348. Film Club: Marvel / Captain America Civil War (Part 2)

Here is part 2 of this episode about superhero films and the Marvel cinematic universe. Before you listen to this I suggest that you listen to part 1. Click here for part 1. Where was I at the end of the last episode? I was giving you my history of superhero movies over the last 30-40 years, and the plan is to go into more detail about the recent Marvel films and then review the new Captain America movie. So, let’s continue.

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…There was that Incredible Hulk film directed by Ang Lee from I guess around 2002 or 2003. I thought that was actually pretty good but the special effects were a bit dodgy. They didn’t quite get the Hulk right – he looked a bit like a big green angry floaty baby having a tantrum, but the character development was good and I thought Eric Bana did a good job as the main character and there was an amazing scene where hulk fights with his father underwater. Then we had those Fantastic 4 films, which were pretty crap – nothing to mention really. And then there was that new Fantastic Four film that came out last year, which was a disaster so the less said about that the better. The X-Men films which have gone up and down in terms of quality, although I enjoyed the reboot with new actors like Fassbender, James McAvoy and Jennifer Lawrence. Also, I really like Wolverine as a character. He’s probably the outstanding character from the X-Men series and he has had a couple of solo films which have been mixed. I think Wolverine is a character who deserves better films. X-Men movies are always better when Wolverine is involved. There’s a new X-Man movie, which has just come out – X-Man: Apocalypse, and I’m going to see that later today. For some reason it’s all about superhero films at the moment.

So, those Marvel films that I just mentioned are not in fact made by Marvel and they have been a bit mixed in terms of quality but one thing’s for sure – audiences love these characters and if they’re done right then the films are guaranteed to be a huge success. Also, I guess Marvel saw the box office success that DC achieved with the new Batman films, especially The Dark Knight and decided that they would like a piece of that pie.

Marvel’s plan (I think headed by an executive Kevin Feige) was to start financing and producing their own films, rather than licensing them to other people like Sony, 20th Century Fox etc, with characters that they had exclusive rights to, and build a catalogue of awesome films which are all set in the same universe. This would also allow the studio to have creative control, which is a good idea because nobody knows or cares about these characters more than Marvel themselves, except maybe the guy who created most of them – Stan Lee. The characters that were left were principally those involved in the Avengers storyline – so, that’s Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Falcon, Black Panther, Nick Fury and others.

The overall plan was to establish these characters in their own films, which would essentially be origin stories for the characters, and then bring those characters together at regular intervals in big event movies that would be so irresistible to audiences that all the box office records would be smashed and they’d make tons of money.

That’s exactly what they’ve done.

Starting with Iron Man in 2006, Marvel have brought out 13 films in the last 10 years, not to mention a few TV spin offs like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Agent Carter and Daredevil (and some others too).

Captain America: Civil War is the 13th film in the series and it marks the beginning of Phase 3 in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe.

Yep, the MCU is releasing films in phases. You could consider these films to be like massive, feature-length, high-budget episodes in a huge cinematic series. Every film adds elements to this larger universe. This is a very effective marketing strategy because the success of any one film in the MCU leads to the success of the series as a whole and the movies in which more than one character feature instantly gain a certain value. I mean – it’s exciting when Tony Stark appears in a Hulk movie, or when Ant Man turns up in a Captain America film, or even better – when they all feature in the same movie on the same team, or even against each other.

Oh and by the way, I haven’t mentioned Deadpool yet. So here I am mentioning Deadpool.
Deadpool is a very popular Marvel character who seems to exist in the X-Men universe. He’s a bit different because he is very comical – he constantly breaks the fourth wall – plenty of comments to the audience, winks to the camera and tons of jokes. I haven’t seen the Deadpool film, but apparently it’s brilliant.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (13 movies so far, plus some spin-off TV shows)

Here’s a summary of the 12 films we’ve had so far and how they fit into the 3 phases of the MCU. Captain America: Civil War is the 13th. I’m reading from the Marvel Cinematic Universe Wikia. Again, I’m no expert, so forgive me if I get any little details wrong. Please feel free to add your comments. The only film I haven’t seen is the Incredible Hulk movie, and I gather that it’s the weakest of the series.

Phase One (origins stories of the superheroes – the creation of the avengers)

Phrase Two (The heroes continue to work alone, new characters are introduced, the infinity stones are revealed to be powerful artefacts that can affect the universe, Thanos is the big bad guy who wants to get all the infinity stones and dominate the universe, The Avengers face the aftermath of their destructive battles to save the world)

Phase Three (Things get complicated for the Avengers after the damage they caused while fighting various bad guys – should the superheroes be subject to government control or not? the team gets split up, Thanos continues to try and collect infinity stones)

Captain America: Civil War – My Review

I’ll avoid major spoilers.
First thoughts – the action is absolutely wicked. It opens with some amazing fighting by Captain America and his team. He’s got a brutal fighting style and there’s quite a lot of realism in these fight scenes, even if he is an enhanced human. He’s a bit like Jason Bourne, but super-strength. So there’s some bone-crunching combat with Captain America and the others doing all their martial arts and so on. From the start it’s exciting, fun and it puts you on the edge of your seat. It seems original in its realism.
Right mix of realism and comic book fantasy.
*Written notes* – I’m reading from some notes I wrote on paper after I watched the film.

The Winter Soldier is ace. He’s like an out of control Captain America and he’s got a bionic arm.
Black Panther is pretty cool – even if he is dressed as a panther and I think that’s a bit silly. I’ve always had a problem with characters who have little pointy ears on their suits. But he is mysterious and he’s got wicked style and brilliant martial art. We don’t know much about him at this stage, probably because they’re going to make a Black Panther movie at some point. What I know is that he’s the king of a country called Wakanda, and he does have super powers.

For example there’s a scene in which he is being chased through the streets by Captain America. All the characters are running at about 50kph, including the Black Panther. It’s really well done. Also, they managed to set up his character motivation very efficiently in just a few scenes. The actor who plays him has a certain quiet charisma. I’m looking forward to seeing more from him.

Black Widow – Natasha Romanov is played by Scarlett Johanson and she looks really hot in this film, again. But Black Widow is a lot more than just eye candy of course – she is a formidable character with really impressive fighting skills and an important place within the team.

Ant Man has some great moments in this movie, and Paul Rudd brings a lot of comic charm to the role again.
No surprise that Spiderman is in this one and his appearance is great. They’ve cast a very young actor to play him, and that’s a good move because Spiderman is best when he’s an adolescent just discovering his powers. His appearance is great fun and it’s fantastic to see Spiderman interacting with other Marvel characters finally.
Falcon is not developed as a character much, but as a hero he has some really cool moments – like this amazing double kick that he does, and the way he uses his falcon-drone.
There are other characters too.

The main villain is quite understated but is more original than a lot of movie bad guys.
I’m going to talk more about the individual characters in the next episode when I talk to my Marvel expert friend Paul Langton.

Themes & subtexts
There are political themes and personal themes.
Iron Man’s story = the weapons dealer who realises that military strength needs to be subjected to government control.
Captain America = the soldier who believes that The Avengers are essentially the good guys, and therefore they should be free to use all the power they have at their disposal.
The whole thing could be about US military policy.
The franchise manages to somehow heal wounds of 9/11 by framing the large-scale destruction in New York as a victory for our heroes, albeit a victory at a cost. The films then go on to explore notions of military power, and the complex sense of responsibility that goes along with that power. The Avengers have an obligation to protect the people of earth at all costs, but what about the collateral damage that happens as a result of their fighting?
This centres around an agreement that the UN wants the Avengers to sign, which essentially gives the UN the power to overrule the Avengers, so they essentially work for the UN. Tony Stark thinks it’s necessary, to prevent other catastrophes.
Captain America essentially believes that you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs.
This is a pretty complex moral problem.
Should the team be given total freedom – to cross borders etc at the cost of some loss of life?

So those are some themes.

Which one do I agree with Iron Man or Captain America? Which one do I prefer?

In terms of their positions – I sort of agree with both. I think they should be accountable to someone – like the government, but there’s always a chance that governments will become corrupt. So, signing an accord to register The Avengers as ‘government controlled asset’ seems a bit sketchy. Governments always end up being corrupt. But The Avengers can’t just go around causing collateral damage without being accountable for it, so they should have some regulation. It’s a tough call.

In the end the film doesn’t quite deal with those complex political questions and instead it turns into a personal story (because politics is a bit heavy). I think they’ve left it up to us to decide who we think won the civil war. And remember, winning the battle and winning the war are not the same thing. It’ll be interesting to see how the relationship between Cap and Iron Man continues.

IN terms of screen time – I prefer Captain America in the action sequences, and Tony Stark in the dramatic sequences.
Cap is a brilliant soldier and his fight scenes involve a lot of hand to hand combat which is usually done really well, but his dramatic scenes can be a bit dry. He’s quite a simple character really – just a wholesome guy who wants to do the right thing. He’s a little bit bland.
On the other hand, Tony Stark/Iron Man is a fascinating mix of intellect, ego, arrogance and conflicted emotion. Robert Downey Junior is a fascinating actor, with tons of charisma and humanity. You also get the sense that he’s on the edge all the time, which gives Tony Stark a really exciting, dangerous and human quality to him. But I find his action scenes less interesting because essentially it’s a suit flying around – it’s all computer graphics and I find that less appealing – even though the studio has done a really great job on the special effects. Iron Man is a lot better than most other special effects we’ve seen in other movies. You get this feeling that it’s real, it’s heavy and it’s an incredibly complex piece of engineering. But I just prefer Captain America’s bone-crunching stunt work.
Also, I’m never completely convinced by how powerful Tony Stark’s suit is. How powerful are those energy blasts that he has? Can’t he just shoot Captain America’s head off with that?

– it’s a bit too long (it’s even longer than this episode of the podcast). It was so long that I had to take a toilet break. That’s always like a secret agent mission. A ninja mission. Sneaking out to go to the loo during a film at the cinema.
– I have an issue with the powers of some of these characters. There’s quite a lot of grey area.
E.g. what is Scarlet Witch’s power exactly? If she can control objects, even large ones, then can’t she just pick people up and fling them about, or send them into space? I suppose it takes her a lot of energy and effort. I’m not sure where her power comes from – I think it’s from Loki’s septre, but I’m not sure.
What about The Vision? Can he just be stopped with an electromagnetic pulse? Can you just turn off his wifi? Can you unplug him? If you spin a rainbow umbrella in front of his face will he just pause?
If I ask him to do too many things at the same time will he crash?
He looks a bit silly too. It works in the comics, but in live action he’s strange – especially since I think he can choose how he looks. Why that look? And he’s wearing a sweater in order to try and blend in.
I’m nit picking. Perhaps he’s just discovering his powers. We’ll probably learn more about him in future episodes. I hope so because he’s actually quite interesting. He can lift Thor’s hammer for example.
In the film the Avengers become divided and actually fight each other, but I’m never really convinced that they really want to do damage to each other. So, the fight sequence seems a bit like American Wrestling – big characters beating each other up but you never really believe they’re trying to hurt each other for real, but the large battle sequences are handled very well and there are some interesting twists and humourous surprises.
There are a few plot holes in the film – like aspects of the story that don’t make sense, for example the inconsistencies or vagueness of the super powers of the characters, but really these films don’t need to make sense and I don’t really care about these issues when the film is so enjoyable, dramatic and funny.

So, overall, this film is a bit long but it manages to cram in some really interesting character development, some big themes, a mix of realism and fantasy in the action sequences and some dazzling moments of spectacle. If you like superhero films, this has got to be one of the best so far.

What did you think? Have you seen it?
What about other Marvel films? What do you think of them? Which is your favourite?
Also, did I miss anything important?
Please leave your comments and remember not to give away any big spoilers.
Thanks for listening!

This is the first in a trilogy of superhero-themed podcast episodes. The next one will be that conversation with my Marvel-geek friend Paul Langton in which we talk about the characters in more detail and decide who is the strongest, and the 3rd part is another movie review – yep, just this afternoon I went to see another superhero movie, X-Men: Apocalypse. I have some fairly strong opinions on that, but you’ll have to wait for that to find out what I think of the film.

That’s it for this one! BYE!