superhero movies

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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X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

Hey, fans! Focus on these younger, sexier cast members!

Hey, fans! Focus on these younger, sexier cast members!

2014 – With the mutants and their human allies being exterminated by evil Sentinel robots, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) travels back in time to disrupt continuity as much as possible.

What would the Mad Magazine parody of this be called? Days of Future AssedDays of Future Passed Gas?

This is a time travel movie.

Strike one.

All time travel movies since Back to the Future are exactly the same. As soon as you realize something is a time travel movie, you’re locked into the same stale tropes that Marty and Doc struggled with (before Parkinson’s and senility set in, of course). Oh no, something we did in the past had unexpected repercussions. Oh good, something else we did resulted in a future identical to the one we had before, but happier. The end.

The good thing about Days of Future Past is that nobody cares what they might change. You see, back in the 1970s, shape-shifting mutant Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) –

This movie has Jennifer Lawrence in it.

Strike two.

– killed a scientist named Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) because he was building an army of anti-mutant robots. This backfired, though, and only allowed Trask’s minions to make the robots more powerful. Now, in the “present day,” the last X-Men come up with a crazy idea. Stick with me, because this is complicated:

Mutant Kitty Pryde (the boyishly handsome Ellen Page) has the power to pass through solid objects. Turns out, she can also send people back in time. Pretty useful, right? Seems like something they might have wanted to look into way before they’re about to be killed. Unfortunately, nobody can go back in time because it really hurts. Guess they’re out of luck, right?

WAIT A SECOND HERE – don’t we have a mutant who can almost instantly heal all damage he sustains? Oh yeah! Wolverine! Wow, pretty crazy nobody thought of this before. Professor X (the always dignified but increasingly pitiable Patrick Stewart) tells Wolverine that he’ll have to convince the young and troubled Professor X (James McAvoy) that he’s from the future, and then prevent the assassination. That way everything will turn out great.

Along the way, they’ll have to recruit a young Magneto (Michael Fassbender) because… um… I forget. In order to get him out of prison, they recruit a mutant who is so fast he can beat up a room full of guys and pluck bullets out of the air. Fortunately for the plot, this mutant disappears immediately afterward and is never heard from again. Seemed like he would have come in handy, but hey. You know. It’s in the script.

This movie doesn’t care about anything, which I have to respect. Why does the Wolverine of the past look exactly like the Wolverine of the future? WHO CARES! Why does James McAvoy look and sound nothing like Patrick Stewart? SO WHAT? How does the attempted assassination of the President and the literal uprooting of an entire football stadium somehow result in a future identical to our own, but with only some of the bad parts removed? IT DOESN’T MATTER!

It must all be thanks to that scrappy Wolverine guy. After all, he tells Professor X to start his mutant school and find all the same mutants to help – so he does. He tells the Professor that he and Magneto will eventually become friends again – so they presumably do. It’s that easy!

This may be obvious to X-Men fans, but Days of Future Past seems to be a complete reboot of the series. Thanks to this time travel jawn, all the continuity is reset and everyone is played by a new, younger actor. Except for Wolverine. He’s sort of the Judi Dench of this series – the much-loved holdover from the old continuity who stays on to make the fans happy.

Plot aside, I can’t say that this is a bad movie. It’s certainly a cut above the other X-Men I’ve seen, and it’s always fun to watch the likes of Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, and Ian McKellen (who, by the way, somehow looks OLDER without that Gandalf beard to cover his appalling turkey neck). Even the acting is good… well, with one noteworthy exception. Jennifer Lawrence. She is HORRIBLE in this movie. Watch that scene where she’s wearing the floppy black hat and unnecessary midriff-baring shirt and tell me she’s giving a good performance. I know she’s in this movie strictly so she can prance around in a latex bodysuit, but come ON. This is an Academy Award winner? What a joke.

The other familiar flaws of Marvel movies rear their oft-seen heads, of course… awkward, pretentious dialogue, the lack of a strong central villain… but why even point these things out? Nobody cares.

Days of Future Past holds a 91% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Strike three.

DEADPOOL

2016 – A cliche superhero origin story is told via an endless succession of Family Guy cutaway gags.

Quick question: why is Ryan Reynolds famous? I know his name, but why? Is it because he starred in Big Monster on Campus and Van Wilder: Party Liaison? Is it because he was married to Scarlett Johansson and has a baby with Blake Lively? Is it because of his “trademarks,” according to IMDB?

Has appeared in several superhero/comic book adaptations

Often plays likable regular guys

Sarcastic sharp edged wit

Is “has appeared in movies” really a trademark? I know, this is a lot of questions. But one of the purported “jokes” in Deadpool is that the titular hero is a character played by Ryan Reynolds. Personally, I did not find this as shocking or amusing as I think I was supposed to. It wasn’t like when Henry Fonda played the villain in Once Upon A Time In The West. This was just… I don’t know, Ryan Reynolds was in R.I.P.D. What shit WOULDN’T he appear in?

Don’t believe the hype: Deadpool is a shit movie, the latest Z-grade “superhero” that Marvel is shoving down our throats. The protagonist, Wade Wilson (a.k.a. Deadpool), makes a living as a “mercenary.” From what we see, being a mercenary involves hanging out at a cool mercenary bar (you know the kind) and threatening a teenage pizza delivery boy because he’s “stalking” a pretty girl at school. After completing this incredible mission, Wilson appears in person to the teenage girl, who presumably hired him herself, to tell her that all is well. This begs a critical question: even in a comic book movie, can I believe that such a scenario could actually happen?

Wilson meets Vanessa (Firefly‘s Morena Baccarin) and they fall in love, but WHAM! He has terminal cancer. The only possible cure is some shady operation run by the obviously evil Ajax (Ed Skrein) that tortures people until they become super-powered mutant slaves. Seriously, that’s the concept. Wilson gains vague invincibility powers, but at the cost of looking more like Michael Chiklis than Ryan Reynolds. The rest of the movie is Wilson seeking revenge on the people who disfigured him. And that’s it.

Since the story has no twists and zero suspense (when your hero cuts his own hand off to escape and re-grows it overnight, what danger is he ever really in?), they resort to the ol’ Tarantino show-scenes-out-of-order act. Even worse, this is still a Marvel movie, so somebody propped up the desiccated corpse of Stan Lee for a cameo. Enough, already. Does he even realize what movies he’s appearing in anymore?

I’ve rarely sat through a film more unfocused and meandering. The “scenes” are more like a collection of five-second clips, interspersed with Deadpool looking at the camera and addressing the audience. Apparently this concept, created specifically for this movie, is known as “breaking the 4th wall.” It’s something that has never, ever been done before in the history of television or film or drama or literature, ever. And boy, does it generate the laughs. You see, this is a superhero movie that makes fun of the conventions of superhero movies! This concept is known as “parody.” You can read all about it on Wikipedia.

Confusingly, while Deadpool seems to be aware of many of the the artificial trappings of his superhero world, he is blind to others. For instance, he’s aware that he’s a bad-ass, “different” kind of superhero, but he’s not aware that the movie features a hilarious timid Indian cab driver character. So fresh and original! There’s also a few things that just don’t make sense, like the scene when Deadpool reveals he discovered Ajax’s real name… despite the fact that he’s been strapped to a hospital gurney by the arms, legs, and neck. How did he do this background check in such a situation?

This is a watch-it-and-forget movie. After seeing it, and forgetting most of it, there is no reason to ever watch Deadpool again. So cut out the middleman and just don’t see it at all.

Oh, and there’s nudity, but no more than your average episode of The Sopranos. I’m guessing this won’t stop hipster parents from taking their young children to see 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.

THE AVENGERS – 4/14/14

2012

Alright, so… where do we go from here?

This movie is 143 minutes long (counting the 6-minute end credits). That’s almost as long as There Will Be Blood. Does the story of The Avengers really need that long to be told? Exactly four things happen in this movie: the bad guy shows up and steals a doomsday device, the good guys assemble their team, they capture the bad guy but he escapes, he turns on the device and the aliens from Halo attack New York City.

Mixed in there we’ve got an aircraft carrier that both flies and turns invisible, we’ve got Iron Man fighting Thor, we’ve got Thor fighting the Incredible Hulk, we’ve got giant flying alien monsters, and we’ve got long, LONG talking scenes that “develop” characters who have all already had at least one movie completely to themselves.

My eyes hurt and my brain feels like it’s ready to ooze down into my jaw. These superhero movies have become so big, so bloated, so overblown in scope and self-reverence, that they literally numb the senses. By the end, the sight of a gigantic space monster’s fin gouging a big hole in a building was actually dull. That sight – a wonder, a marvel produced by movie-making technology it took over half a century to develop – was boring. Seeing said monster crash into Grand Central Station and die was routine. I kept checking the time – “Still 45 minutes left?” – and wondering why I had to see yet another scene where a guy punches another guy through a wall.

The plot sloughs from one city-crushing CGI battle to another with tedious inevitability. Will Tony Stark get hit in the balls and utter a wry quip that belies his physical pain? Will the Hulk do something incongruously zany to lighten the mood? Will we get slow-motion shots of stuff exploding and people running away? We sure will! And I hope you liked them, because you’ll be seeing them again. And again.

There is no unifying style, no “look.” Everything is slick and shiny and cold. Colors that should be bright – Captain America’s shield, Iron Man’s armor, Hulk’s skin – are dulled and grimy-looking. When you turn on one of the Tim Burton Batman movies, you know it’s a Batman movie. You see the urban decay, the almost liquid shadows, the flashy, twisted outfits of the villains. Watching these modern superhero movies, they could be anything. Loki and Thor might have wandered out of Lord of the Rings; Black Widow looks like a Bourne escapee.

When Superman came out in 1978, its tag line was “You’ll believe a man can fly.”  There was a genuine wide-eyed sense of awe at seeing a comic book superhero brought to life on the big screen. Now we can see a man not only fly, but intercept a nuclear missile in mid-flight, take it through a space portal, use it to blow up an alien mother ship, and fall back to Earth without batting an eye.

What happened to us?

8 Movie Cliches I’m Really Tired Of That Appeared In The Avengers

  1. Samuel L. Jackson. Can he not be in every movie playing the cool, intense guy who shouts a lot? Thanks.
  2. People saying “With me,” and having other people fall into line behind them as they stride purposefully down a hallway.
  3. People saying “Talk to me,” when they need information in a tense moment. What next, will someone say, “In English, please,” when they don’t “get” technical jargon? (Someone does)
  4. Asian scientists. Come on.
  5. English-sounding bad guy. Loki is a Norse god. Why does he speak with an English accent?
  6. Bad guy intentionally letting himself get captured as part of a ludicrously complex scheme. Unfortunately it seems like every bad guy is going to do this after The Dark Knight. See also: Skyfall.
  7. Bad guy in a cell playing mind games with the people who come to visit him. Haven’t we seen enough of this one? I kept expecting Loki to ask the Black Widow about the lambs she had as a child.
  8. The speech at the end where people talk about how the heroes will always be there for them.