Saturday, May 28, 2016

Cap's "Civil War" (Redux)


SO...last night my wife and I were supposed to go out with some friends of ours for burgers and beers at a (relatively) new place called Saint Glutton. It's nice because they have a lot of rotating imports (it's the only place I've found Sam Adams south of Texas). Unfortunately, they flaked. We still went out (since the babysitter was already in place) and found ourselves at the VERY new (opened this month), very large, very extravagant shopping mall built by Guatemalan business interests in the heart of the "tourist district" (i.e. next to the Sheraton). As per usual, it was nearly devoid of people, relative to its size, as the people who can regularly afford to shop in such places generally acquire their loot in Miami.

Anyhoo, we found ourselves at the movies and we ended up seeing Captain America: Civil War for a second time. This my wife's choice, just BTW...I was willing to see anything (both X-Men Apocalypse and Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising we playing at the same time...slapstick is my wife's flavor of humor), so I was a little surprised at the choice. She's not a comics fan by any stretch o the imagination; as a kid in Mexico she watched (dubbed) X-Men cartoons and enjoyed those, but she tapped out of that film franchise round about X3 (as did I). She hadn't even watched the prior Captain America films.

But she liked Civil War (even though she had complained about many of the same issues as I had) and it felt like a popcorn film night and, well we decided to watch it again. And after a second viewing, both of us came away with revised opinions: Captain America: Civil War is pretty darn awesome, and the plot is both tighter and stronger than we remembered.

I'm allowed to change my mind.
I think that part of the problem with the first viewing was (for me) that the action sequences were SO spectacular, you forget (and/or miss) the elements of Zemo's scheme that are present throughout the film. The scenes are tightly woven into the plot, and the dialogue provides exactly enough exposition without hitting the audience over the head with extra redundancy. The "Soviet dude" Zemo hunts down for the "red book" isn't a Soviet...he's ex-Hydra. Zemo's knowledge of Hydra's Winter Soldier program is from deciphering the encrypted files released by Black Widow two films ago. The phone call he makes to the Berlin hotel from Siberia isn't about the room's about getting the room service to find the dead body in the tub, knowing that this will get into the German police waves, makes it's way to Tony (and showing him his mistake), thereby luring him to Siberia.

It's actually fairly genius, given Zemo's year-long study and following of the Avengers, and Tony's well- (and self-)publicized issues with his parents' demise, notorious instability, and crazy-ass death wish. If the other Avengers had shown up along with Stark, he would still likely go berserk and the ensuing mayhem more spectacular (feeding Zemo's ultimate goal). It's not like Zemo had been planning on walking away.

So great movie. Clearly, it required a second viewing for me to fully appreciate it. A few other revisions to my prior post:

How many wrecked faces do we need?
  • I (now) understand Zemo's characterization and "get it." In the comics, Zemo has two main drives: his anger at Captain America for the "murder" of his father (when he first appears it as the costumed villain Phoenix, attempting to avenge his father), and his hideous facial disfigurement at the hands of Cap and Falcon (which results from his first fight as the Phoenix). But the filmmakers already HAD a disfigured character in the film...Crossbones...which was necessary as part of his character's development as a villain (and thus gives him the extra motivation he needs). So instead you have to boost the "avenge family" motive (hence, he blames the Avengers for the loss of his father, wife, and son). I get it.
  • Now that I paid closer attention to the plot, I also see just how intelligent, innovative, and audacious the filmmakers made Zemo...all in line with the actual character. Zemo is more an organizer and schemer than anything else (until he later gets ahold of his magic rocks)...even his mutants were created with the help of Arnim Zola (I forgot that part). While the "extra winter soldiers" and the "blue serum" still seem rather extravagant red herrings to throw into the plot (as is his willingness to throw away such readily available tools), the rest of the film is a showcase of the thinking man's Zemo, though perhaps lacking some of the scene-chewing grandstanding longtime fans have come to expect from the Baron.
  • I decried the lack of women in the film previously, but actually there are three (Natasha, Wanda, and Sharon Carter) who all get huge, heaping amounts of screen time, and plenty of ass-kicking. Black Widow has definitely become my wife's favorite character (she keeps hitting me in the shoulder and saying, "she's so awesome" throughout the movie). Over the course of the films she grown, rather understandably, into that "den mother" role that often occurs in a team environment (a trope that goes back at least as far as Wendy and the Lost Boys). It's strange considering Widow's comic book characterization, but makes perfect sense given the development of the MCU. And I have to say I prefer this version of Black Widow to the "evil, lusty Rusky" version found in both the classic comics and the Ultimates imprint.
  • I under-appreciated Black Panther a bit as well. While I'm still not as gaga over the character as some folks, his "cat scratch" fighting style and (yes) panther-ish grace and agility IS very distinct from other scrapper types. I will admit my main turn-off was a scene that saw him running on all fours in a bounding style reminiscent of Sabretooth (in the X-films) or most any werewolf movie I've seen in the last decade plus). But both he and Wakanda have a lot of potential. BP is a guy who seems to get a new update every few years as people try to figure out how to incorporate all that vibranium technology (at least he wasn't wielding glowing, purple knives).
  • Lastly (regarding Crossbones)...these are films, not comics. It's pretty insane to trifle over the demise of a character when you're dealing with an entirely different medium of the genre. Per comic vine, Captain America has appeared in nearly 8700 comics. Crossbones has appeared in 285. Given that we may see...what? 10 or 12 films with the good Captain, what's a reasonable percentage of them to include Crossbones? Probably about as much as we got here. And it was a good bit. But he certainly doesn't need to become a recurring villain...this isn't a television series we're talking about.

All right, that's it. Civil War IS better than your average "popcorn film." While I complained before that it "played small" given the number of super-cameos and the scope of the Civil War story arc, as a self-contained film inspired by elements of said story arc, it's actually quite good. And though there IS an awful lot of Tony Stark and Avengers characters, the story is still centered on Cap, his traditional crew (Falcon, Bucky, the Carter woman), his rogues gallery (Zemo, Crossbones, Winter Soldier), and his usual issues (revisiting the past, being outside of his own time, steering between your moral compass and your duty as a soldier). As a fan of Captain America, this movie had nearly everything I could have hoped or asked for.

It's just that I needed a second watch to see it all.

1 comment:

  1. Finally saw the film so now I can read these posts and comment.

    Glad you noticed those points with your second viewing. Having seen these myself at once, I didn't understand your first assessment at all.

    These movies do seem to be hard for many because of the detritus of so many past incarnations. An example you didn't mention: the revision of Aunt May. I rather enjoyed this, since I'm extraordinarily bored with the old trope. On the whole, I grew bored with all the tropes regarding these characters because they seem locked in a dead, dusty time.

    This is a 52 year old talking: I am glad they are throwing out the old motifs (milking the giant cow) and upgrading the characters for along more believable, credible frames. Whatever Zemo was in the comics, he was more panto than human. I'd rather than he was this new thing, an unhappy human doing what he can for revenge, rather than a trope-based script-reading mastermind, such as was so annoyingly common in 70s, 80s and even 90s character adaptations (not specifically of Zemo, but of all of them).

    Captain America is weak? No, Captain America is human. They're all human. Demands for a certain kind of old school comic book cardboardish power-conceit assurance is, well, deservedly gone.