Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Captain America: Civil War

“The Conjuring 2” and “De Palma” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.  

Upon listening to former General (from the “Hulk” movies) and now Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) lay out his demands that The Avengers team fall under some government oversight, I couldn’t help but think, “So what? This is the big deal that sparks the rift between Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.)?” Seems to me that all Ross is asking is for them to go back to a place they were at just a few years earlier, when they were under Colonel Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and his government agency, S.H.I.E.L.D. The Avengers had no problem with government supervision when they were a part of S.H.I.E.L.D under Fury, so what’s the issue with being supervised again, under the State Dept. and Secretary Ross?

Arguments are made by Captain America and those on his side, like Falcon (Anthony Mackie), that being under government oversight would be too restrictive. Okay, and S.H.I.E.L.D wasn’t? Did Fury let them do whatever they wanted? I don’t think so. For someone who is such an overgrown boy scout and who, in “Captain America: The First Avenger,” couldn’t wait to join the Army and serve his country to combat evil around the world, it seems a strange stance for him to take to once again be a part of that same exact thing. The thrust behind the division of the superheroes in “Captain America: The Civil War” really doesn’t hold up that well in light of even the most cursory scrutiny and applied logic. The fact that no one in the movie brings it up that The Avengers are technically a government-run operation and should have some kind of oversight is amazing. As a matter of fact, how is it that they didn’t immediately get shifted under another government umbrella after S.H.I.E.L.D collapsed?

I know that following the “Civil War” comics, in which the rift between Cap and Iron Man has to do with the government demanding that all super powered people in the U.S. be registered, would have been a bit too close to the “X-Men” story line about Mutant registration, but it works way better. Rather than have the story be about just the Avengers, the story involves all people with super powers and special abilities. This leads to a much stronger debate about discrimination and government control over people’s lives vs. individual liberty.

The other issue with choosing the “Civil War” story line is that there is not much of a war to be had. I discussed the movie with a friend last night, and as he correctly pointed out, it’s more of a Civil Skirmish. Granted, when the twelve superheroes of the story do have their epic battle on an airport tarmac, it is very exciting and entertaining—one of the reasons to recommend this movie as a matter of fact—but it can hardly be called a war. This story should have been told years from now, after more characters had been established, so it could be bigger in scope, and possibly even be its own movie series. Also, not having Thor, Hulk, or Nick Fury as part of the fight is a shame. I know Marvel doesn’t own all of the rights to all of its characters, but getting the Fantastic Four involved would have added some depth as well. Seeing Sue Storm and Reed Richards on opposing sides is devastating—a family torn apart, like in a real Civil War.

As it is, they were able to introduce Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), which is pretty big, and much to everyone’s relief when the trailer came out, Spider-man is introduced here too. Stay to the very end of the credits and it even says, “Spider-man will return.” As an added bonus, it looks like we can skip seeing the Uncle Ben, great power/great responsibility origin story again. Thank goodness.

Flaws and disappointments aside, this is the pick of the week, so let’s get to the good stuff. First and foremost, the story involving Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) as a man on the run trying to prove his innocence is a classic suspense narrative, and it is effectively done here. Captain America believes his friend is innocent and wants to help him, while others, like Black Panther, want to capture him. They could have just stuck with this story and skipped the Civil War element altogether, rather than trying to turn this into an unofficial “Avengers” movie.

They could have, that is, except for a surprise twist involving Iron Man and the Winter Soldier that is a gut punch of a realization. Questions arise in one’s mind as to how villain Zemo (Daniel Brühl) knew what he knew to set things up the way he did. Those questions are not answered, so either you roll with it or you don’t. I was fine rolling with it since it’s such a great call back and ties everything together so well. However, I would have been willing to skip it altogether and go for a story with a different angle if it meant that the Civil War story line could be saved for a time when it could be handled better.

As usual, Captain America jets around the world, and there are some phenomenal action set pieces, the best of which is the aforementioned airport battle. And in spite of the flaws in the way the filmmakers went with the Civil War story line, each member’s position and motivation for doing what they do is clear. The movie is also very well paced, with an almost two and a half hour run time that flies by. While by no means perfect, and while in some ways the story could have been executed much better, at the end of the day, the negatives about it are relatively minor. “Captain America: Civil War” is a rousing entry into the franchise, and even with its flaws, ranks pretty highly among the movies in the MCU. Buy it on Amazon: Marvel's Captain America: Civil War (3D BD+BD+Digital HD) [Blu-ray].

Also Out This Week

The Conjuring 2

As someone with a fascination in stories of the paranormal, I am familiar with the tale of the Enfield Poltergeist, the case that serves as the basis for the “The Conjuring 2.” Except that it’s more than a tale. It’s one of the best investigated and documented paranormal cases on record. It even has the benefit of police credibility. An officer investigating strange noises in the Hodgson house in Enfield, England, saw a chair move on its own. She included this detail in the official report that she filed on the incident. Having a police officer write about paranormal activity in an official report is major news, which is why Ed and Lorraine Warren, played in the movie by Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, went to England to investigate.

Various documentaries are available on the real life haunting, and some can be found on youtube. I vividly recall listening to an audio recording of a young girl—except that the voice was not of a young girl, it sounded more like an older man. One of the things said in the recording is, “I am not a Heaven man.” Not sure what it is about that statement. Maybe it’s the phrasing of it, or maybe it’s the creepy tone of voice. Perhaps both, since I found that to be especially chilling.

Leave it to director James Wan to take that sound bite, which is one of the most chilling parts of the real life case, and make it one of the tamest—yet still creepy—parts of “The Conjuring 2.” This is one of the most pant-crappingly scary movies of all time.

The young girl is Janet Hodgson (Madison Wolfe) and the Warrens believe that she has come into contact with a demon who also has control of the soul of a man who died in the house a few years earlier, named Bill Wilkins (Bob Adrian). But you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The sound of her voice and what she says when possessed are nothing compared to other, more straightforward scares, such as the Crooked Man (Javier Botet), a nursery rhyme character who terrorizes Janet and her young siblings.

In addition to the Enfield case, which takes place in 1977, the story of “The Conjuring 2” also touches upon the famous Amityville case from a few years earlier. A haunting holdover from that case, which creeps into the Enfield case, is a Demon Nun, played by Bonnie Aarons. My hat is off to the make up and costume department with the look of this Demon Nun for “The Conjuring 2.” If someone came to my door on Halloween night dressed like that, I’d either freeze in terror and not be able to give out candy, or I’d panic and shut the door immediately. She is way too scary—and I mean that as a compliment. Credit goes to James Wan too, for being an excellent horror director and understanding the visual language of the genre. He stages scenes with the Demon Nun, the Crooked Man, and the spirit of Bill Wilkens for maximum scares—and he delivers big time.

What truly sets “The Conjuring 2” apart from most others of the genre is that it’s not all doom and gloom and frights. There is a very human element involved in the story. Ed and Lorraine love and care for each other very much. It shows, and their relationship provides the solid emotional core for the movie. There is an especially touching moment in which Ed, after learning that the Hodgson children can no longer listen to their Elvis records, finds a guitar and sings a powerful, soulful rendition of Elvis’s classic, “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You.” Not many movies—horror ones in particular—would have taken the time for such a beautiful scene. I’m glad this one did, and it’s all the better for it. Buy it on Amazon: Conjuring 2 (Blu-ray + Digital HD).

De Palma

“De Palma” is a documentary feature that is essentially an extended interview with director Brian De Palma, in which he talks about his career and the movies he’s made. Some of the details provided are better known than others, and regardless of what you already know, there are bound to be some good revelations. I appreciate the way De Palma is very candid about his movies and his choices. He doesn’t sugar coat anything. While he makes no apologies, he does recognize how and where things went wrong with some of his movies. But those moments are few and far between because he has so many that went right. There are even moments when I think he is unnecessarily hard on himself, like when he discusses how he restructured “Raising Cain” in the editing room. I get what he’s saying about building up to the reveal of the John Lithgow character’s insanity and split personality, but I think that movie works great the way it is. For De Palma fans and just general movie fans alike, “De Palma” is a fascinating trip through the career of a director, as told by the director himself, in his own words. Rent it.

More New Releases: “Pop Star: Never Stop Never Stopping,” mockumentary starring Andy Samberg that lampoons the likes of the Katie Perry and Justin Bieber documentaries of recent years; “Bobby Deerfield,” soap operatic Sydney Pollack movie from 1977 about a famous American race car driver (Al Pacino) who falls in love while racing on the European circuit; “Raising Cain,” twisted and gripping suspense yarn from 1992, written and directed with precision by Hitchcock acolyte Brian De Palma; and “Tenebrae,” twisted and gripping suspense yarn from 1982, written and directed with precision by Italian Hitchcock acolyte Dario Argento.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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