Captain America: Civil War (2016) – Amazing Characters in a Story That Explores War and Responsibility

Captain America Civil War

        “Captain America: Civil War” is easily one of the best films of Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is the film that deals with the fall out of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and the past Marvel Films. At the core this is a film that tackles the nature of responsibility to self and to the larger world and what that means in regards to the Avengers. In some ways it could have been handled better (especially if they’d gone with the “Registration Act” of the comics and had X-Men in this Universe) but for what they have and the conflict at the core of the film, it is handled really well. I also wanted more loss, but that is just me.

      The film was directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and produced by Kevin Feige.

   SPOILERS ahead

    The story involves the United Nations forming the Sokovia Accords so that the Avengers have oversight after a mission leads to a lot of civilian deaths. The Avengers soon find themselves divided on the issue as things escalate when the King of Wakanda is assassinate and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is believed responsible leading Captain America (Chris Evans) and his group going rogue while Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and his team become enforces of the Accords.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and actually manages to be distinct for a Marvel film, which really shows how great the Russo’s are at expressing their vision of these stories. Trent Opaloch did a great job on this.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack feels epic and allows you to feel more fully the events on the screen. It isn’t the greatest of these soundtracks but it still a plus and compliments the film beautifully as it carries elements of “The Avengers” and the past “Captain America” films within the sound. Henry Jackman did good work on this.

The Action – This film has the best action sequences out of all the Marvel films besides “The Winter Soldier.” Part of this is due to the fight having actual meaning and us caring about the players because we’ve got to spend so much time with these characters and have come to care about them.

The Writing – For a movie that has a lot of ground to cover (introducing Spider-Man and the Black Panther) as well as the Civil War storyline and within that both Iron Man and Captain America’s arc…it does it seamlessly. Where “Age of Ultron” and “Batman v. Superman” were cluttered, this one manages to weave together all the elements in this fascinating character drama.

The Characters – The characters are why we keep coming back to these films and here they each have their moments where we get to know them and see how the last films have changed them. The only one who feels tacked on it Sharon Carter.

Thaddeus Ross – We haven’t seen this guy since “The Incredible Hulk” and how he’s running the United Nations…I really like that they did this as he more than anyone knows what the consequences are of letting those with power run around unchecked. For this reason his going to extremes and locking up all those who joined with Captain America makes sense. This is a guy ruled by fear in a Universe full of creatures that could destroy Earth easily.

Crossbones – SPOILERS, I wish he’d killed Captain America like in the comics. He has a small role in this where he is trying to get a bioweapon, and in doing so shows us that HYDRA is still active, and he puts up an awesome fight against Captain America too and nearly kills him when he tries to blow up himself. Disney, this is a character I’d like to see come back, your films don’t have enough good villains and he was a great one.

Zemo – Zemo is the one manipulating everything and turns the Avengers against each other to avenge his dead wife and child. I got his sadness and I’m glad they didn’t kill him off. He’s shown he can be a great villain as his plans succeed, he just needs someone to give him direction for future films.

Peter Parker / Spider-Man – Tom Holland might end up being my favorite Spider-Man. He’s awkward, nerdy and has great quips and conversation during his fight sequence. I’m looking forward to “Homecoming” as I’ve missed seeing Peter Parker and Spider-Man captured so well…he hasn’t been this real since the Rami ones. I like that Tony Stark is his mentor and that he is someone who is poor and does whatever he can to live. Spider-Man is about facing adversity and standing up to those who do too.

Scott Lang / Ant-Man – Paul Rudd gets to stretch his comedic chops in this and is great as the Captain America fanboy who manages to be the best weapon on the battlefield as he makes himself both large and small and wins most of the fights he gets in. Seeing him again reminded me of why I enjoyed his film.

Vision – Vision is really a fantastic character. He is very much the alien and Spock of the crew who doesn’t fully understand humans so looks at things from an empirical and logical point of view. I really liked him and Bettany does a wonderful job in the role.

Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch – Scarlet Witch like Ant-Man is one of the powerhouses in this as once she finds her confidence she saves most of the characters in the battle. She is also the one everyone fears because of how powerful she is and for her being front and center in the fight against Crossbones and her stopping him lead to the bomb he became killing civilians in a building. Her arc is embracing herself and no longer caring what the others think of her.

Clint Barton / Hawkeye – He’s back and he’s alright. I mostly like him for calling Tony Stark out (though he rightfully gets called out too). He’s sarcastic and quippy and you get that retirement didn’t really work out all that well for him.

Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow – Black Widow is the double agent in this as she believes in the Accords and oversight but believes in Captain America more as she helps Bucky and Steve escape in the large battle at the airport. I would have liked to hear more of her thoughts. Scarlett Johansson is once again amazing.

James Rhodes / War Machine – War Machine believes in the Accords and you get why as he military and military is all about oversight and he’s also seen the danger of Hulk and even the villains they’ve fought (and of course Ultron). He gets injured in the escape of Steve Rodgers and has to learn how to walk again. Cheadle is great as usual.

Sam Wilson / Falcon – Anthony Mackie plays one of my favorite characters in this universe and it is wonderful to see the reasons why he follows Captain America as like the Captain he believes in individuals and doesn’t trust organizations (after his experience with HYDRA and SHIELD makes sense). He is captured in the end but broken out by Captain America to end the film.

T’Challa / Black Panther – Boseman has me excited for the “Black Panther” film. In this we get his motivation as he believes Bucky killed his father the King and in turn he dawns the Black Panther armor to avenge his death. This leads him all over the world until he sees how revenge has consumed Zemo so he chooses not too and instead ops to turn Zemo in as he has let go of his rage.

Steve Rodgers / Captain America – Steve is both smart and stupid in this. Smart because the Avengers do need some sort of oversight (you have Gods running around who can do massive damage if something takes control of one of them or they lose control) and his trust of Bucky is dangerous as Bucky nearly kills his friends multiple times in this. I get why he fights this though as Thaddeus locks up the Avengers who joined him in a high security prison showing that he doesn’t care about balance or even using the Avengers to protect, which is the point of them. Chris Evans owns this role and his scenes with everyone are gold as well as what he represents in the fight against Liberty and Security, which in turn is the continuation of the debate started in “The Winter Soldier.”

Tony Stark / Iron Man – Tony is a man consumed by demons (Pepper left him, missing his parents, regret over his wrongs) who realizes that most of the problems the Avengers have had have been caused by the Avengers (creating Ultron, etc.). This leads to him getting behind the Accords and fighting Steve over it. In the end he is able to make peace though as he lets Captain America break out the Avengers Thaddeus had put away as we get the idea he wants the balance that is at the core of the Accords and that he forgives Steve to some degree for all that went down.

Responsibility and Oversight – This also relates to the Social Contract and Liberty v. Security. This is the core issue going on this film and why the Civil War exists in the first place between the Avengers. Oversight makes sense and the dangers of oversight are illustrated too. Who watches the watchers? The film is good at leaving this open too.

War and Consequences – Zemo and the Accords arose from the consequences of the war and the power of weapons. The Avengers are weapons and the collateral damage they cause to save lives goes addressed here. There is no going back from the trauma war brings and in the end you can end up like Zemo seeking revenge or T’Challa finding peace.

Okay: Sharon Carter – She felt shoe-horned in because of her relation to Agent Carter. I liked some of her scenes but her romance with Steve that was thrown in at the end felt tacked on. Her character wasn’t needed and wasn’t as fun as Spider-Man or Ant-Man (on the same subject of characters who weren’t needed to tell the story). It never really shows when they hooked up either.

 The Cons: Scarlet Witch and Vision Romance – Romance is once again this issue and it again feels tacked on! We never get when this love blossomed and they felt more like friends than lovers.

Lack of Loss – I wanted someone to die. We are getting close to the “Infinity War” and the lack of main character death that is permanent is annoying me. This of all films was perfect as Captain America is killed in the comics during this arc, so why not in the film too?

   For me the one thing that really brings it down is that Marvel has not been able to kill off any character for good. I was rooting for Bucky or Steve to die in this one so that Tony would fully feel the cost of what he was doing and so we’d fully feel the hit before the “Infinity War.” So often in these films characters die but not for good, unless they are a villain. This is a Marvel Problem but it is one that doesn’t detract from the overall quality of the film, and this is really the sequel that “Age of Ulton” should have been as it captures the spirit of the first “Avengers” film. “Civil War” is well worth your time and I’m super excited for the “Black Panther” and “Spider-Man” film. I highly recommend this film.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10

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Ant-Man (2015): Marvel’s Return to Fun and a Story That Stands Alone

Ant-Manton Reed

     When I first saw “Age of Ultron” I had a lot of fun…but the more I thought about the film the less sense it made. What the studio wanted from Whedon created so many holes and created a fractured narrative. For this reason I changed the score from in the 9s to the 8s as the Cons I listed still apply, they just feel bigger now…especially in relationship to  “Ant-Man.”  This was a film that worked and feels complete in and of itself while still tying into the wider universe without the wider universe bringing the story down as what happened in “Age of Ultron.” The villain also does a lot more damage than Ultron did…which is pretty sad when you think about it. Suffice to say, I enjoyed this film…and it is amazing Marvel Studios pulled this off after the development hell this movie went through in order to be created.

     The film was directed by Peyton Reed, written by Edgar Wright, Paul Rudd, Joe Cornish and Adam McKay and produced by Kevin Feige.

SPOILERS AHEAD

       The story involves the ex-thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) being hired on by the past Ant-Man Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) in order to steal the Yellowjacket outfit and destroy the technology of his protege Cross (Corey Stoll) who plans to sell the suits and technology to H.Y.D.R.A. Things soon get more complicated as time is working against them.

The Pros: The Action – The action is wonderful! From Scott’s heists to the fight with the Yellowjacket…space and size are used really well as Ant-Man jumps around from different sizes in the action sequences he is put in. They are the best to come out of this universe so far.

The Cinematography – This relates to what I said about the action, we get to see things on a small and normal level and this lends so much strength to things and immediately draws you in. There are stakes in both sizes and Scott is always having to learn and adapt.

The Past – The story begins with Hank leaving the Team that Peggy, Howard Stark and Carson are a part of (early S.H.I.E.L.D.) after Howard tries to steal his technology. This leads to him being isolated and we see how hard the missions he was on have made him more difficult to work with than he already was, and how the suit has made him more paranoid of others.

Falcon – Anthony Mackie is back as Falcon! We see him fight Ant-Man when Ant-Man is robbing the Avengers for tech. he needs to beat Yellowjacket. It is a great fight and we later see Falcon bring Ant-Man into the Avengers as well as implying that he will connect him with Captain America so they will have a secure place to rehabilitate Bucky who is revealed in the after credits scenes.

Cross/Yellowjacket – I like this baddy and it’s wonderful seeing Corey Stoll again post “House of Cards!” He is driven and we see how hard Hank leaving him took a tole. He reveals Hanks dark side as they are both people who are sociopathic and can disconnect from others to protect themselves while having a huge domination factor of how they view things. Hank grows through this, not so for Darren Cross as it ends up leading to his death at the hands of Ant-Man when he tries to kill Ant-Man’s daughter.

The Pyms – The Pyms are the strongest part of this film and I would have watched an early S.H.I.E.L.D. film with Peggy Carter and Howard Stark and their relationship with Hank Pym! His daughter Hope is just as antagonist as he is but both have a softer side too when they feel heard. Their path towards  healing is done really well.

Hope Van Dyne – Evangeline Lilly is wonderful and I’m glad she finally gets the Wasp costume she should have had from the beginning. She is the one who is always standing up for herself and holding her dad accountable. I really liked her character and hope we get to see her in action in the next film.

Hank Pym – Hank is a dick and doesn’t get along well with people. He is also intriguing too as he is right about the Starks tech. leading to trouble with it being so open. He is the skeptic and is antagonistic in many ways and his arc is learning to communicate and truly live the action of caring about Scott and Hope. It’s done really well.

The End Credits Scenes – Bucky is found by Captain America and Falcon is there to help as they keep things undercover from Tony Stark and the government knowing that if they find out that they are keeping safe a wanted criminal…things can only go bad.

Hope receives the new Wasp suit! Can’t wait to see it in action!

Okay: Scott Lang and Co. – All of them including Scott are funny sometimes but they don’t have the intensity the Pyms have or Yellowjacket does so it makes it hard to care about them. They feel like comedic relief at times…including Scott.

Scott’s Family – They are bland, including the step-dad. I didn’t really feel that I got to know any of them and that they were just plot devices for Scott’s growth.

   Scott Lang and his family were the weakest parts of this film, besides Scott’s Team but it still didn’t keep this film from being better from “Age of Ultron.” Evangeline Lily and Michael Douglas are amazing as the Pyms and Corey Stoll owns the role of Yellowjacket. It’s great seeing the wider universe play a part and not dominate the story either. This story is more personal as it is Scott’s path of redemption and the Pym’s path to healing. Both have great payoffs too. I’d recommend this film far more than “Age of Ultron” and won’t be suprised if it makes my Top 5 films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) – An Amazing Spy Thriller That Changes the Marvel Universe

Captain America Winter Soldier

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” is one of the best movies I saw in theatre this year. The only one that beat or was comparable was the “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” In my Disney Marvel Franchise Adventure this film is top of my list to write about, along with “The Avengers,” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” once I see it.

There are a lot of reasons I like this film, but for the non-spoiler version that is as vague as possible: The security state is critiqued, we see the price of war and the it asks us the question of freedom versus security and what makes an organization good or noble.

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” is a sequel to both “The Avengers,” and “Captain America: The First Avenger,” tying it to both and furthering the continuation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The story picks up with Captain America working for S.H.I.E.L.D. as an agent, but quickly finding out that he doesn’t know what is going on when Nick Fury is attacked by unknown agents and the Winter Soldier arrives the scene who is a famous assassin who Black Widow knows about only through rumors largely but who she witnessed in action in one of her missions. From here Captain America and Black Widow go undercover to find out what is going on as S.H.I.E.L.D. sees them as possibly guilty for the attack on Fury. They also get help from Falcon, a veteran who is part of an airborne division where he had prototype wings that he used in combat. From here the story unfolds as the conspiracy is unraveled.

Spoilers Ahead

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Tone – “Don’t trust anybody.” Is what Nick Fury tells Captain America at one point, and that level of unknown and fear pervades the film. We get hints of it in the beginning with Widow’s side mission and after that it continues on throughout the rest of the film continuing to grow with the face of that unknown in the Winter Soldier and the actions against the protagonists.

Black Widow – Johansson does it again. We get to learn more about her past and why she doesn’t trust anyone, and we get to see her in the mentor role, since Captain America is Super Hero that has never had to do undercover work. She is the secondary protagonist besides Falcon and is the best that we have ever seen her. She even makes a pretty hard choice at the end that I will discuss later in the review.

Falcon – Can’t wait for this guy to take Chris Evans place after he leaves…which I hope they do now that Falcon is Captain America in the comics. Falcon is a veteran who helps veterans, and because he isn’t a super soldier depends on his training as a soldier with a prototype weapon and adaptability to help Widow and Captain find out how far the conspiracy goes. He is there only friend at the end at one point. Anthony Mackie is fantastic.

Nick Fury – Is the mentor in this and has some great reveals about his past and why he doesn’t trust and is so brutal. This is the movie that gives us Fury as a fully realized character, and it is awesome! From his friendship to Pierce and to Captain America and the choices he makes. Samuel L. Jackson owns this role.

S.H.I.E.L.D. – I shown to be a complex government organization that ends up being compromised. The first warning signs are the Helocarriers that have been programmed to deal with threats. It is Captain America who first questions this but is shutdown by Nick Fury through his story of growing up rough and how his grandfather always was armed to protect himself…and that the government needs to do the same (a reaction to Loki’s attack on New York). Alexander Pierce (one of the heads of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the main guy advocating for this protection and offensive might. I’ll go into what happens with them later.

Fury’s Death – Fury has an awesome fight with The Winter Soldier and unknown agents and eventually takes them out after a pretty big fight and goes into hiding with Captain America. He delivers his warning and is shot…

Arnim Zola – This guy is back! We saw the government take him in after World War 2 and he worked for them but also used it to plant the seed of H.Y.D.R.A. there as well as making himself into a program to control and use S.H.I.E.L.D.’s data. He turns S.H.I.E.L.D. into an arm of H.Y.D.R.A. He is also one of the creators of the Winter Soldier. We see him face Black Widow and Captain America from an old style computer that he eventually sacrifices to try and kill the two of them. We learn that he was loyal to H.Y.D.R.A. all along which was a question after the first film given he betrays The Red Skull. I hope we returns later on and that some part of his program is still active. He was a lot of fun and a great threat.

H.Y.D.R.A. – Using the Winter Soldier they “kill” Nick Fury and try to kill Black Widow, Falcon and Captain America…regardless they win to some degree in this. They destroy S.H.I.E.L.D. by becoming S.H.I.E.L.D. it is brilliant and show how idealism can get hijacked by the corrupt as well as the danger of concentrated power in anything with military might.

The Winter Soldier – Is “Bucky,” Captain America’s old friend who has been brainwashed and given a metal arm by H.Y.D.R.A. he is a huge threat and pumped full of the super soldier serum. He is like the terminator throughout the film but gets some great moments with Captain America as he fights to find who he once was and get control over himself again.

Fury and Captain America – There is a great conversation here when we learn he Fury faked his own death to go underground…and rather than it being cheap, like it has kind of become with Marvel…it has consequences. It is when Black Widow and Nick Fury fight to bring down S.H.I.E.L.D. it is the death of this organization that changes everything in this universe.

The Confrontation – This is where everything comes to a head. The Winter Soldier has been rebrainwashed and is being used to kill the heroes, the Helocarriers are taking off and haven’t been implanted with Fury’s virus. This is some of the best action I’ve seen (much better than “Avengers” or “Iron Man 3,” and “Thor 2,”) and in it all it has a point in it too.

Alexander Pierce – As the leader of S.H.I.E.L.D. and H.Y.D.R.A. Robert Redford gives us a fascinating character who sees ends justifying the means because of how Fury disobeyed orders. He saw that on the large scale which lead to his corruption. He is clearly bad but you can at least sympathize with this very flawed villain who is all the corruption of the security state justifying itself. Fury gets the kill on this guy when he tries to kill the Council.

Captain America – He grows a lot in this film. From having to make hard choices in regards to killing, to trusting Black Widow fully and becoming an agent undercover…to all his interactions with the Winter Soldier. Chris Evans nails it all and is a pleasure to watch.

The Reveal – Baron Von Strucker has 2 mutated children (Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch) and plans to feed Fury, Widow and Captain America false info. to keep them away from key H.Y.D.R.A. facilities. Giving us a hint of things to come.

Bucky returns to the museum we saw Captain America at in the beginning, showing him in his quest to find out who he is.

I highly recommend this film. There really weren’t any cons for me. It is what I want out of a Super Hero movie. It knows what it is about, has a consistent tone, the characters actually grow and the action actually means something. Captain America actually became an interesting character too and I hope Falcon will have the chance to be him after Chris Evans leaves.

Final Score is 10 / 10. The greatest thus far.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) – A Review in Honor of Independence Day and the Sci. Fi. Historicish Biopic

Captain_America_The_First_Avenger_poster

We begin the “Disney Marvel Franchise Adventure,” with “Captain America: The First Avenger.” Captain America was always the least interesting of the Avengers to me…like Superman in DC he was always more interesting in who interacted with him and less the character himself. I am happy to say these movies changed that for me though, which is one reason I am looking forward to doing these reviews.

The premise of “Captain America: The First Avenger,” is that Red Skull a Nazi leader with a military group called Hydra takes control of the Tesseract (a mythical artifact we will learn more about and see later), that was said to be one of the greatest of Odin’s treasures. We then go to Steve Rogers, a small man from Brooklyn who wants to enlist after his parents are killed during the war. He is kept from enlisting because of how small he is but is given the chance when Dr. Erskine recommends him as a candidate for a special project. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

Pros: The Tone – The feel is that of an Historic Biopic mixed with Science fiction. The Tesseract is introduced at the beginning, giving us the sci. fi. and HYDRA’s energy weapons also play into that. But it also shows us the War Bonds, the lives of the soldiers and people and have it contrasted with modern day at the end…bringing the sci. fi. tone full circle.

Steve Rogers/Captain America – They made him way to small when he was trying out…he just didn’t look realistic…luckily Chris Evans playing him and writing make up for this. Once he gets the Super Serum he becomes the best part of this film. We see him in constant acts of sacrifice towards his fellow men and because of it being used by some for good (and for themselves) like the senator. His awkwardness with romance is great too since we see a kid who is not confident around women in the beginning and throughout the film. He is never used to attention and this adds humanity too him as well as his recklessness and ability to improve. He is what makes this film good.

Dr. Erskine’s – Is the man who believes in Steve because of his standing up for others and heart. He has a complicated past and is interesting too, since he invented the super serum that made Red Skull and makes Captain America.

Howard Stark – Tony Stark’s dad is awesome. We see how much of a nerd he is and he has a lot of respect for Captain America and loves invention and creation, even though he makes a fair amount of mistakes in his process of creation. You can see Tony in him as well as how different they are.

Colonel Phillips – It is Tommy Lee Jones, he is great as the no-nonsense Colonel who is skeptical but won over to Steve Roger’s side. He does is his part extremely well and makes the military relationships more complicated.

Freeing the Prisoners – Captain America goes behind enemy lines and frees his friend Bucky and tons of allied troops, who later rejoin him in the war. He also confronts Red Skull and learns of Red Skull’s origin as Johann Schmidt and the first of Dr. Erskine’s tests.

Captain America’s Commandos – Yes, “Bucky” is part of this team but as a character he is just kind of there. The team is much more interesting. It is an International group of Commandos who Steve saves from a HYDRA Camp and with them takes it out. They are Bucky, Jim, Dugan, James, Jacques and Gabe and the unofficial love interest Peggy. They deserved more exploration but the limits of a movie didn’t allow it.

Arnim Zola – Was Red Skull’s scientist and was more complicated than Red Skull. You never fully get if he believes in the cause or is doing it out of fear of Red Skull in this film…making him the only interesting and complicated member of HYDRA this film. He is the one who helps Red Skull harness the Tesseract’s power as a weapon for his machines of war.

The Present – When Captain America returns to the present and meets Nick Fury it is fantastic. It shows us how alien he feels in this new time period and gives us a twilight zone feel when SHIELD creates a room out of time to keep in when he wakes up.

Okay: Red Skull – He isn’t a bad villain but he is never good and I never feared for Captain America or his team. He kills more of his own men on screen than any of Captain America’s men. Hugo Weaving is great, but he wasn’t given much. At one point he is comedic too, pretty much yelling, “I’ll get you next time Captain America! Alas, foiled again!” When Captain America and his commando team destroy his weapon facilities. Because of this the final fight drags and isn’t all that interesting except for what happens after.

The Music – Is nothing special in this one. If you’ve seen any World War 2 film, you have heard this music.

Cons: The Romance – The romance with Peggy doesn’t exist…in that way it should have never happened since it serves no purpose but for a sad good-bye at the end.

Execution of Red Skull – He should have been much more threatening, given he created HYDRA which is the strongest organization we have witnessed so far in the Disney Marvelverse…that is made up of humans.

The Ending Battle – It goes on way too long, there are no stakes cause Bucky is already gone and we have had constant fighting up to this point. I honestly was bored during it. It looked great, but it meant nothing because the stakes didn’t feel real. We know Red Skull didn’t succeed because it would have been referenced in the other Disney Marvel movies…and nothing new happens except for the Tesseract revealing space.

“Captain America: The First Avenger,” was a good but not great film. It introduces elements that play a point later on…like the Tesseract as an energy weapon tied to Asgard, Howard being Tony’s dad and Nick Fury with the Avengers Initiative. It could have been shorter and would have been better as a mini-series to explore the character relationships better. It is still a good film I would recommend though.

A solid 8 / 10.