Friday, April 29, 2016

The fine line between Captain America and The Avengers

The following post contains very minor spoilers about Captain America: Civil War, not much more than what the trailers already show you.

Captain America: Civil War is, for all intents and purposes, an Avengers movie.

Except it's good.

Like, really good.

Which makes no sense.

Marvel Studios and Disney so tightly control the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and therefore the look and feel of their films, that when a director wants to bring his own vision to one of these movies, they just push him out. Bye bye, Edgar Wright. We want Ant-Man to be less interesting than you want it to be.

But for some reason, the Captain America movies have stayed above the fray. Civil War is no exception.

Which makes no sense.

These movies should be of a piece, yet the Captain America movies -- be they directed by Joe Johnston (the first movie) or the Russo brothers (the last two) -- are consistently superior products.

I'm sure someone could figure out why, but it's not going to be me.

As Joss Whedon has gone from Marvel golden boy to Marvel whipping boy, it's easy to just suggest that Johnston or the Russos are better directors than he is. But that's a pretty weird conclusion. None of those guys has the track record Whedon has, and just because his last Avengers movie was a stinker, it doesn't taint his previous output -- both for Marvel with the original Avengers, or in general as a writer/director/creator. Can we really say that these other guys "get" Marvel more than Whedon does?

And yet this is basically an Avengers movie. The Avengers are called out by name constantly in Civil War. Like Superman before them (about a month before them), they are culpable for wanton destruction and accused of being indifferent to the resulting loss of life. Just because the Hulk, Thor, Nick Fury and, um, Cobie Smulders are missing from this, it doesn't mean it's not really an Avengers movie. They've just replaced those guys with Spider-Man, Ant-Man, Black Panther and Bucky Barnes. (And who knew, by the way, that Captain America's movies would be so much about Bucky, well beyond The Winter Soldier and probably on into the next three or four installments?)

What I thought I would object to in this movie is the fact that everybody needs to be in it. As the paragraph above indicates, it's about the same amount of everyone as in the overstuffed Age of Ultron, but what seemed like it would make it worse is that they kept on adding new people. The introductions of Ant-Man and Spider-Man particularly had me worried. There wouldn't seem to be enough for everyone to do.

Yet Civil War somehow figures that out, too. Ant-Man and Spider-Man are both basically comic relief, and boy are they fun. They are used just the right amount, sprinkled in for flavor, rather than relied on heavily to bear out complete narrative arcs. (And there's one awesome Ant-Man thing that I don't think any of the trailers have spoiled yet.)

I'm wondering if we just find the Captain America brand name a surefire indicator of quality -- if, in fact, that's why this story contains the Captain America banner rather than the Avengers one. I mean, it's never too late for a series to curdle, but something about Captain America just continues to hum along at a creative peak. What's strangest about this is that the original, The First Avenger, was something I wasn't looking forward to in the slightest. I was worried this character would be terminally square, jingoistic in a completely unironic and probably painful way. The First Avenger figured to make me embarrassed about my country of citizenship. Instead, the three Captain America movies may well be my favorite three movies from the MCU.

I don't know that I should question it. Maybe I just need to accept it and move on.

Some other thoughts on Civil War ...

America first

If you're wondering how I've already seen this movie, well, I'm kind of wondering that too.

As I came out of the theater yesterday, I asked myself, "Wait, wasn't it the first weekend in May that Captain America and Batman v. Superman were fighting about back in 2014 or something? As far as I can tell, it's not May yet -- even here in Australia."

And indeed, when I got home, I checked IMDB, and the movie doesn't open for another eight days in the U.S.

No such delay here. A week and a day before its U.S. release -- which is really one more additional day because of the time difference -- Captain America has hit Australian theaters. Except they don't call them theaters here, or even theatres. They call them cinemas.

When it comes to movies and their release dates, Australia often taketh away. But sometimes, Australia giveth.

Imperfect teeth

There's a moment in Civil War when Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man tells Chris Evans' Captain America that sometimes he wishes he could punch him in his perfect teeth.

This was only a few minutes after I realized he couldn't say the same thing to Black Widow.

No, not just because heroes don't usually threaten to punch women in the mouth. Rather, because Scarlett Johansson's teeth are not perfect.

When she's on the phone with Steve Rogers following [a particular incident that I won't spoil here], the camera goes close on Johansson's mouth, and that bottom row of pearly whites is anything but straight. In fact, the teeth in ScarJo's front middle are actually trying to crowd each other out, one in particular protruding crookedly in front of the others.

Before you think I'm teeth-shaming Scarlett Johansson, I'll let you know why I'm bringing this up. It reminds us again why Johansson is awesome -- she's not perfect, but the combination of her appearance and her charisma often convinces us that she is.

In fact, in reality, she's just the girl next door with crooked teeth.

Okay, so that's being a bit disingenuous. She's a person of otherworldly beauty. But her beauty is not inaccessible, as you might think it were. There's a natural component to it, a regular component to it, nearly undetectable imperfections that ground her in our world. This despite the fact that someone actually made a "realistic" robot version of her. One with perfect teeth, I might add.

And sure, it could just be because she could never afford to take enough time off from acting to get braces. But I like to think that she just doesn't care. And that's cool.

A well-trained audience

People have figured out this Marvel thing by now.

Most of the time when you go to the movies, and the credits start to roll, you lose three-quarters of your audience right there. A hardy few will stay to look at the names of all the key grips and dolly grips, but most of them are gone -- to the bathroom, to the car, what have you.

Well, not in Marvel movies, at least not anymore. For a time, these people were leaving early and missing the now two extra sequences that appear -- one about a minute into the credits, and one after all the credits have rolled. But now everyone is hip to this. In my audience, we lost no more than ten percent, and even those who did leave, didn't do so until after the first installment of additional footage. The rest of us waited to the bitter end. It was really a rather unusual experience, a bunch of people looking at their phones with the lights up, still plastered to their seats.

And I'm proud to say I was able to figure out essentially what the final bit of footage would be. I won't tell you what it is, but I will say that I correctly guessed both characters that would appear in it and what the essential nature of their interaction would be.

Marvel may not contain all that many surprises these days, but Captain America continues to be the exception to that rule. He was the first avenger, and I'm increasingly convinced he's also the best.

No comments: