Captain America

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

captain-america-civil-war

2016 – Half of the Avengers vote for Trump; the other half votes for Clinton. 

In my review of The Green Hornet, I took issue with the fact that one of the biggest fights was the two good guys beating each other up. Why not have your biggest fights be against the bad guys?

Well, Captain America: Civil War is basically a two-and-a-half-hour conflict (I won’t say “fight” because they fight for maybe a combined 10 minutes) between the good guys, and there is no bad guy. What a dumb concept that is, from a dramatic perspective: do we really think that Captain America will kill Iron Man? Or that Spider-Man will kill Ant-Man? Or that Falcon will kill Black Panther?

By the way, who the fuck are “Falcon” and “Black Panther”?!? And why is the guy’s name “Black Panther”? Panthers are black. That’s like calling someone “White Dove” or “Silver-Backed Silverback Gorilla.” Or is it because the guy is black?

I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with the plot.

Remember how Star Wars fans criticized the original trilogy because there wasn’t enough politics, and applauded the prequel trilogy for including a lot more politics? Well, the brains at Marvel were paying attention, because this movie is like The American President meets All the President’s Men. We don’t want plots like “supervillain threatens the world,” we want a plot like “the United Nations writes up an enormous treaty limiting superhero activity and the superheroes disagree over whether to sign it or not.”

That’s the actual storyline of this movie. The storyline is shit.

Oh, and there is a bad guy, but he’s the 14th-billed person in the cast. When you have a superhero movie with at least 13 superheroes and ONE villain (who is in no way super), you’ve got a problem. Carrying on the tradition of Marvel making its very few well-known cool villains as lame as possible, we get Zemo.

Not Baron Zemo:

Bad-ass

Bad-ass

No, just Zemo:

Suck-ass

Suck-ass

I mean, come ON. This guy is more of a nerd than the guy they got to play Spider-Man, who is supposed to be a nerd! He looks like The Miz’s gay younger brother. And the costumes… there’s no comparison. Super-cool Baron Zemo has a sick mask and nice fur highlights. Ultra-lame movie Zemo looks like he’s relaxing backstage at the Strawbridge and Clothier catalog shoot. He sucks, doesn’t do anything, and (not a spoiler, since it’s a Marvel movie) doesn’t die at the end.

The bad guy is shit.

Skipping about two-thirds of the way through the movie (because, honestly, NOTHING happens for the first two-thirds), we finally get what I presume everyone wanted: the big fight, Team Iron Man vs. Team Captain America, the world’s most well-known heroic characters all in one scene!

civil-war-lame-lineup

That’s obviously… uh… Swoop Man there on the left, and… um… Metal Arm on the right, and I think the other guy is Green Arrow, and… alright, I honestly only know Captain America and Ant-Man, who looks exactly like the Cobra Strato Viper with a silver helmet:

civil-war-strato-viper

But okay, maybe Team Iron Man will have all the well-known guys.

captain-america-team-iron-man

Since the one on the left is Black Panther, is the guy on the right Black Iron Man (he’s also actually a black guy)? Also, you have to note how ridiculously unbalanced these teams are. The fact that this is even a fight really strains credibility.

The hero vs. hero battle is decent, for a battle in which you KNOW nobody is going to die. But keep in mind that the rest of the movie is this:

"I make a motion for more long talking scenes." "APPROVED!"

“I make a motion for more long talking scenes.” “I second that.” “APPROVED!”

It’s like 12 Angry Men, with superheroes! Please note that the character who is a ROBOT is wearing a button-up blouse with a sweater. And nothing says “excitement!” like multiple carafes of water!

Everybody talks about how Spider-Man is in this movie and how awesome he is, but honestly, my cup runneth over with Spider-Man at this point. Tom Holland does a decent job, but he’s no Tobey Maguire. And Aunt May… let’s talk about Aunt May for a moment. This is Aunt May:

civil-war-aunt-may-1

In the movies, THESE are Aunt May:

civil-war-aunt-may-2 civil-war-aunt-may-3

And in Captain America: Civil War, this is Aunt May:

civil-war-aunt-may-4

Aunt May… is shit. They had one – ONE – character who is universally accepted as an elderly woman, and they get Marisa Tomei (of hot The Wrestler sex scene fame) to portray her. Simply abominable.

Some readers think that I’m faking my dislike for these movies. I’m not. I genuinely did not like Captain America: Civil War in almost any way. I thought it was logistically ponderous, visually uninteresting, and dramatically flat – all the hallmarks of the increasingly bloated Marvel “cinematic universe.”

The movie I saw just before this one: John Wick: Chapter 2. It was like having the best sex of my life, then cutting my own balls off and vomiting into the wound.

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ZOMBIE MOVIE DOUBLE FEATURE – 7/21/14

Dead Snow – 2009

A ski vacation turns horrific for a group of medical students, as they find themselves confronted by an unimaginable menace*: Nazi zombies.

*I can imagine the menace pretty well.

This is one of those movies where the zombies run and make animal noises. I’m a purist: I prefer the ones that shamble and moan. It’s also a Norwegian movie, which I’ve loved since Trollhunter. There’s just something about that dialect that grabs me and won’t let go.

It was pretty hard to figure out what the characters’ names were, so I named them by their basic character traits: Cool Guy, Nerd Guy, Fat Guy, Joke Guy (males), Blond, Brunette and Hippie (females). Oh, and Cool Guy’s girlfriend, who gets killed in the first two minutes, is Sara. Everyone is heading up to Cool Guy’s cabin for generic goofing and boozing. Conveniently, a grim mountain man shows up to warn them that a ruthless gang of Nazis fled to this area with all their ill-gotten WWII booty and froze to death. Turns out that their loot (which fits into one container the size of a cigar box) is hidden right beneath the cabin. (Insert wacky trombone sound effect)

The first 45 minutes are actually pretty effective, with just the right mix of atmosphere, build-up and gore. Just a few notes: can we NOT have horror movies where the characters discuss other horror movies? Scream came out in 1996. We don’t still need to be doing it. There’s also an odd scene where the Nerd sits on the Hippie’s hands, blindfolds her, and starts to smother her with a pillow. I’m not even trying to be funny – I don’t understand the point of it. It’s almost as weird as the later scene where Cool Guy eats a sandwich that is comprised of one piece of bread and a slice of cheese.

WHAT IS THIS???

WHAT IS THIS???

The Nazi zombies use their own brand of BEAST VISION:

I'm not impressed.

I’m not impressed.

The best scene in the movie revolves entirely around the outhouse (I often find this to be the case). Fat Guy stands up, and the following dialog is heard: “I’m going for a shit.” “Best of luck!” It’s solid gold. Fat declares, “I’ll be back” in English, which sounds weird. He does his business and has time for ONE WIPE of toilet paper before Brunette enters, mounts him, and presumably does the whole deal right there on the seat. I just couldn’t get over the fact that he only wiped once. The odds were really against him getting everything on the first pass.

Unfortunately, the final 45 minutes really fall flat. When the Nazi zombies show up in force, they start to lose all their creativity. They do the “let one of the survivors see the dead friend’s head” gag, and they go to the well on the “a bunch of zombies grabs a guy and tears him apart” thing TWICE. They also appear to be brimming with fresh blood and viscera, judging by the stuff they’re constantly spewing out of their mouths. That’s odd, if they’ve been frozen up there for 70+ years.

Things jump the shark when the Boss Zombie (Orjan Gamst) shows up and starts using BINOCULARS to direct his zombie troops (including a squad of mini-boss SS zombies). Then it vaults the whale when the Boss Zombie leans back and bellows “ARISE!” to summon more zombies from the snow to help him.

...Okay.

…Okay.

In terms of overall quality, I enjoyed this Nazi-oriented feature a lot more than Captain American: The First Avenger. They actually showed swastikas in this one.

Last Love – 2013

A look at the life-changing connection between a retired and widowed* American philosophy professor and a young Parisian woman.

*And zombified.

This is one of those movies where the zombies talk. I’m a traditionalist: I like my zombies inarticulate. Then again, this is definitely not your typical zombie movie.

I have to hand it to this one: they don’t wait a second before getting down to the zombie action.

The embodiment of living death.

The embodiment of living death.

WHAM! The first shot is of our main zombie. I don’t know how they got him to do it, but Michael Caine is without a doubt the most distinguished actor to ever portray a zombie (even more than Dead Snow‘s Orjan Gamst). Our very first scene shows him crouched over his last victim (I presume). It’s apparently his wife, which really adds a tragic element to the story. He’s so intent upon trying to feast on her corpse that policemen literally have to drag him away. “I won’t leave her!” he snarls. “I won’t leave her!” Caine is truly one of our finest actors; he convinced me that he was a bloodthirsty monster.

As one might expect, Caine’s portrayal of the living dead is a little different than what we might be used to. He talks (although it’s definitely a mumble-y kind of talking), dresses himself and goes out to restaurants. I guess this is supposed to be sad, seeing the zombie still retaining enough of its humanity to go about its daily routine. The weird thing – this is a French movie, after all – is that people don’t seem phased by having a shuffling, saggy-looking old zombie in their midst. Is this a commentary on how we are all, in a sense, zombies? It’s a little over my head.

One complaint: this movie moves much too slowly. When Caine begins stalking his next victim – a young woman named Pauline – it takes him forever. He moves in with halting, awkward conversation, gaining her trust, I guess trying to lure her away on her own. But Caine appears to retain some scraps of morality – it’s almost as though he doesn’t want to kill her. You can tell he’s struggling with himself not to get too close, as though the smell of her young, vital flesh might be enough to send him over the edge.

The predator and its prey.

The predator and its prey.

There’s also an older woman that he stalks for the first third of the film, but he’s more interested in the younger Pauline. The older lady disappears eventually, and I have to conclude that Caine ate her.

This movie is a real mind-bender. Oddly, Pauline seems almost hypnotized by the specter of death constantly lurking around her. Then again, is not death itself seductive? I was on the edge of my seat for literally every scene where they were alone, wondering whether this was the moment that Caine would bite her throat out. Actually the body count was a little on the light side for a zombie film… Caine doesn’t even butcher her boyfriend.

They missed out on a lot of chances for great zombie moments. When Caine decides to shave his beard, I wanted to see him shaving off little bits of his flesh, too, and I figured the next scene would be him shambling along, blood dripping down his chin, teeth showing through his ravaged cheeks. But they really skimped on the special effects and makeup.

Make note: Last Love features the only romantic boating scene in a zombie movie.

Things really go off the rails in the second half of the film. Caine attempts suicide, but instead of blowing his brains out, he takes pills. No wonder it doesn’t work. His son and daughter show up, and it’s almost as though it becomes some sort of French absurdist comedy. I didn’t like it. The son and daughter do seem mad about Caine killing their mother (or at least they’re mad about something), but why are they so casual about the situation? They make nary an attempt to slay him. It really strains credibility.

My interest was re-awakened, however, when we see that the SON is also moving in on Pauline. Woah. What a twist, right? Even though I didn’t fully understand it – is the son supposed to be a zombie too? – I loved it. The two of them are clearly locking horns over who gets to feast on Pauline’s organs. Despite my hope for a real zombie vs. zombie battle to close things out, the ending was still touching. With what is perhaps the last vestige of his human feelings, Caine gives up his last victim – his last love, if you will – to his son. The film ends with the son escorting Pauline into the distance where, I must assume, he slaughters her.

The haunting final image of "Last Love."

The haunting final image of “Last Love.”

If you ask me, these films could have benefited from a little name swapping. Dead Snow should have become Last Snow, and Last Love should have been called Dead Love. Honestly, it would have reinforced the whole zombie aspect, which was a little hard to pick up on if you weren’t looking for it.

CAPTAIN AMERICA THE FIRST AVENGER – 5/27/14

2011

This awkwardly titled yawner was directed by Joe Johnston, who also directed The Rocketeer (1991). I’d rather watch that one.

One thing I’ve noticed about these Marvel movies – people are always finding things. This time around, it starts with some generic government guys very obviously finding Captain America. Then we flash back to 1942. THIS IS A HUGE PROBLEM. When I saw that the first scene of the movie is in the present day, I was thunderstruck. This is just awful, awful storytelling. I’ll explain later.

Right off the bat, the creativity blows me away. The bad guy is played by Agent Smith from The Matrix. Can you believe it? What daring casting! Wow, and Toby Jones is a creepy bug-eyed Nazi scientist. Really playing against type. Tommy Lee Jones as a gruff leather-faced old army guy? You can tell they wanted to go in completely new and unexpected directions with this one.

The dialog is equally inspiring. “Boy,” some guy says, reading a newspaper about the war, “a lotta guys gettin’ killed over there!”  “Faster ladies. My grandma has more life in her,” says a drill instructor. I bet Full Metal Jacket wishes it had lines as original as that!  “The son of a bitch did it,” says the skeptical old military guy after the successful outcome of an experiment. Wow, did Dashiell Hammett write this? “You told me I was meant for more than this. Did you mean that?” Captain America asks his girlfriend. “Every word,” she replies. She meant all seven words?

Agent Smith is the bland, uninteresting Johann Schmidt a.k.a. Red Skull (although that’s how everyone knows the character, only one person in the movie calls him that). He gets his hands on the Tesseract, the unnamed MacGuffin of the film that becomes the MacGuffin of The Avengers, too. More creativity! Just like how the villain in Thor is also the villain in The Avengers and re-appears in Thor: The Dark World. Or how we get to see Howard Stark, the father of Iron Man. Why do we need these constant dumb cross-over appearances? It’s almost as though Marvel knows that none of its lame-ass heroes (other than Spiderman) can actually stand on their own.

One might ask, “What does Red Skull want with the Tesseract?” Well, Red Skull was a Nazi agent in the comics, so I assume he’s going to use it to make those ubiquitous Nazi super-weapons (like the jet packs in The Rocketeer). But it turns out that he wants it for himself, so that he can… uh… your guess is as good as mine.

That’s another major flaw for this movie. You have no idea what the bad guy is up to or why he wants to do anything. The “climax” of the film feels like anything but – we’re just told that Red Skull wants to “destroy half the world.” Why? How? With what? The flamethrowers and laser tanks we saw earlier? Red Skull is making all these weapons, but the good guys just blow them up right away – we never get any scenes of Tommy Lee muttering, “Damn, these laser tanks are kicking our asses. We might lose the war.” That would have helped lend some urgency.

Instead of creating, you know, a plot, the movie piles on the redundant characters and meaningless scenes. For instance, Red Skull is introduced as “a brilliant scientist.” Then why does he need Toby Jones to be his scientist? Oh, right – so he can get captured and conveniently reveal the villain’s (vague) plan at the end. He serves no other purpose in the film.

But thank goodness we get all the trappings of a generic Marvel superhero movie! We get a generic “failing at Basic Training” montage that would put Paul Blart: Mall Cop to shame, complete with the bully who needlessly sabotages the efforts of our hero! We get a generic “hero on roof of villain’s car while villain shoots up at him” sequence! We get the “hero chases an aircraft as it takes off” scene!

Here’s something else that bugged me: what’s with the stupid two-fisted salute and the “Hail Hydra” instead of “Heil Hitler”? Why wasn’t Red Skull a Nazi agent working for Hitler, like he was in the comics? Here’s the answer – Marvel is greedy. For all their preening about how faithful they are to the original characters and stories, they wanted to make as much cash as possible with this movie. Look for a swastika – you won’t find one. In a World War II movie where the villain is a Nazi and the hero is famous for fighting the Nazis. This is unacceptable, cheesy, and awkward.

Captain America is far too long. I got to 33:48 and realized there hadn’t been a single action scene yet – 25% of the way through the movie! At 50 minutes in, we still weren’t shown Red Skull’s actual face. After 81 minutes, the only action we got was a car chase and the “base rescue” sequence. It just dragged. Just because you can afford to make a movie 123 minutes long doesn’t mean you have to.

I wanted to spend some more time on how impossibly diverse Captain America’s team is (a black guy AND an Asian guy? How integrated was the Army in the 1940s?) and how lame the villain’s “death” is (he picks up the MacGuffin and gets zapped into space… come on, Marvel, kill a bad guy for once!). What I really want to address is the ending.

We see Captain America open his eyes at 1:50:40… and since we already know they dug him out of the ice at the very beginning of the movie, we know he’s waking up in the present day.

At 1:52 he realizes there’s something fishy about the radio broadcast. Yeah, because it’s not the 1940s. It’s the present day. We know. You told us two hours ago.

At 1:52:43, he runs into Times Square and realizes that it’s the present day… which we all already know, since they gave it away at the beginning of the movie.

Cars suddenly pull up all around him and we hear, “At ease, soldier.” We see Nicholas L. Fury, and he’s already standing in the middle of the street while his agents are still opening their car doors behind him. HOW DID HE GET THERE SO FAST?

At 1:53:20, Fury tells Cap that he’s been asleep for nearly 70 years. But we already know that, because it was revealed at the beginning of the movie. Then the movie ends with him realizing that the girl he loved is either super old, or super dead.

Damn. What a downer. The end! Sleep well, kids!

This whole sequence was completely unnecessary. That scene could have been powerful. We could have shared Cap’s shock as he realized the world he knew was long gone. We could have been overwhelmed by the lights and sounds of Times Square right along with him. We could have felt a moment of genuine shared emotion with this character.

But no. We couldn’t. Because we knew exactly what was going on the whole time. BECAUSE THE MOVIE GAVE IT AWAY IN THE VERY FIRST SCENE. This is pathetic. This is a storytelling disaster.

This is Captain America: The First Avenger.

Oh, and the one girl they take to the “world of the future” expo looked a lot like the chinchilla girl from SNL. It wasn’t her. But I got really excited for a second.