Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Cap's "Civil War"

[yes, there WILL be SPOILERS. Consider yourselves warned]

[***EDIT 5/28/16: Having just watched Captain America: Civil War a second time, I have revised much of my (negative) opinions of the film. You can see my new post here, if you're interested. I leave this comparison review up as a true recount of my initial impressions. But as with Age of Ultron (also discussed below) the film greatly benefits with a second viewing***]

My wife got me a copy of Avengers: Age of Ultron for Christmas last year (actually, she bought me two copies...accidentally. No, this was not something I asked for or really wanted; would have preferred some software to help with book layout...). ANYway, today [EDIT: yesterday] I took the time to re-watch the thing in anticipation of finishing this post (started a couple days ago) because I drew some comparisons between that film and the new Captain America: Civil War (AKA "Avengers Part III"). I'm glad I did, because now I can pretty much scrap most of what I wrote previously.

Here's what I'll keep:
...when you really examine it, the whole film [Civil War] is pretty flimsy...a weak plot with the sole objective of giving the audience what we all want: a brawl of epic proportions between the various superheroes of the Marvel universe. There are some nice, emotional moments scattered throughout the thing, but really they're just the bridge between fight scenes. The villain is particularly weak...especially considered next to the arch-menace of Ultron...which makes it more apparent and galling what chumps these "superheroes" really are. The movie is a popcorn flick, pure and simple. A good popcorn flick, sure, but nothing deeper than your average, decent James Bond flick.  
[hey, who doesn't like a good James Bond film?]

Previously, despite these criticisms, I was holding it head-and-shoulders above the second Avengers film. I'm going to stop that now. Age of Ultron is a very good comic book film in the style of...well, of The Avengers. Even if one gets fatigued watching dudes bash thousands of robots, it LOOKS like the kind of credible threat that would drive the plot of a film containing so many superheroes from so many different walks of life. The story...and the way the story unfolds...fits the genre. Prior to my re-watch this morning, I was buying into the hype of various reviews I'd read, decrying the huge ensemble cast that prevented real character development from occurring.

Um...okay. Character development isn't really what the comic book film genre is about. The characters have a long history of development...hell, many of them are OVER-developed, going through changes every couple decades that make them unrecognizable all in the name of doing something "new" (in order to keep selling comics with a popular character...). What's interesting about these films...what's fun about these films...is seeing how the filmmakers (producers, writers, directors, actors) translate these established characters to screen. How they choose to interpret or re-interpret the characters in the new medium, especially considering the 21st century timeframe for supers that had their glory years in the '60s, '70s, and '80s.

Right or wrong, I'm not expecting the same thing from a Marvel film that I expect from other films. Likewise, I'm not expecting 100% faithful adaptations of comics. I'm looking for something that allows the characters room to be comic book-y, that allows them to hold true (somewhat) to their roots, and that holds my interest in the same way that a good story arc in the comics can.

And neat F/X and action sequences, sure. These are punch-drunk superheroes, after all.

You dig me? And so suddenly, I realize that the main thing shaping my "first impressions" of these films isn't the overall "is this a good film" but actually the interpretation of characters that I already know and (in some cases) love. It doesn't matter if Wanda Maximoff is wearing a red tiara and cape, and it's not even all that pertinent whether her abilities come from being a mutant or some weird genetic experiment with a magic crystal. Does she go from being a villain to an Avenger? Does she exhibit both self-doubt and vengeful bad ass-ness? Do the filmmakers figure out a way to make it believable she'd want to get it on with a robot?

Here's what I hate about Age of Ultron: the characterizations of Captain America and Hawkeye. That's it. For whatever reason, when Joss Whedon directs an Avengers film, he makes a truly wimpy Captain America...a guy who's the butt of other character's jokes, who is frequently at a loss or questioning his abilities or responsibilities. I don't see the confident, self-assured war veteran, pillar of virtue that was the rock of the Avengers...the go-to leader because, hey, who else would you rather have leading you in battle? This guy...I find it hard to believe that hard cases like Black Widow and Hawkeye can take this guy seriously. Iron Man certainly doesn't.

And Hawkeye? I respect the filmmaker's decision to draw their inspiration from the dour, mask-less family man found in The Ultimates (the re-imagined, updated "Avengers"). But...well, I prefer the ex-criminal, Circus-trained dude. I mean, the thing that was endearing about the guy was his sense of humor about his own lack of super-powers and the comical way he'd run out of arrows. It made him different from a Green Arrow clone. The way this Ultimate Hawkeye translates to the screen is a little too much like WB's Arrow, what with his awesome reflexes and tactical ability (he makes Cap look like a rank chump). I find him terribly unbelievable as portrayed, but I guess that's just me...

You take those irritations away, however, an Age of Ultron is a fantastic genre film. It sucked that they offed Baron Strucker so fast, but everything else (including the various subplots) were perfectly to my taste.

Civil War gives me a better "first impression" only because I prefer the characterizations. There's blessedly little of Hawkeye, and this is the baddest ass version of Captain America I've yet seen in film. He kicks a truck! His shield defies the laws of physics! He is willing to take a stand for his principles, even though it means going against his friends, colleagues, and country! He is large and in charge...and he's a guy that others like, trust, and want to follow.

This guy? Awesome.
I also love the current interpretation of the Falcon. I could hardly give a shit about the Black Panther (he's fine, but the character is fairly bland...bulletproof suit? fighting ability? retractable claws? tracking?...hmm, where have I seen a similar power set?), save that my son thought it was pretty cool they'd put BP in a movie (no, I have not allowed my 5 year to watch either of these films). But the Falcon just gets more awesome every time he makes an appearance. Anthony Mackie is great, the updated backstory is a far cry from the original comic book version (giving the character a real reason to make a "buddy connection" with Cap), and his flying suit? Awesome. Making Red Wing into a portable drone? Awesome. All his little built-in gadgets...believable experimental military tech? Awesome. And his relationship with Cap? Great. I only had a chance to read some of the Cap-Falcon comics later in life, and they were okay, but I'll watch any film that has this Falcon in it, with to without the good Captain. He has definitely climbed into my Top 5 list of film superheroes.

But fun as it was to watch the heroes lay a beat down on each other in exciting fashion...Ant-Man's scene stealing was worth the price of admission for me (sorry, but we've had waaaay too many Avengers films to not have Giant Man make an appearance)...fun as it was, the film played too small.  Which would be fine if this was a film that (as the title implied) was simply focused on Captain America and his particulars. These individual titles, unlike the Avengers, are places where it's appropriate to have that individual "character development." Civil War was a little too crowded with too little pay-off.

SPOILER: This does not
happen in the film.
I mean, the Civil War story arc (that is the direct inspiration for this film) spans most every title in the Marvel Universe and raises issues regarding "registration," WWII-style internment, security versus privacy, and all sorts of ugliness. Heroes and allies turn on each other, one-time criminals become "good guys," and yes, Iron Man and Cap end up on opposite sides. The whole arc is big and bold and beautiful, culminating in Captain America being assassinated on the steps of a federal courthouse following his arrest and arraignment. That's some serious, serious subject matter to be having in 2006 and 2007 in the last years of the second Bush administration (when we were still dealing with our self-made Middle East shit-storm).

This Civil War? We get a dozen heroes having street brawl on an airport tarmac.

It's just weak. Crossbones to Captain America is like Bane to Batman...and here he's in and out in less than ten minutes. Helmut Zemo is one of the coolest, baddest adversaries in Captain America's rogues gallery. He's an evil mastermind, a genetic engineering genius who makes mutants that wouldn't be out o place in the latest TMNT film. Here? He's a sad, lonely mercenary who has somehow stumbled on Cold War secrets that eluded the U.S. Government for decades and uses them to punk "Earth's Mightiest Heroes."

Few people can rock the purple costume like
crazy mad scientist Baron Zemo II.
I don't know. Just...weak. I mean, I used to order bacon and black coffee for breakfast, too...though with a side of plain oatmeal (I guess my death wish wasn't quite as pronounced). This and a saved voicemail is the extent of this villain's characterization?

[sorry...if the bias isn't apparent, I'm a big Zemo fan. His stories gave me real chills as a child]

But, again...even such a "mini-Zemo" might be a fine antagonist if the film was confined to Cap's personal circle...Bucky, Falcon, one or two others. Throwing the Avengers (minus the Hulk and Thor, but plus Spider-Man and Ant-Man) into the mix requires a world-shaking menace: omnipotent A.I.s, alien invasions, or Ragnarok, in other words. The bar has been set too high for this many "enhanced beings," even if you take the heaviest hitters off the table.

Doesn't mean I didn't like the film...I enjoyed a lot of it. As I said, for this genre of film, the long-time-comic-book-translated-to-big-screen, it's the characterizations that are important. Watching Hawkeye fire Ant-Man on an arrow (a classic tactic)? Awesome. Watching how Paul Bettany brings life to a character (The Vision) who was always pretty flat and lifeless (to me)? Awesome. Watching Downey as Stark make a hash of things (again) despite some fairly WTF plot/writing? Still fun...as was watching his inevitable beat-down (must Iron Man fight every Avenger at some point? He has now picked fights with Thor, Hulk, and Cap...oh, and War Machine, too, if you count his fight with Rhodey in IM2).

But...(*sigh*) I guess I just wanted more. I guess I've turned into one of those "impossible to please" fanboy-types. I mean, it was cool to see all the "diversity" on display in film...if by diversity, you mean "black dudes." Even without an appearance of Sam Jackson's Nick Fury, you still have a film that prominently featured War Machine, Black Panther, and Falcon (I'm don't think I count Vision as "a person of color," though some might...at least allegorically). That's quite a few POCs for ANY comic book movie (considering the source material)...but where are the ladies? The Avengers have had a number of prominent female characters over the years (Wasp, Ms. Marvel, Monica Rambeau, Tigra, She-Hulk...those just off the top of my head) and while most suffer from the "pants-less" trope, I'm sure they could get updated costumes, same as the Scarlet Witch. Instead, we had ladies "checking out" of the film...Pepper Potts and Agent Carter have both departed (in different ways) and they're never shown on screen, even in flashback. Stark's new Girl Friday hardly counts as a female protagonist.

*sigh* (again). I liked Civil War as the popcorn film it was, and some of it was truly excellent stuff. But I found myself disappointed mere minutes after exiting the theater as the "refrigerator moments" started hitting me one after another. I don't like that. Especially considering the film contained several of my favorite all-time comic characters (Ant-Man, Cap, Bucky/Winter Soldier, and Falcon...and I'm an Iron Man fan from waaay back in the day), I wanted more. With the material they had to work with and the talent they managed to hire and the budget the film possessed, I expected...well, I expected to NOT be disappointed. And yet, here I am.

Probably should have been
a novel, not an RPG.
One final (really) note: when I watch a superhero film, I often get a vibe, and an itch, to play or run a particular RPG based on the action/story that's presented. This was no different. However, the RPG I found myself drawn to (based on the themes expressed) was Aberrant, which is unusual. I almost found myself picking up the PDF off DriveThruRPG (since I don't have my book here in Paraguay to flip through). Fortunately, I slept on it and woke up slightly saner remembering that characters like Iron Man and the Falcon don't fit into the world of Novas and Teragen. Still, I'm thinking a bit about Aberrant now, and how packed it is with cool ideas. Maybe more on that later.


  1. "Probably should have been a novel, not an RPG."

    You could well apply that criticism to 70% of the stuff WW was publishing around that time.

    ...yeah, just wanted to make a snarky remark. I have nothing of value to add to your review of Civil War. I liked it, but I pretty much agree with everything you said about it.

  2. @ DMW:

    70% or more.
    : )

    I *liked* Civil War! I'd watch it again. Jeez, can't a guy be a little critical...?
    ; )

  3. When they tagged the guy as Zemo I too was pretty underwhelmed, and not because he didn't have the glued-on mask, but because Zemo is such a scene-chewing, delightfully hammy, fists raised in the "milking the giant cow" kind of villain, which would have been just fine with me.