Thursday, May 12, 2016

Captain America: Civil War

"Avengers, Dis-assemble!"
or
Marvel Presents this Captain America Movie, (Interrupted by this Avengers Movie), 
Interrupted by this Spider-Man Preview

Captain America: Civil War is interesting. It's very enjoyable—in fact I'd be willing to say that this completes the best superhero trilogy ever, surpassing Chris Nolan's "Dark Knight" Batman movies. But, man, some things really bug me. 

Uppermost, is the feeling I wasn't watching a movie at all, with a lot of stirring-up going on with few consequences, some conceits that seem VERY convenient for story-telling purposes, and the feeling that this was more of a demonstration film than an actual building block in the continuing story of...anybody. It is one more Marvel Universe sequel that feels like it shouldn't have been made, as, ultimately, nothing of real import happens...except for deal-making in the background—the movie-makers needed product, they front-loaded it with a lot of stars and went to a lot of trouble, but nothing in the story gets resolved. Watching a Marvel movie is beginning to feel like watching "The X-files," with the empty promise of "Yeah, but wait'll NEXT time..." 


Thanks, but where's my $10.00? ($14.00 for 3-D).


The movie does not follow the Marvel series of stories except in title and barest of essentials. After a short set-up marked "1991" (in huge numbers that crowd out anything else) set in a frozen waste that serves as Hydra Headquarters—it's either Hydra or 'SPECTRE' considering the octopus logo—in which "Bucky" Barnes' brainwashed Winter Soldier is sent on a fore-shadow mission, we find members of the Avengers (Captain America, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch and Falcon) in civvies, investigating an "Institute for Infectious Diseases" in LAGOS (in huge letters that crowd everything out), that soon comes under terrorist attack. They go into action—the first of the scheduled three action brawls that have become the norm in the Marvel Universe—and due to the actions of "Crossbones" (formerly a particularly loathsome member of SHIELD under Robert Redford's oversight), a titanic explosion occurs that causes much damage and kills quite a few civilians.

Oopsy.

"Never mind what I did, what about you guys?"
Given the fall-out of that mission, the Avengers are called to meet with the Secretary of State, the former General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt), not seen since the last "Hulk" movie (when he was Edward Norton and not Mark Ruffalo), who castigates the group for the collateral damage caused in NEW YORK (The Avengers), WASHINGTON D.C. (Captain America: Winter Soldier) SOKOVIA (The Avengers: Age of Ultron)—but quite forgetting the damage that HE caused at Culver University and in Harlem during The Incredible Hulk (politicians LOVE to cherry-pick), and telling the team they are in desperate need of government oversight (given how well that all worked out under SHIELD—Have they rebuilt the Watergate yet?). 

The alternative to signing the United Nations' so-called Sokovia Accord is retirement (which would have been MY pick with a snide "YOU work out all the disasters from terrorists, your OWN organizations, and other dimensions, and, by the way, say "Hello" to Thanos for me, Jarhead! See ya, wouldn't wanna be ya!"). 
At the table, Rhodey, Natasha, Rogers, Wilson, Vision, and Scarlet Witch
with Stark hanging back (in case any readers are lost)
The group is divided: Steve "Captain America" Rogers is suspicious: "(The U.N.) is run by people with agendas. And agendas change" and Falcon, Scarlet Witch, and a retired Hawkeye refuse to sign. Nobody likes it, really, but, Tony Stark makes a case for it...lest The Avengers get shut down (wait a minute, wasn't HE the one trying to replace The Avengers in Age of Ultron? Can anyone keep track of Tony Stark's mood-swings? Like, maybe, the writers?). Cap won't sign despite Natasha (Black Widow), Rhodey (War Machine), Vision (the former Jarvis, Tony Stark's version of "Siri") regretfully siding with Stark. Cap walks out of the meeting, abstaining.

While Cap is attending the funeral of old girlfriend (from World War II) Peggy Carter, who has passed away, things come to a head in VIENNA (in huge letters that crowd out anything else) at the UN signing of the Sokovia Accord, when the building is attacked by a car-bomb, and evidence points to The Winter Soldier—Cap's brainwashed pal "Bucky" Barnes—as being the culprit. Why "Bucky," with his skills-set, would employ a car-bomb to do the job no one wonders, but Cap (being Cap) goes to BUCHAREST (you already know...) looking for his buddy, suspecting that he was set up. Of course, he finds him quickly, and the two hash out that the whole thing stinks, right before German counter-terrorist forces (in Bucharest?) bust in, Bucky escapes and Cap and Falcon give chase. Mixed in with the chase is another hero "The Black Panther," who is actually T'Challa (played by Chadwick Boseman, and he's terrific, as he was in 42 and Get On Up), the son of the slain King of Wakanda, killed in the VIENNA explosion.
Falcon (Sam Wilson), Cap (Steve Rogers) and the Black Panther (King T'Challa)
under arrest—are you keepin
g up?
Cap, Bucky, Falcon, and the Panther all get arrested when things come to a draw, with the Winter Soldier being trussed up in an unbreakable restraint—because those always work SO well in these movies and shipped to BERLIN. Cap has his shield taken away and The Falcon's wings are clipped. "They are, after all, government property," says Natasha. "That's cold!" says Falcon. "Warmer than a jail-cell," shoots back Tony. Stark tries one last time to persuade Rogers to sign the Accord, rendered somewhat moot by the attack in VIENNA, but Cap isn't having any of it, especially when he finds out that Tony has the Scarlet Witch being held a virtual (heh) prisoner by The Vision back at Avengers HQ. "Sometimes I just want to punch you in those perfect teeth," persuades Tony. Somebody explain to me why HE's in charge of The Avengers?
This trick never works...
While Bucky is being interviewed by a Dr. Zemo (Daniel Brühl), the facility (which appears to be run by Martin Freeman because he's in EVERYTHING) is attacked by a pulse weapon that knocks out the power to the facility. And because the place is super-high tech to hold super-powered villains and things, there's no back-up generator that can kick in, or anti-pulse shield that can protect it. Zemo is the guy behind it all, apparently, and he has an amazing facility for finding out the secrets to the Avengers, Hydra, and every other organization's defenses (which is never explained), while our own spy agencies can't figure anything out...like putting up back-up generators in the budget.
Natasha thinks: "We have ENOUGH super-heroes. What is Sharon "Agent 13"
Carter doing here?" I wonder that myself.

While the lights are out and the security cameras down, Zemo gives Bucky the secret Russian code-words* to turn him into an unthinking killing machine, and he breaks out of his restraining cell (told ya!), Zemo makes his escape, but a freed Bucky starts smashing his way out of the place, taking out one Avenger after the other until Rogers and Wilson take him down, and find their own way of restraining him that seems to work a little better. Bucky reveals that Zemo is on his way to SIBERIA to the secret Hydra base that produced him to resurrect five other winter soldiers—just like him, but meaner. Capt determines that they need to come up with a team to get to SIBERIA, but first they have to get out of the country. That country being GERMANY.


Back in the U.S., the Scarlet Witch escapes from her attentive little android Vision with the intervention of Hawkeye (recruited from Cap), but it's the Witch that manages to overcome Vision by dropping him through several miles of the Earth's crust. She is clearly the most powerful member of The Avengers, so what is she doing as an after-thought in a Captain America movie. Along with the Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye brings along Ant-Man, reformed thief Scott Lang, at the suggestion of Wilson. Lang is eager to please and clearly has a case of Captain America hero-worship.

More incongruously, Tony shows up at the QUEENS home of Aunt May Parker (who, all of a sudden, is Marisa Tomei, who in no way shape or form, resembles the frail elderly Aunt May of the comics.) Tony's there to talk to May's nephew Peter (now Tom Holland) about a grant from his Stark Foundation (but, in reality, he has somehow heard about the "Spider-kid" flitting around New York and being Stark, tracks him down and verbally jousts with him, and offers him an "upgrade" (which considering he's Spider-man 3.0 makes things very complicated. Now, Tony can track down this "kid" but he can't track down Team Cap driving around in old Volkswagens in BERLIN. Really? With their emission problems?

Okay, enough grousing. Let's get to the good part. This sequence makes no sense unless you're a "fanboy" who "geeks" out on stuff like this. Falcon, Ant-man, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Winter Soldier and Captain America are walking across a tarmac—way out in the open—to get to an Avengers jet to fly to SIBERIA to take care of Zemo and those five winter-soldiers. No flight plan. No official documents. All done undercover. 

Except they're walking out in broad daylight in the middle of a very open space—in full costume—and then, they are confronted by Iron Man, Iron Warrior, Black Widow, Vision, and the Black Panther—in full costume. This is going into Susan Sontag "camp" territory, along the lines of Adam West's Batman walking into a discotheque and telling the waiter that he doesn't want to attract attention, while he's wearing a mask and a blue satin cape. 1) Tony chooses NOW to confront them, instead of before if he's so good at tracking people, and maybe when they might be caught unawares? 2) He's doing this without the German anti-terrorist folks who stopped them before anywhere in the vicinity—even as a back-up? 3) He holds his ace card—Spider-man—in hiding until he can bring him in with a dramatic entrance (as "cool" as it is, it's also stupid, strategically).

Okay. Kvetching over. There then occurs, for about fifteen minutes the best part of the movie, where the two teams run at each other ("They're not stopping!" bleats Spider-man) and start fighting, and for a comics geek, this is really fun, especially with the addition of the hyper-active Spider-man, and the nearly ecstatic Ant-Man ("Everybody's got a gimmick now," grumbles Hawkeye), who both employ some surprises about dealing with the opposite combatants in moves that have not been seen before, both sides trying to stop the other, but not necessarily kill them—sort of like a WWE exhibition.
"You've got a metal arm? That's AWESOME, dude!"
(He actually says that)
For awhile, it looks like Cap's group is going to get to go to SIBERIA, with Ant-Man doing enough damage inwardly and outwardly to folks' equipment—to the point where they give Iron Man one of the best lines of the movie: "Okay, anybody on our side hiding any shocking and amazing possibilities, now's the time!"

Concern about collateral damage—which is what they're fighting about—goes out the window, as the conflict gets out of hand at the airport. But Cap and Bucky manage to get to a plane to take off, with a malfunctioning Iron Man and War Machine in hot pursuit, the Falcon running interference, and The Vision managing to fire off some blast that Falcon evades and ends up hitting War Machine, sending him plummeting to the Earth, leaving Stark pissed and determined for revenge.
"By Hrothmar's hammer, you shall be revenged..."

And yet...things come to light, too conveniently, and with the same lack of story-logic that plagues The Dark Knight and Skyfall—the villain goes to elaborate plans to create situations that he has NO idea will actually occur in the manner that he supposedly supposes. The rest of the film follows Cap and Bucky's trip to Siberia, and Iron Man's pursuit of the truth of it all, which, if he just didn't pursue it, would completely screw up the villain's plans. And it contains, a mood-change moment that is SO convenient that it desrves to be called (after the opposite, defusing attitude changer in Batman v Superman) a "Martha Moment."

And this is where Captain America: Civil War ultimately fails. There is some sharp writing going on in the microcosm, the film is full of great lines without resorting to puns and cultural humor (well, not too much, anyway). But, the picture—what the story is about, the grand arc of the movie—has no real point. One gets the sense, after all, that, for all the build-up and anticipation, the film's a bit of a let-down. It's hollow in the center like an empty Iron Man suit. Ultimately, it's about nothing, and the film ends without much changed...only intensified. Oh, Spider-man gets introduced and that's fun. But, the Avengers? Same as they ever was. The conflicts stay the same, and there's not much there to hold them together. Until another crisis comes along, which will occur, Sokovia Accords or no Sokovia Accords. Nothing, ultimately, is at stake.
"Civil War's" "Martha" Moment
The film does have Robert Downey's best acting in the entire Marvel series, and not just his penchant for ad-libbing a better line than scripted. Here he sells the many conflicting moods of Tony Stark to the point where you think the character is probably more than a little unstable, and he is, as written. The Russo's do a fine job of directing and keeping things moving...and (more importantly) keeping things clear in a very convoluted, and potentially confusing, story. The action scenes are fast, funny, and followable, with the occassional "W'oh!" moments (the opening fight, though, has that zippering stuttering quality that's starting to look like the speeded-up "undercranking" in 1940's films.
And one more fight that didn't need to happen, except the script formula demanded it
What sets Captain America: Civil War apart, though, is it's ability to have its cake and eat it, too, with that most over-used concept in this genre—the revenge story. Everything here is set up over revenge. Most of the bad guys' motives are because of revenge. "You did this to me and I'm going to make you suffer for it." Yawn. We've seen a lot of carnage in the super-hero movies, and as budgets get bigger and CGI gets better, the depictions have gotten to the point of being troubling—compare Superman II's Superman-Zod battle to the one in Man of Steel.  Age of Ultron tried to top it, while also acknowledging some bits of damage control. Both Batman v Superman and Civil War address the issue—the consequences of the previous movies influence the next ones: Bruce Wayne targets Superman over the deaths of employees at Wayne Financial in Metropolis; Zemo's actions are a direct result of the incidence in SOKOVIA.

Revenge is at the core. But CA:CW differentiates between the heroes and the villains with the issue of revenge. The bad guys want revenge. The good guys should not. And yet Stark is susceptible to it—he's merely a millionaire with weapons at his disposal, while most of the others (save Scarlet Witch, Spidey, Vision) are soldiers, they have seen the consequences of war. They know things happen. They have suffered losses (Cap's main motivation lies in the loss of Bucky Barnes during WWII). Everybody may be pointing fingers, but the blame goes to those with the wrong motivations, despite the amount of time spent trying to pin accountability. In their own fumbling way, the writers may have hit on something—the emphasis should maybe be placed more on heroics than action, on sacrifice and restraint, rather than gymnastics. Personal integrity rather than firepower. 

It may make the movies less adrenaline-pumping, but it might make them less dreary, less wearying and more inspiring. 

One should hope.

Missing in action—the two punching bags.







* Those words are:  Longing. Rusted. Seventeen. Daybreak. Furnace. Nine. Benign. Homecoming. One. Freight Car. Use then at your own risk and not around anyone with a metal arm.

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