Review: Captain America: Civil War

When 3's a Crowd But Everyone Fits

 Concept art courtesy of Marvel Entertainment©

Concept art courtesy of Marvel Entertainment©

In my previous post I had stated my distaste briefly for Avengers: Age of Ultron. It's convoluted, has so many moving parts and does too much with too many people to be a completely enjoyable experience. I read one review of the film that said if the film were divided by the number of characters and screen time, each 'main' character would get roughly 7 minutes. Either way it was a lot and didn't really care for it. It's one of my bottom two marvel movies, the other being Iron Man 3 (more on that later because I know I am in the minority). At any rate Cap 3 does what Avengers 2 didn't, put a bunch of characters on screen in a way that makes sense, I never feel like anyone isn't supposed to be there and everyone gets quality time to make their position known and understood. So lets take this piece by piece

Firstly, the Russo's did a good job of weaving together a topical and relevant movie that once again comments on the modern age of war and how ideologies more than ever end up in bloodshed. They also do a great job of making it clear (no spoilers) that both men are right in their own way and wrong in their own way. At no point did I feel like either was completely right or completely wrong. No matter how you slice it, it's not black and white. Which brings me to my next point, in terms of highlighting black actors in comic book cinema, I applaud the sensitivity with which Black Panther was treated. African culture is often shown to be savage and misunderstood and in need of western saving. Here, T'challa and T'chaka are clearly the ones who are above the petty warring that scours the globe. They stay out of the conflicts of the world while trying to help as a benevolent and progressive nation. Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther is great. He excuses both regal humility and focused youthful rage in his pursuit of the Winter Soldier. Every scene he is in he captures, fight or otherwise and when he fights it is a sight to see and now I am looking forward to the Black Panther movie more so than before.  Additionally the strength and conviction of Rhodey is put on great display and in many ways highlights and echoes the cost of your beliefs and making piece with that. Not to mention I feel as though we have seen far too little of War Machine in action since he first appeared in Iron Man 2. Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson once again plays well off of Cap and almost as a second in command to Steve Rogers both as friend and soldier. (sidenote this is probably some of the best portrayals of black superheroes in years). The three way friendship/competition between him, Bucky and Cap also is done well with one humorous seen in particular involving a VW Beetle.

  Image Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment©

Image Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment©

Jeremy Renner as dry and wily Hawkeye is also given more depth again as a mentor to one-time enemy Scarlet Witch who grows as well from victim to purposed perpetrator of great super-heroic tragedy. I also like the subtle nods to Vision's growing affection for Wanda. It shows more of his humanity considering he is complete synthetic, mind, body and soul, unlike other iterations of his character. Elizabeth Olsen's Wanda also is clearly demonstrated to be the better of the two Maximoffs chosen to live (spoiler if you haven't watched Age of Ultron) in this franchise and I'm glad she isn't used as fodder for fanboy sexual objectification but rather sympathetic victim turned perpetrator almost.

 Image Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment©

Image Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment©

Now for the standouts both good and bad. I was extremely skeptical of Spidermans inclusion in the film. I was thankfully wrong to be so skeptical, he was great and is arguably the best on screen interpretation of Peter Parker and Spiderman. Tom Holland is a welcome addition to the MCU and Marisa Tomei as Aunt May (a much younger, more vibrant, Aunt May) is also welcome. However Spidermans inclusion via invitation from Tony Stark brought about some uncomfortable feelings. Peter Parker is a teenager, 17 if I remember correctly and he is recruited into a super-powered war he has no true stake in. Yes, he believes in the cause but he isn't old enough to drink or even join the Armed Forces. He is effectively used as a child soldier, something I am not comfortable with at all. Perhaps as a teacher I am reading too much into it but I find it concerning that this is never addressed in the film by anyone on either side. There is some great banter between Spidey and the other heroes but seriously, what happens if HE gets hurt or worse? He's not swinging through the streets of manhattan he's fighting The Scarlet Witch, Captain America, Hawkeye, heavy hitters who rarely or never miss. Maybe the point is to show that both Cap and Iron Man do things they wouldn't normally do to further their cause they think is right but if that wasn't the point then that is a glaring plot point that was glossed over in favor of utilizing a long lost character to maximize ticket sales. Now Ant-Man was another story. He is recruited simply to help them track down the culprit of the terroist attack that sets things in motion hat Winter Soldier has been blamed for. Paul Rudd is funny, charming and provides in my opinion one of the best surprises in the entire movie that makes the Airport scene go from a good fight to a great one. Long story short, he belongs here, no question. 

 Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment©

Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment©

The only true gripes I had besides the child soldier issue of Spiderman was that Black Widow was once again used in a predictable and tiresome. I wish her character could act as more than a plot device because they keep giving her depth and making her more three-dimensional but the spy/double-agent aspect of her character sometimes is overwrought as a cheap ploy and the further this franchise goes the more apparent it becomes that she has more to offer as a character than initially thought. I also could have done with slightly more motivation behind Hawkeyes arrival as well even though I love his character. Some of the plot that surrounded Cap, Tony and Bucky (and even Zemo) was somewhat problematic and shallow, even nonsensical given how close these character are supposed to be to each other in the case of Cap and Tony. I know this is supposed to be the wedge that drives them apart but some of the plot reveals seemed very on the nose and too obvious. Furthermore if I am to believe that these are super powered people then shouldn't have a greater level of self control and basic communication? But I guess if that were the case the movie would just be an hour long conversation between two guys dressed in costumes.

Nevertheless Cap 3 was a throughly enjoyable experience that demonstrated how a big cast doesn't have to be a big burden. It makes me more hopeful for future team movies to come and less worrisome that I will see another Age of Ultron. 

 

Captain America: Civil War

👍🏾👍🏾👍🏾 and a half/4

In defense of Batman v. Superman...I know, no more afterwards. Promise.

"Great things are done by a series of small things brought together."

-Vincent Van Gogh

 Image taken from The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller

Image taken from The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller

Let me begin by laying a few things out there that color my perspective on BvS as well as superhero and comic cinema:

1) I'm black, I grew up in the suburbs of Maryland, I'm an educator in New York City, I have a Masters Degree in English Literature, and I have studied and written my thesis on comics as a literacy teaching medium as well as researched at length race in comics. Also I LOVE Comics. I say all this so that; 1 you don't think I'm saying things I have no basis for and 2 you understand who I am and where this comes from. Furthermore I'm not one to do the soapbox thing.

2) I have seen almost every modern era comic book movie made and have either read the source material or read about it deeply and thoroughly.

3) My favorite superhero is Batman, followed by Nightwing, with John Stewart, Steel and War Machine and Batwoman (The current Kate Kane) not far behind and not in any particular order at all.

I think those are all my disclaimers. I promise this is short.

I saw BVS not long after it came out and after watching the movie and reading reviews before and after the movie and talking to every comic nerd I know almost about the movie I came to a few conclusions.

To begin, to completely kill a joke thats being told a thousand times, This IS the Batman we deserve. I do not remember enjoying watching Batman on screen this much since I was a kid watching Batman Returns with Michael Keaton (still my favorite Batman movie ever). The Dark Knight Trilogy was a work of fine art that proved that the superhero popcorn flick, comic book genre and true film making could work in harmony. I love those movies, saw each one multiple times in the theater. Superb acting and cinematography, well developed characters and spectacular set pieces. However Christian Bale is not my pick for most entertaining Batman and that is not a slight but it does serve to explain beyond the movie studio powers that be that govern all things a la share universes, why he could not be in BVS. It wouldn't work. Henry Cavill's Superman is not neutered or lack the imposing presence of the Man of Steel. Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman is an elegant powerhouse to be reckoned with. Therefore Batfleck was the only Batman that could exist here and seeing this trio on screen was a dream come true. Let me say that one more time: A DREAM COME TRUE. Many times we want something that we know is not possible or just wouldn't quite work in the real world. In many ways that is what BVS is, every fanboy and fangirls dream of having these larger than life characters come together and move and talk and fight and cry and dance and EVERYTHING! Yet, it is a dream that is perfect in the internal sanctuaries of our psyches and a little rough around the edges after being pulled out of our brains by Zak Snyder. The movie is far from perfect but it gives us exactly what we asked for: DC superheroes, on screen at the same time kickin' ass and blowin' shit up.

So does this mean we have to like it? God, no. I could pick this movie apart for days, talking about the convoluted story at times, lack of real reinforcement of the main antagonists motives, etc but I won't and you want to know why? Because Marvel as been getting away with it for 8 years now. Anthony and Joe Russo recently stated that in many ways Captain America Civil War was (is) the answer to BVS. "But Trevor, Why would they need an answer?" Well Kevin Feige explained that Marvel movies have become formulaic and even though they draw crowds they will not continue to do so if they keep following the same tropes, they needed to do something different. I agree but I also have an issue with the Marvel formula, see exhibit A below:

 Two words: Holy F*ck. Found at the waytoblue.com blog.

Two words: Holy F*ck. Found at the waytoblue.com blog.

As you can see, I don't have enough degrees to fully grasp this as an outsider. I love that Marvel committed to this plan and idea and I really, REALLY enjoy these movies (most of them) but I find it troublesome that I need to take a perquisite course on Thor: Dark World, Captain America, the Winter Soldier, Iron Man 3 and an elective in Guardians of the Galaxy to then understand what the hell I'm watching in Avengers: Age of Ultron (which I believe wholeheartedly, was not a very good movie) and all that's assuming I already took Avengers 101 back in 2012. That is so much movie watching to do in order to understand one movie and this broad overarching storyline. It's great but it's exhausting and sometimes asking a lot. BVS took all of that and put it into a summer pre session, a 2 week course that moves real fast and sometimes you will feel like you didn't learn a damn thing but its over and your ready for the next thing which is a class you actually want to take and you will be able to at a reasonable pace (Justice League).

Now earlier I mentioned if you didn't skip it, that I'm a black guy and I was raised by immigrant parents who both were here and one pretty heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement. For me this causes conflict because I want to see characters that look like me but I also want them to look like how I know they were created originally sometimes. It also means that I wish there were more important heroes of color being brought to the big screen as well as more women. BVS earned partial credit for Wonder Woman's inclusion and the glimpses of her new movie give me great hope. Part of me hopes it will be a toned down Game of Thrones with women playing all the central roles except for Steve Trevor (great name). The Superhero genre is a boys club and a pretty divisive in terms of race as well considering most superheroes are white. Does this mean I need the Justice League to be black? No. But don't put Cyborg in the new line up when he was a Teen Titan FOR DECADES and tell me it's "just cuz he's kool." No, that's calling an audible on inclusion if I ever saw it. It does mean however that Perry White being black as opposed to white is both fine and appropriately modern (I know this was a Man of Steel thing but some people still aren't over it) also the same goes for Mechad Brooks as Jimmy Olsen on Supergirl. For once Jimmy doesn't look like a punk. Now does that mean I need them to recast certain characters as female? No, but develop female characters on the big screen in a way that makes them 3 dimensional and serving a purpose other than sexual tension or a love story. In my own work I have fallen prey to this and have found that I too fail the Bechdel Test. For those of you who do not know, the Bechdel Test was created by Fun Home Writer & Illustrator Allison Bechdel and her friend Liz Wallace a movie or work of fiction must meet the following requirements:

  1. The movie/work has to have at least two women in it,
  2. who talk to each other,
  3. about something besides a man.

No, joke this is a pretty easy test to fail. Believe me when I say I won't fail it again. But to get back on track, my point about race and gender is to point out that while BVS is imperfect, it tries to do a lot of good and because it has such lofty goals it falls short and has been crucified for it. I think that BVS shows that more risks will be taken and that's good, a little more incubation wouldn't hurt but the great cinema machine knows not what patience is. I also think that BVS serves as a mirror to what we have been calling excellent or near perfect superhero movies (i'm looking at you Iron Man 3, never watching it again) from the Marvel/Disney mountain and I say this not because of any bias I say it because I honestly think that we have given Marvel a great deal of slack and not truly challenged their movie making the way that BVS was.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice did a lot of things, some of them were right, some of them were wrong and some of them are lost in the shuffle. However I think that this movie deserves some reconsideration for everything it does try and does get right when choosing not to follow the time tested Marvel model and Warner Brothers attempting to trim some of the fat. Lastly as I want to be clear, I would never say that we should not be critical of BVS, we should but I wonder what else should we be examining? Should we be conducting a critique of Henry Cavill's portrayal of  Clark Kent as stiff and lacking the boyish smallville charm we know? or Should we be questioning the use of maimed soldiers as human IED's and terrorism as a fodder for laughs? (if you don't get the reference watch Iron Man 3...but only if you have to) 

I don't know about you but each give me pause and for far different reasons and thusly I look at BVS and all other superhero films with a particular lens no, both for criticism and caution. So Like I said, not that bad of a movie.

-T