Out on Friday 29 April
Cap and Iron Man go head to head. László Nemes’ harrowing debut will make your blood run cold. Jake Gyllenhaal brings down the house.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of Captain America: Civil War, Son of Saul, Demolition, Heaven Knows What, Richard III, Hard Tide, God’s Not Dead 2, Golden Years, and Ratchet and Clank.
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CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
It’s all been building to this. From the three-way forest throw-downs and Hulk-shaped sucker punches of Avengers Assemble to Civil War’s savvy, hashtag-powered marketing campaign prompting True Believers to pick a side, the prospect of Marvel's mightiest going toe to toe in a superhuman dust-up has been irresistibly enticing. That it arrives in cinemas little more than a month after DC’s own clash of the titans failed to land a knockout blow feels all the sweeter because, rest assured, Civil War delivers on the promise of that title in a major way.
Part Captain America threequel, part Avengers 2.5, part cinematic intro to two of the MCU’s most intriguing new faces (more on those later), Civil War is a miraculous juggling act. The globetrotting plot kicks off in Lagos, where Cap and the new-look Avengers are on a mission to take down Winter Soldier survivor Crossbones. If 2011’s The First Avenger was a war movie, and its 2014 sequel a paranoia-fuelled thriller, Civil War starts as a muscular crime movie in the mould of Michael Mann's Heat, the Russo brothers significantly upping their game in terms of high-impact, shield-slinging action.
The mission is a bust – the latest in a laundry list of collateral-damage catastrophes from the battle of New York to the near-apocalypse in Sokovia. “Victory at the expense of the innocent is no victory at all,” says secretary of state Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross (William Hurt, reprising his 2008 Incredible Hulk role) leading to the creation of the Sokovia Accords, a decree to put the super crew on ice (metaphorically) unless an international governing body gives the green light. Having lived through oppressive times, Cap takes a stance against the agreement; Tony Stark, wracked with guilt over the creation of Ultron, sides with Ross and the Accords. Battle lines drawn, matters are further complicated by Bucky Barnes, who’s implicated in a terrorist attack that puts both sides, and a certain Wakandan prince, on the Winter Soldier’s tail.
In many ways, Civil War is the Marvel team-up sequel Age of Ultron should have been. If The Winter Soldier was about SHIELD being ripped apart from the inside, Civil War pulls the same trick with the Avengers themselves, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely carving out satisfying character arcs, or at the very least moments, for every major player (minus the MIA Thor and Hulk). Crucially, despite the colossal cast of characters and sprawling runtime, the oft-repeated assertion that this isn't just Avengers 2.5 holds true – it's also a Captain America movie through and through, further exploring The Winter Soldier’s major theme – the cost of freedom – while Bucky is even more integral to the plot than he was in the film that bore his own name.
As you might expect, it's one of the MCU’s more serious entries, tonally a world away from the party-time antics of Age of Ultron. But that doesn’t mean it’s humourless; far from it. Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson can be relied upon for laugh-out-loud one-liners whenever he’s on screen, the Vision’s stylish new wardrobe is comedy gold and Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang is huge fun in a relatively brief appearance – utterly enamoured by Steve Rogers and overjoyed just to have been invited along.
As a piece of superhero storytelling, it doesn’t bring anything particularly innovative to the table either – the idea of a thin line between heroes and vigilantes is invoked again, for example. But importantly, given the callous loss of life going on in other comic-book movies, the human cost of the Avengers’ actions is keenly felt and addressed in a meaningful way. It makes DC’s efforts to tackle the same idea with Batman v Superman seem thunderously dunderheaded in comparison.
“It always ends in a fight,” says Bucky. Of course it does. And Civil War builds to an unforgettable main event. After waiting a good 90 minutes for each side to suit up you can’t help but brace for a mammoth letdown, but the airport-set Battle Royale ranks among the most inventive and fun scraps ever committed to superhero celluloid. Everyone gets a moment to shine, not least of which Tom Holland’s friendly neighbourhood wall-crawler and Rudd’s amazing miniature man who run away with the lion’s share of the battle’s memorable moments, the super-barney consistently surprising with deliriously gleeful beats. The characters may be pulling their punches – after all they’re the good guys, and with one key exception they don’t want to see each other dead – but a later, three-way fight massively raises the emotional stakes, because after eight years and 12 films you can’t help but care about the people on each side of the divide.
Chris Evans is dependably superb as Steve Rogers – the stoic heart and soul of the MCU. And though he doesn’t have as much to chew on here as he did in The Winter Soldier, there's little doubt why anyone would risk being branded a fugitive to follow him into battle. Even better is Robert Downey Jr, who shows a different side to Tony Stark. “You're being surprisingly non-hyper-verbal,” Black widow quips. It's a wittier riposte than anything Tony musters in the entire film. He’s less the swaggering snark merchant of movies past here and more the elder statesman, reflecting on the consequences of his actions and looking to make amends. “I’m trying to keep you from tearing the Avengers apart,” he pleads. The brilliance of Downey Jr’s sympathetic performance is that even if you’re staunchly Team Cap you still feel for him.
As for the other players: Bucky is more tortured soul than Terminator this time round, and though he can still feel more MaGuffin than character at times, you buy why he’s worth saving because Sebastian Stan and Chris Evans sell their life-long friendship so well. Daniel Bruhl’s shadowy Zemo is the film's Lex Luthor – the master manipulator pulling the strings from behind the scenes – but unlike Jesse Eisenberg’s aggressively annoying braniac, Bruhl gives Zemo gravitas and pathos. Scarlet Witch struggles to deal with the implications of her immense power; Hawkeye comes out of retirement in a satisfying continuation of his Age Of Ultron arc; Black Widow has fun playing both sides, even if there's none of the joyful frisson with Cap this time around; Falcon gets to show off what those wings can really do; and War Machine takes the hardest line for the Accords, ever the iron patriot.
More importantly: how do the MCU’s new supers stack up? Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther has a bigger role than you might expect. Arriving fully formed, Boseman plays the prince of Wakanda with regal airs, charm and forceful determination. For Very Important Story Reasons he's quite sullen in Civil War (hopefully he’ll lighten up for the standalone Panther flick) but in his vibranium suit T'Challa is just as capable and acrobatically dazzling as any of the MCU's super-folk, with a set of razor-sharp claws that even Cap's shield can’t withstand. “Dude shows up dressed like a cat and you don’t want to know more?” exclaims Falcon after their first run-in. On the basis of Civil War, we’re champing at the bit.
Better yet is Marvel’s all-new Spider-Man. In a surprisingly substantial appearance, 19-year-old Tom Holland not only makes a case for being the best screen Spidey so far, but also threatens to steal the entire film. His Peter Parker is perfect – nervy, goofy and instantly endearing. In the airport fight however he's truly spectacular, holding his own against the best the MCU has to offer, using his webs in entertaining and creative ways, while his motor-mouthed (and charmingly naive) wisecracking couldn’t be better. “There’s usually not this much talk,” says Falcon. You’ll be grateful there is, and desperate to see more of Holland’s sensational web-slinger the moment you leave the cinema.
That epic runtime is the only problem. It's generally well-paced, but there's one too many plot swerves as you wait for the gang to suit up and throw down. There’s also a slightly icky and completely unnecessary romantic beat that torpedoes the MCU’s best love story, and it’s a shame that the trailers (and LEGO) gave away quite so many of the film's surprises.
If there’s a risk of the Marvel ‘formula’ becoming stale, there isn’t any evidence of that here. Civil War isn’t just a damn-near-perfect popcorn crowd-pleaser; it doesn’t offer any easy answers for its combatants, or the world going forward. Team Cap or Team Iron Man? The real winner here is Team Marvel.
THE VERDICT: The superhero slugfest this summer deserved. The emotional stakes couldn’t be higher, the big fight delivers in every conceivable way and Tom Holland’s amazing Spider-Man steals the show. Up there with the best of Marvel.
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo; Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily Vancamp, Martin Freeman; Theatrical release: April 29, 2016
SON OF SAUL
Out of respect for the dead, and shame at what was done to them, Holocaust literature is full of gaps, ellipses and silences – how, after all, do you say the unspeakable? When it comes to cinema, the question gets even thornier: how do you show the unshowable? And how can you not?
For his harrowing debut, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film (and the Grand Prix at Cannes), Hungarian writer/director László Nemes has a brutal solution. Like an Iñárritu action sequence stripped of all dazzle and stretched out to two hours, Son of Saul throws us straight into the maelstrom of concentration-camp life as if we, too, were prisoners. Saul Ausländer (poet Géza Röhrig), is a Sonderkomando, a Jewish trustee co-opted by the Nazis.
We first meet him shepherding new arrivals into the showers, removing their valuables, then piling up the bodies afterwards. When he recognises his son among the corpses, he sets out to secure him a proper Jewish burial. For the next 24 hours, Mátyás Erdély’s dogged camera barely leaves Saul’s side, so we only see what he sees – already far too much.
With its boxed-in ratio and ugly, seemingly endless takes, the result is a worm’s-eye view of evil on an industrial scale. As Saul searches for a rabbi, we glimpse blurry Brueghelian nightmares of bonfires and burning bodies soundtracked by distant gunshots and ragged screams. The crushing irony, of course, is that Saul’s mission is futile – nobody’s getting out of here alive, and the dead boy may not even be his son.
But just because it’s futile doesn’t mean it’s pointless: stubbornly clinging to the corpse is Saul’s attempt to remain human in the face of mass dehumanisation. By placing us, helpless, in his shoes, Nemes makes us both victim and perpetrator – all complicit, all trapped, all cogs in the same awful machine.
THE VERDICT: A film to make your blood run cold, Nemes’ first-person account of life, and death, in a concentration camp contains horrors you can’t – and shouldn’t – unsee.
Director: László Nemes; Starring: Géza Röhrig, Levente Molnár, Urs Rechn, Todd Charmont, Jerzy Walczak; Theatrical release: April 29, 2016
What fascinates Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée, it seems, are individuals in crisis, people driven to desperate measures. In Dallas Buyers Club Matthew McConaughey’s defiant AIDS victim (a role that netted him an Oscar) takes on the system to get himself and his fellow sufferers the drugs they’re denied. Reese Witherspoon in Wild sets out to right her screwed-up life by solo-hiking the 1,000-plus miles of the Pacific Crest trail.
And now, in Demolition, he’s got Jake Gyllenhaal as Davis Mitchell, an NYC investment banker who’s cauterised his emotions to such a degree that, when his lovely wife dies in a brutal car crash, he finds himself incapable of grief. So he takes it out in, precisely, demolition – smashing up his life both socially and physically, starting with the fridge and ending up with his house.
In the hands of the wrong director or given a miscast lead actor, this storyline could have come across as ludicrously clumsy. But Vallée’s nervy style and taut, disjunctive editing mesh perfectly with Gyllenhaal’s clenched intensity to craft a film that’s at once farcical and unexpectedly moving, the pair holding it together like a high-wire act.
There’s fine support, too, from Chris Cooper as Davis’ tight-buttoned, resentful father-in-law, Naomi Watts as the fragile single mother who finds herself drawn into trying to console him, and newcomer Judah Lewis as her conflicted, sexually confused son with whom Davis forms an unlooked-for bond. But it’s Gyllenhaal who drives the action, giving us a portrait of emotional dysfunction that’s close kin to his coldly calculating crime reporter in Nightcrawler.
Vallée shadows his lead character’s unleashed behaviour by deconstructing his movie, throwing in bizarre flash inserts (an animated talking frog briefly shows up a couple of times) and darting off on unexpected tangents. Demolition baffles, bemuses and misdirects on its way to finding itself, much as Davis does; but if you hang on in there, it’s well worth the ride.
THE VERDICT: An offbeat, disruptive treatment of grief, shot through with flashes of manic humour, and played to the hilt by Jake Gyllenhaal at the top of his game.
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée; Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper, Polly Draper, Judah Lewis; Theatrical release: April 29, 2016
HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT
Against the odds, NY brothers Josh and Ben Safdie’s hyper-indie aesthetic brings fresh life to that old story of two lovers joined at the needle. That life has a name: Arielle Holmes, whose own history inspires her electrifying portrait of Harley, a junkie equally hooked on no-good fellow addict Ilya (Caleb Landry Jones) in this tale of desperation and co-dependency.
The Safdies pull off this episodic plunge into a scuzz-nik world with brash, bracing immediacy: but it’s Holmes’ innate charisma that keeps you there.
Directors: Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie; Starring: Arielle Holmes, Caleb Landry Jones, Buddy Duress; Theatrical release: April 29, 2016
Backed by a stellar ensemble (Robert Downey Jr., Annette Bening, Maggie Smith), Ian McKellen takes the lead in Richard Loncraine’s gory, blackly funny 1995 adap (re-released as part of BFI’s Shakespeare on Film season).
The action’s relocated to a fascist ’30s London – a conceit that works brilliantly, from the moment a WW1 tank smashes through the Prince of Wales’ fireplace, with goons spraying machine-gun fire to a rasping Al Jolson soundtrack. With a screenplay (co-written by McKellen) that crackles and spits like a roasting pig, it was clearly as much of a blast to make as it is to watch.
Director: Richard Loncraine; Starring: Ian McKellen, Annette Bening, Nigel Hawthorne, Robert Downey Jr., Maggie Smith; Theatrical release: April 28, 2016
An unlikely friendship forged between a small-town thug and a nine-year-old girl forms the basis of this hard-bitten drama with a heart. Nathaniel Wiseman stars (and co-directs) as Jake, a young man embroiled in a gang, who takes Jade (Alexandra Newick) under his wing following a tragic accident.
The criminal-with-compassion storyline has enough lightness to lend the film some humour, and the performances are charming, but this is no less effective as a violent, gritty crimer than it is as a sweet tale of friendship and redemption.
Directors: Nathanael Wiseman, Robert Osman; Starring: Nathanael Wiseman, Oliver Stark, Mem Ferda, Andy Lucas, Katarina Gellin, Ralph Brown, Alexandra Newick; Theatrical release: April 29, 2016
GOD’S NOT DEAD 2
This follow-up to the 2014 faith-based US hit brings us Christian rock, courtroom drama and Twin Peaks’ Ray Wise mugging to the camera. Melissa Joan Hart is Grace Wesley, a teacher sued by two parents for comparing Jesus’ teachings to Martin Luther King’s in their daughter’s history lesson.
Inspired, supposedly, by real-life US cases, its core values are undermined by some amateur-hour acting, poor production values, and director Harold Cronk ensures it’s all as subtle as being whacked over the head with a King James Bible.
Director: Harold Crunk; Starring: Melissa Joan Hart, Jesse Metcalfe, Ray Wise, Ernie Hudson; Theatrical release: April 29, 2016
The post-Marigold Hotel wheeze of OAPs talking dirty is about as far as the comic currency stretches in this heist-com. Splicing farce, drama and politics, director/co-writer John Miller benefits most from his lead, a likeable Bernard Hill as an old-timer with pension problems.
A plot to rob banks with his wife produces one good gag about his terminal politeness (“No coins, if you don’t mind”), but much else here groans. Ranging awkwardly from suicides to Simon Callow’s over-keen support (warning: contains moonies), it’s a film too stiff for comedy, too silly for drama and too slow for fun in between.
Director: John Miller; Starring: Bernard Hill, Virginia McKenna, Una Stubbs, Brad Moore, Simon Callow, Phil Davis, Alun Armstrong, Sue Johnston, Ellen Thomas; Theatrical release: April 29, 2016
RATCHET AND CLANK
Videogame odd couple Ratchet and Clank have headlined over a dozen galactic adventures since 2002. This feature-length CG ’toon resets and remixes the story to date, explaining how the pair first teamed up to take down Chairman Drek and his mechanical army.
It’s extremely faithful to the well-received games, with the main voice actors reprising their roles alongside a surprisingly starry supporting cast (Paul Giamatti, Rosario Dawson, Sly Stallone). But the humour hasn’t translated well and the cheapo music seems to have been ripped straight from a pS2 disc.
Directors: Kevin Munroe, Jericca Cleland; Starring: Paul Giamatti, John Goodman, Bella Thorne, Rosario Dawson, James Arnold Taylor, David Kaye, Sylvester Stallone; Theatrical release: April 29, 2016