Lisa Marie’s Thoughts On Captain America: Civil War


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It was freaking awesome!

That, in a nutshell, is my main thought when it comes to Captain America: Civil War.  It’s a movie that we spent a year anticipating.  It’s a movie that we were continually assured would be great.  And it’s a movie that, unlike Batman v Superman, actually lived up to all the hype.  It’s also a movie that has already been reviewed here on the Shattered Lens.  Check out Arleigh’s review by clicking here and be sure to check out Gary’s review as well.

So, what’s really left for me to say about Captain America: Civil War?  Beyond, of course, that it was freaking awesome.

Of course, it’s hard to talk about Captain America: Civil War without also talking about Batman v Superman.  Both films start with the same basic idea: the heroic activities of super heroes has led to cities being destroyed and innocent people dying.  In Batman v. Superman, Batman takes it open himself to avenge the destruction of Metropolis and expose Superman as being the biggest false God since Baal.  In Civil War, the United Nations announces that, from now on, all super hero activity has to be cleared with them.  In Batman v. Superman, Batman and Superman are manipulated into fighting each other.  In Captain America: Civil War, Captain America and Iron Man are manipulated into fighting each other.  In Batman v Superman, Jesse Eisenberg plays a neurotic villain.  In Captain America: Civil War, Daniel Bruhl plays a neurotic villain.  Batman v Superman features more heroes than just Batman and Superman.  Civil War features more heroes than just Captain America and Iron Man.  Batman v Superman ends with a promise of more films to come.  So does Civil War.  Both films are huge and expensive star-filled spectacles and both of them are a part of a larger cinematic mythology.  They both even have roughly the same running time.  Of course, Batman v Superman seems even longer while Civil War is over far too quickly.

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And yet, Civil War is a thousand times better than Batman v Superman.  For all of its sound and fury, Batman v Superman is ultimately an empty shell.  I left the film feeling not at all emotionally moved but definitely deafened by all the explosions and the yelling and the ranting and the pounding score.  As I left the theater, the world sounded like it was underwater.  Batman v Superman opens with the world exploding and the explosion continues for another two and a half hours.  Civil War, on the other hand, takes its time.  After the initial battle scene (which features a nice cameo from the great Frank Grillo), Civil War slows down.  It explores its characters and their relationships and their motivations.  The first hour of Civil War may be dominated by people debating but its compelling to watch because, after 8 years, the MCU and the characters within feel as alive as the world outside the theater.

In Batman v Superman, Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck appeared to be acting in separate films.  That’s not a problem in Civil War.  When you watch Chris Evans and Robert Downey, Jr., you believe that they are friends and, when they fight, you don’t just thrill at the action.  You mourn the end of a friendship.  If Batman v Superman‘s battle ultimately felt hollow, the final battle in Civil War leaves you wincing in pain.

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Which is not to say that Civil War is not a fun movie.  It’s the most genuinely fun film that I’ve seen so far this year.  There’s a joy to the best films of the MCU, a joy that — with the exception of Gal Gadot’s cameo — was totally lacking from the somber and self-important mess that Batman v Superman.  I have never heard an audience applaud more than they did while watching Civil War.  The film may have been dominated by Evans and Downey but every citi of thzene MCU got a chance to shine.  Scarlett Johansson, Paul Rudd, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, and Elizabeth Olsen all proved their worth to this new cinematic mythology.  After years of using Halloween to pay homage to Scarlett Johansson, I may have to go as Wanda Maximoff this year.  After seeing Hollywood waste her off-center and damaged talent in films like Godzilla, it was good to see Elizabeth Olsen playing Wanda as if she could have been a cousin to her character from Martha Marcy Mae Marlene.

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The audience saved their loudest and most enthusiastic cheers for Tom Holland, who claimed the role of Spiderman as his own and thankfully freed Andrew Garfield to go back to being the intriguing actor that we all remember from The Social Network and Never Let Me Go.  Holland doesn’t have a large role in Civil War but he’s still well-served by the film and the script makes great use of the character and Holland’s energetic performance.  As opposed to the super hero cameos in Batman v Superman, Spiderman’s appearance didn’t just feel like merely a teaser for a future film.  He belonged in the story.

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Of course, Civil War is dominated by the battle between Iron Man and Captain America and it says something about how successful the MCU has been that the battle feels less like a marketing gimmick and more like the natural result of what happens when two differing worldviews come into conflict.  When Tony Stark sides with the UN, it makes sense.  Ever since the very first Iron Man, Tony has been motivated by both guilt over making weapons and a fear that he doesn’t deserve his success.  Of course Tony would side with the UN.  Doing so not only allows him to alleviate his guilt but it also frees him of responsibility for any future actions that the Avengers may take.  It makes just as much sense that Captain America would feel the exact opposite.  His name is Captain America, not Captain United Nations.  When the UN was founded, he was still frozen in a block of ice.

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(Also interesting to note: Civil War was the first MCU film that I could follow without once having to ask my boyfriend for any background info on who all the characters were.  The MCU has become such a part of our culture that we all know the characters, regardless of whether we have ever read a Marvel comic or not.)

There is a nominal villain.  Daniel Bruhl plays Zemo and his role is actually pretty small.  That said, Zemo is definitely more interesting than the typical MCU villain (he’s certainly more memorable than Corey Stoll was in Ant-Man) and Bruhl does a good job playing him.  (Watching Civil War, it was hard not to think about how much better SPECTRE would have been if Bruhl, as opposed to Christoph Waltz, had played Blofeld.)  But, for me, the real villain of the film was the U.S. Secretary of State (played by William Hurt).  The character represented everything that all good people hate about the power structure.  William Hurt turned him into the epitome of unthinking and unreasonable authority.

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After Civil War was released, Salon’s Amanda Marcotte (who, let’s just be honest, ceased to be interesting the minute that she sold out and briefly worked for John Edwards in 2007) complained that Captain America had become “a douchey Libertarian.”  I would argue that 1) Captain America is definitely not douchey and 2) it’s his “libertarian” stance that makes him a hero.  Captain America does not represent any institution or ideology and he doesn’t take orders from faceless bureaucrats.  Captain America doesn’t need permission to do the right thing.  As played by Chris Evans, there’s something undeniably poignant about Captain America attempting to cling onto his idealism and his belief in personal freedom in an increasingly complicated and totalitarian world.  When told that he has a duty to become an anonymous, order-taking drone, Captain America says, “NO!”

(As a sidenote: If you want to see what the world expects Captain America to become, check out William Klein‘s Mr. Freedom.)

I know that some are claiming that Civil War is the best MCU film so far.  I wouldn’t quite go that far.  The film never quite reaches the lunatic heights of Guardians of the Galaxy nor does it match the subversive glee of Winter Soldier revealing that smug old Robert Redford is an agent of HYDRA.  But, no matter!  Captain America: Civil War is pretty freaking great!

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Here are the other MCU reviews that have appeared here on the Shattered Lens:

  1. Arleigh on Iron Man 2
  2. Arleigh on Thor
  3. Arleigh on Captain America: The First Avenger
  4. Leonard on The Avengers
  5. Viktor Von Glum on The Avengers
  6. Ryan on The Avengers
  7. Arleigh on Iron Man 3
  8. Leonard on Iron Man 3
  9. Ryan on Iron Man 3
  10. Ryan on Thor: The Dark World
  11. Ryan on Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  12. Lisa on Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  13. Ryan on Guardians of the Galaxy
  14. Lisa on Guardians of the Galaxy
  15. Lisa on Avengers: The Age of Ultron
  16. Leonard on Ant-Man
  17. Ryan on Ant-Man
  18. Lisa on Ant-Man
  19. Arleigh on Captain America: Civil War
  20. Gary Loggins on Captain America: Civil War

 

 

Captain America Civil War

Review: Captain America: Civil War (dir. by Anthony & Joe Russo)


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Captain America: The Winter Soldier wasn’t just a surprise hit for Marvel Studios and parent company Disney in 2014, it also showed the general public that there was more to Captain America than just a flag-waving symbol of America’s past glory. Captain America was a character that wasn’t the hip, wisecracking Tony Stark. He wasn’t the tortured soul in a monster’s body like Bruce Banner as the Hulk. He didn’t have the Shakespearean gravitas that was always lurking behind Thor and his complicated Asgardian family. No, Captain America was considered too straight-laced, blonde and blue-eyed goody two-shoes.

Captain America: The First Avenger focused on those very qualities. Steve Rogers was just a skinny, asthmatic young man from Brooklyn who wanted to do his part during World War II. It would be thanks to an experimental super-soldier serum that Steve Rogers’ body finally matched the inherent goodness and will to defend the little guy. For some, this initial introduction to Captain America was too hokey, but was entertaining enough. His next appearance in 2012’s game-changing superhero team-up The Avengers saw him be part tactician for a burgeoning superhero team and part comedy relief.

It would be with The Winter Soldier that the rest of the general public finally got to what comic book fans have known for years. This is a badass man, out of his time but always fighting the good fight and staying true to his convictions and principles. What was seen as hokey idealism became something of a beacon of selflessness and the moral center in a modern world that was steeped in shades of grey. It helped that writing team of Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus (who wrote The First Avenger) finally found a pair of directors in the Russo Brothers (Anthony and Joe) who understood just what made Captain America relevant in this day and age of cynical anti-heroes.

It’s no surprise that the Russo Brothers were tasked with continuing the work they began in the Winter Soldier with McFeely and Markus with the film that would complete the Captain America trilogy in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It would be quite a task in getting Captain America: Civil War off the ground and moving forward under all the weight of nearly every MCU superhero (minus Thor, Hulk and Nick Fury) in attendance and the introduction of two new ones to the universe.

Did the Anthony and Joe Russo pull off this massive undertaking? Or did they stumble to not just the huge cast and many storyline threads the way Joss Whedon did with the ambitious, but flawed The Avengers: Age of Ultron?

I’m happy to say that the Russo Brothers did better than succeed but may have just made the best film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and proved that Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige was correct in placing the brothers as the new captain of the massive thing called the Marvel Cinematic Universe as it enters Phase 3.

Captain America: Civil War is set just a year after the events of Age of Ultron where the Avengers barely defeated Tony Stark’s mad A.I. Ultron and it’s decision to wipe humanity from the planet. While the team did save the world from global extinction they also didn’t save everyone. there were still hundreds, if not, thousands of Sokovians who died during the battle. The same could be said for all the battles since the alien invasion over New York. The Avengers, led by Captain America, have saved the world from invading aliens, world-dominating terrorist group and killer A.I robots. Yet, the collateral damage caused by these battles have begun to weigh not just on some of the Avengers, but has made the governments of the world see the team as a sort of super-powered private military group who don’t obey international laws and borders. Yes, they’ve saved humanity many times from destruction, but at what cost.

It’s during a battle early in the film as Captain America and his team stop the theft of a biological weapon in the city of Lagos, Nigeria that collateral damage and deaths rear it’s head once more as Wanda Maximoff (aka the Scarlet Witch) accidentally allows a suicide bomb vest explode too close to a nearby high-rise causing the deaths of several aide workers from Wakanda.

It’s from this event that the world finally have reached a tipping point and want to put the team under U.N. control with Tony Stark agreeing to the plan to help assuage his guilt over the deaths caused by him creating Ultron. Some of the team understands that government oversight that the Sokovian Accords puts on the team is the right thing to do. While others, especially Captain America, think it’s best to leave the team to continue to be their own masters instead of beholden to a bureaucracy whose agenda may not be conducive to saving lives.

It’s a subject matter that was explored in some fashion in an earlier superhero mash-up but one that failed to stick the landing. Yet, even this battle of differing ideologies between Captain America and Iron Man only becomes part of the foundation to the true narrative for Civil War. It’s the friendship between Captain America and Bucky aka the Winter Soldier and how the former must try to prove the latter innocent of another terrorist attack the world thinks he’s responsible for. Those Avengers who signed the Accords must now bring in Bucky dead or alive while Captain America with the help of those who didn’t sign try to prove his innocence and find the true architect of the terrorist bombing.

Captain America: Civil War succeeds where the earlier superhero film failed because of the groundwork laid down by the 12 previous films released to make up the current Marvel Cinematic Universe. From Iron Man all the way up to Age of Ultron, these twelve films flesh out the backstory and characters that make up these heroes. We’ve gotten to know what motivates them to risk their lives for the greater good, but we also see glimpses of the inter-personal conflicts that looks to tear the team apart from within.

There’s not enough that could be said about the masterful work done by the Russo Brothers in juggling the personalities of twelve superheroes (two getting their initial introduction to the MCU) and giving them enough to do in the film to make them relevant to the proceedings instead of just becoming glorified cameos. The actors playing these characters have had many films to own the roles and each and everyone hits it out of the park. The stand out from the veterans in the ensemble cast still remains Chris Evans and Robert Downey, Jr as Captain America and Iron Man, respectively. Yet, it would be the arrival of the two new heroes into the mix with Chadwick Boseman as the newly-crowned king of the technologically-advanced nation of Wakanda, T’Challa and Tom Holland as the teenage chatterbox and dumpster diving tech genius Peter Parker aka Spider-Man.

Boseman as the Black Panther adds a certain level of gravitas and regal fury to the proceedings which balances the edge between serious to comedic. His Black Panther has his own agenda in getting involved in this intra-familial squabble. He has his own agenda and if it means siding with Iron Man against Captain and his team then he would do so if it succeeds in helping him finish his mission. It helps that he looks damn cool in what has to be the best superhero costume thought up by the designers in Marvel Studios.

It would be Tom Holland as the young Peter Parker and Spider-Man who steals the show whenever he’s on-screen. This is the Peter Parker and Spider-Man that comic book fans have been waiting for. While Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield succeeded in portraying some of the character’s personality, they could never fully capture what made Spider-Man such a favorite amongst comic book readers. This Spider-Man is geeky and not at all hip and cool, but with a sense of right and wrong that comes having great power means shouldering the responsibility to use it for good.

Captain America: Civil War, with its exploration of many profound ideas and themes, is still a superhero film and a tentpole blockbuster at that and audiences still want to see the action up on the big screen. Boy, does this film have action and enough of them to spare. The action scenes range from the grounded hand-to-hand fighting the Russo Brothers used to great effect in The Winter Soldier (this time around with the help from Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, directors of John Wick to provide 2nd Unit Directing help) up to the superhero battle that raises the bar on such things set at an evacuated airport in Leipzig, Germany.

This 6-on-6 tête-à-tête between friends and colleagues takes the climactic battles in both Avengers films and does them better. With each hero using their abilities to great effect in conjunction with their allies and against those they are fighting. There was never a time during this near on 20-minute action scene did it ever get confusing. Many filmmakers doing superhero (or just plain old action films) could learn a thing or two from how the Russo Brothers and 2nd Unit directors Spiros Razatos, Stahelski and Leitch choreographed and filmed all the action sequences in Civil War. It was near-perfect with only wishful thinking that Gareth Evans from The Raid films could’ve been asked to help out to make things perfect.

As huge and bombastic the film gets with this airport fight, it would be the final throw down between Captain America and Iron Man at the end of the film that we get the emotional heft the film needs to keep itself from becoming just another loud and explosive superhero film. This fight becomes personal and shows how fights between close friends become the most brutal and heartbreaking. Neither combatants are wrong about their stances in the fight, but they’re also wrong in not being able to think things through. These two alpha males who have a  friendship full of respect but also combativeness throughout the years of the MCU that finally explodes into all-out war when a tragic secret from both Tony Stark’s and Bucky’s past come to light.

It’s a fight that has no winners and for a superhero film that is a major change from the usual narrative (especially within the MCU storytelling playbook). The film ends with the very team created to save the world from all threats even more unsure of their place in the ever-changing and ever-judging world. It’s a bold move by Marvel Studios to start their Phase 3 that would culminate in the battle to end all battles with the two Avengers: Infinity War films (soon to be retitled) which happen to be under the master-class guiding hands of the Russo Brothers in the directors’ chair and the writing duo Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus.

In the end, Captain America: Civil War manages to capture not just what made comic books and films adapted from them fun and exhilarating, but also able to tackle some serious ideas and themes both existential and personal. It just goes to show that one doesn’t need to sacrifice one to have the other. One can have serious and dark but also be fun. It’s a balance that’s difficult to do, but when the people involved in creating such a story stick the landing then we a classic in the making. It bodes well for the rest of the films in Phase 3 to have such a great beginning, but also raises the bar for the other filmmakers following in the wake of what Anthony and Joe Russo have concocted. Let’s  hope they are all up to the task.

The Final Captain America: Civil War Swings By


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We are just two weeks away from the release of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and just a week from the premiere of Netflix’s Daredevil Season 2. What better way to remind people that there is another hero vs hero film coming out to start off the summer than with the final full trailer for Captain America: Civil War.

One things which distinguishes this latest and final trailer happens right at the very end. One could almost say that this was the trailer’s post-credit sequence.

Captain America: Civil War swings into action on May 6, 2016.

Captain America: Civil War Super Bowl TV Spot “Rivals”


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It’s that time of the year when the country (to some extent the world) witness a sporting event that’s become almost ritualistic in how it gathers it’s audience. I’m talking about the yearly Super Bowl pitting the NFC champions against the AFC champs. Even if one wasn’t a huge fan of football, the Super Bowl has become such an event day not just for the game, but the half-time show. Then there are the commercials which has become just as anticipated as the game itself.

It’s this day that we get major studios plying their upcoming films for the summer blockbuster season and Disney is not a studio to let this day pass without showing something new regarding one of their biggest films this summer.

The first Captain America: Civil War trailer a couple months ago got everyone anticipating the film. Now we have the Super Bowl TV spot to fan the flame of hype for the film that dared to go up against Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice when they both had the same release date: May 6, 2016. The latter film blinked and opted to dominate the film landscape a couple months earlier.

This tv spot emphasizes the fractured nature of Avengers that lends to the film’s title of civil war.

So, which team are you on? Are you on Team Captain America? Or are you more the Team Iron Man?

I guess, we’ll find out this May 6, 2016.

Captain America: Civil War Is Coming


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“A Titan against a Titan!”

Captain America: Civil War is the opening shot of Marvel’s Phase 3 for their cinematic universe. The huge success of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, both in the box-office and among critics, even convinced Marvel Studios and Disney to pit this upcoming sequel against DC’s own Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. One of the two had to blink and move their release date and it ended up being DC.

In what many have called Avengers 2.5 due to the amount of Marvel superheroes involved in the story, Captain America: Civil War will look to explore the consequences of the collateral damage incurred by Captain America and his teammates in the Avengers whenever they fight it out in public. The destruction of Midtown Manhattan during the Battle of New York was the start. The wreckage of three advanced SHIELD Helicarriers in the Potomac was another. Yet, it looks like the destruction of the capital city of Sokovia during the team’s fight against Ultron may have been the straw that broke the global governments’ back.

So, will Tony Stark and his team of Pro-Registration win out over the out-gunned Team Captain America who do not want to be beholden to the agendas of any world government?

We shall find out when Captain America: Civil War drops on everyone on May 6, 2016.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (4 Minute Extended Clip & Trailer)


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It’s just less than a month away from one of 2014’s most-anticipated films. It’s the sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger and Marvel Studios has been kind enough to treat it’s fans to a 4-minute clip/trailer of the film.

This clip from Captain America: The Winter Soldier comes early in the film and helps in setting the tone of the film. This is not the gung-ho and patriotic first film. This follow-up shows the after-effects of the events from The Avengers and how it’s created a sense of paranoia and conspiracy surrounding the very group Captain America has now become a part of.

Where the first film had the nostalgic feel similar to Joe Johnston’s The Rocketeer, this sequel looks to tap the 70’s conspiracy and 80’s technothriller genres. It’s anyone’s guess whether the Russo Brothers succeeded, but just going by this extended scene and the previous teasers and trailers they may have just done that.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier arrives in North America on April 4, 2014.

Super Bowl Trailer: Captain America: The Winter Soldier


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It’s becoming a sort of yearly occurrence to have a Marvel Studios film premiere a special trailer during the live-broadcast of the NFL’s latest Super Bowl event. Last year, it was a special Super Bowl trailer of Iron Man 3 (an extended version soon coming out after). This year it will be Captain America: The Winter Soldier that will get the special Super Bowl treatment.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier has been gaining some major buzz since the release of its first teaser trailer from a couple months back. Where Thor: Dark World used fantasy as an overall theme for its look and story, with the sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger the filmmakers have taken on the look and feel of a techno/conspiracy-thriller. The Winter Soldier looks to be like something that wouldn’t seem out of place if made during the cynical and distrustful era of the 1970’s when conspiracies and distrust of those in power dominated the headlines.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is set for an April 4, 2014 release date.

Also, we have the UK and Ireland version of the trailer which show a brief glimpse of Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) who is the descendant of Peggy Carter from the first film.

Trailer: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Official)


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We take a brief break from all things horror here at Through the Shattered Lens to bring to you the first official trailer for Marvel Studios second film in their Phase 2 of their Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier sees the return of Steve Rogers aka Captain America (The first Avenger) post-Battle of New York. He’s now an official member of S.H.I.E.L.D. but soon realizes that his 40’s ideals may not mesh well with the all-encompassing and super-secretive intelligence organization. From the look and feel of the trailer it looks like the film’s directors, Anthony and Joe Russo, are going for the conspiracy thriller tone for this new Captain America entry.

This is a good choice considering that the screenplay has been heavily influenced by Ed Brubaker’s run on the Captain America comics which also introduced the Winter Soldier of the film’s title.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is set for a Spring, April 4, 2014, release date.

Jack Kirby: The Man, The Myth, the Legend


Jacob Kurtzberg, known to the world as Jack “The King” Kirby, was the unappreciated artistic genius and innovator. I hold him in the same regard as the equally legendary Osamu Tezuka, kamisama no manga (god of comics)/godfather of anime/Japanese Walt Disney. Both men revolutionized their respective fields, inspired and continue to inspire many generations.

Joe Simon and Jack created Captain America (the first Avenger) and the Cap Parody, Fighting American.  Kirby created Nick Fury, the Mighty Thor, Iron Man, Black Panther, the X-Men, the Incredible Hulk, the Fantastic Four, and the Avengers with Stanley Lieber, known to the world as Smiling Stan Lee.  OMAC, Silver Surf, Kamandi, The Last Boy On Earth, X-51, the Eternals, Devil Dinosaur, Etrigan the Demon, Challengers Of The Unknown, Kobra, and the entire Fourth World mythology were his solo creations.  The King was responsible for the character design of Thundarr the Barbarian and Goldie Gold & Action Jack.

As a wee lad, I was captivated by his level of detail and imagination.  Now that I am in my 30’s, I continue to appreciate his work and be perpetually in awe of how his work showed that he wasn’t afraid to dream big. I am delighted to see the Kurtzberg Legacy live on through books Godland by Joe Casey, Tom Scioli and the epic yet short-lived Jersey Gods by Glen Brunswick and Dan McDaid, and Kirby Genesis by Kurt Busiek, Alex Ross And Jackson Herbert.

Below is Mark Waid and the late Mike Wieringo’s tribute to Jack during their Fantastic Four.

Here are some examples of the King’s work.

 

Here are some examples of the work inspired by him.

Jack’s cameo on the Incredible Hulk

Here is one Kirby Documentary





Review: Captain America: The First Avenger (dir. by Joe Johnston)


It is called the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” and it’s a world-building program that’s been in the making for almost half a decade. It first began when Kevin Feige and the powers-that-be at Marvel Entertainment decided to forgo licensing out the rest of their comic book characters to other studios to play with (Spider-Man, X-Men, Wolverine, Fantastic Four, Daredevil, etc.). Marvel Entertainment was getting rich off of these films without having to help finance any of the films, but the results of these films where hit-or-miss and recently they’ve been really misses (X-Men: Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Ghost Rider to name a few). So, the decision was made for Marvel to open up their own film studio, Marvel Studios, and use money from those licensed films to adapt the remaining characters in the Marvel Universe the Marvel way.

The first film to come out with Marvel Studios as the primary company was 2008’s Iron Man which was followed very closely with a reboot of the Hulk with The Incredible Hulk later that same summer. Iron Man 2 arrived in 2010 (though it was a mixed bagged depending on who one asks about this sequel) and in 2011 two more Marvel Studio films arrived to continue building this so-called “Marvel Cinematic Universe”. In early May 2011, the first one was Kenneth Branagh’s Thor hitting the big-screen which was widely-acclaimed to be a good and fun entry to this cinematic universe. The final piece and the second Marvel Studio film to arrive in 2011 is the Joe Johnston-helmed film adaptation of one of Marvel Comics’ most iconic characters. The “Marvel Cinematic Universe” finally finds it’s last piece before 2012’s arrival of Marvel Studios’ superhero team film, The Avengers.

Captain America: The First Avenger was being predicted as a film that could fail because of the character itself. Steve Rogers aka Captain America is the All-American G.I. who was straight-laced and never morally ambiguous. This was a character sure of himself and saw the world through a moral prism of black and white. The film that came out of the work by Joe Johnston and his capable film crew was one which surprised most everyone by it’s retro and nostalgic look at action serials of the past but without becoming to beholden to those tropes and losing all the fun in the story. This film played out like a throwback to those very serial action films of the 40’s and 50’s before cynicism and snark took over Hollywood and most of the entertainment industry.

Joe Johnston and his screenwriters, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (and an uncredited Joss Whedon whose strength with dialogue could be seen in this film), were able to make an origin tale which didn’t seem too rushed in laying out just who Captain America was and his early adventures during World War II. It was a great decision to keep most of the film set in World War II since Captain America’s origins would be the hardest to pull off and even harder to convince audiences too used to conflicted and unsure superheroes in their superhero films.

The film begins in current Marvel times as an expedition finds Captain America’s shield in the frozen ice floes of Greenland in what looks to be the wreck of a giant flying wing-type aircraft. Once the shield’s discovery was made the film quickly transitions back in time to 1942 where we get to see first-hand the evil mastermind Johann Schmitt aka the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) whose obsession and search for ultimate power finally garners him the Tesseract from Odin’s weapon’s vault (the Cosmic Cube last scene in Thor). He would use this cosmic power to power the superweapons being developed by his Nazi-funded splinter group, HYDRA, and it’s lead scientist in Dr. Armin Zola (Toby Jones).

Both Markus and McFeely actually wrote the film to be two storylines running concurrently with Red Skull and HYDRA running in one storyline and the other with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) as the 90-lbs Brooklyn-native weakling whose attempt to enlist in the Army gets shotdown each and every time he tries. Rogers is just not the type of man the US Army requires no matter how much courage and heart his asthmatic and weak body may hold within. But this very non-physical quality of Rogers is what gets the attention of the US Army’s own research division headed by German scientist and expatriate, Dr. Abraham Erskine, who believes Rogers is the perfect candidate for his super-soldier serum program.

Much of the Roger’s storyline in the early-going brings much comedic dialogue and scenes which made Captain America such a fun film. While Roger’s appearance and situation was never played off for laughs, it was how those around him outside of a few people whose reaction never get past the weakling standing in front of them. Once Rogers does become Captain America the film continued to have fun with the character as he’s drafted by politicians who sees him as the perfect pitchman for the government’s program to sell war bonds. This entire part of the character’s arc even got the full Busby Berkeley musical dance number reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s musical number to start off Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom (this won’t be the first time Johnston would pay homage to the Indiana Jones series).

Once Captain America moves past his war bond selling phase the film’s two concurrent running storylines of the Captain and the Red Skull converge to begin the second-half of Captain America. While the comedic dialogue and sequences take a back seat the film still remains very fun as Johnston ramps up the action. He begins with the Rogers disobeying orders and attacking a HYDRA base to rescue not just his boyhood friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) from the clutches of HYDRA, but all the prisoners held in the same weapons manufacturing base. The action sequences were filmed in an almost old-school fashion. There’s no tricks of fast editing and quick cuts to make the battles and action chaotic and real, but brought to mind more the action scenes from the Indiana Jones films of the 80’s which Johnston was a part of. All the action sequences in this film were choreographed to be seen and understood, but at the same time with a sense of fun energy that most action films seem to have lost in the last decade.

Captain America was also the first film in the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” which added to the fun by creating a genuine romantic subplot for it’s main lead. The relationship between Steve Rogers and British agent Peggy Carter was written quite beautifully as one between two people who saw each other as equals. This relationship unfolded very organically and not forced onto the two characters and to the audience. There was no manipulation to create a false couple. Steve Rogers gradually grew to not just admire Peggy Carter as a strong-willed, capable, but still feminine woman who saw beyond his initial weakling appearance, but by film’s end as a person who he truly had feelings for. It wouldn’t have worked if the Peggy Carter was just written to be a damsel in distress which she wasn’t and this character’s own journey to admiring Roger’s courage and tenacity in the face of impossible odds to mutual admiration once he became Captain to full-blown love by the end really added the emotional punch to the film. It’s no wonder that the bittersweet ending to the film between these two characters had such an emotional impact. The audience followed these two characters’ in their growing relationship from sweet beginnings to the tragic and bittersweet climactic finish.

It’s that very writing which made Captain America: The First Avenger more than just another superhero film. This was a film that went beyond just superhero action sequences, but a film which brought to mind not just the retro film of such films as Johnston’s own 1991 retro-futurist superhero film, The Rocketeer, but also the fun inherent in the serialized action films of the 40’s and 50’s which Spielberg did paid homage to with Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark. The action, explosions and witty (though without the snark and cynicism) dialogue didn’t dominate the film but became supports for the well-written characters. Characters that were well-played by it’s cast of exceptional actors.

This film, like any other superhero film of the past quarter century, lives and dies by how it’s hero and villain were played. It’s a great thing to have not just Hugo Weaving playing the Red Skull with such relish (with a voice that sounded like a mash-up of Werner herzog and Klaus Kinski), but the surprise was Chris Evans as Captain America himself. Evans had the tougher role since he was the titular character. He was an actor who was more well-known as playing wiseass and jokester roles, but in this film he plays Steve Rogers straight with a sense of unabashed goodness and confidence that he became Captain America without having to be unsure of his abilities, conflicted about his new role as a hero. Evans showed depth and range that was only hinted at in films such as Sunshine.

Another delight in the film would be Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter. She could’ve been the weak-link in this film and no one would’ve noticed, but she became the moral anchor and strength for the film as she became not just Steve Rogers’ eventual love interest but also his sounding board whenever doubts creeped in. She kept not just him, but the film on course and it helped that she was just as much as kickass as Captain America. Also, to say that Atwell as Peggy Carter was gorgeous to the point of blinding would be an understatement. It’s no wonder Captain America fell for her.

The rest of the supporting cast were up to the challenge no matter the size of the role. Stanley Tucci and Tommy Lee Jones were great as the compassionate mentor and grizzled commanding officer respectively. Jones’ Col. Phillips actually got some of the best one-liners in the film. When Tommy Lee Jones plays such a character as well as he does it’s no wonder he’s the go-to-guy for such roles. He just lives the part and pulls off the lines with such great comedic timing. Dominic Cooper as the young Howard Stark (father of Tony Stark/Iron Man) brought images of the suave and debonair Howard Hughes while Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes did a great job in making the character not just a sidekick, but also show hints of why he would become the Winter Soldier later on in the Captain America stories. It’s Stan’s role as Bucky which gives me hope that future Captain America sequels would tap and mine this character’s own journey from sidekick to potential rival as the Winter Soldier.

Captain America: The First Avenger is Marvel Studios’ last puzzle piece in what would transition into 2012’s The Avengers by Joss Whedon and it more than delivers the goods which was a testament to the creative forces led by Joe Johnston, Chris Evans and everyone involved. This was a fun, rollicking good time which brought back the concept that films were ultimately started as a form of mass entertainment. Not every film had to explore the meaning of life and existence. Not every film had to be a journey into the light and dark of existential themes. Films could be a couple hours spent entertaining and allowing it’s audiences to have a fun and good time. Captain America: The First Avenger was able to deliver this type of experience and do so with not a cynical gene in its code. It’s definitely Marvel Studios’ best film to date and one of the best films of the summer.

(Leonard Wilson’s review of Captain America)

As an added bonus below are some of the character and propaganda-type posters released for the film.