Silver Screen: The Score Card, June 23, 2016 Edition
> opening this week in Carbondale.
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
< Captain America: Civil War (PG-13, ****): This overstuffed superhero smackdown is both burdened and blessed by its abundance of characters. A cadre of producers and writers, fronted here by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and led by adept directors Joe and Anthony Russo, spend a lot of time— like two-and-a-half hours of it— juggling a bloated roster, trying to unite some plotlines and launch others. Though nominally a sequel to 2014’s Winter Soldier, this is actually the biggest installment yet in Marvel Studios’ ongoing serial. When the Winter Soldier, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), an old war buddy of Captain America (Chris Evans), is framed for an assassination, Cap takes a group of fellow superheroes (including Anthony Mackie, Elizabeth Olsen, and Jeremy Renner) off the grid to find the real killers. That draws the ire of their pals, led by Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), who agrees with the government that the superheroes need some kind of regulatory oversight. The eventual result is a big, beautifully destructive setpiece in which a dozen or so characters (including Chadwick Boseman’s debut as Black Panther and new Spider-Man Tom Holland) face off for an effects extravaganza of a royal rumble. All the while the movie maintains the breezy sense of humor that so nicely suits the Marvel movies, and is such a sharp contrast to the grim obligation of that other superhero showdown from earlier in the year.
> Central Intelligence (PG-13, ***): Not since Twins have two stars made so much hay from their mismatched statures. Director Rawson Marshall Thurber and his screenwriters manage to expand the comedy beyond that one running joke, but just barely. Mostly the movie relies on hyper-charismatic stars Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson to generate the laughs as a mismatched buddy team in this action-tinged broad comedy. Hart tones down his persona a few notches to play straight man Calvin, a former high-school standout in a middle-age rut. His life takes a turn for the interesting when an old classmate, former bully target Robbie (Johnson), shows up musclebound, working for the CIA, and in need of help. Literally every other character in the movie is a plot device. This is a world completely engineered around its stars, who manage to thrive in the artificial atmosphere despite the lackluster support. Fine character actors like Amy Ryan, Ryan Hansen, and Jason Bateman are mostly wasted. Still, it’s fun stuff. Hart and Johnson have made careers out of redeeming otherwise forgettable movies. Here at least they have a pal to help out.
The Conjuring II (PG-13, **): Not only does the sequel to James Wan’s 2013 surprise hit fail to capture the spooky atmosphere of the original, it actually renders the first movie less enjoyable by highlighting all the flaws Wan papered over with aesthetic and technique. Pious ghost hunting couple Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) travel to England where a single mother (Frances O’Conner) struggles with the haunting of the shabby house she shares with her four children. Toy trucks drive on their own accord, old playground equipment squeaks in the mist, and little girls mutter threats in gravely demonic voices. All the old familiar tricks are pulled out, but with surprisingly little inventiveness. Wan is capable with jump scares and occasional frightening images, but this stuff is uninspired at best and fumblingly manipulative at worst. It’s a baffling pop hagiography of the Warrens, two real-life paranormal “experts” who time and again have been proven to be fakes. But here they’re holy warriors, a perfect nuclear family whose love of Jesus and tradition can save the sad single mum. It’s icky, paternalistic stuff in a movie not nearly fun enough to distract you from its boring conservative subtext.
> Finding Dory (PG, ***): Pixar’s perfunctory sequel to the 2003 animated hit tags all the bases and looks uniformly handsome, but never for a moment does it dazzle. The studio has set an awfully high bar for itself, one it seems increasingly willing to not even try to clear on its safer projects, like this one, which repackages the original with a slightly different (and less-interesting) setting. This time around it’s sidekick Dory’s (Ellen DeGeneres) turn to search for her missing parents, a task made difficult by her lifelong memory disorder. She enlists the help of Marlin (Albert Brooks) and the formerly wayward Nemo (young replacement Hayden Rolence), along with a kooky new cast of characters from an aquatic-rescue facility and amusement park. Those include a cranky octopus (Ed O’Neill), a nearsighted shark (Kaitlin Olson), and a finicky whale (Ty Burrell). The voice actors are all in top form, but the tiresome cycle of getting lost and found again wears thin, especially as the new setting lacks the visual splendor of the original’s undersea world. It’s fine, inoffensive, and perfectly pleasant. By the end, all but the youngest audience members might find themselves sharing Dory’s syndrome: You’re smiling and feeling generally positive, but you really can’t remember why.
X-Men: Apocalypse (PG-13, ***): Director and cowriter Bryan Singer has helmed four of the six X-Men movies: the first two, then Days of Future Past and now its followup. Singer still has a facility for outsized setpieces and the ability to project the illusion of gravity into an otherwise weightless swirl of digital effects, but he’s lost touch with the more intimate conflicts and smaller character interactions that gave the better installments of the series their humanity. Here the X-Men (led by James McAvoy, and including Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, and Evan Peters, along with newcomers Tye Sheridan and Sophie Turner as a young Cyclops and Jean Grey) must do battle with the ancient being Apocalypse (an unrecognizable Oscar Isaac, lost under makeup and vocal filters), who wants to destroy the world and repopulate it with mutants. It’s a large-scale scheme, but not a terribly interesting one, and the new villain does little more than make grandiose proclamations and stare. He’s a dud, despite his off-the-charts power. Michael Fassbender returns as Magneto to inject a little bit of intrigue, but he’s the only character existing in any kind of moral gray area. Mostly the movie lurches from one big setpiece to the next, with no time to have any fun in between. It’s fine, but dour and mostly uninspired, save for another excellent sequence featuring the very funny Peters and a fun cameo from an old favorite.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
< Alice Through the Looking Glass (PG): Tim Burton-produced this followup to his take on Alice in Wonderland featuring Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, and Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter. Hey, at least it’s based on actual sequel source material.
> Free State of Jones (R): Matthew McConaughey stars in this based-on-a-true-story war drama about a Southern farmer who stages an uprising against the Confederates. Featuring Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Keri Russell.
> Independence Day: Resurgence (PG-13): Twenty years after the original sci-fi disaster cheeseball classic, director Roland Emmerich returns with castmembers Jeff Goldblum, Judd Hirsch, Sela Ward, and Vivica Fox. Aliens return for a second attack from the skies, testing the high-tech defense the world has developed since the first invasion. The original Independence Day remains the Citizen Kane of summer-movie trailers.
< Me Before You (PG-13): Game of Thrones’ khaleesi Emilia Clarke takes off the wig to perform as a caregiver to a recently paralyzed man. Will romance ensue amid the teardrops, or will dragons swoop down in time to save them from pathos? (Wissmann)
> The Neon Demon (R): Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) directs this thriller about a model (Elle Fanning) whose sensational rise draws criminal jealousy from her peers.
Now You See Me II (PG-13): The godawful, ridiculous movie about magic that could only work with digital special effects inexplicably returns for a sequel. Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Jesse Eisenberg, Lizzy Caplan, and Dave Franco return, joined by Daniel Radcliffe, for a followup to a heist movie that— in case you couldn’t tell— I really hated.
> The Shallows (PG-13): Blake Lively stars as a surfer who gets stranded alone on a rock by a circling shark. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (Non-Stop, Run All Night).
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (PG-13): In this sequel to the Michael Bay-affiliated reboot, the turtles must do battle with man-animal hybrids created out of a new purple ooze. Megan Fox and Will Arnett return, joined by Laura Linney, Tyler Perry, and Stephen Amell.
Warcraft (PG-13): The overqualified Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) directs this adaptation of the popular fantasy videogame about a land overrun by an invading army of orcs. Featuring Ben Foster, Paula Patton, and Dominic Cooper.