Did “Captain America: Civil War” Liberate the Black Super Hero?

Civil War_cap_iron man

If it’s not Marvel’s best movie, Captain America: Civil War sits high on the very short list of their best.   This was the Avengers movie Avengers: Age of Ultron should have been.

It’s a four star flick and I will be going to see it again and I never go see movies a second time. Marvel’s Captain America series is the first where each film improves on the previous installment.

When Sharon Carter referenced a condensed version of Cap’s most Captain America  speech, I leaned over and punched my son in the shoulder giggling, “THEY DID THE SPEECH!!!!” My inner comic book geek was tickled, but there’s a considerable amount of fan-service Easter eggs throughout the movie.

The best decision the screenwriters and directors made was to take the framework of the Civil War comic book and strip it down to the basics and rebuild it into something comprehensible for the movie. This is kind of the same thing what happened to another Mark Millar project, Wanted. By the time it got to the screen with Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy it jettisoned all the vile bile of the Millar graphic novel and pretty much kept the name and little else.

Hey, where's OUR solo movie?

Hey, where’s OUR solo movie?

Millar loves being offensive and shocking for the sake of it and while Civil War was neither, it was poorly written and executed for the most part and sent Marvel Comics into a never ending series of “Big Events” that reset their universe.   Thank God they said, “Like the idea. Hate everything else.”   It spared us the sorry sight of a Thor clone brutally murdering a fourth-rate nobody called  Black Goliath.   “Who?” you ask?  Trust me when I say this: nobody cares.

In Civil War the comic book,  Black superheroes were scenery and stiffs.   In Civil War the movie, they play an essential part in the story and they’re more than just diversity hires.

I’m saying all this not to review the movie, because there’s more than enough of those all over the web and if you need another you won’t have to look hard to find one.   What I want to point out how much I appreciate how damn COOL it is to see a superhero movie with not one, not two, but THREE Black superheroes in it.

Don Cheadle’s War Machine is back and so is Anthony Mackie as The Falcon.  No insult intended (okay, a little insult), but War Machine and the Falcon are sidekicks Iron Man and Cap.   That’s just who they are, so if you’re Cheadle and Mackie don’t hold your breath hoping for a standalone movie because you’re strictly back-up, guys.  Go ask Hawkeye how that works.

The Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) is nobody’s back-up and he don’t do “sidekick.”  He’s the freakin’ KING of Wakanda, the most advanced nation on Earth.

I don’t DO the “sidekick” thing.

Now that might not mean a lot to some viewers, but I bet to a young Black kid geeking out on it, it means everything.

Even if it’s only in yet another super-hero flick, I’m hyped to see Lupita Nyong’o in a live-action film instead of voice work in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Jungle Book. Since blowing up the spot in 12 Years A Slave and winning a well-deserved Best Supporting Actress award, she’s only been in front of the camera once. Hollywood really has no clue what to do with a Black actress.

As for who Nyong’o plays in the Black Panther movie, I’d rule out Storm completely. Though the X-Men’s favorite wind-rider married Tchalla in the comic books, it’s unlikely she’d even show up in the movie as an a X-Man character she’s the exclusive property of 20th Century Fox and considering the cold war between Fox and Disney, I wouldn’t count on Storm flying over Wakanda anytime soon. It could happen, but it probably won’t.

Ryan Coogler is directing Black Panther and since he’s done two of my favorite movies of the past five years (Fruitvale Station, Creed), I am very interested in what he will do with a super-hero movie. I can only hope Marvel overlord Kevin Feige and the rest of the execs at the Mouse House aren’t too heavy-handed in throwing in too many shout-outs to future films in the pipeline. One good sign is this from Feige about the Black Panther’s diversity, “That will be amongst the best ensembles we’ve ever had. And 90% of the cast is either African or African-American.”

It’s not as though there haven’t been Black super heroes in movies before, but not since Blade 3 in 2004 has one been featured in their own movie.  Not even an Academy Award-winning Halle Berry could get a Storm franchise out of Development Hell and into pre-production.    Maybe the Falcon or War Machine could.  If  Ant-Man can get made, why not?  And Ant-Man sucks.

There’s a lot riding on the Panthers’ vibramium-padded shoulders.   Marvel has had it’s fair share of underwhelming films (Iron Man 2, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and both Thor entries) but even Ant-Man made money.  If it hadn’t it wouldn’t have been a fatal wound to Marvel.   Paul Rudd would just be sent back to the bench until the next Avengers entry.    Let the Black Panther tank and we’ll wait another dozen years for Hollywood to try that again.

With Michael B. Jordan looking to reunite with Coogler and possibly playing the villain (Killmonger? The White Wolf?), I’ve got reasons to be even MORE hyped. To get me outta the house, you need to show me something special and more than blowing shit up real good CGI style.  A predominantly Black cast in a film with Coogler, Nyong’o and Jordan?   Hey, that’s all you had to say, Negro!  The Black Panther is shaping up to be that something special.


“I understand you’re looking for a sidekick much cooler than Bucky or the Falcon, Cap, but it’s not my thing. “


“Hi, I’m Iron Man. Give Me All Your Money.”

Just a couple of bros hangin’ out chillaxin.

The calendar says May but as far as Hollywood goes it’s officially summer.   That’s what happens when the first huge movie of the year  comes out and stomps the snot out of every other film in sight.   Iron Man 3 has big heavy metal boots and with a $175 million opening week and over $600 million worldwide, it’s stepping all over what we will laughingly call “the competition.”

The family rolled out for a Sunday matinee and everyone  seemed to dig the hell out of the latest adventures of Tony Stark and friends.  I’ve waited three years to wipe away the bad taste Iron Man 2 left . And since it pulled down $175 million in Week One, it’s set the bar high for “Man of Steel.”   IM3 had the same problem the Bond franchise had with “Quantum of So What?” All  Skyfall had to be was better than that  last piece of crap and that was a low bar to clear.

It was definitely more entertaining than The Dark Knight RisesYeah I went there because that was the last super-hero movie I saw with a crime-fighting billionaire in the lead so it’s a natural comparison to  IM 3.   It’s been almost a year and I’m still convinced  Christopher Nolan didn’t stick the landing to his  end of  the Batman trilogy.   Iron Man 3 improved on everything that was weak about Iron Man 2.  The villains were better.  Don Cheadle was better replacing Terrence Howard as James “Rhodey” Rhodes.   Even Gwenyth Paltrow was better as Pepper Potts (Pepper Potts…oh, that Stan Lee!) and usually all Paltrow elicits from me is drumming my fingers impatiently until she’s off-screen and Iron Man is hitting something.

The problem now for Marvel is can they resign Downey for “Avengers 2.”  He’s certainly in an excellent negotiating position if he’s interested in returning.   Why shouldn’t he be?  Downey’s resurgence as a superstar is based upon how natural he is as Tony Stark.  The executives at Disney may have a short list of possible replacements for Downey if he doesn’t return and Kevin Feige, the main man of Marvel Films has hinted the ability to swap out actors as their heroes is a cue they have taken from the James Bond franchise.

Maybe Marvel is right.  Maybe Downey is replaceable as Tony Stark (because anyone can play a computer generated Iron Man).   Since Christopher Reeve made us believe a man can fly in Superman, two other actors have sported the “S” on the chest in feature films.  Four actors have suited up as Batman,  three as Bruce Banner/The Hulk and two swinging around as Spider-Man.

But no actor has inhabited the alter ego of the hero as well as Robert Downey Jr.  has worn the skin of Tony Stark.  Stark is more essential to the success of the Iron Man franchise than Iron Man is.  If Stan Lee, Larry Lieber,  Don Heck and Jack Kirby didn’t create Stark with Downey in mind, they should have.   When you’ve made a movie that has grossed a billion with a big “B” as The Avengers has, do you really want to risk that success of the franchise based upon an actor’s possible salary demands?

Downey pocketed an amazing $50 million payday for The Avengers, more than the rest of the principal actors put together and is the unquestioned first among equals.  In a GQ interview, Downey indicated he might be nearing the end of his super-hero days as the 47-year-old wondered how many more times he wants to suit up in the red and gold armor.  The ankle injury he sustained on the set of IM3 during a stunt shut down production for several weeks and put Downey in a reflective mood.

“It got me thinking about how big the message from your cosmic sponsor needs to be before you pick it up. How many genre movies can I do? How many follow-ups to a successful follow-up are actually fun?”

Downey says he wants to win an Oscar some day and it doesn’t matter if playing Iron Man is a license to print money.    Playing a billionaire has made Downey a millionaire, but it won’t win him the prize and recognition he really wants.   However, don’t take that to mean if he’s done with all this super-hero stuff he’ll walk away without a few regrets.

“At whatever point I’m done with this, I’m going to have a bit of a crisis, because I probably haven’t even fully ingested how much I’ve enjoyed it, how much it’s meant. It so came out of kind of relative obscurity as this second-tier character from the Marvel universe, and I feel I was part of making it something more. But it also to me was just good filmmaking,”  Downey said.

If The Avengers is going to make its 2015 release date, Disney won’t have too long to make up their mind whether they’re going to need a fleet of Brink’s trucks to get Downey to re-up.    Whether or not he does is an open question.

As for the big SPOILER in the movie I’ll say this much about it.  The only people who will be left slack-jawed and pissed off by it are comic book purists.   Nobody else will notice or care.   Not one blessed soul.

Iron Man 3‘s $175 million opening is second only to The Avengers.  Does that make IM3 as good as The Avengers.  No, and it isn’t even  a close call.   The Avengers was something unique and I think it’s only competition is itself in the same way The Dark Knight can’t be matched.   As the end of the trilogy where does Iron Man 3 stack up?   It’s been a long time since I watched the first, but from what I can recall, Iron Man was a lot more fun than 2 (a root canal would have been too), but only slightly more than 3.

The Avengers
Iron Man
Captain America
Iron Man 3
Iron Man 2
The Incredible Hulk (but only because I have it on DVD and have never watched it).

I almost forgot the absolutely Very Best Thing about Iron Man 3.  Not once did I hear AC/DC’s “Back in Black” or Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man.”  Talk about overexposure!


‘The Avengers’ Sticks the Landing

“Whoa. Look at all those piles of money!”

If The Avengers had been a failure no one would have been shocked.   Almost everything that happens on the screen has been seen time and again in other summer blockbusters, but this one goes somewhere no other has gone before.   It draws from no less than five previous films (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America and The Incredible Hulk) and incorporates key elements from all of them while simultaneously  pulling off the unlikely feat of telling its own story so well-written and self-contained that it’s not necessary to have seen any of its predecessors.

The suits at Marvel Studios can exhale and pop the bubbly.   The Avengers sticks the landing and pulls together almost flawlessly what could have been a car crash of clunky continuity and an unmanageable mess of too many characters, back stories and exposition into a superhero film that doesn’t just raise the bar but kicks it into the stratosphere.

Watching what got us to this point was an experience where none of the movies (still haven’t popped The Incredible Hulk DVD in the player yet) were bad, some were pretty good, Iron Man 2 was mediocre and none of them were outstanding.    The Avengers is outstanding.    It’s entertaining and energetic after it gets past a slow opening 30 minutes as director Joss Whedon takes time to assemble his heroes and villains before all the avenging takes off in the second and third acts.

I avoided the crowd at a 11:00 am showing with my wife (who loves her some Robert Downey, Jr.) and my know-it-all 17-year-old daughter who loves Chris Evans face and Chris Hemsworth’s arms.   I would say Scarlett Johansson’s leather clad Black Widow and to a much lesser extent, the cameo of Gwyneth Paltrow ‘s narrow butt in shorts is supposed to thrill the fan boys, but they’re going to get their nerdgasms from the sight of The Hulk throwing down with Thor.

“Didn’t Hannibal Lecter start off like this?”

My expectations were not only met but exceeded by the two hours and 22 minutes we spent in the dark and my synapses have been doing a happy dance all day long.  The Avengers has dethroned Spider-Man 2 as the second-best superhero movie of all time and by a WIDE margin. It can’t touch the force of nature known as The Dark Knight, but The Dark Knight Rises will have to be killing it to beat this.

This movie is a bad-ass thrill ride.   It thinks big, it’s full of big set pieces, big fights, and yes, Virginia, even big laughs with lots of them coming from an extremely unlikely source.

What does a $200 million budget buy? Everything I think I could have dreamed of for The Avengers and then some. It’s eye-popping entertainment and yes, even Scarlett Johansson is given something to do besides be token eye-candy for the guys. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is a great bad guy delivering his lines with Shakespehrian seriousness as he smiles like someone enjoying his own private joke.  He’s a great schemer even if his master plan doesn’t really hang together. The movie takes some time to get going but once it does, it works wonderfully until the last minute.

Captain America calls the shots in the comic book, but this isn’t a comic book and the real genius isn’t just in the impressive action scenes (and they are extremely impressive), but the interaction of a group of geniuses, soldiers, monsters, spies and gods trying to figure out how to set aside their significant differences to stave off a greater threat.   The bonding between Downey’s snarky Tony Stark and Mark Ruffalo’s surfer dude coolly contained scientist living a terrible double life works beautifully.   Chris Evans has the worst costume and the burden of trying to make these highly combustible personalities work together.   The Hulk and Thor are tough sells to pull off, but Captain America is the hero that holds it all together based upon his integrity and courage.

“Hulk want to renegotiate contract!”

Whedon knows how to balance out a diverse group of characters and do it such a way that nobody feels short-changed or disappears off-screen for extended periods of time. It’s a masterful bit of direction by him. He’s going to be able to write his own ticket after this one.

I can’t say much more about this movie but to say it’s much better than I could have hoped and I will be seeing it again. Oh, and after two movies where they couldn’t quite get the Hulk right, Whedon gets it right and then some. Hulk smash puny film up good!

This being a Marvel movie you must stay through the credits. There are two Easter eggs thrown in. One that only comic book geeks will get and another that is…kind of different.

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