Category Archives: On Cinema

Review: Captain America – Civil War

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Score: 7/10

Bechdel-Wallace Test: Passed – barely. Natasha and Wanda are sort of talking to each other in a group conversation about their current mission.

Racial Bechdel Test: Passed. Rhodes and Sam are talking directly to each other in a group discussion about the Sokovia Accords. T’Chaka and T’Challa are having a short father-son-moment before the congress in Vienna.

Mako Mori Test: ….ahahahahaha …no. Yes, it’s still technically a Captain America flick, but seeing as Tony, Bucky and T’Challa got their arcs in addition to Steve, when we’ve never seen T’Challa before and Bucky was a villain the last time we saw him, it’s still somewhat annoying to see this trend continued, especially after Winter Soldier gave so much room to Natasha and her way of dealing with the situation in a film that wasn’t hers. Plus, it seems the writers have no clue what to do with Wanda, either, and she of all people could have used a nice character arc from who she was in Age of Ultron to who she needs to be as an Avenger. Especially in light of what the film is about.

So, with the score out of the way and only two of the three lowest bars cleared, let’s get to the review proper.

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Minor spoilers to follow, but nothing that wasn’t given away in the trailers or the after credits scenes of previous films.

Captain America: Civil War is a perfectly entertaining film. That said, it isn’t as good as it could have been. In part, I think, this is due to the writers not really knowing what to do with a large cast of characters. They did well in Winter Soldier, when their main cast was Sam, Steve and Natasha, and everyone else was relegated to supporting cast, but with a main cast as bloated as Civil War’s, they met the limits of their writing skills. The other big factor here is that the MCU’s first big story arc is nearing it’s conclusion. We’re close to Infinity War and thus the likely departure of many core Avengers (either because their contract is up or because someone needs to die in a film that’s ostensibly about a war on a cosmic scale). So the characters who will be left need to still be present in our memory, and appear in a film every now and then. Thus, we got not only Hawkeye back from ‘retirement’, but also Agent 13 and a random Ant-Man, plus introductions for Spider-Man (because we haven’t got enough Spider-Man yet) and Black Panther. Out of those, only Black Panther has any business being in this film in a larger role. Agent 13 at least has a role that justifies her presence in the plot (to a degree, anyway), and Hawkeye can maybe be justified, if you squint, but then his role makes Ant-Man’s completely unnecessary. Spider-Man doesn’t need to be in this film at all, neither for the plot nor for an introduction. We know who he is. He doesn’t need introducing, especially since they’ve gone with Peter Parker again, and we all know that dude well enough by now. That Joss Whedon has written everyone into a corner with a really overpowered Vision who now has to be kept away from most of the action lest he obliterate anyone who opposes him isn’t doing anyone any favours, either, so he’s pretty much swinging wildly between ‘unstoppable’ and ‘completely useless’, depending on what the scene demands.

This inflated number of heroes makes it nigh impossible to really focus on all of them in a satisfying way, so the focus is only on some, making the other characters’ randomness stand out even more. The ones who get character arcs are, as I mentioned, Tony and Steve, and to a lesser degree Bucky and T’Challa. Everyone else is just sort of there. We can guess their motivations from bits and pieces here and there, but for me, there’s a lot of comic background that helps with that, and the friends I went to see it with don’t have that, so occasionally, they interpreted things very differently.

The antagonists/ambiguous figures are much too numerous as well and thus have too little screen time and influence on the plot individually to really have an impact on the viewer; some are downright wasted. Cutting down their numbers could have helped flesh out the remaining characters by allowing more room for their personalities and motivations.

All in all, with how chock-full of characters the film was, we had too little time to explore each side’s motivations. Again, a lot is implied, but sometimes in ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ moments. Overall, Team Iron Man comes across as arrogant and uncompromising, and Team Cap lacks any clear counter-solution. Which isn’t that bad, seeing as opposing another solution because you think it will only make things worse isn’t too bad a stance in itself, but going a little deeper into the reasons why they thought the Accords were a bad idea and how they could have been done better would have been nice.

So what did I like about the film? Enough, apparently, to still give it a relatively good score. For one, the theme was interesting. In a world where superheroes exist, should they be under someone’s control for the ever-popular ‘greater good’, and if so, who should that someone be? Here, that’s not explored through the usual hero-villain conflict, but our heroes are divided into two groups, so we can’t tell who is right and who is wrong from the get-go. It’s not a good guys vs. bad guys scenario, where the good guys are an audience stand-in and thus automatically right. The audience stand-in itself is divided, and thus, the audience is as well. We are squarely in the grey area without the film being grey and gloomy and broody about it in any way, which is refreshing in a superhero film.

What little we saw of certain characters was also interesting – namely, T’Challa, Natasha, Bucky and Wanda, with Wanda and T’Challa being my favourites here. They would have profited the most from more screen time. Natasha, we already know well enough to make sense of her actions (which doesn’t mean she shouldn’t have had more presence; more Widow is always better). Wanda and T’Challa, we barely know at all, and the glimpses we got of them in Civil War had me very intrigued.

I’m still divided on a few things, but as of now, I’m inclined to weigh them on the plus side because of the sheer potential they had. Like Bucky’s storyline and the aspects the writers took out of Ed Brubaker’s Winter Soldier run, which could have been amazing and a great starting point for a Black Widow/Winter Soldier duo film, considering how little we know about Widow’s past, and what’s hidden in a certain location could very well have Red Room ties as well. All we know so far is that Natasha was supposedly born in 1984, but also ‘traded in the KGB for Hydra’, which is odd, since the Russian KGB stopped existing in 1991, so what’s the deal with that? Lots of room for exploring her and the Winter Soldier’s backstory here, but wasted for a cheap moment of surprise.

Wanda’s arc is also something that’s super-interesting, but tragically underdeveloped. When Age of Ultron ended, she was fresh out of quasi-Hydra’s clutches and a newly-minted Avenger. She had just lost her brother, come out of a devastating fight she helped start, and was trying to find a new place among the good guys. Now, she’s suddenly thrust into this world where it’s not clear who the good guys even are, and what being one means. The first scene is hitting her really hard with this, and one should expect more exploration of her arc during the film. That doesn’t happen, save for two conversations with Vision that are much, much too short to properly delve into that.

Lastly, Cap’s character was coming along well in this film. Around here, he still has this image of being this unquestioningly patriotic figure that stands for the awesomeness of the grand US of A. Winter Solider started rapidly moving him away from that, and Civil War had him continue down that path. After starting out as a symbol wrapped in a flag and promoting a war, he’s now at a turning point after a difficult conflict about authority and how much power it should have, and it will be interesting to see where his character goes after this.

Those points saved the film from being simply mediocre, but they also served to show how much better it could have been with a little restraint, and if TPTB had refrained from putting characters into the film just so we wouldn’t forget who they are and thus taking away much-needed time from other characters. I was debating a 6/10 for a bit because of this, but the parts that stuck out so positively elevated it enough to give it a 7/10 after all. It’s still a trademark Marvel film and I still had a good time – it just could have been a lot better.

Maybe it would have worked better as an actual Avengers film. It certainly was a better one than Age of Ultron.

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Chaos in Hollywood

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The new Ghostbusters barely started filming, but people all over the place are already (and have been since its announcement) declaring that it will absolutely and inevitably suck. Some attribute this to the general tendency of remakes to be… less than great. Others blame the director. Most, though, don’t even bother to hide that it’s because of the cast. Specifically, because the cast are women. And then get all defensive when you ask them if they’d be as angry at the remake if it were to star a cast of men, and if they maybe, just maybe, might be a little sexis-
“You only like this because it’s women, what if we genderswapped Alien, you’d be up in arms about that!”
Yes, that happened. And it actually got me thinking. I’d be pretty much okay with that. Why? Because, and let’s bask in the delicious irony here for a minute, in that case, the cast would still be female by a vast majority. Five of seven crew members of the Nostromo were men in the original. Genderswap the cast, and you’ll have a film with a crew primarily made up of women. Somehow, I don’t think Original Commenter would be okay with that, either.

So how about this, Generic Brodude Commenters suggesting to genderswap female-led films: We genderswap all films. As in, every single film Hollywood is going to make for, say, three years from now. No exceptions. And no cheating – you write the exact same scripts as you would now, but the cast will be 100% genderswapped. So yes, you get your dude-led films you seem to want to much. But we also get the lady-led films we want so much. And it will be glorious.

Let’s look at this for a moment:

(Infographic from Lee & Low Books)

This is sci-fi and fantasy only, and it’s marginally better if you take all genres into account, but the problems this hints at are still there. So, according to this lovely (and also sad and disgusting) infographic, the next three years would be amazing (especially for me, because yay sci-fi!). In fact, let’s take it a little further. Let’s genderswap the directors, too. Also, every role that would be cast with a white person now gets cast with a person of colour, and vice versa. As would directors. Let’s also take about… let’s say 15%, that’s a manageable number for now, so 15% of those films and write the lead as homosexual, bisexual, trans, nonbinary, with a disability… or any combination of these. And then cast with actors accordingly. So every gay man on the screen is played by a gay man. Every trans person is played by an actual trans person. Every disabled character… You get the idea.

…I admit I’m kind of in love with this idea. Too bad I’d need a magic want to make it happen…

If you now say this is ludicrous, there’d suddenly be women and people of colour and gay people everywhere… please, enlighted me: How is it any less ludicrous when there are straight white men everywhere?
So far, no-one had an answer for that that wasn’t the old “people don’t want to see that” crap. Which is bullshit no matter how you look at it. The Hunger Games films are doing pretty well. Still Alice made back eight times its budget so far, and isn’t out on DVD yet. Annie did well enough. Spy and, god help me, but Fifty Shades of Grey and The Fault in Our Stars are making tons of money, too. And even though people keep insisting they are crap, the Resident Evil films so far have made almost a billion dollars (spoiler: Some of that money is from me. Because I like them. A lot).

The point is, the “argument” that people don’t want to see films made by and/or starring women is bullshit. I mean, the most kickass charactes in RE are Alice, Rain and Claire (please let Rain be back in the last one…) – and before you try and argue the quality of those films, go look at Fast & Furious and tell me how, exactly, those are better. Or Rambo. Or any other brainless action film that has a plot thinner than my patience. And yet somehow, those films all keep making money.
Marvel has proven with Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man that people will see anything as long as you slap the big red logo in front of it. So how come I need to wait for almost twenty films in the MCU to see one that stars anything other than a white man? And Alien proved over thirty years ago that you can make amazing all-time classics with a woman in the leading role.

So, for our little experiment, I predict absolutely zero change in box office money. Because people like me finally have a ton of reasons to go to the cinema, and brodudes have so few options that they would have to go see films with all sorts of people but straight white guys in them if they want to have some entertainment at all. Pretty much just like it’s now for me. And it sucks. But that’s the point. Depressing as that sounds, most people will only really try and change something if it negatively affects them personally. People, in general, are assholes. So “making” them watch diverse films for a few years might be the only way to shake Hollywood up enough to bring about real change, and not at a snail’s pace. And it would, I’m pretty sure of that, drastically improve the overall quality of Hollywood films.

And then we go and do the same for video games!

*crickets*

…no? Too much?

*sigh* Fine. Too much. But one day, we will. And it will be amazing.

-Ricarda

So. Age of Ultron.

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Score: 5.5/10

Disclaimer: I enjoyed the film. I really did. I had a hella good time at the cinema, with only the occasional facepalm moment. Age of Ultron has a high entertainment value. But that never has and never will excuse shitty things, and AoU is no exception.

Also, spoilers ahead (for pretty much the entire MCU). And swearing. You have been warned.


Joss Whedon has one thing down cold: Tricking you into thinking whatever you’re watching is amazing while you are watching it, covering up the, once you think about it, glaringly obvious issues whatever product you’re consuming has. Firefly suffered from this. I watched a few episodes and sort of enjoyed them, then didn’t have time and took a break, and while I had time to think about what I’d watched, I realised that, even without the obvious problem of “I’m telling you that humankind is basically a mash-up of the USA and China at that point but I will proceed to show you mostly white people”, no, the show isn’t all that great. Same for Cabin in the Woods. It was fun while it lasted, if you will, but its supposed subversion and parody of common tropes and clichés was actually just mostly common tropes and clichés.

Age of Ultron has the largest gap so far between the fun I had watching it and the number of things that have been driving me nuts about it since I left the cinema. Now I think the writing wasn’t really that good, the “wit” of many conversations was mostly just bad puns and thinly-disguised insults (mostly directed at poor Hawkeye and Cap), and the most genuinely funny thing was everyone teasing Steve, the eternal gentleman, about being opposed to swear words. Clint, on the other hand, got told that his (allegedly) not having a girlfriend is something that needed fixing, and that he’s supposedly impotent. Hilarious.
The short(est) end of the stick goes to Natasha, though. She gets flashbacks alluding to her training in the Black Widow program, telling us a little more about how and why she became who and what she is. Oh, and that bit about being a monster because she can’t have biological children. Nope, that’s what she says, pretty much a direct response to Bruce telling her that he “can’t biologically have children” and therefore isn’t good enough for her (a notion that’s problematic on its own). Now people argue she’s not referring to the sole fact that she was forcibly sterilised as part of her “graduation ceremony”, but rather means that the entire thing, being trained and basically brainwashed to become a merciless killer, but the way the dialogue is written has the line about not being able to bear children come directly before she says to Bruce (probably paraphrased, I’m translating here) “you’re not the only monster in the room”. There is a direct connection made by the script, and you can’t tell me that’s a coincidence. And Bruce doesn’t react. He just looks vaguely doubtful, instead of, dunno, telling Natasha that she’s not a monster because she had this procedure done to her without her consent that rendered her infertile, maybe giving her a chance to say that she doesn’t think that specific thing makes her a monster, but that she meant the whole ordeal she went through when she was young, making it clear that she was referring to her being an assassin for so long, and that she only told him about the sterilisation to make him see that there are other people out there struggling with their inability to have children, that he isn’t alone with this and that it doesn’t make him worthless as a romantic partner. That the monster comment indeed was meant to make him see that because he becomes the Hulk and possibly hurts innocent people when he can’t control himself doesn’t make the Bruce here and now a monster, just like her past as an assassin killing innocent people doesn’t make present-day Natasha a monster (returning to the red-in-her-ledger theme from the first
Avengers).
Buuut instead of exploring the struggles of both Natasha and Bruce and how they bonded over sharing the burden, if you will, we get a stupid-ass conversation that measures a human’s worth pretty much entirely by their ability to have biological children. It occurs for both Bruce and Natasha, but in Natasha’s case there’s a whole string of issues attached to it, from centuries of measuring a woman’s worth almost exclusively by how many children/sons she had to the stigma women face even today when they don’t have children (by choice or by circumstance), making the whole thing so much worse for both her and the women in the audience who, for one reason or another, don’t or can’t have children (not to mention that this hints at the horrible notion of what defines a “real woman”, and subsequently a “real man”).
Also, there’s this weird romantic subplot between Natasha and Bruce that just came out of nowhere and progressed from friendship to smooching hella fast. Figuratively speaking. Actual smooching did occur, but only because Natasha needed to distract Bruce for a moment so she could push him into a giant hole in the ground to make him turn into the Hulk to fight Ultron, which turned the already weak romance into a hot mess of “wait, so was she pretending the whole time or was she just desperate for the Hulk in that specific moment?” I’m still not a hundred percent sure.

Let’s move on to Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. Oh boy.
I like those guys. I really do. And Olsen’s performance was really good. But… can we talk for a moment about how they are basically just Wanda and Pietro by name in AoU, and pretty much nothing else except their superpowers? Sure, they couldn’t make them mutants, but why did they have to go and make two Jewish Roma people into two very white people who actually volunteered for fucking HYDRA? As in, the super-Nazis of the MCU? I mean, if they didn’t know it was HYDRA and they just wanted revenge on Tony Stark, okay, but that never gets mentioned? And neither does their heritage? If you had to be an asshole and cast non-Roma actors because you don’t have the balls to break Hollywood’s unspoken “token and no more” rule (and you already had Rhodey/War Machine and Fury and Dr. Cho, so of course you couldn’t cast any more non-white actors, jeez!), then at least don’t completely erase every part of their heritage? Is it too much to ask for a throwaway line or two to tell us that they are Jewish and/or were raised by Roma parents? I mean, Steve gets his line in Avengers about how there is “only one god, and he doesn’t dress this way”, hinting strongly at a (probably protestant) Christian background, so why not give one of the twins a line like that? Someone mentioned a possible comparison of the old church where the twins first meet Ultron and their old synagogue which “is a lot nicer”. Or maybe have them talk privately in Romani, or give one of them a one-liner about how fighting an evil robot isn’t how they “imagine a quiet passover” or whatever. Anything that hints at their comic origins that doesn’t paint them as mutants would have been possible, you chose nothing at all. Awesome. Another lost opportunity.

Those were my biggest issues, but the rest of the film is far from perfect. I remember watching the scene where they try to lift Mjölnir when the teaser came out, and when the scene played in the cinema, I was hella confused. Everyone gets some kind of quip when they try to lift the hammer, and Tony made the hilariously funny “joke” that, when he’d lift the hammer and get to rule the world, he’d reinstate prima nocta: the alleged right of feudal lords to sleep with anyone’s new wife before the husband did. Basically legal rape. Yes, they went there. Even though that right is pretty much a myth (at least in Europe, apparently it did exist elsewhere, in different versions, but it never was a wide-spread law).
The original line was something about him being “firm and fair” – not a rape joke. It was good. Fit Tony’s personality as a megalomaniac with a ginormous ego. Why they decided to make him joke about sleeping with someone else’s wife whether said wife consented or not is beyond me. That’s not even something one could attribute to the playboy side of his personality. He’s a womaniser, not a fucking rapist.
The stupid kidnapping of Natasha by Ultron, that served no fucking purpose at all except to give Bruce an opportunity to rescue her. Literally nothing happens, Ultron has no reason to even keep Natasha alive, so why did you just have to include that? Was Natasha too independent for your taste? Couldn’t you imagine a better scenario to show us that even super-spies sometimes need help, and Bruce can be a hero without the Hulk, too? Something that’s not completely stupid and lazy writing, and actually is grounded in the plot and not a done-to-death trope?
Then the suggestion that the fact Clint is supposedly single is something that needed to be “fixed”. Why? What the hell is wrong with people who think that single people are somehow inherently broken? Screw you, Whedon. Seriously.
Speaking of Clint, he’s married and has a family and that’s good for him. And he kept his family a secret from SHIELD and his fellow Avengers to keep them safe. But his wife’s last name is Barton, according to the cast list? For the love of god, why? That’s about the easiest measure to take to prevent anyone from finding out about your family, dude! I’d say something about masculine insecurities here, but a) Hawkeye is fictional, b) he’s probably the least traditionally macho type of the group, and c) my mum kept her last name, too, and it hasn’t shattered my dad’s ego, either, so there really is no excuse for the secret government agent/superhero to not take this extra measure and ask his wife to keep her last name to eliminate one more official connection to him that could be found.

And the myriad of other things that just didn’t make sense in the larger context of the MCU. How did Steve’s search for Bucky go? How did Natasha become so close with Bruce and so good at calming the Hulk? What’s up with the new heroes we saw in previous films, like War Machine and Falcon, where are they when the killer robot shit goes down in Sokovia? Chilling on Hawaii? Somewhere without cell reception? And didn’t Tony basically retire from being Iron Man at the end of Iron Man 3? Shouldn’t he be way more reluctant to don his suit again? Where is Loki hanging out? Shouldn’t he have a vested interest in getting back his Infinity stone if he wants to be king of Asgard? And where the fuck did Fury find an intact helicarrier that he could just take on a ride to Europe after Winter Soldier?! I’m guessing he actually made an ass pull joke in that scene, going by his line in the German version? But that is not a satisfying explanation! Making random shit happen yelling “Magic!” and expecting people to just swallow it is fucking lazy.
A lot of what happened in previous films just doesn’t seem to matter anymore in Age of Ultron, and the writer in me is really angry that someone so famous can get away with this lazy bullshit, and so many people seem to think he and his creation(s) are somehow immune to criticism. No. No, they are not!

I’m pretty cross with Marvel in general and Whedon in particular right now. I probably wouldn’t feel this way if he didn’t constantly talk about how he’s so much of a feminist, and then mention that declaring one’s alignment with specific political views destroys one’s art (in reference to people telling him that writing lines that shame people, especially women, for making choices he doesn’t agree with is not feminism). He even said that you “change people’s (sexists, in this case) minds” through your actions, not through words, and then proceeds to do stuff that’s 100% not what feminism stands for. He says all these things and then throws us lines like the monster one, or the “single people need fixing” reference, and renders his pretty words little more than lipservice to an audience he wants to appeal to because he likes money, I guess?
I’m glad he’s not doing Infinity War. I hope Marvel get their shit together and learn from the criticism they got for AoU. But I probably won’t go see Infinity War at the cinema. I didn’t go see the last few MCU films, and then went to watch AoU because Winter Soldier pleasantly surprised me. Shoulda stayed home and saved me some money.
For me, it’s just not worth it anymore. I just want a fun ride that has some sort of overarching plot attached to it that pays off in a huge, loud, colourful showdown, and instead get told by the film that I’m a broken human being because I don’t have a partner or kids, other people apparently don’t exist because they aren’t “white” enough, and rape is funny. Sorry, but I’m not giving you money to get insulted. Do better in the future, and I might reconsider. The last scene was a good start, with the “new” Avengers being trained by Natasha and Steve. There’s potential there. But I have a feeling it’s going to go to waste one way or another…

-Ricarda