Captain America Sequel Another Largely Forgettable Flick From Marvel

Courtesy:  Marvel Studios/Disney

Courtesy: Marvel Studios/Disney

Captain America: The Winter Soldier was touted as one of the biggest hits of 2014 when it hit theaters earlier this summer. While it is enjoyable enough, the sad truth of this movie is that it really is not as great as some would like to believe. It all starts with the script. The issues with the script can be summed up in one word: predictability. In its defense, the writing trio of Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, and Ed Brubaker make one unpredictable move. That will be discussed at a later point. Getting back to the movie, another major issue from which the movie suffers is what this critic has coined as “whisper scenes.” They are exactly what they sound like. And together with the movie’s scripting issues, it serves to bring this movie down and leave it even less enjoyable. The final product is a movie that proves in the end to be more forgettable than fun. Sorry, fanboys and fangirls. It’s true.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier got a lot of hype leading up to its debut this past April. And while for many, it was considered a hit, a closer examination of Marvel’s latest in its endless river of prequels, sequels, and remakes proves it to be hardly as good as many would want it to be. The primary reason for this is the movie’s scripting. The issues with the movie’s scripting can be summed up in one word. That word is predictability. As soon as Nick Fury shows up in Rogers’ apartment, and secretly tells him that S.H.I.E.L.D. had been compromised, it was pretty obvious the direction in which the script was headed. The bad guys infiltrate the good guys’ headquarters and pretend to be good guys until a certain point at which a major conflict arises. Yeah, it’s pretty obvious. Even without the spoilers that had been “leaked” before the movie’s debut, it was pretty obvious who the real good guys were and who the real bad guys were. And even without those spoilers, it was pretty obvious that The Winter Soldier in question was a former good guy. That formula has been used far too many times before in far too many other action flicks that far exceed this one. Not to ruin the movie for those that haven’t seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier yet, but it’s also pretty obvious that the movie’s (and studio’s) heads were not going to kill off the biggest names in their franchises. Again, audiences are presented with so much predictability, greatly decreasing from the movie’s enjoyment.

For all of the issues of predictability that run throughout Captain America: The Winter Soldier, there is one unpredictable aspect to the script overall that deserves being noted. That aspect is that Markus, McFeely, and Brubaker actually opted not to let a romance develop between Natasha and Steve. There is a point at which Natasha tells Cap to kiss her so as to avoid detection by some Hydra agents. A conversation between the pair later leads some to believe that perhaps there is a potential for romance there. Luckily though, that doesn’t happen. And for that, the movie’s writers deserve at least some credit if no more. It is one of only two shining rays of light in a movie that lacks greatly in terms positives. The only other positive worth noting is the fact that it keeps the brooding to an extreme minimum unlike the movies that have been churned out over the years from DC. Even with Bucky’s own personal demons, his brooding is kept in check. It really helps the overall product. For that reason too, Captain America: The Winter Soldier manages to stay at least somewhat afloat.

Those behind the cameras on Captain America: The Winter Soldier did plenty of damage to the movie with just the massive amount of predictability throughout the script. They try to make up for all of that by filling the movie’s nearly two and a half-hour run time with all of the standard fight scenes, explosions, and chase scenes that are all too common with big screen action blockbusters. Thanks to the number of these elements crammed into the movie and the movie’s relatively long run time, it ends up having the same feel as its fellow Marvel sequel Thor: The Dark World. That feel is that it’s a movie that is just one explosion, chase scene and fight scene after another. Simply put, the imbalance of substance versus action flick filler hurts the movie even more. And coupled with the script’s predictability from start to finish, it becomes even less memorable.

It should be crystal clear at this point that Captain America: The Winter Soldier doesn’t exactly live up to its hype. For those not yet convinced, there is still one more aspect of the movie that while subtle still hurts it in its own way. That last aspect is what this critic has come to call “whisper scenes.” These scenes are exactly what they sound like (no pun intended). Actors talk in hushed tones so as to heighten the tension of a given scene. Those scenes are typically bookended by really loud action scenes or scenes that are otherwise the polar opposite of said scene. Whisper scenes aren’t bad. Don’t misinterpret that. The problem is that this movie is one more that uses them far too often throughout the course of its run time. It seems like an increasing number of directors have been relying on “whisper scenes” in recent years. Simply put, it is annoying. It’s as annoying as the number of lens flares thrown into director J.J. Abrams’ movies. Anyone that is familiar with Abrams’ works will understand this frustration. Anyone that has experienced such over use of “whisper scenes” will be just as able to relate. It is the last straw of a movie that ends up proving to be all but the enjoyable summer blockbuster that it was touted to be.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is not a terrible movie. Anyone looking to just turn off their brains and enjoy a standard, mindless orgy of explosions, chase scenes, and fight scenes will enjoy this movie just as much as its predecessor. But those that give the movie a closer examination will see just how many problems it has. Its script is predictable. It relies largely on those aforementioned chase scenes, fight scenes and explosions to try and make up for its predictability and overall lack of substance. And the overload of “whisper scenes” that fill the movie’s run time only serve to hurt it more. The movie’s only shining rays of light are the fact that its team of writers didn’t allow for Steve and Natasha’s partnership to become a romance and it kept Bucky’s brooding to a bare minimum. Other than that, there is very little good that can be said of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s a movie that is fun for one watch, but little more.

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PBS’ Superhero Docu-Series Will Impress Any Fan Boy Or Girl

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

PBS is the last true bastion of worthwhile programming on television today.  That includes both cable and non-cable networks.  The once powerhouse networks that are History, Discovery, and TLC have been almost completely polluted by reality television in recent years.  This has left them nonfactors to anyone looking for programming with any substance.  And while it may not be the first network to present a special on the comic book industry, PBS has still proven with its new special, Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle, why it remains the last true bastion of quality programming.  The special takes a look at the formative years of the comic book industry, and how some of the most beloved characters in the comic book industry went from the pages of newspapers to being their very own entity.  It examines the impact of comic books on the war effort during World War II and vice versa, and the effect of television on the future of comic book characters, among so many other topics.  Perhaps the only downside to the entire presentation would be the DVD’s box art.  It’s pretty obvious that this is only the first of an ongoing series of specials on the comic industry.  Keeping that in mind, it is a good start for anyone that has ever had any interest in the history of the comic book industry but didn’t know where to begin.

Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle is a good starting point for anyone that has ever had any interest in the comic book industry, but did not know where to begin with their research.  The first of what looks to be three hour long installments, it covers the comic book industry’s first twenty years, beginning with the advent of comic strips in newspapers.  Audiences will be interested to discover that Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster didn’t gain immediate success with their Superman comic strip.  Rather, it took five years before the pair’s strip was finally picked up by any newspaper.  Because this first installment is painted with a broad brush, the controversy that would follow is largely omitted.  There is a passing reference to it.  But it is at least made.  Perhaps that will be included in the second installment.  The advent of Batman and Wonder Woman were just as interesting subjects about which to learn.  Even the most well-rounded comic enthusiasts probably never gave much thought to how different Batman and Superman were both in terms of their characters and their how they rose to fame.  And the controversy surrounding Wonder Woman (and the role of women in comic books) is just as intriguing.  The discussion is raised on the presentation of Wonder Woman as a symbol of a strong woman in a very male dominated society versus that of a standard damsel in distress because she was always being caught and handcuffed, tied up, etc.  The term “fetishy” is even thrown out in the discussion on her negative presentation to readers.  It definitely makes for quite the discussion point for anyone regardless of whether one is a comic book fan or not.

The creation and controversy surrounding Wonder Woman is just one of the points in which audiences will take an interest during the first portion of this documentary.  Also discussed is how the outbreak of WWII led to the creation of one Captain America, and even got Superman almost involved in the war.  Those that might be novices in the world and history of comic books will take interest by connection just how popular comic books were among America’s armed forces during the days of the war.  And that is likely thanks to the fact that both Marvel and DC offered Americans of every calling someone for whom they could cheer in the war against the Nazis.  By direct contrast, it is even more interesting to note how the popularity of comic books actually declined after the war, and how the industry even came under fire thanks to the rise of the “Red Scare” brought on by Joseph McCarthy.  That is one that even the most devout comic book enthusiasts might not know.  Of course, it was the “Red Scare” that eventually led to the “comics code” that many readers know of today.  The first of this three-part series ends up discussing not just the censorship that followed McCarthyism, but the rise of television as a new outlet to regain audiences that had been lost by that movement.  It will be interesting to see where PBS takes viewers in the second and third installments of its comic book based documentary.  The entire series will be released on DVD October 15th.  It can be ordered direct from PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=23148246&cp=&sr=1&kw=superheroes&origkw=Superheroes&parentPage=search.  More information on this and other PBS programs is available online at http://www.pbs.org and http://www.facebook.com/pbs.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Superhero Squad’s Latest (And Last?) Release Is More Kid Friendly Comic Based Fun

Courtesy: Shout! Factory

Comic books today aren’t meant for younger readers.  Being a grown up comic book geek, I’ve seen the content in comic books change dramatically over the years.  Perhaps it’s a product of the time, but even the movies on which the comics are based are anything but kid friendly.  Thankfully, Marvel has crated a line of comics that is kid friendly.  And in accordance, there’s even a comics based cartoon called The Superhero Squad Show that is great for young comics fans.

The Superhero Squad Show is great for kids because while it has all the great adventures that have made the characters great over the ages, the general content of those adventures is entirely kid friendly.  It doesn’t have any harsh language, sexuality, etc.  Add in bright, vivid, hand drawn animation, and audiences get another positive in an era when so many “cartoons” are really just a bunch of CG based visuals.   On top of the great artwork and the kid friendly content is a fun comedy element that both kids and parents alike will love, including constantly breaking down the fourth wall.  There are even pop culture references tossed in throughout the show that parents will love, including a reference to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in what seems to be the series finale.

Yes, Season Two Volume Four seems to be the finale volume from this family and kid friendly comic based series.  All research done on the show seems to point out that the show has ended.  If that’s the case, then it has been wrapped up nicely in this volume.  Volume Four picks up where Volume three left off.  Captain America, Mr. Fantastic, and Ms. Marvel are trying to bring the rest of the squaddies back after being captured.  But it’s not as easy as it seems, as they have to face Baron Mordo, when he breaks into the Squad’s base and captures Captain America.  Eventually, the evil Baron is beaten, and Mr. Fantastic gets the base’s satellite dish fixed and brings back the rest of the squad.

Once the whole team’s reassembled, everything eventually leads up to the final confrontation between the Dark Surfer and the squaddies.  And who would have thought, even Dr. Doom inadvertently helps out, though only for his own benefit.  When both Dr. Doom and the squaddies face off against the Dark Surfer, the Squad is able to get each of the stones away from the Surfer’s duplicates and defeat him…or so they think.  Everything comes down to one final battle between Iron man and Dr. Doom over the Infinity Sword.  The conflict leads them to accidentally destroy the sword.  It’s that destruction that finishes off the Surfer once and for all, and returns him to the form of the Silver Surfer.  And while Surfer admits guilt for what he’d done and the Squad still backs him, knowing he was under a spell, he is still taken away by Ronan (voiced by Michael Dorn).  The squad goes back to Earth, where everything is finally back to normal, and the Scarlet Witch is even accepted as a member of the squad.

The Superhero Squad Show is a great kid friendly introduction to the world of comics.  Given, it may upset some hardcore fan boys as it has no link to the comics in general.  But in an age when so many comics are anything but kid friendly, this seemingly final volume from The Superhero Squad Show makes for one more great introduction for young fans to the world of comics.  It’s action packed without being too edgy.  It has lots of bright hand drawn colors, which is equally appealing.  And the comedy and pop culture references are enough for young and old comics fans alike.  Season two Volume Four is available in stores and online now.  It can be ordered direct from Shout! Factory online at http://www.shoutfactorystore.com.

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The Avengers gets an “A” for effort

Marvel’s The Avengers is a good start to the Summer movie season this year.  The build up for the movie has been nearly as immense as that for the finale of DC’s current Batman franchise.  And the end result definitely lives up to all the hype.  It’s translated to the big screen as if it were actually a live action comic book.  Some comic books over history haven’t translated to the big screen so well.  But this one did.  However, for all the greatness that was this highly anticiapted seasonal opener, it wasn’t without its flaws.

Anticipation has been growing over the newest of Marvel’s comics-to-film franchise, The Avengers.  From toys to promos to everything in between, The Avengers have been everywhere.  And it’s paid off with over $200 million in its opening weekend.  This movie is everything that a Summer blockbuster should be.  It has all the requisite explosions and action that audiences look for in their attempts to escape the mundacity of the every day world.  Thanks to writer/director Joss Whedon and co-writer Zak Penn, they’ve somehow managed to bring the action from the pages of the famed comic series and make it feel like audiences are actually seeing the comic book itself on the big screen, without going the Joel Schumacher route a la DC’s Batman & Robin and Batman Forever.  The chemistry between the cast was obvious too.  It was funny to see Tony Stark and Dr. Banner interacting.  The banter between the two was worth its share of laughs in and of itself.  The same applies even more so when the full Avengers team is together in one room.  The one-liners from each team member make for plenty of laughs throughout.

For all the laughs and great action, The Avengers is not without its faults.  The sexual innundo that is typical of Tony Stark is there.  And one can’t help but wonder if his subtle joke about Banner potentially using marijuana to stay calm was entirely necessary.  What’s more, do audiences really need preachiness about military buildup?  Audiences are bombarded with such stories every day on the news.  Having the Avengers quarreling with Director Fury over S.H.I.E.L.D.’s real intentions takes a certain amount of escapism from the movie.  It’s not the first movie to go that route, either.  What’s more, that the movie is an ensemble piece, it does tend to drag on a little bit too long.  Whether it’s telling backstory of each member of the Avengers team, or from other areas, Whedon and Penn could have found a way to shave off twenty to thirty minutes from this roughly two and a half hour movie.  Keeping that in consideration, one can only hope that when the already anticipated Avengers 2 makes its debut, whomever writes and helms that movie will have taken the good and bad from this one to make a sequel that defies common logic of sequels.