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I wish I could tell you that Captain America: Civil War is so good that it will make you forget the horror that was Batman v Superman: Dawn of Bursting Diseased Cinematic Pustules. Alas, nothing is good enough to clear that out of anyone’s brain anytime soon.

Captain America: Civil War is very good, though, a nice blast of superhero fun that finds a diplomatic way to include many Marvel favorites without feeling crowded or rushed. This is one well-oiled Marvel machine.

Front and center, there’s Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), aka Captain America, still having Brooklyn-bro issues when it comes to the Winter Soldier, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). Cap wants to back up his former best friend, but the guy committed some shady, hard-to-defend acts while brainwashed. Captain America has to make some extremely difficult—and potentially cataclysmic—choices.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) thought Age of Ultron sucked for more than the obvious reasons: On top of being boring, it left death and destruction in its wake, as did the far-more-exciting original The Avengers. World leaders want to put the Avengers in check, using them as a sort of alternative to nuclear weapons. Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr., still owning it), in the midst of a crisis of conscience, agrees to the proposed accord. Rogers thinks it’s bullshit and won’t sign. This all works as a fine setup for an eventual battle between Iron Man and Captain America, during which both sides have compelling reasons to fight. It’s actually hard to pick a side in this movie, making the confrontation all the more fun.

The Avengers get split up between Iron Man and Captain America. Stark has Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Vision (an excellent Paul Bettany), as well as new recruits Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and, yep, Spider-Man (Tom Holland, looking like he could be the best Spidey yet) in his ranks. Rogers goes into battle with the Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Bucky and new recruit Ant-Man (a funny Paul Rudd).

It’s no easy task, but directors Anthony and Joe Russo, along with their screenwriters, juggle a lot of characters and spin a lot of plates—successfully and entertainingly. No single character hogs the screen for too long; everybody gets a nice stake in the movie; and the newbies are introduced in satisfying ways. Spider-Man manages to get his setup in a solid scene with Stark and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei … hooray!). It’s a relatively quick scene, but, hey, it’s Spider-Man. He doesn’t need a long setup. Just introduce him, and let him start shooting webs and wisecracks.

The film has good performances throughout, but Downey is the true standout. He’s the anchor of the Avengers universe, and he brings true gravitas where other actors would just make things corny. Holland gets a lot of points for making the most of his screen time and slipping comfortably into the costume most recently worn by Andrew Garfield. He’s perfect for Spidey on the acting front—and, if you take a look at his Spider-Man workouts, you’ll see he doesn’t necessarily need a stuntman.

Conspicuously missing are Hulk and Thor. Something had to be left for the next Thor movie, so those two get a break here. While Age of Ultron felt like nothing but a bunch of scenes setting up the next chapter, Civil War works as a standalone action movie.

There are no clear plans for Captain America and Bucky in The Avengers saga going forward. They are great characters, but there are plenty of great characters now existing in the Marvel Comics Universe. Captain America: Civil War gets things back on track after the weak Age of Ultron, and should make people excited for next year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming.

I’ll just keep saying it: You must stay through the damn credits until that blue ratings thing shows at the end. It’s a Marvel movie! There are two extra scenes to see. Stop leaving before the screen goes dark. It’s driving me crazy!

Captain America: Civil War is playing in a variety of formats at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Hey, kids who are aspiring filmmakers: Gather around, because Uncle Bob has got something to tell you. OK? Now, listen up.

I want you to go and see The Host as soon as possible, because it is an important step in your moviemaking education: The Host is the quintessential example of how to make a movie so shitty that Satan would actually turn his nose up at it and proclaim it too profane for his torture cineplex in hell.

This movie is based on a novel penned by Stephenie Meyer, writer of the Twilight things and, at this point, one of my sworn enemies. Nothing good has been produced from this writer’s works, and I want her to take up full-time bowling or stenciling to distract her from her computer. Seriously, Stephenie … you have a lot of money now. Please … have mercy on those of us who can’t handle your pap. Stop hurting us with your crazy words and ideas.

The Host leaves the land of sparkly vampires and journeys to a future Earth where aliens have invaded. These aliens are CGI, super-white, flowing clusters of psychedelic sperm. They look like the end result of a Daft Punk robot ejaculation. (Daft Spunk?) These aliens have traveled through the universe, “bonding” with species by entering through cuts in their necks and turning their eyes a very light blue.

In the opening moments, we see Melanie (Saoirse Ronan), a human resister being cornered by alien-infected humans, chief among them being The Seeker (Diane Kruger). They give chase, and Melanie plunges through a window to certain death.

Sadly, for Ronan, Melanie lives on: Her life is saved after a Tiger Woods-looking dude puts an alien in her neck. She becomes Wanderer (later, Wanda) and seems in line with the alien plan for global domination. But, wait … Melanie is still inside her head, and Melanie has got some whining to do about the body-being-dominated-by-an-alien thing.

Watching Ronan having arguments with her inner voice is trash cinema at its acrid apex. It reminded me of All of Me, that movie in which Steve Martin’s body got possessed by Lily Tomlin. While Martin did a fine job arguing with the voice within, Ronan sounds like a really whacky teenager with voices in her head.

Wanda winds up with Melanie’s still-human uncle (William Hurt … oh, it’s so sad to see you here) somewhere in the desert. Her uncle and his followers eventually accept Wanda (or the possessed Melanie) as a friend and family member. She entertains the advances of two boys (Max Irons and Jake Abel). One is Melanie’s old flame; the other is a dude who just thinks alien possessed girls are super-hot.

Andrew Niccol, who made the decent Gattaca but also made the awful In Time, directs. In Time was visually unimaginative and sterile, as is this film. Shiny cars and white suits are the accouterments of choice for the aliens, and nothing could be more boring.

Poor Saoirse Ronan. Here’s a young actress with the talent to command great roles, and she finds herself in this swill. Sure, her peeps probably thought getting her a gig in the latest film based on a Stephenie Meyer novel would be a sure thing. It’s actually one of the biggest creative bombs of this decade, and will do nothing to move her forward. Ronan has chops, and she doesn’t deserve this. (On an optimistic note, Ronan is in Wes Anderson’s next film, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Perhaps this will help get her back on track. Anderson is reliable, and surely he will find something to do with Ronan’s talents besides allowing her to argue with herself for two hours.)

I value my minutes here on this Earth. I consider each minute a precious little diamond nugget that I will never get back. Therefore, I don’t normally wish for these minutes to pass me by quickly. I like to savor them. But When I was watching The Host, I found myself wishing I was some sort of amazing Time Lord who could grab the minutes in The Host’s remaining running time and squash them to death, resulting in their passing without me actually experiencing them.

Alas, I just sat there, watching The Host, jaw agape and eyes glazed over, aware that some moments on this Earth aren’t precious. They aren’t precious in any way at all. 

The Host is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews