Movie: Captain America, Civil War

"Captain America: Civil War"

Marvel’s “Captain America: Civil War” finds Steve Rogers leading the newly formed team of Avengers in their continued efforts to safeguard humanity. But after another incident involving the Avengers results in collateral damage, political pressure mounts to install a system of accountability, headed by a governing body to oversee and direct the team. The new status quo fractures the Avengers, resulting in two camps-one led by Steve Rogers and his desire for the Avengers to remain free to defend humanity without government interference, and the other following Tony Stark’s surprising decision to support government oversight and accountability.

When I watched The Avengers: Age of Ultron, I was a little underwhelmed. Although I did enjoy watching the film, I had notes throughout on what I would’ve have done (storytelling-wise) that could have made the film better. But, now that I’ve had a few months to have some perspective on how I felt about the film, I understand that I was coming from a place of high expectations. The first Avengers film struck me speechless, and I was expecting the same for Age of Ultron. That was unfair. So when I first saw the trailer for Captain America: Civil War, I told myself to manage my expectations.

The Captain America films has been my favorite of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The First Avenger was an amazing film that perfectly told the story of the classic Captain America and made it palatable to modern viewers. The Winter Soldier topped that by twisting expectations, and delivering the most non-superhero film that starred a superhero. In both films, the cast of characters had been manageable. There were only a handful, and each one of them played an integral part in telling the story. And then here comes Civil War with the problem that truly plagued the second Avengers film: an overly large cast with rich stories that remain untapped. Each one bursting to tell their own journey.

Civil War served them all well, without forgetting the fact that this is a Captain America film. That this closes his trilogy.

And what a closer it is. (Seriously. The film’s last shot? Not counting the after credits? It gave me goosebumps.)

I don’t know how many times my jaw dropped watching this film. The fears and questions I had while watching the trailer were all explained away, and most of the stuff that internet people have been concerned about made a lot of sense for me. As the credits rolled, all I could think of was this: I didn’t have to manage my expectations at all. Because while Civil War is no Winter Soldier, the film is still a solid Captain America film. And that is what’s important, right?

Civil War has more superheroes than either one of the Avengers films, but each one plays out their part and stays in their lane. A few breakout as scene-stealers, but none of them steals the movie from Chris Evans and Sebastian Stan. Not even Robert Downey Jr., who tones down his Tony Stark to give his most somber portrayal of the character since he was first handed the iron helmet. And it works.

Everything works.

There have been a lot of reports that it’s Spider-Man who people will remember from watching this film, but I disagree. Spider-Man is set-up wonderfully, yes. Tom Holland does give a nuanced take that balances the drama of Tobey Maguire’s version with the levity of Andrew Garfield’s take on the hero. But this is not his film to steal. He serves a purpose, and one of his scenes actually underlines the movie’s theme without being blatant about it. His scenes still pushes the Captain America story forward, while providing a break from the film’s serious tone. Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely still leaves Spider-Man’s story to whoever will be writing the webslinger’s own film.

As they do for the Blank Panther who makes quite the splashy entrance, and yet doesn’t overpower the strengths of the other characters.

The writers and directors Anthony and Joe Russo must be commended on using characters that haven’t been established yet to further the plot, without making the plot about them. They serve their purpose, but their own stories are purposely left out for their own films, without making moviegoers feel like they were shortchanged with these characters.

And I love how they use the absence of certain characters to push the story even further, to make the characters more three-dimensional.

But the best part of the film is how the number of superheroes isn’t overwhelming. Which… If these are the people working on the next two Avengers films? I think we can all rest easy, because we’re in good hands.

Captain America opens today in the Philippines. And I would like to thank my friend Chris Cantada for inviting me to the premiere of the film last Monday, April 25.

And, obviously, I didn’t get into the nitty gritty details of the film. I keep having to check myself that I’m not dropping spoilers by accident. But, if you’ve already seen the film and want to discuss it with me, hit me up in the comments. (This also serves as a warning to other readers to not read the comments section, if you don’t want to be spoiled.)

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Book: Crystal Keepers (Five Kingdoms, Book 3)

"Crystal Keepers"

Cole Randolph still can’t believe the way his life has turned inside out. Stuck in a strange land far from his home, he has found his friend Dalton and has survived the first two kingdoms of the Outskirts, but none of that has prepared him for the magnetic highways and robotic bounty hunters of Zeropolis.

Ruled by Abram Trench, the one Grand Shaper who stayed loyal to the evil High King, the government of Zeropolis uses advanced technologies to keep tight control. Luckily, the resistance in Zeropolis is anchored by the Crystal Keepers–a group of young rebels with unique weapons.

On the run from the High King’s secret police, Cole and Dalton hope to find more of their lost friends and help Mira locate her sister Constance. But as their enemies ruthlessly dismantle the resistance, time is running out for Cole to uncover the secrets behind the Zeropolitan government and unravel the mystery of who helped the High King steal his daughters’ powers.

In Crystal Keepers, we finally get a story that feels original and not a retread of a previous adventure. As Cole and our other journeying protagonists enter the kingdom of Zeropolis, we’re treated to a world unlike we’ve seen in previous Brandon Mull novels–a technologically-advanced one.

The change of milieu really helps the storytelling feel fresh, as the checklist of things that need to happen author Mull employed in Rogue Knight doesn’t pop up here. The adventures are new, as are the dangers–which makes Crystal Keepers a page-turner. You don’t have an idea what’s going to happen next.

Now, I don’t know if this was a case of lowered expectations, but I really enjoyed reading the third installment off the Five Kingdoms series. Crystal Keepers feels action-packed without being overdone, and the pacing is slow enough to let the characters breathe and process what’s going on around them.

What I like best about this book is the fact that the writer is finally coloring in the characters that have, so far, only been mentioned and not seen. We’re starting to see how perception plays into the story, and how not everything is as black-and-white as previously thought. And yet, although a few chapters is given to the ongoing main arc, it doesn’t feel like a big break from the book’s own story line. It’s still pushing the book’s plot forward while pushing the bigger picture.

With the introduction of new characters, the ones we’ve been traveling with since the first book also come off a little better. To be honest, in Rogue Knight, our protagonists were starting to grate on my nerves. So the addition of new personalities and voices were very welcome, to water down my annoyance at the constant bickering between Cole and fellow traveler Jace.

There were still a few parts of the book that I wasn’t fond off–parts that felt obvious foreshadowing and device-planting. But on the whole, they didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the book. And I highly doubt that the intended readers of the series would be too discerning about obvious plot devices.

All that said, there is one twist that I’m still on the fence about.

In the first two books, there happened to be a great unexplainable being that’s causing mayhem in whatever kingdom they were in. Beings that turn out to be a personification of the princesses stolen powers. I was on the look out for the same device here, in the third book, but it didn’t appear until the last few chapters.

And, no, I don’t mean that it didn’t appear physically until the last few chapters. I mean that there was no sign of it at all until it needed to be the big villain.

Now, on the one hand, I really liked how Brandon Mull tried to change it up and not repeat what he did before. But, on the other hand, I’m not a fan of a third-act reveal of an enemy that needs to be defeated; one that the book needs to end big at that.

I guess I’ll just have to hope that this doesn’t happen again in the remaining two novels off the Five Kingdoms series.

I’m crossing my fingers.

Book: Kingsman, the Secret Service

"Kingsman"

Around the globe, pop-culture celebrities are being abducted, and no one knows why. Jack London–superspy–is on the case.

But Jack has problems of his own: a deadbeat sister and her out-of-control son. Young Eggsy has fallen in with the wrong crowd, and his life is circling the drain. Only Jack stands between his nephew and a jail cell. But seeing something of himself in Eggsy, Jack offers him one last chance for a future–in spy school. Out of his element, surrounded by the best and the brightest, are Eggsy’s street smarts enough for him to make it as a secret agent? Does he have what it takes to help his uncle find the celebrities and save the world?

Confession: I only picked this up because I thoroughly enjoyed watching the film version–which while pretty different, still retains the main plot of the graphic novel. That said, I still don’t think I can pick a version I liked better.

The graphic novel, oddly enough, feels more realistic than the film. You can see how Eggsy would have a tougher time at spy school–while in and out of the academy. And he feels a little more grounded. And I really liked how Eggsy actually has a lot of classmates in spy school who ends up doing something, who aren’t just personality-less drones to fill up space like in the film. I also appreciated that most of the action aren’t very clean without feeling like it’s only there for the purpose of shock value.

What I didn’t really like though was how there was a lack of strong women in the graphic novel. That’s one of the things I liked about the film–how there was a strong female counterpoint to Eggsy–who wasn’t a love interest.

The film, which is again strange, is more visual than the graphic novel though. There’s a certain romanticism to espionage too, that isn’t as felt in the graphic novel.

Where the film trumps the graphic novel though is in how Uncle Jack dies. He might’ve gone out with a bang in the graphic novel, but the film had him explode. Not literally.

So, yeah, I really don’t know which version I liked best–but I liked both well enough that I have nothing bad to say about Kingsman.

In fact, I’m looking forward to seeing more adventures from Eggsy once the sequel comes out in theaters.

Book: Tin Men

"Tin Men"

After political upheaval, economic collapse, and environmental disaster, the world has become a hotspot, boiling over into chaos of near apocalyptic proportions. In this perpetual state of emergency all that separates order from anarchy is the military might of the United States determined to keep peace among nations waging a free-for-all battle for survival and supremacy.

But a conflict unlike any before demands an equally unprecedented fighting force on its front lines. Enter the Remote Infantry Corps: robot soldiers deployed in war zone around the world, controlled by human operators thousands of miles from the action. PFC Danny Kelso is one of these “Tin Men,” stationed with his fellow platoon members at a subterranean base in Germany, steering their cybernetic avatars through combat in the civil-war-ravaged streets of Syria. Immune to injury and death, this brave new breed of American warrior has a battlefield edge that’s all but unstoppable–until a flesh-and-blood enemy targets the Tin Men’s high-tech advantage in a dangerously game-changing counter-strike.

When anarchists unleash a massive electromagnetic pulse, short-circuiting the world’s technology, Kelso and his comrades-in-arms find themselves trapped–their minds tethered within their robot bodies and, for the first time, their lives at risk.

Now, with rocket-wielding “Bot Killers” gunning for them, and desperate members of the unit threatening to go rogue, it’s the worst possible time for the Tin Men to face their most crucial mission. But an economic summit is under terrorist attack, the U.S. president is running for his life, and the men and women of the 1st Remote Infantry Division must take the fight to the next level–if they want to be the last combatants standing, not the first of their kind to fall forever.

One bad book doesn’t spoil an author for me. Especially in the case of Christoper Golden, whose books I’ve been hunting down ever since I was introduced to him by the Buffy, the Vampire Slayer novels. So although I wasn’t completely sold on Snowblind, I still immediately picked up Tin Men when Fully Booked informed me that they finally received a copy.

And boy, am I glad I don’t give up on authors easily.

Tin Men is one of Christopher Golden’s best works to date, in my humble opinion, because it presents a post-apocalyptic scenario that might actually happen in the very near future. And the best part? Although there are no zombies, or ghouls, or other monsters? Golden still manages to horrify his readers. In the best way possible.

One of the things I keep a look out for when reading thrillers is the character deaths. I tend to like books better when the author doesn’t discriminate which character to kill. And Golden definitely doesn’t discriminate when he kills his characters, preferring to pick them off when their deaths serve to move the story forward–and not just to shock his readers. This makes the deaths, when they do come, stick. And you feel for the characters.

And you fear for the characters.

Because when it comes to horror, you shouldn’t be able to pick out who is safe from death. You should always be worried about the characters you’re following… The ones you’re enjoying.

I find that, with authors becoming more accessible through social media, many of them are becoming afraid of the backlash from killing off characters who readers might enjoy. This waters down their writing, because you can see in the writing how certain events were maneuvered to make sure certain characters make it out alive. Which is why I have more respect for authors who, while they are approachable online, don’t let their readers dictate where a story goes. Or whether a character survives or not.

There’s a reason why there’s a distinction between readers and writers. And while there’s nothing to stop you from being both, you’re also not supposed to meddle with the writing of something you read. Because readers get emotionally invested. And we let emotions dictate what we want the characters to do, or what we want to happen to them.

And I feel like I lost this train of thought.

Anyway. Going back to Tin Men. I love Christopher Golden’s foray into non-supernatural horror, and I would recommend it to anyone who can find a copy. Really. Read it, guys.

Do you need more convincing? Then why don’t you check out these other blogs that wrote about the book?
Kirkus Reviews
John D. Harvey
So I Pondered

Book: The Sword of Summer, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard Book 1

"Magnus Chase 1: The Sword of Summer"

Magnus Chase has seen his share of trouble. Ever since that terrible night two years ago when his mother told him to run, he has lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, staying one step ahead of the police and truant officers.

One day, Magnus learns that someone else is trying to track him down–his Uncle Randolph, a man his mother had always warned him about. When Magnus tries to outmaneuver his uncle, he falls right into his clutches. Randolph starts rambling about Norse history and Magnus’s birthright: a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years.

The more Randolph talks, the more puzzles pieces fall into place. Stories about the gods of Asgard, wolves, and Doomsday bubble up from Magnus’s memory. But he doesn’t have time to consider it all before a fire giant attacks the city, forcing him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents…

Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die.

And the Riordan magic is back.

Well, sort of.

The first Magnus Chase book, The Sword of Summer, isn’t breaking new grounds. In fact, the premise of a lost weapon isn’t new at all–as it was employed in the very first Percy Jackson book, The Lightning Thief. Fortunately, that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Well, that and the fact that Annabeth Chase also plays a part in Magnus’s life. Though, only a very small part for now.

Magnus, although just as plucky as the other Riordan heroes, has a more practical way of viewing the world. He’s also the first Riordan hero we have who isn’t all sunshines-and-rainbows. Which is probably because prior to getting introduced to the readers, he’s already been living in the streets for two years. And I think this is the reason why The Sword of Summer feels different (in a good way) from the other series beginnings from Rick Riordan. It no longer feels like a Percy Jackson retread.

To be fair, neither did The Red Pyramid, the first book from the Kane Chronicles. I had a different problem with the format Riordan employed in telling that story. But that’s a discussion for a different post–one that I actually already wrote about a few years ago.

Going back to Magnus Chase–

The Sword of Summer isn’t actually as engaging as any of the Percy Jackson books… Well, maybe more engaging than The Mark of Athena. Which is maybe because Norse Mythology isn’t as well-known as Greek, Roman, or even Egyptian myths? Or it could also be because we’ve suddenly gotten an influx of Norse-mythology-based material with the Thor movies and the Witches of East End book and television series– Whatever the reason, it doesn’t have that Percy Jackson magic.

What it does have though is chutzpah. Riordan knows he’s written a lot of books based on mythologies. He knows that this is his fourth mythology-driven series, and it shows that he’s trying to veer away from familiar territory. Maybe he realized that his Heroes of Olympus series didn’t start out so well, feeling like a retread of the original Percy Jackson series. And so Magnus Chase immediately sets out to be different. Which I like.

Reading The Sword of Summer, you can see that the series has the potential to be just as good (if not better) than the Percy Jackson series. The Norse Mythology doesn’t feature gods and goddesses who have to be better than the people who worship them. And their tragedies are already foretold. Unlike the Percy Jackson series where you have an idea that the characters you care for will be safe, the first book in the Magnus Chase series is quick to skewer that idea… By killing the protagonist within the first few chapters.

So, sure, liking the book wasn’t as immediate as it was when I picked up the first Percy Jackson book. But the future is looking bright for Magnus Chase. And I, for one, cannot wait to see how Riordan tops his past three mythology-based series.

Web: The Origins of Tala

"The Origins of Tala"

I’m going to warn you right off the bat: this is an advertisement. I’m promoting something I made with a bunch of friends who are into the same weird stuff as I am: Super Sentai, cosplaying, and Filipino mythology. We call this project: Mythos.

Mythos will be an online series that revolves around a group of people who must bond together as a team to prevent the all-powerful Bacunaua from waking, effectively stopping the coming of a new dark age. Inspired by both Super Sentai and Power Rangers, Mythos marries together the Japanese tokusatsu genre with a twisted version of our local folklore.

Now, what does Mythos have to do with The Origins of Tala?

Producing an online series, it turns out, is a lot of hard work–and a lot more complicated to schedule. Especially when you don’t have a budget to begin with. So instead of going full steam on the series right away, we made a detour to see just how well the series will be received by netizens. We made The Origins of Tala.

Tala is one of the characters we created for Mythos; a plucky girl who gets waylaid by a sudden change in her life, she finds a new purpose when she goes head to head against the supernatural forces hiding in the shadows of everyday life. In the four episodes we produced, she journeys from being clueless to bad-ass.

Obviously, I’m not going to nitpick something I had a hand in making–even if I know that there’s a million things we could’ve still done to improve it. But this was a learning experience for us. And now we know that there are a lot more things we have to take into consideration when we finally begin production on our main series.

In the meantime, please boost our confidence by watching the episodes of The Origins of Tala on YouTube. Here’s the trailer, to get you started:

Book: Eternity’s Wheel

"Eternity's Wheel"

Joey Harker is a leader.

With InterWorld trapped by HEX and his only other companion–the mysterious Time Agent Acacia Jones–missing in action, Joey’s the only one left. Though injured and alone, he refuses to give up. How can he, when all the worlds are depending on him?

As the threat of FrostNight looms ever closer, Joey seeks out more of his fellow Walkers across the Altiverse, training them as fast as he can and trying to track down InterWorld Base Town along the way. But even a solid team of recruits–including Acacia’s brother, Avery, who’s not a recruit so much as a tenuous ally–can’t prepare Joey for the ultimate showdown with InterWorld’s enemies, old and new.

Joey never wanted to be in charge. But he’s the one everyone is looking to now, and he’ll have to step up if he has any hope of saving InterWorld, the Multiverse, and everything in between.

Eternity’s Wheel is the heart-pounding conclusion to the InterWorld series, full of time and space travel, magic, science, and the bravery of a young boy who must now face his destiny as a young man.

If I can only say one positive thing about Eternity’s Wheel, it’s this: it’s not afraid to do what the story needs to happen, regardless of how the readers might react.

Fortunately, this being my blog, I don’t have to stick with just one positive thing.

Eternity’s Wheel serves as a great conclusion for the Interworld series. It gives a fitting ending to the main character we grew to know and love over the course of three books. And, the best part for me, is that it didn’t go the route I was expecting it to. Although it would have been an awesome twist, what with the time travel and all.

But it’s far from being a perfect book either.

Unlike the first two books in this trilogy, Eternity’s Wheel doesn’t have the benefit of a set-up. The second sequel drops us off right into the heat of the chase, and, unless you’ve just finished reading the second book, it’s very difficult to catch up to what is happening–even though the first chapters are supposed to serve as a catch-up.

Once the action starts though, all qualms are quickly silenced–because, even with Neil Gaiman no longer being one of the writers, both Michael Reaves and Mallory Reaves do a good job of having this book retain the feel of the first book.

That is, until we get to the climax. There will be spoilers from here on in. You have been warned.

In hindsight, I now understand why there was a need to bring Joey Harker back in his original world at the beginning of Eternity’s Wheel. Aside from going full circle, it’s also supposed to anchor us to our main protagonist’s longing for home, and his desire to keep it safe. So when the climax happens, something big is at stake for our hero.

Unfortunately, this is the book’s biggest misstep for me. Because, for some reason, although Joey comes back to his original world–we don’t see the actual ties that bind him to this particular world. So when the climax comes, our fear stems not from the emotional attachments that will be severed once FrostNight wipes everything out–but only from our desire to not let the bad guys win.

I feel like this was a missed opportunity for the book to be more than just an adventure book for young adults.

Of course, that still doesn’t lessen my enjoyment of the entire package. Eternity’s Wheel, as I said, is a great conclusion for the Interworld Series. But it could have been even better.