THE INHERENT POWER OF GENRE - PT. 6:
MARVEL v. D.C. (pg. 5)
VIEWS ON FILM BY CEJ -
The GRINDHOUSE: Reviews
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016)
Fan made poster collage by Punmagneto @ deviant art
(original art images by Alexander Lozano, Ryan Meinerding
and Andy Park) / Image Copyrights © Marvel Entertainment
“Back on track?”.Uh,huh! Yup,! For first let’s acknowledge that, as generally wonderful as they are, the Marvel series of films (just like any series of films) isn’t perfect. Since restructuring itself into the production company powerhouse it’s become since 2008s original IRON MAN (and it is hard to believe it’s been sixteen years, isn’t it?) Mighty Marvel has - just like Tony Stark using his palm repulsor beams in combat - had its share of hits and misses. 2010’s IRON MAN 2 was a bit of a letdown after the first film instantly became one of the best comic book to movie adaptations of all time, following closely on the heels of Richard Donner’s SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE. And we’re still scratching our heads as to how IRON MAN 3 (2013), with enough narrative “collateral damage” in the form of gaping crater-sized plot holes and character dunderheadedness as to warrant a “Sokovia Accord” to keep it from happening again, became not only a record breaking box office smash, but a critical darling as well. Because honestly folks, while a heck of an action movie ride, it sure as hell wasn’t IRON MAN.
We also have to acknowledge that with the just released AVENGERS 2.5 … . Oops! Sorry, couldn’t help that one! Some of you know that was the satirically tentative title given to CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR a couple of years ago when its multi-hero storyline was first unveiled. Anyway, one has to acknowledge that with CIVIL WAR, for as much as each individual Marvel film functions as a “stand-alone” narrative in and of itself, with the latest release it’s become near impossible to not view the studio’s sixteen year-long MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) as anything other than one long single film series narrative now into its 13th chapter. As such the MCU is not unlike the long running, globally successful James Bond, STAR WARS and STAR TREK franchises wherein some entries are not only better executed than others, but where some take a lighter slant on said series, such as Bond’s MOONRAKER (1979) and STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (1986 – yes, that one with the whales!), while others are more straight-ahead representations of their source material – like the more recent CASINO ROYALE and STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY (1991): that one a deliberately politically aware TREK analogous to the then thawing relations between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union.
The tone of the much lighter GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014) ...
Similarly the Marvel films have wisely (and perhaps necessarily) adjusted the tones of their various entries, with two of their most recent, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and ANT-MAN, taking a decidedly less serious tonal point of view than did their comic book bases. While both were / are enjoyable films, this tonal shift worried some (us included) as those more comedic entries shared common MCU characters and plot material which were to be exploited later down the line in other Marvel films leading up to the climactic AVENGERS: INFITY WAR pts. 1 & 2 slated for release in 2018 and 2019 respectively.
Ultimately how does a filmic series reconcile the comedic sensibility of GUARADIANS’ Peter Quill (portrayed by Chris Pratt) hilariously undulating his hips, belting out the Five Stairsteps, and proclaiming to heinous intergalactic nemesis Ronan “It’s a ‘Dance Off’ bro!”; or perhaps to an even greater extent reconcile ANT-MAN’s giant choo choos and other toys hurled across suburban lawns, with the more real world post 9/11 political thematics (and hard edged violence) of say CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER?
And no, this kind of dissection isn’t sacrilege against Mighty Marvel's slate of apparently unassailable, so-popular-you-can't-say-anyting-which-can-possibly-be-perceived-as-negative-against-them films. We’re some of the biggest comic book (and not just comic book movie)
fans from waaay back in the day. Drop us a line and we’ll chat about it
one-on-one sometime. No, it’s not sacrilege, just old school
critical thinking wherein you realize there’s no such thing as “either /
or”. The kind of overview where one realizes that, even within the best
of something there can be negatives, and how even within the worst of
something there can be one or two positives, … which is kinda / sorta
what the stunningly realized and breathlessly entertaining CAPTAIN
AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is itself all about. And oh yeah, it also happens to be
one of the most intelligent “political” films since, … well, … since
2014s CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER. In other words, like we said,
Marvel is definitely back on track. Now, about this “critical thinking”
thing. We have to touch on it to explain what makes this new film so damned good.
... vs. the harder edged CAPT. AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014)
But hey, those not so inclined can skip over the next few paragraphs. We won’t be offended. In fact that’s kind of the “Steve Rogers”-like point we’re getting at. Where it’s okay (even sometimes necessary) to color outside the lines / step outside the box, and follow one’s own instinct, even if it means going against the generally accepted / expected paradigm.
Frank Herbert (1920 - 1986)
A couple of weeks ago we got into a fascinating conversation with a fellow writer about how, while loving the access of / to social media and the Internet in general (being able to instantly purchase and download music, books, etc.), we both however felt that to a certain degree the art of learning “how to think critically but not judgementally” was maybe being lost to an entire generation becoming increasingly used to the wonders of instant access.
Stephen King once opined how true genre fans are like street people in that they’ll sift through mounds of garbage in order to find one decent piece of meat. And for us the “sifting through the garbage” aspect was / is always part and parcel of the learning experience. Not necessarily in that what you chose / choose to discard was / is garbage per se. But you come to realize that, while maintaining intrinsic value to many, some particular thing may just not be for you. You begin to develop the ability to respect and admire something while you may not necessarily enjoy it.
See, that's exactly what we're talking about.
Right there, just now, to a percentage of you that last sentence at first seemed to make no sense whatsover. But to us Frank Herbert’s DUNE comes to mind.
We’ve got friends who’ve read all the Herbert DUNE novels multiple times. They can’t get enough of them. But we have to admit it took us forever to slog through the first book alone. Now, Herbert masterfully creates an entire universe down to the smallest of details; and it’s amazing how he does it. There’s a reason DUNE is one of the best-selling publications in world history – up there with the Bible and Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. But for us it's just consistently maddening how Herbert seems to grind his narrative to a halt in order to spend the next chapter describing say the minute inner workings of a stillsuit. We find the same intolerable “grinding to a halt to explain” aspect in the western novels of legendary author Louis L’Amour as well. Tolkien is much better at filling his audience in on the necessary (and fascinating) aspects of his created world while at the same time keeping the narrative moving at an engaging clip. So, we admire and respect Herbert and L’Amour to no end. They are phenomenal writers. We just don’t enjoy them. And that’s okay.
Louis L'Amour (1900 - 1988)
On the other hand we admit that Michael Crichton and Tom Clancy do the same “grinding to a halt to explain” thing. Only with them we tend to forgive the narrative offense because (quite subjectively, and admittedly unfairly) we’ve always been personally interested in the subjects for which they “grind their narratives to a halt” to explain. So in both instances we’re admitting that within the best there are negatives, and vice versa. If you’re seeing how we’re starting to sound like ‘ol Cap himself – Mr. Steve Rogers, then yeah, we’re all on the right track.
Our aforementioned fellow writer related how over the years as she read the HUNGER GAMES novels to her son, on more than one occasion she’d come across paragraphs of text where she felt author Suzanne Collins was being carelessly redundant in regards to what was already earlier well established in necessary character and narrative info. So, desiring to keep her audience (her son) engaged, she simply skipped over them. Hey, that’s what publishing and film editors are supposed to do, right? At any rate …
The great thing about going into a library, book store or record shop (remember those?), and reading flaps, deciding to take a chance on something, and taking it home – sometimes glad that you did, and sometimes regretting it - is that one learns that ability to respect a certain something while thinking critically about it at the same time. On a smaller (microcosmic) level we’re talking about books, music and film. But on a larger (macrocosmic) level we’re talking interpersonal relationships with family, and those at school and at work, and of course about our socio-political spectrum at large – perhaps the most pronounced and obvious current example being the recent American Presidential primaries. Talk about having to sift through things!
Whether one was / is a supporter of Sanders, Trump, Clinton, Cruz or whomever, one can’t help but see that many followers of all of the above view their candidate, in relation to the other candidates, in an “either / or” manner wherein their guy (or gal) is all but the savior of the future of the American dream, whereas the opposing candidate(s) is / are the AntiChrist come to dinner a half hour too early. And, in regards to that last part, it's intriguing (as well as maddening and inherently dangerous) how said supporters tend to sweep under the rug their candidates’ faults – as if somehow acknowledging their shortcomings is in some way being disloyal to them, one’s party, and / or a well cherished ideal. That's the dangerous part - that failure to be able to look below the surface of both optimistic rhetoric and distracting faults to (hey, such often is life - like it or not / agree with it or not) discern what sometimes is the lesser of a choice of evils, or to the compromise which can possibly serve the greater good. All of this brings us back to the somewhat subversive yet uber-intelligence of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR.