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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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: Thor, the Dark World

"Thor: The Dark World"

‘Thor: The Dark World’ continues the big-screen adventures of Thor, the Mighty Avenger, as he battles to save Earth and all the Nine Realms from a shadowy enemy that predates the universe itself. In the aftermath of ‘Thor’ and ‘The Avengers,’ Thor fights to restore order across the cosmos…but an ancient race led by the vengeful Malekith returns to plunge the universe back into darkness. Faced with an enemy that even Odin and Asgard cannot withstand, Thor must embark on his most perilous and personal journey yet, one that will reunite him with Jane Foster and force him to sacrifice everything to save us all.” (c) Disney

When your first film already succeeds in grounding your unruly protagonist into a believable hero, it’s going to be a challenge to make the sequel work. Factor in the fact that Thor and Loki, two of the main characters, also squared off in The Avengers? Let’s just say I came in to this film with very low expectations.

And it completely blew me away.

Confession: I fell asleep while watching the first Thor movie. I thought the story divide between Asgard and Earth were too jarring, and I didn’t really enjoy the story. Also, Chris Hemsworth’s bleach-blonde do in the first film was very distracting. And I found that it went a bit heavy on the exposition.

The second film didn’t have that problem: we already know the characters. The events of The Avengers film were dealt with expertly through a couple of lines, and a hilarious cameo. Thor’s blonde do is no longer distracting. And the story… Well, the story was cool.

This is a superhero film, so it’s not like we expect the story to be mind-blowing. The action was, though. But the story served its purpose. It catches you in its web, it makes you care, and you root for the heroes to win. And the amazing thing is, our heroes are no longer bogged down with the journey to better themselves. They’ve already proven that they are heroes in the first film. The Avengers, although light on the character development, have seen them grow some more. This sequel sets our heroes up for a fall because of said growth. And this was genius.

I remember disliking Iron Man 2 because it felt like a cheap version of the first Iron Man film. But that was mostly because our hero failed to live up to the promise set when the first film ended. Iron Man 3, I believe, was a better sequel because it didn’t devolve the character of Tony Stark. It just raised the stakes. And that is exactly what Thor: The Dark World did. Our heroes retained the lessons they learned–but now, they have to use those and then some, to save the worlds.

You notice how I keep saying ‘heroes?’ Because it isn’t just Thor we’re going to root for in this film. Jane Foster also takes a more active role in this film. And so does… another character.

Image and perception take the spotlight in the Thor sequel. And I feel that that’s the main story angle of Thor: The Dark World. We already know who the characters are. We’ve seen them become better. And now, they have to prove to the other characters that what happened in the first film was not a fluke. That what happened in The Avengers was a bridge. And now their growth continues. It’s about maintaining the image and breaking how the other characters perceive them.

And then, there’s trust. This movie is also about learning to trust–and risking so much in that trusting.

I wasn’t a fan of Thor because of the first film. I am a fan now.

Last thought: I loved the climactic battle. I loved how the film used the divisive divide between worlds in such a way that made all the world-jumping integral. And I loved how, unlike Man of Steel, the characters knew to try to get people away from the fight.

Book: The Superior Spider-Man, Issue #17

"Superior Spider-Man 017"

I want to start by saying this: I have no clue who Spider-Man 2099 is. I must say though that this Miguel O’Hara, the Spider-Man of Tomorrow, looks oddly a lot like Peter Parker. Although, from what I understand, he’s supposed to be Hispanic. But let’s not open that can of worms.

Now, let’s begin.

What I liked about the issue is the fact that we’re seeing the Green Goblin stewing and planning. It gives the series a sense of foreboding, of a promise that things are once again heating up. I also liked that we saw a bit of the life becoming a little more normal for Doc Ock as Peter Parker. Sort of. And I actually kind of like the idea that someone from the future comes to the past.

What I didn’t like was the fact that the threads opened up in the last issue, the ones connected to Carlie Cooper’s investigation, is once again dropped. And I really don’t give a flying shock (to borrow the expression of Spider-Man 2099) to the clash between the Spider-Man of now and the one of tomorrow. It’s a new plot horned into an existing plot that’s just about to take off. If that doesn’t scream “filler,” I don’t know what does.

The issues have a lot more happening, I’ve noticed. I just hope the team doesn’t forget what makes the Superior Spider-Man different from other Spider-Man titles. The fact that our hero is actually a villain trying to reform.

Book: The Superior Spider-Man, Issue #16

"Superior Spider-Man 016"

No synopsis this time around. Spoiler-y, I guess.

The one important thing I have to say about this issue, is this: it doesn’t disappoint. Thank goodness.

Last time, Spider-Man upped his game by revealing who the Hobgoblin was. I don’t know what the directive is for Dan Slott, writer of the Superior Spider-Man, but he definitely doesn’t shy away from really changing the game. Which is good, because that’s what we signed up for when Otto Octavius became the Superior Spider-Man.

And it took a lot of issues before we finally got the ball rolling. And roll it does.

The best part about this issue? The ticking bomb. We have two characters who finally figure out that the Spider-Man we have now is not the Spider-Man we knew. Now, it’s all a matter of confirmation.

Sure, it’s a little infuriating that two non superheroes are the ones figuring out Otto’s little secret, especially considering the fact that the Avengers have some of the smartest characters this side of the comics industry. And yet none of them have tuned in to the fact that Peter Parker had a sudden personality transplant. Otto isn’t even trying to pretend to be Peter, come on.

But I’m putting that behind me now. Especially since the storyline is very strong right now. Even though we’re still obviously setting things up. Until when, I don’t know. But there’s nothing to complain about right now. So we’ll stick with the good.

The reveal of the Hobgobin, and how they dealt with the aftermath was really brave. The reactions were a little hyper-realistic, but that’s understandable. The part that makes it interesting? How Otto is twisting the image of the friendly neighborhood superhero. He’s no longer the bumbling accidental hero who almost everyone adores. He’s competent now, with self-confidence, and a focus that’s never been seen before. He’s no longer just Spider-Man, he’s the superior version. And he doesn’t care that people are starting to fear him. Otto might actually be relishing this.

And it’s so in character that I find it particularly delicious.

Otto is such an amoral character, and he’s completely destroying Peter Parker’s decision. And this is making me root for Peter’s return. However impossible. And the writer, I think, is doing his job well. Because we’re no longer rooting for the villainous Spidey. We’re rooting for our hero. We want our Peter to come back. And, ultimately, I think that’s the main goal of this team. For us to want what existed before. But he (and they) have ruined the world enough that we’d want our Spidey to clean it up. And that would make for very interesting drama.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Let’s just tune in, a couple of weeks from now, what Dan Slott and the Marvel team have in plan for the Spider-Man franchise.

Book: The Superior Spider-Man, Issue #15

"Superior Spider-Man 015"

Roderick Kingsley, the original Hobgoblin,has agreed to lease the mantle to Phil Urich, the current Hobgoblin and right-hand man to Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of crime.

The Kingpin had set his operation up in Shadowland, a giant fortress in the middle of Hell’s Kitchen. Shadowland was thought tobe impenetrable. However…

Otto Octavius, the Superior Spider-Man decided it was time to finish Shadowland off once and for all. He laid siege to it and destroyed it, while both Fisk and Urich were still inside.

Now Shadowland is no more and the Kingpin is apparently dead. But a new power is rising in the city… And it’s led by none other than the Green Goblin!

Now this is how you spin a tale. It’s just frustrating how it had to take how many issues for us to see actual plot movement.

Carlie Cooper is back on the case; both Mary Jane Watson and Aunt May have become suspicious of our erstwhile Peter Parker. The only character I don’t really care for is the new love interest, but I get how she is important. Heck, if I were the writer, I know how I would use her to further spin the web of lies Otto Octavius is spinning, or how to wreck it.

But what I really love about this issue is how we Spider-Man’s tale is told while our main character focus turned to the Hobgoblin. Heck, we can even say that he’s the protagonist if our story. The Anti-Hero, if you will.

In this issue of The Superior Spider-Man, we see movement that we haven’t seen since… Heck, since the mind war fought between Peter Parker and Otto Octavius! It’s been that long!

I’m really tired of how Otto Octavius is ruining the image of Spider-Man. I’m very much ready to see Otto develop into a more rounded character, or have Peter come back already.

Seriously.

The tables have turned for the Hobgoblin and the Superior Spider-Man. I’m actually rooting for the Hobgoblin, from the little we’ve seen of his life in the panels of Issue #15. That’s how badly Spidey needs redemption. And he’s not even doing any villainy! So next issue–

Next issue will be a game-changer for me. If we’re going back to status quo, for plot advancement to happen three issues later again, I’m dropping the title. But if we keep with this issue’s pace, then I guess I’ll sign up for another issue.

Book: The Superior Spider-Man, Issue #14

"Superior Spider-Man 014"

When Otto Octavius exchanged bodies with Peter Parker, he gained the amazing skills of Spider-Man — and all of Peter’s memories. Otto has become the Superior Spider-Man and now carries on Peter’s mission of great responsibility.

However, Otto isn’t above resorting to old tricks. He has blackmailed Mayor J. Jonah Jameson into giving him free reign as Spider-Man. His efforts as Spider-Man are now uncontested by the law.

The Kingpin’s stronghold, Shadowland, continues to stand in Hell’s Kitchen.

The Kingpin commands the ninjas known as The Hand and the murderous maniac known as The Hobgoblin.

If it weren’t for the Green Goblin, I think I’ll be ending my not very superior journey here. Two hundred pesos is two hundred pesos, and I can spend it better elsewhere.

But I’ll hang on for an issue more to see where they’re going to take this Green Goblin arc. Because, seriously, I have no sympathy left for Otto Octavius and the Superior Spider-Man. As a hero, he succeeds in doing a lot of good, yes. But as a character, he fails so much.

Yes, I imagine it’s hard to make a super villain likeable–but the title was heading there when it started. We saw Otto changing. Becoming good. Or, if not that, at least being more conflicted about what he’s doing. Up to the point when he had to face off against the memory of Peter Parker, that is.

Suddenly, we’re back to villain mode for Doc Ock.

Now, if the plan is to keep Otto as the Superior Spider-Man until the next great reboot of Marvel, and you know, not have him become a better person, then just show me the exit please. But if the plan is to make Otto even more devious so you’d root for Peter Parker when he returns, then… Well, then please hurry the eff up.

If I wanted a soulless action flick, I’d watch a Transformers movie. And it’s cheaper too at a hundred and fifty pesos for a copy of the original DVD at the bargain bin. Add twenty-five pesos and I’ll be able to catch the fourth installment when it comes out in theaters. It’s still going to be cheaper than one very thin issue of the Superior Spider-Man.

Rant aside, I just want one thing for this title, really. Make our hero likeable again. Please. Because Spider-Man is my favorite superhero. But at the rate Dan Slott is going with his character assassination, Spider-Man’s already fighting Aquaman for the top spot in my list of heroes I really see no point in existing.