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.)

Movie: Age of Ultron

When Tony Stark jumpstarts a dormant peacekeeping program, things go awry and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, including Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye, are put to the ultimate test as they battle to save the planet from destruction at the hands of the villainous Ultron.

I enjoyed the movie for the popcorn flick it was. But does it live up to the hype and the quality of recent Marvel outings like Captain America: Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy? No. It doesn’t even surpass the quality of the first Avengers movie.

To be fair, I don’t really know what the problem with Age of Ultron is. There was too much going on, but at the same time, I do not know what else they could’ve taken out. There were too many characters, and some of them were short-changed; and I feel like the Hawkeye storyline was more an apology to the actor than an actual need for story-telling purposes. That said, I do love every scene Linda Cardellini was in.

Before I delve into the film further, I must give a warning. I will discuss the film at length and there will be spoilers. So leave now if you have plans of watching the movie, and don’t want to have twists ruined for you. Okay?

Okay. Now, let’s begin with what I didn’t like about the film.

Number one: Black Widow. The Natasha we met in Avengers and got to know better in Winter Soldier is gone. Instead we get a teen-aged girl with a lot of bravado, and a big crush on Bruce Banner. Now, while I understood the appeal of Banner to Natasha, I’m not a fan of how writer Whedon went about in showing it.

We start the film in battle. Natasha shares a moment with The Hulk during said battle. And in the next scene, she’s already flirting with him. (And I don’t care what the Cap says. That was flirting.) It felt so off. And it didn’t feel earned. I felt cheated that Natasha’s journey into realizing she has feelings for the Banner wasn’t shown to us, the audience. But mostly, I didn’t like how the love story was forced upon us when, by the end of the film, it turns out that there was no need for it at all.

Why were we given an undeveloped love story and made to invest in it, if it wasn’t even going anywhere? And no, don’t tell me that it was a set up to Bruce saving Natasha in Sokovia. Thor could’ve done that. There wasn’t even a fucking guard to keep Natasha in that cage. (And, let’s be real. If Natasha was able to make that primitive spy gadget to communicate to Hawkeye where she was, she could make a fucking key to escape that old-as-hell jail cell.)

And don’t tell me it’s a set up for The Hulk to leave the Avengers. Because it sure as hell doesn’t fly. Why? Because of the number two reason I don’t like Age of Ultron: everything Whedon did right by The Hulk in the first Avengers movie was undone in the sequel.

Fans cheered when Hulk was finally given justice on the big screen–thanks to Whedon. So it comes as a big shock that the big guy’s undoing would be in Whedon’s hand as well. Everything established in the first film, of how he was controlling his anger instead of fighting it, was thrown out the window for a love story between him and Natasha. A love story that, as you can tell by now, I’m really not a fan of.

Because it made monsters of the characters we were already growing to love. While Natasha became a damsel in distress that she never should’ve been, Bruce was having an identity crisis. When he’s with Tony Stark, he’s a whipping boy who never stands up for what he believes in. When he’s with Natasha, he’s a stuttering fool who has forgotten that he already dealt with romance before. He had Betty. He knew a relationship with a woman would be hard. But he loved Betty enough that he trusted himself with her.

He doesn’t have that with Natasha because their relationship was never processed properly. (That said, they never acknowledged his relationship with Betty either, so…)

And Hulk flying off into the sunset doesn’t sit well with me either because Bruce has done the running away before. It didn’t work. He understands that he needs people, just as much as he needs to be careful around them.

To be honest, I would’ve liked it better if the rumors from before the film premiered had been true. That the Hulk was catapulted into space while fighting Ultron. Because that’s the only way I can see Bruce leaving his Avengers family. Unwillingly. And, you know what? This could’ve been the major ‘death’ that the heroes could rally around. I mean, none of them would know that the Hulk could survive in space, right?

Because the death that we got? It only actually left an emotional impact on two characters. So, in the end, the whole climax felt disjointed. And this is the third reason why I didn’t like the Age of Ultron movie: there was a huge set-up for a major characters’ demise, but the death we got instead was insignificant. (Which pains me to write, because I absolutely adored Whedon’s and Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s take on Pietro Maximoff.)

Let’s break it down: in this film, we finally get to know Clint Barton. We find out he has a family who he’s been trying to keep safe–and secret. Throughout the film, it’s underlined how much more mortal he is compared with the other Avengers–even with Natasha in the mix. And then he makes a promise to his wife, which you know is a death wish in big action films. Then, as a final nail in the coffin, his wife tells him how important he is to the Avengers, because he is the one who grounds them.

Clint Barton becomes the reason why the Avengers are fighting. For the good people who want to do good, not because they are forced to–but because they want to. Because they believe that there is a future worth fighting for.

And while I like the fact that Whedon subverts expectations by not killing Barton, the death of Pietro lacks the emotional punch for it to live up to the build-up Whedon wrote. For more than half the film, Pietro was a villain. A villain with valid intentions and a good back story, but a villain nonetheless. And what’s worse, he only even emotionally connected with Barton. And his sister Wanda, of course. But that’s it. You can’t rally around the death of someone who, for the most part, had been fighting against your goal.

Which is why I think Hulk being catapulted into space would work better was the pay-off to the Barton build up. He is as much a part of the Avengers team as Hawkeye is. He has connections with all the characters–even Wanda who would feel guilty for what she made him do in South Africa. And viewers are already invested in the character.

Now, did we need Wanda’s scream of death that disabled so many Ultrons? Not really. Did we need the badass way she ripped out the main Ultron’s core? That’s a no too, even if it is cool that the main villain dies at the hands of a female character. But we could’ve given that scene to Natasha instead.

I don’t know what I was expecting with Age of Ultron. But whatever it was, it wasn’t the film we got. It wasn’t the sassy-as-fuck Captain America who had a steady stream of sarcastic one-liners at the ready. It wasn’t the hard-headed Tony Stark who did things with reckless abandon, although I wasn’t really surprised by this one. It wasn’t the under-utilized Thor who was literally a deus ex machina. … Literally. What with him being the final key to bring the Vision to life. It wasn’t the Natasha Romanoff who undid all the good that the Natasha in the first Avengers and Winter Soldier had done. And it wasn’t the unsure Bruce Banner who acted without a spine for the entirety of the movie.

But with all my complaints about the movie, I did enjoy watching it. I enjoyed the twins. I enjoyed the Vision. I enjoyed Linda Cardellini, and Samuel L. Jackson, and the introduction of Helen Cho. I loved how it was equally important for our heroes to save the innocent people as it was to defeat the villain. And I loved how the film didn’t shy away from the fact that there will be casualties in battles like this.

And, honestly: I enjoyed the film going boom.

That said, my advice to people who have already enjoyed the film on first viewing? Don’t watch it again. Because I did. And that’s when I picked up all the things that didn’t hold up, and the things I realized I didn’t like.

I really hope Ant-Man is better than Age of Ultron.

Movie: The Winter Soldier

"Captain America: Winter Soldier"

After the cataclysmic events in New York with The Avengers, Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, living quietly in Washington, D.C. and trying to adjust to the modern world. But when a S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague comes under attack, Steve becomes embroiled in a web of intrigue that threatens to put the world at risk. Joining forces with the Black Widow, Captain America struggles to expose the ever-widening conspiracy while fighting off professional assassins sent to silence him at every turn. When the full scope of the villainous plot is revealed, Captain America and the Black Widow enlist the help of a new ally, the Falcon. However, they soon find themselves up against an unexpected and formidable enemy–the Winter Soldier.

I was never a fan of Captain America. I’m a Spider-Man kind of guy. But ever since Marvel began expanding its cinematic universe, starting with Iron Man back in 2008, I held out hope that the world’s dullest superhero would get a character makeover to make him more relatable to today’s audiences.

Marvel didn’t do that. Instead they wrote a story to highlight what makes Captain America a hero–his heart, his belief…his faith. The First Avenger made me see the shine under the dull exterior of Steve Rogers. Fast forward to years later, after his attempt at leading the Avengers in their first team-up movie, and we see Captain America come to his own. Finally.

Steve Rogers is a man of virtue. That’s what makes him dull. Because you know he will never make a mistake, and that he will always consider other people’s fates first before his own. He is not one of us. He is the Superman of Marvel, the beacon of hope, and of all things good. Of what we have to aspire to be.

And we don’t like being shown our weaknesses.

But when you put Steve Rogers in a situation everyone of us faces? When you give him problems that we ourselves have? When you see him struggle with things we struggle with in a day-to-day basis? You start to see that he’s not perfect. That he is us…at our basest form. Someone who just wants to do good; someone who just wants to do right.

Someone with the courage to do so.

This is when we start to root for him.

The Captain America of Marvel’s cinematic universe speaks to us because he is not painted to be the person we should be–but the person we could be…if we only had the confidence to embrace who we are, regardless of how we look, of how big or small we are, of who is opposing us.

Captain America: The First Avenger made me believe that a modern hero could be as virtuous and clean as Steve Rogers. (Which is weird, seeing as that film was a period movie.) The Winter Soldier made me believe that we can be like him too. And that’s just one of the things I loved about The Winter Soldier.

The cast is stellar. Chris Evans is Steve Rogers. Scarlett Johansson shows new depths in her characterization of Black Widow. And new addition to the team Anthony Mackie is awesome as the Falcon. The supporting cast was just as great, but I don’t want to mention why exactly as that would spoil certain parts of the film.

Let’s just say the only character that let me down was Agent 13, but that’s not so much because of how she was acted, but because there wasn’t enough screen time for her, and for the set-up of her potential as a love interest for Captain America. Heck, Cap’s friendship with Black Widow has more chemistry than any of Cap’s scenes with Agent 13.

That said, it is going to be hard to root for a new love for Cap anyway because of a Peggy Carter cameo that will make you tear up. You don’t want Cap to move on just yet.

Another thing that The Winter Soldier does exceptionally well is the characterization of its villains. And the film has a lot of them. Baltroc, Crossbones, Armin Zola… The list goes on, and we’re not even counting the titular Winter Soldier yet. In a Captain America film, you expect things to be black and white. Cap, after all, is our All-American Hero whose intentions are pure and true. Evil should be evil. But that’s not the case with The Winter Soldier.

It’s all gray area. And that’s what makes the film all the more interesting.

What happens when the embodiment of  all things good come fact to face with the moralities of gray areas? How will he discern good from evil?

What happens when a man who values trust above all else, is told to trust no one?

Captain America: The Winter Soldier will take your expectations and throw it under a bus. And then it gives you a film you never thought you wanted–and make you enjoy it.

Movie: Captain America, The First Avenger

"Captain America" directed by Joe JohnstonSteve Rogers volunteers to participate in an experimental program that turns him into the Super Soldier known as Captain America. As Captain America, Rogers joins forces with Bucky Barnes and Peggy Carter to wage war on the evil HYDRA organization, led by the villainous Red Skull.

That’s the movie synopsis from Yahoo! Movies–but I think it can do with a bit of tweaking as there were some things in the movie that doesn’t quite jive with this synopsis. One, Steve Rogers is volunteering to be a soldier for the United States Army. He gets roped in into the experimental program because it’s where he is assigned by the recruiter who becomes impressed by his tenacity. Two, as Captain America, Rogers has a team of soldiers who helps him with his non-Hitler related missions–and he gets aided by Agent Peggy Clark and Tony Stark, Sr. Bucky Barnes is actually a member of the team of soldiers who just happens to be Steve Roger’s best friend.

Now that I’ve nitpicked the synopsis, I just want to share that I highly enjoyed Captain America: The First Avenger.

Truth be told, I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. But I did. And I keep telling my friends who haven’t seen the film yet, you’ll understand why no other actor could have played this version of Captain America. That, and that this is not a superhero movie.

No, I’m not lying. Captain America: The First Avenger really does not look or feel like a superhero movie. It’s a war movie that deals with loss, sacrifice and heroism–with a bit of comedy thrown in. And everyone involved in the film really threw themselves in the role, because you won’t see Chris Evans playing Captain America, or Dominic Cooper playing Tony Stark–you really see the two characters come to life through the actors. And this is all the more true for Chris Evans who has been in a couple of well-known roles: that of the Human Torch in two Fantastic Four movies, and as that guy from Not Another Teen Movie. And for the ultimate geeks (or those lucky enough to have seen Scott Pilgrim when it was shown here), he was Lucas Lee, the movie-star evil ex-boyfriend.

In Captain America, we see Chris Evans as we’ve never seen him before–as the guy next door. We always see him play these overly confident characters that it’s nice to see him as the quiet type. Oddly enough, he felt more like a character when he was already the bulked-up version of Steve Rogers than when he was the puny kid from Brooklyn. I guess I kept getting distracted by the fact that the actor is really not that small. And I kept looking for the patches and tears in the effects they did to shrink the actor.

As for the story… Well, there really isn’t much to say about the story. It’s war, people are being recruited to fight, and amidst all these we have this maniacal character (played by Hugo Weaving who is dastardly devilish here) wanting to dominate the world and eradicating those who do not follow him. Yes, he is worse than Hitler. But of course, you need a super villain for your super hero.

Except, as I mentioned above, this is not a superhero movie. We get the montages, the transformation, and the heroic shots. We get the sacrifices, the loss, and the token love interest. But at the heart of it, this is a film about how war affects so many people in so many different ways. And how ordinary, non-superpowered human beings, can be heroes too.

Captain America: The First Avenger is showing in theaters. And when you watch the film, make sure to stay until the end of credits. Mostly because you get to see the teaser trailer for The Avengers. But also to recognize the many people who put hard work into the film.