Captain America: Civil War Is Another Triumph For Marvel

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Captain America: Civil War is the culmination of the first two phases of the Marvel Cinematic  Universe (MCU) and launches Phase Three in a bold and somewhat darker direction. That is because by the end of the film, relationships are frayed, perhaps permanently, and new players have arrived to carry the torch.

A first look at the cast of characters appearing in the film, which includes most of the Avengers, may lead one to believe that the film should have been called Avengers 2.5, but this is first and foremost a movie about Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans). We see that he is still struggling to fit into the modern world being that he is a product of long bygone era.

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The movie is also a direct continuation of the previous film Captain America: The Winter Soldier in that the Winter Solider aka James “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is the focus of pursuit for everyone. At the same time, the events at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron play a major factor that somehow manages to validate that film since it is considered to be an inferior sequel to The Avengers.

The destruction in the country of Sokovia at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron added to the world’s growing unease with superpowered people. This suspicion is compounded after the opening segments of Captain America: Civil War when innocent civilians are killed during a fight the Avengers have with terrorists.

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Enter: The bureaucrats in the form of U.S. Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) who demands that the Avengers sign an accord by the UN that places the superhero team under supervision and dictates that they cannot act unless ordered.  Steve Rogers objects to this, but his fellow partner and Avenger Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr. ) disagrees. He feels that superhumans need to be curtailed partly based on his own guilt about creating Ultron. Later, a terrorist bombing at a UN conference, supposedly by the Winter Soldier, sets off an alarming series of events that turn the two friends into bitter enemies as both men gather allies for their causes.

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Captain America: Civil War is already considered one of the greatest superhero films of all time and that praise is justified. Unlike the similar-themed Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, this film flows cleanly, is coherent, not choppy and adequately presents both sides of the issue. Even though Captain America is the star of the film, great pains are taken to show the validity of the other side. It becomes difficult at times to find someone to root for because we know they are both in the right. It illustrates the tragedy of a civil war amongst former friends.

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The directors Joe and Anthony Russo return for their second Captain America film and have beaten the second film curse for MCU directors. At the same time, they demonstrate with Captain America: Civil War that they can handle a large, epic story with multiple characters that are all given their moments to shine. That is an unbelievable effort that lesser directors and writers have difficulty accomplishing.

Despite the film’s length (over two hours) it leaves viewers wanting to see more of this world unfold. That is due to the constant action, fast-moving plotline, and smile-inducing appearances by other characters that get their moments in the sun and not just in action sequences. We meet T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), a noble African king out for vengeance, and of course, everyone’s favorite Web-Slinger, Spider-Man (Tom Holland). This MCU version of Peter Parker is the most authentic and realistic take of Spider-Man ever shown on film and leaves one hungering for Spider-Man: Homecoming already. Other stand out characters include Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), the Vision (Paul Bettany), Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd).

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The much talked about fight scene the superheroes have with each other in an airport is worthy of the hype and shows the heroes at their best. It was a comic book fan’s dream come true seeing all these superheroes doing their thing. Needless to say the special effects were flawless, as was the intricate fight choreography. However, a following fight scene later on is much more involving and personal, while at the same time heartbreaking as we see that Rogers and Stark are at a point of no return with each other. By the end of the film, everything has changed not just for the two main characters, but for the allies that took their sides.

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Captain America: Civil War is a triumph that is worth multiple viewings not just because of the spine-tingling action but because at its heart the movie is about friendship and how it gets fractured. It is hard to believe this but even though this is Marvel Studios’ thirteenth MCU film, it proves that the Marvel Cinematic Universe can still surprise and excite us as it continues to expand.

José Soto

 

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The First Dozen Marvel (MCU) Films Ranked

With the release of Ant-Man, Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films has concluded. Before Phase Three begins with Captain America: Civil War, now would be a good time to rank the twelve MCU films released so far.

1. The Avengers (2012) – As the culmination of years of careful seeding by previous MCU films The Avengers was a bold, energetic triumph. Director Joss Whedon accomplished the impossible by bringing together completely different characters and molding them into a superhero team just like in the comic books.

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As the most successful superhero film of all time, The Avengers excited numerous viewers and changed the landscape of superhero films. Before this film, the usual superhero films operated in their own realities without any indication of a rich universe as seen in comic books. But The Avengers embraced the richness of its comic book lore and it paid off. Now, shared cinematic universes are the rage. However, The Avengers is the best of the MCU films because it was so energetic, witty, and snappy, and had the novelty of our favorite heroes meeting for the first time. It all led to one of the most exciting finales presented on film that still reverberates with viewers.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – Marvel Studios showed they were willing to take a chance with this quirky and exciting space adventure yarn. Who would’ve imagined that a sci-fi movie about a bumbling space pirate, violent green aliens, a foul-mouthed raccoon and a walking tree would strike a chord with audiences?

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Technically, Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t a superhero film, but this demonstrates how this MCU entry is quite different from its standard superhero repertoire. What made it special wasn’t just the premise, beautiful visuals or production design, but a toe-tapping soundtrack that ingeniously used ’70s pop songs. It was a unique signature for this space opera tale about a group of space losers who banded together to save the galaxy. Chris Pratt became a star thanks to his silly, but good-hearted role as Star-Lord, the self-proclaimed legendary outlaw.

3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) – The best MCU solo superhero film and one of the greatest superhero films ever made. More importantly, this was arguably the most volatile entry in the MCU because by the time the film ended, the cinematic universe was forever changed by the film’s events.

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Chris Evans as Captain America/Steve Rogers has demonstrated how he has grown in stature in these films. As a man out of time, Steve Rogers faced his greatest threats from a former friend (one of the deadliest and most frightening supervillains on film) and a shocking global conspiracy that rocked the MCU to its roots. Adding to the film’s specialness were a tightly written script, well-executed and riveting fight scenes and terrific performances from the cast.

4. Ant-Man (2015) – The final Phase Two film is known for its numerous behind-the-scenes hurdles where the original director quit after having developed the film for years. Yet, in spite of that and the titular character’s obscurity, Ant-Man was an unexpectedly great superhero film that’s full of panache.

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As one of the more humorous MCU films, Ant-Man quickly won over viewers with its outlandish premise: a man who can shrink and communicate with ants. Wrapped around that was a swift-paced heist story that deftly integrated itself into the larger MCU in a natural way that eluded other films that attempted this. Adding to the film’s enjoyment were many winning performances, fantastic special effects and unlike other MCU films, Ant-Man was able to deliver an astonishing final act that helped pave the future for the MCU.

5. Thor (2011) – What sets Marvel Studios apart with their MCU films is its willingness to remain faithful to the comic book source material. At the same time, Marvel Studios has the ability to make organic changes and updates to its characters and situations. Thor is a perfect example. The film wisely eschewed its magic-based comic book roots that Thor and his ilk were actual gods and cleverly used science fiction tropes instead.

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Thor followed the winning formula of MCU films by having an egotistical, flawed character learn some humility and become a hero. Thanks to director Kenneth Branagh, Thor also had a sense of grandeur that evoked a Shakespearean family drama. In this case, that involved otherworldly aliens mistaken for gods. It was also noted for its humorous fish-out-of-water scenario and Tom Hiddleston’s star-making performance as Loki, the MCU’s best villain.

6. Iron Man (2008) – The one that started the MCU phenomenon still holds up as a well-made origin story. Robert Downey, Jr. shined as he made a personal and professional comeback in the role of a lifetime. His trend-setting Tony Stark/Iron Man was a self-centered narcissist who learned to become something more.

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The first part of Iron Man was engrossing, particularly during the moments when Tony Stark first faced his mortality and was forced to construct a crude armored suit. However, the film faltered a bit in the second half. The pace dragged as we waited for him to construct a proper Iron Man suit. Things weren’t helped by the final battle that looked like something out of the Transformers and was just as cartoony. But Iron Man’s successful formula set the tone for the rest of the MCU. Continue reading

Candidates For Future Avengers Films

avengers comicsWe’re eagerly anticipating the next Avengers films coming out in 2018 and 2019, the two-part epic Avengers: Infinity War. The team’s roster will most likely include these popular heroes: Captain America, Iron Man, and the other veterans, plus newbies like Black Panther, Captain Marvel and Spider-Man. But what about beyond the third Avengers film? Will we have the same lineup or will new blood take the place of the old guard? Given how bloated Avengers: Age of Ultron felt with nine heroes, it’s unlikely future Avengers films will have large casts. So who would be interesting candidates to fill the ranks of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes as the veterans exit the stage? These are some suggestions:

Ares: The Greek god of war was a member of the Dark Avengers, so he comes with the anti-hero baggage. So, he can be a dark, more badass version of Thor as he uses traditional weapons like swords and axes with modern weapons like guns.

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Black Knight: Inspired by Arthurian legend, Dane Whitman wields a magic sword and shield and rides a winged horse. The catch is that the sword that can cut through anything has a blood curse. This all may be too magical for the science-based Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), but if there’s room for Doctor Strange then the MCU can make allowances for the Black Knight.

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Giant-Man and the Wasp: He’s actually Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man, who decided to use his shrinking power in reverse. And of course, comic book fans know that the Wasp was his wife and at one point, supposed to have been in The Avengers, as seen by some storyboards. The characters will obviously be different people in the MCU given the character situation with Ant-Man.

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Hercules: Think of a more fun version of Thor and you got Hercules! Imagine his romps as he battles and brags his way across the silver screen. Plus, his fanciful boasts and love of revelry and fighting would provide light-hearted relief as if an Avengers film could use it. Another angle is to use him and Ares or Thor as foils against one another.

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Quasar: Marvel’s answer to Green Lantern would add a cosmic angle to the Avengers’ roster. Armed with Quantum Bands fused to his wrists, these objects allow Wendell Vaughn to tap and use energy to fight evildoers. Not only that but his cosmic-based background could conceivably link the Avengers to the larger galaxy without resorting to Thanos.

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She-Hulk: Come on, we all want to see how Marvel Studios pulls this off! BTW, CG isn’t needed to bring the beautiful cousin of the Hulk to life on screen. She would make for some inspired eye candy and an excellent counterpoint to the brutish Hulk.

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Spectrum: At one time called Captain Marvel, Monica Rambeau has energy-based powers and was one of the most versatile and powerful members of the superhero team. She even led the team at one point and the spectacle of her turning into different kinds of energy would look fantastic on film.

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Spider-Woman: Hey Marvel and Sony made nice and are now sharing Spider-Man. That should embolden Marvel Studios enough to go ahead and give us Spider-Woman. Besides with her Hydra/S.H.I.E.L.D. backstory it should be cinch to throw her into the Avengers.

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Tigra: Originally Greer Grant was the superhero called The Cat but was later transformed through mystical means into Tigra with tiger-like powers. It’s easy to conceive of a sexy but tough leading lady playing this role. As with other candidates some tweaking is needed to change the mystical angle.

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Wonder Man: One of the earliest and most powerful members of the Avengers deserves his shot at the big screen. Simon Williams’ tragic story of a pawn used to betray the Avengers and his eventual redemption is a great story that can be used in a future Avengers film.

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Avengers: Road To Civil War & Infinity

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First of all, anyone who is reading hasn’t seen Avengers: Age of Ultron should stop reading and see the film because some spoilers from that film will be covered. With that warning out of the way, let’s go over the ramifications of the newly released film.

Just like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron has proven to be a pivotal film in the ever-growing Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). By the film’s end, the status quo of the superhero team has been irrevocably changed symbolized by a new lineup. But more importantly, the seeds for future films in the MCU have been planted or nurtured. Specifically, the next Avengers films, Avengers: Infinity War, Parts I and II, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, and next year’s Captain America: Civil War.

A complaint lodged against Avengers: Age of Ultron is that it spends too much time setting up these future films, but as one of the final films in Phase Two of the MCU it needed to set up strangePhase Three with its many references and subplots that weren’t intricately involved with the film’s main storyline. In fact, some have griped that more Easter eggs weren’t dropped, namely having cameos by Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, and Captain Marvel (who was supposed to be briefly introduced but dropped at the last minute). In reality, the film followed the mode of modern comic books that have many references to other titles, especially during big events. But never mind these gripes, looking ahead, one can’t help getting excited by the prospect of what is to come.

Comes The Civil War

After this summer’s Ant-Man, the next major event in the MCU will be the third Captain America film. It’s to be a loose adaptation of the classic comic book mini-series, Civil War, that came out last decade and forever changed the Marvel Universe. In that story, Iron Man and Captain America become bitter enemies with each other and formed factions that battled each other. It all started in the wake of a 9/11-type tragedy that had the public demanding that super-powered beings be held more accountable. This culminated in the passage of the Superhuman Registration Act and with the two heroes taking opposing viewpoints about the law and arms against one another.

Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios has stated that the film won’t be a strict adaptation of the mini-series, “So this will be Civil War based off all the other films you’ve seen up to this point, particularly Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron…Something happens. It has made the governments of the world say ‘we need to have some oversight of these guys.’ It’s not about the secret identity thing, as much as it is about, overall, who reports to who.”

iron capWhat will exactly happen? We can only speculate at this point as we wonder the following: Will the Winter Soldier be involved in some incident that leads to the Civil War? Or perhaps the film’s villain, Baron Zemo will orchestrate events to bring about chaos and the Civil War. It seems that Captain America: Civil War will be as deep and exciting as its predecessor with mature themes while delivering the big thrills. And it promises to be one of the bigger epics in the MCU.

But wouldn’t it have made more sense to make this an Avengers film instead? To have a war, one needs an army and presumably both camps will have its supporters, hence a large group of characters at least for a solo superhero film. Already, Robert Downey, Jr. will reprise his role as Iron Man/Tony Stark. It’s been announced that the film will introduce Black Panther and Spider-Man (making his MCU debut). Other featured heroes include Black Widow, Hawkeye, Falcon, Scarlet Witch, War Machine, Ant-Man and Vision. The coming film runs the risk of being too bloated with characters and a story that needs more time or additional films to satisfactorily tell its core story. But the film is in good hands with Anthony and Joe Russo directing it. Continue reading

Avengers Come Of Age With Ultron

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Eye-popping. Action-drenched. Dazzling. LOUD. Explosive. Those are words that come to mind when thinking about Avengers: Age of Ultron. That is because this sequel to The Avengers is a true visual feast. That isn’t to say that Avengers: Age of Ultron tops the original, it doesn’t, but viewers will have an unforgettable time at the theaters watching it.

Joss Whedon returns to the director’s chair with this sequel that reunites most of the original cast including Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man, Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Hulk, Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/Hawkeye and Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanov/Black Widow. Like any worthwhile sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron introduces new, exciting characters like Vision (Paul Bettany), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and the malevolent android Ultron (James Spader).

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After a kinetic opener where the Avengers take out an enemy base in Eastern Europe, they encounter two super-powered people who are antagonistic towards them. One of them, the Scarlet Witch, has mind-altering powers and influences Stark to retrieve Loki’s scepter from the base. In the last film, this weapon was wielded by Thor’s errant brother Loki and it’s powered by one of the immensely powerful Infinity Stones featured throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Back in New York, Stark and Banner QS capdecide to use the scepter’s power to help them create a genuine artificial intelligence. Their efforts fail, but once they leave the lab, the program becomes sentient and assumes the Ultron identity in a damaged Iron Man drone body. The problem is that Ultron’s programming of performing Stark’s directive of bringing about world peace has been corrupted. Now it wants to eliminate humanity. The AI goes viral and spans the world, perfecting its physical body and carrying out its planned extinction event as the Avengers struggle to catch up to Ultron and defeat it. As this plays out throughout the film, we see shifting alliances, inside looks of our heroes, and the emergence of new heroes.

ultronAvengers: Age of Ultron is a very busy film, sometimes too busy. There are so many plot points and character developments that things get lost in the shuffle at times. It rushes through plot developments that needed more nuance like the creation of Ultron. The moment it becomes self aware it is automatically evil. There are attempts to explain why Ultron wants to kill humanity but they’re hollow and don’t resonate. Another example are the development of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. Too much exposition explains their background and their evolution feels rushed. Then there are moments when the film is about to go off the rails with its nods to the larger MCU and in setting up other films. Sometimes it feels organic, like Stark and Rogers’ growing antagonism towards each other, which will culminate in next year’s Captain America: Civil War. Other times they feel tacked on and clumsily shoved in like Thor worrying about his own dilemmas that will be concluded in his next film. These diversions while interesting don’t allow this film to stand on its own because this film shines when it’s concentrating on its own merits.

With all this going on, things get lost in the shuffle and aren’t dwelled upon. The film struggles to juggle all these visionnew characters and servicing the old ones. It is too bad more time wasn’t spent on the Vision, the best new character thanks to Bettany’s sympathetic performance. However, some much needed time is devoted to Avengers who didn’t have much screen presence the last time around. This applies to Barton as we find out that he actually has a wife and family and this revelation makes him much more endearing to us as the point is driven home that he is the most vulnerable Avenger. Also, it was interesting to see that Captain America has by now emerged as the true leader of the team and has more of a screen presence than Iron Man.

As action-packed and fast moving as it is, Avengers: Age of Ultron lacks the original’s oomph and sense of wow. The novelty of seeing our favorite superheroes coming together isn’t there obviously, but it does its best to carry on. Usually it succeeds in dazzling the audience but it gets bogged down with its flaws.

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Putting that aside, Avengers: Age of Ultron is very exciting and worth watching in theaters. Many of the special effects and action scenes are inspired and breathtaking like the part where Iron Man battles the Hulk in Africa or when Captain America and Black Widow confront Ultron and his drones in South Korea. It’s commendable that this isn’t just your typical empty summer film. It has heart and character thanks to topnotch acting. Joss Whedon knows how to raise the stakes for our characters in the final arc where Ultron finalizes his machinations and there’s a feeling of desperation and fatality among the Avengers. We care about these characters and by the end of the film the status quo has been upset and that’s a good thing. Like the comic book this film is based upon, things are always evolving with the Avengers, which will make things feel fresh in upcoming films.

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Despite its faults Avengers: Age of Ultron is a fitting and exuberant conclusion to Phase Two of the MCU and sets up the next chapter in the growing MCU.

José Soto