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Captain America: Civil War (2016)

When I started this blog a couple of years ago, I had this silly idea to tag actors and continue tagging them into every appearance they make in anything we watch. Then we get to 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, which would have something like two dozen tags if I named everybody. So never mind.

A couple of months before the movie was released, I got a little petulantly annoyed with the Marvel PR team for revealing that Tom Holland would make his debut as Spider-Man in it. I still think that would have been the greatest wha-huh?! in the movies to have the audience slowly realize that Tony Stark was visiting Peter Parker and his Aunt May, but I forgave them immediately when Scott Lang debuted his Giant-Man shtick. That’s probably been the most agreeable surprise any of these movies have hit me with.

Our kid still tunes out a little when people are talking – unless they’re like Holland’s Spider-Man and they just flat out steal the middle of the movie with their constant banter – but I think we helped him focus a little more this time. When Cap, Falcon, and Sharon Carter are figuring out that they’ve been set up, it’s a truly great little moment. I do love the way realization slowly makes its way across Emily VanCamp’s face. That’s terrific acting.

The other thing I really love is the introduction of Black Panther’s universe, including the very low-key first appearance of Florence Kasumba as Ayo. She’s a minor character among the people of Wakanda, and isn’t even named in this movie, but her instruction to Black Widow to move is just about my favorite threat in a movie full of people giving each other strong warnings. The Panther had always been one of those characters that other people enjoyed more than me until Chadwick Boseman took the part. In Boseman’s hands, he is one of my favorite Marvel heroes.

But in the end, the movie is about the awful end to Tony and Steve’s friendship, their truce shattered when we learn that Bucky had, twenty-five years earlier, murdered Tony’s parents while under Hydra’s control. The fight at the airport is wonderful and hilarious, but the climax, with Tony, Steve, and Bucky beating each other with more blood and pain and bruises than these movies typically give us, is horrible and heartbreaking. It’s a terrific end to a really excellent movie, but it kind of demands that the next few stories are a little different and more lighthearted…

Seven movies between us and the release of Captain Marvel. Can we do it in time to see the film in a theater? Stay tuned!

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

The elevator scene.

There is nowhere in the Marvel Universe – movies or comic books – that I’d rather be less than in this elevator. I’d rather be sat next to the Kidney Lady on a city bus in Cleveland, 1977, than in this elevator.

Years ago, a fellow I knew got up after the second song at a Roxy Music concert. He said after watching Phil Manzanera play the end of “Ladytron,” he got his money’s worth. That’s how I feel about this movie. It doesn’t matter how many things blow up or how many buildings get knocked down after this. It’s Cap and those dozen men in that glass box a third of the way through the film. Boy freaking howdy, did I ever get my money’s worth.

As for the rest, I think it’s the best Marvel movie by a mile. Kind of bittersweet to watch it the weekend after Chris Evans announced he was stepping down as Cap, because Captain America is my favorite Marvel superhero and I am so pleased and thrilled with the job Evans did bringing him to life.

Joining Evans this time out, there’s Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson as usual. Sebastian Stan returns as Bucky, now the brainwashed Winter Soldier, and Anthony Mackie debuts as Cap’s best friend and partner Sam Wilson, the Falcon. Also returning are Hayley Atwell as the now ninety-odd year-old Peggy Carter, and Toby Jones as Arnim Zola.

Before we got started, I showed our son what Zola looked like in Jack Kirby’s comics. Marvel thoughtfully collected Kirby’s mid-seventies run of Captain America and the Falcon across three volumes, and they are some crazy, wild, freaked-out comics. You should definitely visit your neighborhood comic shop and buy those. Turning Zola into a supercomputer that has a nice wink to old readers with his camera above his face-monitor left me in heaven when I first saw this.

And of course, there’s Robert Redford. You can imagine the wheels turning in the directors’ heads as they started putting this story together and realized that Redford, more than arguably any other possible choice, was the name they needed for this part. Alexander Pierce is a terrific villain.

It all adds up to my favorite Marvel movie. Not much else to add, other than the kid loved it too, of course. It demands repeat viewings more than any of the others, and if you don’t finish this movie without wanting to watch Redford in Three Days of the Condor, something must be wrong with you. Not really one for our kid quite yet, of course, but one day.

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Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

You know, I like Captain America’s first movie, but I don’t love it. It’s tough to completely embrace because there’s so much more to this story that time doesn’t allow us to see, but I want to so much. Everything works just fine until we meet the Howling Commandos. Then it’s into a montage of action scenes because this movie’s already gone for about eighty minutes and we still have several weeks of sneak attacks and missions behind enemy lines between where we are and the big climax.

It’s so unfair. Why aren’t there ten Howling Commandos movies here? I’ll settle for a ten episode TV series. Six. Two TV movies and a package of deleted scenes? They cast all these perfect actors as Cap’s team! I actually remember Dum Dum Dugan best from my own childhood as the starring part in Marvel’s silly Godzilla comic book, which I adored even despite the artwork that I didn’t like, and there is an actor named Neal McDonough who looks like the character came right off the page. There’s not nearly enough with these guys.

So what else? Joe Johnston directed this, and he also made the wonderful Rocketeer and Jumanji – and that idiotic Wolfman movie with Anthony Hopkins, but nobody’s perfect – and it’s just a tremendously fun period piece. Captain America vaulted over every other Marvel superhero to become my favorite once it finally clicked and I fell in love with Jack Kirby’s comics with the character. (Weirdly, I didn’t like Kirby at all when I was little.) Chris Evans just cemented the deal for me. He’s just perfect in the part. I really appreciate how he’s made this character resonate. Even on Twitter, the actor embodies everything that Captain America stands for.

Tommy Lee Jones effortlessly steals every scene he’s in, and Hayley Atwell is terrific fun as Agent Peggy Carter – about whom, much more later this summer – and it’s got a pair of great villains in Hugo Weaving and Toby Jones. I like the concept of the Red Skull, a villain so hateful and horrible that even all the other Marvel supervillains hate him. I don’t like how there’s a get-out clause for him in this movie, that possibly the Tesseract/Cosmic Cube/Space Stone teleported him into the future so he might one day reappear to fight again. I hope not. I’m happier with him being a period villain only!

This also has the first appearance of Sebastian Stan’s character Bucky, who’ll end up turning the Marvel Universe upside down a few films later. Of course, all my childhood, Bucky was dead – and, because kid sidekicks were the worst thing in the universe when you’re thirteen or so, we were glad of it – so I was pretty surprised to learn, a couple of years before this movie, that they’d brought Bucky back as the Winter Soldier. Unpleasantly surprised, I should say. I was playing a miniatures game, Heroclix, at the time, when one of the other players at the shop explained this new-to-me character once he had a piece and thought that was the most idiotic thing I’d ever heard. I did win an important tournament for that expansion and snagged a super-rare prize with him, but grudgingly. So all credit to Sebastian Stan for taking a character I could not possibly care less about and making him so darn watchable. But some of that comes later, I guess.

Well, if you think I’m nitpicky about the way I write about these movies, you should see our son. He tells us that this is his favorite of the first five, but it needed one more explosion. The scene where Cap rescues the 400 soldiers from Hydra’s prison camp was his favorite part of the film, which I thought was interesting because it’s almost always the very end of the movie that thrills him most. But then again, this climax has Cap and Peggy being mushy over the radio to each other. He probably didn’t want to admit to any tears.

But all the action scenes had him hopping. He adored this movie and didn’t need too many explanations, although we did pause it to clarify what Hydra was up to after the Red Skull kills the three Nazi officials who visit his bunker to sneer at him, and also to explain Cap’s turn as an onstage propaganda hero to sell war bonds. Not like today’s children have many opportunities to learn what war bonds are!

And that’s another thing: they should have actually made one of those cheesy black and white shorts that Cap was making in the last half of 1942. That would have been so fun. So far my Marvel wishlist is a Sif and the Warriors Three feature, a ten-week Howling Commandos TV series, and a twelve-minute Captain America Punches Der Fuhrer’s Face short, like they’d run after the newsreel and the cartoon before the movie. Why does ABC keep making more Agents of SHIELD instead of what’s really important here?

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