Captain America: Civil War
I’ll admit it: I have never much enjoyed superhero films. I can count all of the ones I love on one finger (The Dark Knight), although I have also greatly enjoyed some of the less serious ones (in descending order of preference: Kick-Ass, Deadpool, Avengers Assemble). My main problem with them is that they rarely (except for in the aforementioned Batman film) bother to deal with human nature, the most fertile area of cinematic imagination, beyond binarial extremes of good and evil. Their structure often reminds me of old Hollywood musicals like Singin’ in the Rain: in those films the plot’s sole purpose was to set up the next big song-and-dance routine, with half-assed romantic and comedic interludes being strung together in order to boost the running time and provide an excuse for the next set-piece. Similarly, in superhero flicks the plot’s only aim is to precipitate the next punch-‘em-up routine, which are often equally as well choreographed as those musical set-pieces of yore, but not half as much fun.
I don’t mean to sound snobbish, I really don’t – I have nothing to gain from disliking an entire genre of films, and I’ve invested a lot of hours in trying to enjoy them. But when the directors seem so indifferent to building suspense, so absorbed in the boring minutiae of the endless, absurdly bloodless fights, I’m afraid to say that I find my interest waning just as rapidly as the Hulk’s temper rises.
Civil War initially offers something a bit different: unprecedently for Marvel, it has an interesting idea at its core. Just like Team America: World Police before them, the Avengers are confronted with the fact that instead of endearing themselves to the general public with their superheroic shenanigans, they’ve instead managed to piss off the entire world. They are ordered to sign an accord holding them accountable to the UN, or else risk legal action. This is an intriguing scenario with the faintest rumblings of a metaphor: it displays an awareness that US foreign policy might be causing more damage around the world than it’s resolving, and that instead of holding itself above the law the country should allow itself to be held accountable to the international community.
Instead, with the attention span of a toddler, the film loses interest in politics and settles for who-would-win-in-a-fight fanboy tedium that is standard fare in Marvel adventures. Admittedly, the battle scenes between the opposing superheroes are well made and far more invigorating than is often the case, shot throughout with a handheld camera and fuelled by frantic editing to achieve a kinetic energy that is reminiscent of the Bourne films; there is also a great deal of amusement to be had from seeing Ant-Man and Spider-Man arbitrarily tossed into the mix, bemused and confused as to their reason for appearing in the central melee. But these enormous fight scenes are also a way of opting out of thinking seriously about the situation it has engaged the audience with in its first third – the motives for those fighting on each side of the ‘civil war’ are reduced to lazy and one-dimensional notions of friendship, loyalty and (that most tiresome of superhero tropes) revenge, rather than any form of political consciousness or belief.
I realise that I shouldn’t take it so seriously – of course I don’t expect a Hollywood blockbuster to pierce the complexities of politics or international relations. But the problem is that the film takes itself seriously at first, establishing the initial conflict between Iron Man and Captain America in terms of political and moral dimensions, with the former arguing for integration with the UN and the latter against it, before abandoning these issues almost entirely later on after failing to find a tidy answer to them. I wish it had at least been honest about its limited intentions from the start, much like the childish but thoroughly enjoyable Deadpool from earlier this year. The scenes with Spider-Man in Civil War, in all of his nerdy and vivacious glory, are so much better than the rest of the film because they mock the delusions of grandeur that all too often permeate the proceedings.
So I have issue with this film’s muddled intentions, but not its execution – it is compellingly shot and the performances inject some life into the baffled and over-reaching script. Chris Evans, above all, deserves credit for preventing one of the dullest screen characters in recent memory, one which has managed to develop only in physical terms over the course of five films, from sliding irretrievably into mediocrity. Overall it is still a professional entertainment, to be enjoyed by the legions of fans who respond to its aesthetic, but it is far from the thought-provoking drama that it play-acts at being for its first half an hour.
Views – Drake
I’ll admit it: I have never much enjoyed Drake’s albums. Hip-hop is currently the western world’s most consistently inventive and exciting genre of music, but you wouldn’t believe it from listening to Drake, its most boring practitioner.
It’s not that he’s self-obsessed – there have been plenty of great artists whose primary interest has been in themselves: see Plastic Ono Band-era Lennon, Blood on the Tracks-era Dylan, Blue-era Joni Mitchell (not to mention Lemonade-era Beyoncé). But those complex artists deal with a whole spectrum of human emotions in their works, whilst Drake deals almost exclusively in glum melancholia. Hip-hop as a genre has always encouraged self-analysis, and Drake is merely the latest in a long line of rappers who look to themselves as their source of greatest inspiration. The difference is that he is simply not as interesting as, say, the hilariously verbose and impishly surreal Lil Wayne, who uses the metaphor of an alien to represent himself in his ceaselessly imaginative raps to great comic effect. Drake is decidedly earthbound: he rarely thinks beyond himself and his immediate surroundings, failing to interpret the complications of a troubled persona and how it is perceived by the rest of the world.
Drake is the Jerry Seinfeld of rap: endlessly fixated on trivial details in relationships that prevent him from forging real connections with the many women he loves to dismiss. On Views, for example, he criticises one of his exes for sending the ‘are you here?’ text without an invite. Apparently this is a serious case of ‘games bein’ played’. Much worse, he indulges in the yawn-inducing cliché of ‘girls, they just wanna take my money’ on ‘Controlla’; I’m sure that some women do, but I yearn for the subtlety of Kanye’s ‘Gold Digger’ which realised that men can be just as duplicitous and exploitative in relationships.
Drake’s music is equally as monotonous and morose as his lyrics, with sluggish beats and unimaginative samples forever cramping his relatively decent flow. Apparently Views was intended to represent the alternating seasons in his home town of Toronto, but almost every track comes across as wintry due to their downbeat tone and depressive aura. I generally have no issue with the use of autotune in music, which can be a fascinating tool when used sparingly, but Drake’s over-reliance on it to convey his feelings of loneliness and urban alienation throughout the course of the album’s excessive 80 minutes simply comes across as unimaginative and ultimately wearisome.
Like most pop stars of limited musical and lyrical ability, he fares much better on the singles than on the self-regarding album tracks, with the added commercial incentive inciting him into letting his (admittedly nonexistent) hair down and, for once, having a bit of a blast. ‘One Dance’ has some nice Caribbean undertones and African guitar licks, which for the only time on the album creates the summery tone that Drake had supposedly intended for half of the tracks. The infamous ‘Hotline Bling’ meanwhile, tacked on as a bonus track, is the light at the end of a dark and overly murky musical tunnel, delighting in the silliness of its chorus and funky freshness of its beat and having a good old time of it in the grand pop tradition.
This album’s cover is very much indicative of what is mostly contained within: Drake is sat atop the CN Tower in Toronto, but instead of celebrating the presumably staggering views laid out before him, the image is instead indicative of his inner turmoil, with the grey and gloomy clouds gathered around to imply his inner state. I sincerely wish he would look out at the world in front of him, notice the considerable beauty that is out there, consider his place within it, and then return to his own contemplations as a wiser and less melancholic man; then perhaps his music will gain the maturity and longevity he so obviously craves.