're cruel, shallow and ruthlessly competitive; it would come as little surprise if one of the background characters turned out to be a young Donald Trump. But Linklater's skill is to make us care about these jocks - cinema's unloved children - by refusing to box them up in familiar teen movie stereotypes. Each is allowed to gradually reveal himself organically as the story unfolds, and Linklater takes two leisurely hours to do what his film's dirty old uncle Porky's did with basic movie shorthand in its first reel. Admittedly, Linklater isn't in a rush to get to a scene where a fat lady pulls a student's penis through a hole in a shower room wall, so he can afford to take his time.

And so, in a world with only about two actual adults (a baseball coach and a history professor, neither of which are treated with much respect), it's up to the students to determine the men from the boys. Many of the seniors look about 35 thanks to some enviable facial hair, but it's Tyler Hoechlin's McReynolds who's ostensibly the alpha male - although Linklater gleefully turns the concept on its head by dressing him in crop-tops, tight shorts and knee-high socks. In fact most of these pussy-hungry menchildren strut about in outfits offering the least room for manoeuvre while playfully slapping each other on the bottom; the thematic seam of discovering who you really are runs through Everybody Wants Some!! at multiple strata, and one of its many pleasures is only realising some of them days - if not weeks - after viewing.
A love letter to carefree fraternity and formative male bonding set in a pre-AIDS landscape, this is very much a film about #lads being #lads. Girls are temporary distractions for the most part, save Zoey Deutch's Beverly, who - after a promising introduction - doesn't get much more to do than gaze adoringly into Jake's eyes. It's a minor disappointment in an otherwise genuine and heartfelt endeavour, but Linklater is pitching a specifically androcentric (occasionally to the point of homoerotic) experience here, and he successfully buries it firmly in the, uh... wicket keeper's... big glove thing? Yeah, pretty confident that baseball metaphor works.

As that final treat over the end credits sends you home with a doofus grin, you wonder what might become of Everybody Wants Some!!'s semi-bright young things. They've tried everything from disco to country to punk, and it's hard to tell if any of them are any closer to finding themselves than they were when My Sharona pointedly announced a new dawn at the film's opening. But Linklater's intention is not to drone on about tedious lesson-learning or the acquisition of crucial life skills; instead he deliberately leaves his characters suspended in that magic hour when actions had no consequences and anything was possible. That's obviously just the way he prefers to remember his college days, and it's the way you'll want to remember them too.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Captain America: Civil War

Following my complaints that the last two Captain America films were a bit dull because, as we all know, Captain America himself is a bit dull, Marvel have finally seen sense and buried him in a helicarrierful of other characters in his new movie, Colon Civil War. This is good, because some of those characters are Iron Man, Black Widow and Ant-Man, who are fun, but also bad because some of those characters are Arrow Man, Condorman and Fucking Weird Robot Man-Thing Man, who are rubbish.
Memorising the placement of these characters will be very helpful during the film

Considering how much hand-wringing went into worrying about whether four superheroes plus two little helpers could successfully share the screen in 2012's Marvel Avengers Assemble, the balls on writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely - as well as directors Anthony and Joe Russo - must have to be carted around in wheelbarrows after attempting to bring a dozen or so of the fuckers together here. That they've done it with a fair degree of success is an impressive feat of writing and direction which is unlikely to attract the kind of attention Joss Whedon did four years ago, and that's a shame.

But it's not applause and blowjobs all round just yet: despite a thoughtful and meaty first act that sets up the film's core antagonism in a way that makes Batman v Superman look like it was thrown together by shit-flinging monkeys, Civil War eventually decides that working out how to choreograph supermassive superhero smackdowns is more important than keeping focus on why they're all up in each other's grills, and eventually all that running around, jumping and fighting... well, it's exhausting.
LEAVE 'IM TONE 'E'S NOT WURF IT

To ReCap: as in BvS, people have begun to notice that superheroes are a destructive, dangerous lot. The Avengers' apparent indifference to their own city-smashing habits has resulted in a motion to bring them under the supervision of the UN, and while Tony Stark is all for that, Steve Rogers is more suspicious of political agendas, preferring his own judgement to the chance of becoming a government-sponsored weapon of mass destruction. It's an intelligent, well-laid-out argument which believably sets our heroes against each other, but it's not quite enough to trigger an all-out-war of the hashtags between #TeamIronMan and #TeamCap, so an additional wrinkle is added in the shape of Daniel Brühl's mysterious mischief maker, and this is where it all gets a bit murky.

Brühl makes fleeting, infrequent appearances throughout the story, and while it's refreshing that the villain isn't a showboating blowhard for once, it is a bit tricky to get a grip on exactly what he's up to. It's a pity, because his impact on the rest of the characters is crucial, and his plan requires the same amount of thought as - if not more than - the logistics of Civil War's numerous, enormous fight scenes, which we as an audience have been led to believe is what we really want to see from this film. When the repercussions of Brühl's somewhat underexplained actions are so far-reaching, it feels like they should have been given as much time and space to breathe as all the chin-stroking moral dilemmas are.
The centrepiece of Civil War is a gargantuan multiple face-off between the forces of good and, uh, also good, and while it's kind of fun, it's also crippled by its own ambition. Having painted itself into a corner where such a rumble can't be seen to cause injury to any innocent bystanders, the film instead sets the scene in a conveniently deserted airport, and the result is an amped-up but somewhat sterile version of Anchorman's news team fight. Every hero gets their moment - Ant-Man's is the best of the scene and, arguably, the whole film - and although it's shot and cut with welcome clarity it's hard to remember who's meant to be on whose side. And if I'm being honest, I do find strong people fighting each other a bit boring now. Only one character seems to get hurt in the entire scrap, so what's the point? Why not just have a nice sit down and a chat about it?

It's a shame, because there's some great work elsewhere. The banter between the leads is as on-point as ever, the humour is perfectly pitched and a couple of new supers are introduced organically and interestingly. One in particular gets a simple, beautifully-written and played introductory scene that does in minutes what other films spend entire acts on. But then, in the same film, Martin Freeman appears maybe three times for no apparent reason, as if most of his scenes were cut to allow more time for punching, and Vision - whose very existence and purpose is still a mystery to me - pads about an apartment looking bored in a range of comfortable slacks and polo shirts. He purports to be some kind of all-powerful, perfect synthetic being with infallible A.I., so why he's moping about like a Man At C&A catwalk model is baffling.
In fairness he descends from a proud line of androids in casual wear

By and large none of this matters; Captain America: Civil War is a perfectly serviceable summer blockbuster that reminds you how good Marvel are at this superhero malarkey. Where Batman v Superman was a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, Civil War at least has the common decency to give you a good time in return for your hard-earned cash. I just wish it had extended the intelligence of its setup to the rest of the plot, because while the Marvel Cinematic Universe has the power to become one of the defining legends of our time, it's in danger of becoming overwhelmed by all the pixel-on-pixel argy-bargy. And if that happens you may as well just hire Zack Snyder and be done with it.