Doing What’s Right: A Review of Captain America – Civil War

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Image source: marvelcinematicuniverse.wikia.com

“No. You move.”

Captain America: Civil War needed to be a lot of things. As the introduction of both Black Panther and a new Spider-Man to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the sequel to Avengers: Age of Ultron, the final instalment in the Captain America trilogy, and the sequel to both First Avenger and Winter Soldier, this movie is also the culmination of a journey that Marvel has been headed towards since Robert Downey Jr. first appeared on screen in Iron Man.

It feels very much like we were always heading for this.

Amazingly, it works. Civil War works as an Avengers movie (with, oddly enough, more Avengers than either of the movies to actually use the title), but more importantly, it works as a Captain America movie. The grander scope and moral debate at the heart of Civil War is all filtered through Cap. Even if you disagree with him, the morality makes this not only a thrillingly engaging action movie, but also one of the most emotionally investing that Marvel has ever produced.

Let’s set the scene: the characters in the Marvel U have finally noticed what we the audience have been pointing out for years. When the Avengers save the day, there is always a ton of destruction and collateral damage. Avengers fought a war in New York, (the ramifications of which are still felt on the Marvel Netflix series, Daredevil and Jessica Jones), The Winter Soldier destroyed Washington, DC, and then Age of Ultron lifted the city state of Sokovia thousands of feet into the air then vaporized it.

The Avengers come to fight and people die. Finally, the world has noticed. When an Avengers mission chasing the mercenary Crossbones through Lagos in Nigeria ends with the accidental destruction of a building, and the death of several diplomats from the nation of Wakanda, it seems to be just one step too far.

The Avengers are issued an ultimatum in the form of “The Sokovia Accords”.

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Once signed, the Avengers will no longer act autonomously, but be sanctioned and controlled by a United Nations panel. This mirrors the “registration actof the Civil War comic which ordered heroes to register with the government; however, since practically nobody in the MCU has a secret identity, this element has been stripped away.

What is brilliant about the motivations of the characters in this movie is that they all make sense. You understand why some characters sign the accords and others don’t. When the lines are drawn, you understand why each Avenger has chosen the side they do.

Tony Stark (Iron Man) began as the ultimate capitalist. In his second movie, he famously stated that he’d “privatized world peace”. But over the years, from the first Avengers movie and Iron Man 3 to Age of Ultron, we have seen Tony becoming increasingly paranoid and obsessed with security. He is shown time and time again that he and others are not responsible enough keep the world safe on their own. So this is the Tony Stark entering Captain America: Civil War. He signs the Accords because he believes the Avengers operating above the law is no longer the right thing to do.

Then we have Captain America. Steve Rogers, who, in his first movie, had such a powerful faith in the systems of government, has been repeatedly shown that these systems fail. The Army tried to stop him when he could save the lives of Bucky and his friends, so Steve disobeyed orders and saved the day. In The Avengers, Steve finds a government that lies to him, and a Shield that pilfers Hydra technology and is willing to launch a nuclear bomb at the island of Manhattan. Then, in Captain America: Winter Soldier, Steve finds his trust in systems totally shattered as Shield is revealed to be mostly controlled by the Nazi death cult of Hydra. As Steve says in the movie: “The safest hands are still our own.”

Tony can only trust systems, and Steve can only trust individuals. So with a small push from Sharon Carter, who gives Steve a speech that Cap famously gives to Spider-Man in the Civil War comic, Cap refuses to sign the accords and the Avengers are split. It’s a testament to the even footing that both points of view are given that even after having seen the movie twice, I still can’t completely commit to one side or the other.

That could have been the whole crux of the story, but of course it isn’t. This is a Captain America movie, and the sequel to Winter Soldier. And that means Bucky, and not just as an afterthought. The movie starts with a flashback to the 1990s of the Winter Soldier making an assassination on an old lonely road. When the signing of the Accords are sabotaged, the Winter Soldier takes the blame.

This is where the mysterious villain Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) enters the picture, having uncovered an old Hydra book containing the code words that can hypnotize poor Bucky, bringing out his murderous Winter Soldier side.

Zemo’s backstory is simple. He was Sokovian military, he feels that the Avengers killed his family in Age of Ultron, and wants revenge. He is a surprisingly effective villain, and (though still a little lackluster, as almost all Marvel villains tend to be), I actually really enjoyed his simple, subtle, and ultimately tragic character. I was also pleased to find a villain who understood he couldn’t just kill the Avengers. Finally, we have a bad guy who doesn’t think himself stronger than Earth’s mightiest.

It is the hunt for the Winter Soldier that truly drives the movie: Cap’s insistence on saving his old friend and everyone else’s insistence on his guilt puts Cap up against UN orders. When Zemo sneaks into the UN under the guise of a therapist, he activates Bucky to escape (who then basically walks through all the Avengers because Bucky is Marvel’s equivalent of The Terminator). But it is Cap grabbing hold of Buck’s helicopter and crashing it down into the river below that brands Cap, Bucky, and Sam Wilson (Falcon) as fugitives from justice.

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Falcon, by the way, seems to be almost solely motivated by the desire to make Steve Rogers smile, regardless of his own personal investment in whatever is happening. And it is amazing.

On this note, Falcon and Bucky share relatively little screen time together, but when they do it’s also incredible. If this were a romantic comedy, Sam and Bucky would essentially be Steve’s two boyfriends jostling for his attention while glaring at each other and thinking “Steve likes me best.”

At this point, it is also important to talk about Chadwick Boswin’s “King T’challa” (Black Panther). The actor invented his own accent for the role, since Black Panther is the king of a fictional African country. Black Panther isn’t on one side, so much as he just really wants to kill Bucky, for reasons that make perfect sense. The character is regal, lethal, and fights like an actual cat. Even his costume is amazing, and I’m incredibly excited for his solo movie. In the end, between the voices of Cap and Iron Man, Black Panther works as the third perspective. He is essential to the plot, and at no point does his inclusion feel forced.

The Avengers eventually meet at the Berlin airport, Cap and his team racing to capture Zemo, and Iron Man and his side determined to bring Cap to justice. Everyone gets their moment in this fight. Scarlet Witch gets a whole bunch. And Ant Man, a character who I was ambivalent about in his own movie, gets a moment here which might go down as one of my favourite in movie history.

Tom Holland’s motivations and reality as “Spider-Man” and “Peter Parker” are set-up beautifully in just one scene. Through his conversations with Tony, we see Peter as the shy awkward kid who just wants to make a difference and protect the “little guy”. Which, by the way, perfectly mirrors the moment Steve had in the first Captain America movie, when Dr. Erskine asks why he wants to join the war effort.

Then we get Spider-Man for the long and glorious airport Avengers brawl.

He’s perfect. Spidey holds his own against even the Winter Soldier (where all the other Avengers have failed), fighting against Cap and his team. He’s strong and fast, flipping through the air with webs flying around him, and he won’t stop talking.

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This is the Spider-Man we’ve always wanted to see. In the twenty-five minutes he appears in this movie, Spider-Man acts more like the famous chatty, annoying kid who’s swung through comic pages for fifty years than any of the five whole Spiderman movies. As a criticism, there is no real reason for Spider-Man to be in the movie at all from a narrative point of view, but he makes up for it by being incredibly fun.

But this is all leading towards a confrontation between Cap, Bucky, and Iron Man. Without spoiling anything, the climax of Civil War has surprisingly low stakes. There’s no classic world-ending scheme or invading army. All of that is traded for emotional stakes.

Civil War is in many ways a tragedy, as the heroes don’t make amends in the end, but instead fall into a greater split that goes beyond politics. Come the end of the movie, Iron Man is fighting for vengeance and Cap is fighting for friendship, in a harrowing, violent confrontation where just for a moment, you might really believe that one of these heroes is going to kill the other.

What’s really well done is at no point does this conflict feel forced. You understand, as everything is slowly stripped away from him, why Cap will fight for Bucky at all costs. But similarly you understand why, by the end of the movie, Iron Man feels he needs to kill the Winter Soldier.

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Usually motives in a superhero movie are pretty simple. The good guy wants to be good, and the bad guy doesn’t, and then they fight. That isn’t Civil War. We understand and accept the motivations driving each opposing side, and that is why this movie works so well. It’s also why at the end, as Captain America and Iron Man fight so brutally, it really is tragic.

In all this, Steve Rogers seems to have completed the arc he began all the way back in his first movie, to transform from a man into a legend.

“You’re trying to do what you think is right,” are nearly Cap’s last words of the film. “That’s all any of us can do.”

Because this is who Cap is: he’s going to do what he thinks is right.

I’m sure everyone will be back together again by the end of the next Avengers movie, but that doesn’t change how powerful this movie was.

Captain America: Civil War, is arguably both the best solo and team movie Marvel has produced. For the first time, we are wrapping up a superhero trilogy without a weak link.

Civil War raises the bar for everything that must follow, and incidentally, this is the first I can remember where I walked out of the theater considering the movie to be better than its source material.

-Contributed by Ben Ghan

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All Hail the Gods of Cinema: A Review of Avengers: Age of Ultron

I want to be a superhero—really badly. When someone asks me, “if you were a superhero…”, I respond with a full run-through of my back-story, my sidekick, my side-squirrel super-pet, and the stitching pattern on my tastefully cut leather boots. It pays to be ready, you see, when the Avengers’ recruitment agent inevitably comes knocking.

Sigh.

Their recruitment oversights aside, the Avengers are a pretty awesome bunch. They were and are the fuel of many daydreamers’ fantasies, and some of those daydreamers are apparently rather good at making movies. Enter 2012’s Avengers and its sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron. I find it very hard to disprove that Avengers was amazing. It set up all the right themes, each character had some sort of development, and ultimately the new team was formed. Also, the Hulk punched a Chitauri space-whale in the face. Just sayin’.

From the apocalyptic epic-ness that was Avengers, where-oh-where could Joss Whedon go from there? Well, to the Age of Ultron. Complete with a new, snarky AI villain, the Age of Ultron deftly lived up to the foundation set in Avengers. Ultron, our titular bad guy, was incredibly well done. He brought a depth to the Avengers that was perhaps lacking. Created from Tony Stark’s desire to “save everyone”, Ultron took one look at the internet and decided he was quite capable of doing that himself, thanks. He then goes on to recruit a pair of “enhanced” siblings, Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, though we know them better as Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. Their addition was a welcome layer to the already multifaceted story line. Seeking revenge for the death of their parents and protection for each other, they acted as the perfect foil to Ultron with his single-minded goals. They give Ultron opportunities to explain his logic and reveal his motivations, which in turn gives the viewer much-needed glimpses into the depths of his mind. Once the siblings realize that perhaps their goals are a bit different from Ultron’s after all, they split up from him and become fully fledged characters in their own right.

The Avengers as a team are pitch perfect. They play off each other extremely well, with plenty of one liners and “bro-moments”. Even the characters without their own movies (of which I am counting the Hulk, sorry Edward Norton and Eric Bana), felt like real people, and their relationships were also well-developed. This, of course, must lead to a mention of the possible romance between Black Widow and the Hulk. Opinions are torn, but I must say, it was… okay. None of the other team members were particularly available to have love interests, and as far as romances go, it was kind of cute. Well, as cute as it can be when one is a green rage giant and the other can kill people with her pinky. Angst-ridden and melodramatic, yes, but let us not forget: this movie was based on a comic book. Angst and melodrama are the bread and butter of that medium.

And, of course, Vision: the final addition to this expansion of the Avengers’ story. Hoy. In a movie where there is already a super powered AI, the inclusion of another could have been superfluous. But it wasn’t. With perhaps five minutes of screen time, Vision is damn cool. I give props to whoever made the decision to have Paul Bettany in a costume rather than having a CGI rendering of Paul Bettany in a costume. It lent an element of realism to the SFX visual extravaganza that was Age of Ultron. Vision’s final conversation with Ultron brought the movie to a contemplative close and confirmed that all Ultron really needed was a hug.

Age of Ultron was flashy. It was over-the-top. It had good characters and silly jokes. It epitomized all the requirements for a summer blockbuster and then some. It also had superheroes and supervillains and all the stuff in between. And, with a whole new generation of daydreamers, isn’t it precisely what we wanted?

-Contributed by Rej Ford

Impractical Immortality: Do You Really Want to Live Forever?

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Image from moviepilot.com

Well, do you? Really?

The idea of immortality, in one form or another, comes up frequently in speculative fiction: elves, Timelords, divine beings, cursed humans, and undying monsters are all easy to find between pages and on screens. Immortality is often a flexible concept, ranging from gods that are all-powerful and cannot die but can—with the right spell, artifact or leverage with another rival god—be subdued, to creatures that can be slain but never fall prey to disease or the ravages of time. The latter includes Tolkien’s eternally beautiful elves and the sometimes benevolent—but usually malicious—Immortals of author Tamara Pierce’s fantasy kingdom Tortal.

Freedom from mortality may sound appealing to some of us, but as a wise wizard once said, “Humans do have a knack for choosing precisely those things which are worst for them.” Immortality is easily one of the worst things that heroes and villains have ever sought after.

For starters—there’s a catch. Always. Immortality comes at a price.

Sometimes the magic that makes you immortal also makes you susceptible to other, unfriendly forms of magic, or you find yourself unable to leave the cloister that the Sangrael is housed in, lest you lose all that you’ve gained. Maybe you get eternal life, but not eternal youth with it. I’m sure the Greek goddess Iris’ lover, who was granted the former but not the latter, would have much to say on the subject.

It is also likely that your immortality is dependent on you having your magic McGuffin on or near your person at all times, meaning that you’re at a disadvantage in life. Your magic ring or medal will be stolen, I promise you. It’s only a matter of time. In this case, the price of immortality is a life of looking over your shoulder, guarding your prize because your eternal life depends on it.

In other cases, the cost of immortality is too hideous to contemplate. Aloysius Crumrin, the aged warlock in the Courtney Crumrin comic series, is offered eternal life by an old flame—in the form of vampirism. He turns immortal life down but does accept her last elixir vitae; the potion lets him live a little longer despite his wasting illness. “Do I want to know what’s in it?” he asks the vampire. “No,” is her firm reply, and seeing as she herself keeps living by draining the life of others, it’s for the best that Aloysius doesn’t question her further.

And of course you’ll be lonely. How could you not be? You’ll outlive everyone you love.

In Ella Enchanted, the fairy godmother, Mandy, tells her goddaughter Ella that the Faeries tend to earn the ire of even their dearest human companions: “We’re immortal. That gets them mad…. [your mother] wouldn’t speak to me for a year when her father died.” The benefit of living to see a whole family line grow is somewhat tempered by knowing that you will have to bury them all.

Similarly, Skysong, the baby dragon who is born in Tortal away from other dragons and is raised by human mages, will outlive her guardian and all the mortal animals who become her friends.

And speaking of being lonely, it must be said that Captain America—who managed to survive a crash landing in the Arctic and being frozen there back during World War II—is starting to look very lonely, having outlived most of his comrades. He is stuck existing in a world that he doesn’t really belong to.

Even if you do your best to fit in the world you find yourself in, you won’t. Yuta, the protagonist of a manga series called Mermaid Saga, tries to live like a normal man after gaining immortality. But his wife can hardly fail to notice that, though she grows old over the years, he remains the young man she married. “I’m afraid of you,” she tells him. And who could blame her?

Finally, just what are you going to do with all that time?

Bowerick Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged devotes himself to insulting everyone, forever. If that sounds lame, consider that living forever will leave you running out of hobbies soon enough. You will run out of places to see and things to do because you will simply have too much time on your hands. If you have no plan, you’re doomed.

All that can truly occupy the immortal is watching history being made. This is a dubious prospect; ask the elves of Middle Earth. They never fail to seem jaded about the decisions made over the years, or the doings of the mortals around them. Elvenkind has simply seen too much to fully trust any other race; they remember too much.

Watching eras pass is bad enough, but living through them is much worse. Yuta lives through feudal wars, famine, the bombings of World War II, and murderous multigenerational feuds among those he befriends. Madame Xanadu loses her young lover in the witch-burning fervour of the Spanish Inquisition. And Wolverine seems to do nothing but get caught up in somebody’s war. For every triumph of humanity there are a dozen failures. History is a harsh place to live.

Take the Fame lyric “I’m gonna  live forever” literally and what you have is masochistic madness.

In the genres that ask “what if…?” any exploration of immortality yields fascinating answers. The concept of immortality and the presence of immortal characters in fiction forces us to take a long look at the way we live our lives. An immortal traveler who has seen far too much once said that “A longer life isn’t always a better one.”

What happens if you do away with mortality, a fundamental part of our humanity ? Nothing that we would ever really want.

-contributed by Miranda Whittaker

Believing Make-Believe: an Interview with GoT Visual Effects Artist Neil Safeer Ghaznavi

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My enthusiasm for speculative fiction is very much rooted in its ability to make impossible things believable. For someone like me, to conjure the fantastical through words is great. To see it as illustrations is even better; to watch it as moving pictures that seem exactly like real life is the absolute best. Meet Neil Safeer Ghaznavi, the man who helps breathe realism into the fantastical elements you see on the big screen. Currently working as a senior compositor in a Vancouver based firm, and he has Game of Thrones, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Divergent, X-men, and a throng of other big names to his credit. In an interview with The Spectatorial, Neil tells us all about his work, life and what it takes to be a leading visual effects specialist in Hollywood.

Congrats on the Emmy for Game of Thrones! Which role did you play on the visual effects team?

Thanks! I did compositing, which is basically the end of the line for the visual effects. We’ve got animators, textures, etc. –then I come in right at the end and put it all together.

How did you like working on GoT?

It was great to work on something that I enjoyed watching too. I tried not to spoil the show for myself, I’d just work on my shot and try not to figure out what was going on. The amount of visual effects they want-for a TV show- is on a really high level. It’s almost film quality. We had to study and recreate the sets and props digitally, and that was really cool too.

What has been the best or most difficult work you’ve done in visual effects?

Visual effects works on a very micro, shot by shot scale–every shot may be 2-3 seconds long, but you have to work to ensure every single second looks the best that it can. It can take months to solve a 2-3 second shot and the simplest of shots can be the hardest to perfect. The last, most challenging work I had to do was probably slow down footage and recreate frames that don’t even exist. For example, turning a one second into two seconds. Something like that can be very challenging to recreate realistically.

Digital recreation is all fake, so the ultimate goal is to create realism–you wanna make it look like there’s no visual effects involved at all!

Now for possibly the most important question of today: Which Game of Thrones house are you rooting for?

(Laughs) I’m not rooting for one house per se. I like individual characters–especially Tyrion. The show is very character-driven, and the Lannisters are a very complex and well-developed bunch, although not necessarily characters you want to root for.

Are there any myths or misconceptions you had about working in Hollywood?

Not really. Getting there was a gradual process for me. When I started out in visual effects, I didn’t know I was gonna be a compositor. I didn’t even know what a compositor did! I just liked what was shown on screen, and while I was studying visual effects I chose to narrow into manipulation and realism which led me here. I didn’t really have any expectations; I just wanted to work on stuff–and to get the opportunity to do such work was exciting enough for me.

Drake says, so eloquently, “Started from the bottom, now, we’re here.” From what I gather, you’ve got a similar story. You began working at Bates at the age of 19 doing advertising while getting your first degree, and then you went on to become the youngest Art Director in India at the time. What drove your success?

When I came out of high school, I was like ‘What am I going to do now?’. I was at a loss. I hated school, and the only thing I liked in school was art, so I decided to do something art-specific. I asked myself ‘what industry can I join that will allow me to do some kind of art?’, and it was advertising. I got a huge opportunity in a company in India as a summer intern and after that I didn’t look back. I continued, stayed with the company, and eventually became an art director. I did a lot of work on ad films. This took me to London where we did some visual effects and I saw that and I was hooked. I saw ad films done on computers and I thought “This is what I really really want to do.” At the same time Jurassic Parkwhich influenced me greatly–came out. Then and there I made the decision to quit advertising and go to art school, which I really never did [before]–and here I am.

What kind of shows, movies, or directors inspire you?

Spielberg’s Jurassic Park is a big one, although it came later. From earlier on I used to love sci-fi–I’m a Trekkie and have always loved all things Star Trek. Star Wars was high on my list too. Ridley Scott is one of the directors I follow closely and I really liked the new Star Trek film as well. The last movie that was exactly in my tastes was Chris Nolan’s Interstellar; he did an awesome job with it.

What do you have to say about the speculative fiction genre on screen, as someone who works backstage, so to speak?

I think it is such an interesting genre from both sides of the screen. People are very used to the realism seen in everyday life, and VFX strives to recreate it [realism] in something completely new and never seen before. You get to see space, or walking skeletons for example–things you would not normally see–and yet you manage to believe it and enjoy it. To render imaginations and show them to people is both incredibly interesting and satisfying.

-contributed by Shahin Imtiaz