• Captain America Civil War: How To Comic Book Movie (some spoilers)

    Marvel's Civil War was where I stepped back into comics after a long break up, only to discover that the problems that made me ditch comics in the first place had only gotten worse. Worse because now Marvel's focus was entirely on selling as many books as they could with this new tie-in crossover epic event bullshit. Civil War should have been a great story and it started that way, pitting Cap versus Iron Man over a mutant registration act that would help keep super powered beings in check. Too bad the result was convoluted plot lines and out of character characters that devolved the entire thing into a giant episode of "who would win in a fight: ___ or ____?"

    For me, the only good thing to come out of that mess was this moment in Amazing Spider-Man #537:

    When they announced that the next Captain America movie would be Tony versus Steve in Civil War, I wanted none of that.

    And yet, the Russo Brothers had already given us The Winter Soldier, a movie that showed a level of character depth and realization--for women and people of colour no less--that is sorely lacking in the glut of superhero movies we've got going now. Plus Joe and Anthony Russo specifically said that, while the concept of registration and keeping super powers in check would be a focus of the film, they were not delving more deeply than that into the comic source material.

    So months later, here I am walking out of the theatre with my faith renewed in the future of the MCU (if not super hero movies in general, since we've still got other problem ones out there...). I took my 8yo daughter who likewise loved The Winter Soldier and Captain America himself. "We're on Captain America's side, right mom?" she asked at the start of our day. "Because Iron Man is kind of mean, even if he did save the world." At the end of the movie, she was still very much Team Cap, but she could see where Iron Man was right in many ways and the ways in which Cap was wrong too, while for me, I found myself questioning my loyalties--which is exactly what the original Civil War story was supposed to have done had it not chosen instead to make Tony and several others into fascist assholes, resorting to underhanded methods to get their way.

    There were some very specific elements that the movie did capture from the comic, such as this scene.  The most powerful moment for me was a variation of the "No, you move." speech above. But it was not Cap saying it to a Spider-Man questioning his choices. It was Sharon Carter speaking Peggy Carter's words *to* Steve.

    There were many, many other emotional scenes in the film, framed beautifully by the score, or by silence. The Russos know how to make a moment, I tell you. From the more obvious heart wrenching moment of a dead father in his son's arms as a legacy is passed on, or a man clinging beyond all hope to his friend.
    See those words up there? Those are the words of a person who gets it. One half of a team who gets it. I was able to appreciate Age of Ultron because I saw it with my kids and could appreciate their perspective, but when I sat back, I saw it for all the flaws. I gave Joss Whedon some credit for having  to cobble together that mess into one single movie when it should have been at least two, but I hated his reliance on every trope possible, including the ones he himself has made standard practice in his own work -- from motivational shock death to abyss kiss -- along with all kinds of visual distraction. With all the things going on in the MCU, having everyone show up in a Captain America movie seemed like this film ought to have suffered the same problem, and yet the Russo Brothers managed to weave together a completely cohesive story that did yet another thing 100 comics failed to do: give every character an absolutely legitimate reason for being there and for choosing a particular side and even letting them recognize where their views might be flawed.

    And the disagreement over those views -- was it enough to justify all out battles against each other to the death? Well that's the thing. The movie didn't set it up that way at all. "Move. Or be moved." That's what the battle was about, rather than a straight up death match, The comics had someone die to add weight to the story, but in comics, death means so little. The movie instead leaned heavily on the death of innocents, while with the heroes fighting each other, it offered us pain. Very real pain with very real, long lasting ramifications. There was no real fear that any one of these characters were going to actually kill their comrades -- at least not until the very end where that tension became very, very real when the villain -- who himself was not some simplistic monster -- made his final play. In the final show down between Cap and Iron Man, I had to assure my daughter that it wouldn't end the way it seemed to be heading, but frankly, I wasn't so sure.

    Here for lulz and truth.
     Credit to whoever made it. 
    This was a Captain America movie that involved many, many, people, but it sidelined none of them (which is no surprise after seeing Falcon and Black Widow in The Winter Soldier (which included the kind of empowerment of characters that is at the heart of who Cap is), nor did it stick them into weird story lines or relationships that made no sense beyond serving as plot devices.

    Let me take a minute to talk about Wanda. Everyone's talking about Black Panther (and I will too), but Wanda. She was dismissed by Maria Hill as the "weird girl" in Age Ultron, and fans of the character have feared for her depiction after her horrible treatment in the comics. The Scarlet Witch is the "crazy" one. The frightening, powerful woman that needs to be destroyed because oh how easily she could slip into madness. The movie dips into this. Tony is aware of her capabilities and tries to keep her in check because of what she is capable of, but the rest of her compatriots never express fear in working with her. She shows awareness and  responsibility for her own actions, and we get wonderful moments between her and Vision as they both seek to understand their powers and their place in this world. More of this please.

    Even Tony gets to be more than just the antagonist here as he continues to deal with the repercussions of all of his actions and adventures since his first movie, as well as his father's legacy. The Russo Brothers don't let him off the hook for his ego, nor do they allow him to be simply the villain the comics made him into.

    Consequences and responsibility is the theme for everyone in this movie, and no one is let off easy. Action stories and super heroes are fun, but little mind is paid to the innocent lives lost even as the good guys save the world. This was not a gimmick. The movie held true to this purpose from start to finish.  It was an emotionally heavy film, without being a dark and gritty one. It could still have fun (I need a Bucky and Sam sitcom) while delivering the necessary gravity.

    One of my few beefs with the film beyond the technical plot details (such as why did no one bother to analyze that one image of Bucky?) is related to Tony, in that the very first appearance--or even mention--of Maria Stark is basically all about her being fridged in order to push Tony's resolve. She might as well have been named Martha.

    My other criticism comes in the form of Spider-Man. That is to say, I loved Spider-Man. The pithy introduction of Peter Parker and his aunt made absolute sense and worked well. It almost makes me forgive them for forcing yet another Spider-Man movie down our throats if only because we might actually get one that doesn't feel the need to tell us once more about spider bites and Uncle Bens. But let's talk about why Spider-Man was there in this movie. See, in the comic event, his story line carried some serious weight as Peter struggled with his choices. Initially, he sided with Iron Man, willing to reveal his long hidden identity to support the registration act.
    Peter Parker, Spider-Man: Civil War | Marvel Comics
    The announcement that the MCU had obtained Spider-Man from Fox implied that this tipping of the scales was some how in the works for the movie story line. But in truth, while I liked Spider-Man's appearance, he served no greater purpose than for his comic relief (which Ant-Man was already providing) and his particular abilities. In which case, I am extremely disappointed that the opportunity had not been taken to introduce Miles Morales (and his mother) instead. Miles has already made the move into the Marvel comic canon from his original Ultimates run, he is an established character on the cartoon, and, precedent has already been set with Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury. Why not give us something fresh for the web crawler?

    But, while there is a serious dearth of women of colour in this film, I guess I should not expect another man of colour in a movie that already features three black guys. I'm so ungrateful, I know.

    Ah well. Let me move on to that one black guy everyone is talking about and for damn good reason: Black Panther. There was some question prior to release in regard to what Black Panther was doing in the movie in the first place and why he had such a hate on for Bucky. I was deeply worried that he was just being shoved into this film as a promotional piece. I was deeply worried that all the heart and soul Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze are putting into the new comic book series would be wasted. But Marvel has clearly invested in this character and the movie did not sell him short at all. Black Panther was everything he should be in shape and form and function--he even moved like a cat, complete with silent landings that have made him my daughter's new favourite character in accordance with her obsession with our own pet black cat. T'Challa was regal and uncompromising--until he needed to compromise, and then his humility was a thing of beauty. I love to hear the excitement over his solo movie, especially with casting and directing news like this.  

    So yeah... this is what a super hero movie should be. Yes there were fight scenes and explosions (though none that were as mind numbingly confusing as Age of Ultron -- I didn't even mind seeing Civil War in 3D since it did not abuse the medium) but none of them were wasted within the movie itself. We got the big pay off battle, but it wasn't just the man pain punch fest that other movies have promoted and then skimped on. Every moment had purpose and power, and, despite all that had to happen to continue the MCU wheel that is turning, it all worked together (sometimes with questionable plot jumps, but at least not glaring ones) while still taking the time to remind me of what made me love comics in the first place: the characters. I love being able to see myself in those characters, even and especially when I hate their decisions and actions. Super powers are cool, but what makes those people mean something to me is because they struggle the same way I do with their choices and their relationships. For all the costumes and abilities, they are still very much real. Very much human, rather than gods among us.....
  • SWTOR: Having Way Too Much Fun With Adaptive Armour

    Back to playing SWTOR yet again. I'm hoping to finish all the classes (5 to go), which is much easier to do nowadays. I was lured back because of the new content, but other than viewing the trailer, I haven't even checked it out. Instead, I've been spending my time on my long neglected characters, as well as creating new ones for my class completion goals. This play is all preempted by time spent at the GTN finding the perfect outfit for my ladies. Priorities. I have them.

  • WWAC: #TouchYourselfTonight: Let’s Take Deadpool Seriously for a Moment

    It’s unlikely that my sister-in-law will ever see Deadpool. She does not like violence. She’s also just rung the bell after six years of fighting cancer. She’s beaten the disease, but that doesn’t make hearing the “c-word,” much less watching someone else deal with it, very easy to handle any time soon. Meanwhile, a friend has just stepped onto this path after her mother’s recent diagnosis. Another sister-in-law works in an oncology ward. My former boss’s cancer returned after more than a decade. My mother just passed away from a disease that was not quite cancer, but it was close enough, eating her away from the inside. Cancer is a vicious disease that has touched far too many of our lives. No one is immune. Cancer is no joke. Yet, in a movie that is one inappropriate joke after another, I was struck by how prominent Deadpool’s cancer battle was to both the storyline and the characters themselves and how seriously it was taken.

    Read more at WWAC
  • Lost in a Feeling

    I'm late to the Island. Or rather, I wasn't ready for the Island when I first tried to watch Lost. I'd caught two or three episodes back when it first aired. I distinctly remember watching the episode that revealed Mr. Eko's past. I liked it. I watched another episode much later, one featuring Locke. I liked him too.

    But that damn polar bear. That damn black smoke.

    I wasn't ready.

    Over a decade later, and with encouragement and support of my friends (by that I mean me flailing at them and them having to relive all the pain), I discovered what it truly means to get lost.

    Oh the black smoke and the polar bear and a myriad of other things are still extremely WTF about the show, but they are all cursory. They are not things to get hung up on and seek explanations for. In fact, in the year or so undertaking that this six season watch has been for me, I have carefully avoided reading almost anything about the show, and my friends kindly did not spoil me, providing over comfort and understanding and "I told you so"s when appropriate.

    Actually, a few seasons in, I did read The Lost Will and Testament of Javier Grillo-Marxuach, where the Lost writer and producer of two seasons answers the simple question: did we make it up as we went along? It was a spoiler free essay that proved to be extremely enlightening and furthered my growing fascination with the show. I was already hooked by then and the insights only dug the hooks in deeper. I am amazed by how the show could so seamlessly keep itself tied together, even when some strings blew into the wind. The visual and linear consistency--even when time travel became a thing--was astounding. Yes it became convoluted and no one could have stepped into the show part way through and understood anything, but for those who watched from the beginning, it was all there, connecting and interconnecting, from small moments, to big ones, literally start to finish.

    In Grillo-Marxuach's essay, he writes that the executives wanted explanations for everything, and they wanted scifi--but not too scifi. The character backstories were created to fill in the blanks around the strange occurrences on the mysterious island. But those very stories--those characters--became the heart and soul of the show--as it should be. I say again and again that good characters are what draw me into a story, and Lost had no shortage of them.

    Moreover, this was a gorgeously diverse cast where the lead was the standard white guy, but he did not get to be the hero. There was no tokenism. There were no overused tropes (well, there were a few, but I'll overlook them as they weren't prominent and frequently used plot devices). Everyone had a role to play that left no room for Jack Shepard (shut up Bioware) to walk in and save the day, even though he tried hard to do so--which itself was an amazing part of the storytelling.

    I finally finished the entire six seasons last month. There were a lot of tears and a lot of flails over the time, with much of it happening in that final stretch. Facebook, in its infinite oafishness, did accidentally spoil me a few episodes shy of The End when a friend shared a link warning me that the Netflix version of the final episode was 18 minutes shorter than it should be. Facebook felt the need to share other posts about Lost, one of which asked "Were they really dead the whole time?" Thanks, Facebook.

    In truth, I wasn't mad, as it wasn't at all surprising. I suppose that was the source of the controversy when the finale first aired. I have not looked into it and don't really care to any more than I care to delve into the main unexplained aspects of the entire series. I like inconclusive endings and knew from the start that was what I was getting into. I am also not fond of forced happy endings for the sake of happy endings. This felt... right. It was bittersweet. An end but not quite. Happiness even in loss.

    Perhaps some saw the ending as a waste of time, having watched all of that to learn it wasn't really real. But we don't know what is on the other side, and I want to believe in something sometimes. Perhaps not mysterious islands, but... something. Second chances maybe? A chance to grow and learn who we are truly meant to be? Or who we are meant to be with?

    I am glad I watched Lost. Glad I watched it now when I could truly appreciate it... and then... let it go...
  • WWAC: #WheresRey: Why Do We Still Need Fan Outcry to Get Hasbro to do What It Should Have Done in the First Place?

    ​In a not so shocking sexist merchandising twist, fans learned that the latest edition of Star Wars Monopoly would not include Rey, the main character of The Force Awakens film. After the fan outcry, Hasbro announced that it would remedy this issue by including Rey in the updated version.

    You don’t have to dig much deeper to consider the message that is being delivered by Rey’s omission and shelves and displays that are bereft of the female characters of Disney’s major intellectual properties. Black Widow didn’t get to ride her own bike after The Age of Ultron. Gamorra didn’t get to be a Guardian of the Galaxy. And Honey Lemon and Go Go Tomago were the “plus two” in Big Hero 6. Why? Because Disney and subsequently its licensees have determined that boys think girls are yucky and girls only care about princesses when it comes to merchandising.

    Read more at Women Write About Comics
  • WWAC: Dejah Thoris: Addressing the Princess of Mars

    I never expected to be excited about an issue of Dynamite’s Dejah Thoris, but the princess of Barsoom has slowly been growing on me over the years. I knew of her vaguely through the limited contact I had with my brother’s pulp fiction books and comics, but she was a distant character when compared to the likes of Conan and Red Sonja. Yet, along with Sonja and Vampirella, she has been leading Dynamite’s collection of powerful pulp women for quite some time.

    Read more at Women Write About Comics
  • WWAC: The Truth is Out There: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

    There was a moment during The X-Files season ten premiere that made me sit up and cheer. It wasn’t seeing Mulder or Scully’s face again after all these years. It wasn’t about seeing an alien space ship crash, or an alien autopsy. The moment didn’t include explosions or romantic tension between our beloved protagonists. It was a moment that involved a single name:

    Henrietta Lacks.

    Read more at Women Write About Comics
  • WWAC: TIFF In Conversation with Tatiana Maslany

    The lights dim and the screen brightens to reveal Tatiana Maslany, expertly portraying a paranoid Alison Hendrix ill-prepared for the neighbourhood pot luck dinner, opposite Tatiana Maslany as Sarah Manning, who must now take Hendrix’s place at the party after interrogating her husband. Sound strange? Then you have missed out on the critically acclaimed, unabashedly Canadian science fiction drama called Orphan Black and you must remedy this right away! Orphan Black boasts a stellar cast of characters, of which Maslany plays–as of season three–11 of them as she explores the ways identical biological structures can be expressed so differently. Each clone has an entirely unique personality that Maslany brings to life in this often amusing, shocking, tearful character study of the life choices and outside influences that make us who we are.

    Read more at Women Write About Comics
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