"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

© all material on this website is written by Michael McCaffrey, is copyrighted, and may not be republished without consent

Avengers: Endgame - A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Popcorn Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. If you like Marvel movies you’ll love this one. A satisfactory conclusion to the epic twenty-two film run of this phase of the Marvel Cinematic Unvierse.

Avengers: Endgame, written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, is the story of the Marvel Avengers as they do battle with super villain Thanos. The film stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Chris Hemsworth, Josh Brolin and a plethora of other movie stars.

Avengers: Endgame is the fourth Avengers film and is the direct sequel to last years smash hit Avengers: Infinity War. Endgame is also the twenty-second film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and marks the conclusion of this cycle of Marvel movies.

Just as super villain Thanos became a de facto god by acquiring the infinity stones, Disney, under the leadership of my dear friend Bob Iger, has turned into an all powerful entertainment industry god by acquiring over the years Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm. Now, with the additional purchase of Fox, Disney will hold an astonishing 40% market share of the box office.

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The crown jewel, at least right now, in Disney’s empire is the aforementioned Marvel behemoth, which Disney bought in 2009 for $4 billion and which has brought in around $20 billion in box office gross alone over the last ten years. I have not always liked the Marvel movies, in fact, I’ve downright loathed a good number of them, but I readily admit that what Disney has pulled off with their Marvel Cinematic Universe is a stunning achievement in popular entertainment that will never be duplicated. To be able to roll out twenty-two different movies over a decade and weave all of the characters and story lines together into a coherent and cohesive whole that culminates in two gigantic movie events, Infinity War and Endgame, is a Hollywood miracle. One need look no further than the shitshow over at Warner Brothers and their inept handling of the DC Cinematic Universe (Batman, Superman etc.) post Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy to recognize how remarkable Disney’s efficiency and acumen regarding the Marvel properties has been. No doubt Disney will be further rewarded for their corporate diligence by Endgame’s box office which will break all sorts of records as it rockets past the two billion dollar mark in two weeks with ease.

As previously stated, I have disliked some of the Marvel movies, the first two Avenger movies in particular were quite dreadful. The Marvel movie formula has always been geared more toward adolescent boys…even the middle-aged ones, with lots of light-hearted action, noise and destruction all with some witty one-liners and comedic self-consciousness thrown in. The Marvel universe is decidedly fictional, a piece of escapist fantasy…whereas something like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy for example, is more grounded in a recognizable, but very dark, “reality”. Marvel’s lack of grit has always irked me because their line up of characters is chock full of archetypal riches which are begging to explored in a psychologically and culturally serious way.

But with that said, I have also loved a few of Marvel’s formulaic films, with Infinity War and Thor: Ragnarok being prime examples. Infinity War is easily the best film in the MCU and that is because its narrative is the darkest and most consequential of all the movies. While Endgame has a certain darkness to it, is not as nearly as good as Infinity War, but it isn’t awful either.

Endgame is really more an event than a movie, a culmination of the franchise that is the perfect embodiment of everything good and bad in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. On the plus side it has fascinating archetypal characters and great moments of poignancy and levity, but on the downside it also has some narrative incoherence, sense-assaulting battle scenes that are relentlessly vapid, and a heavy dose of cringe worthy “wokeness” and political correctness that is shameless in its corporate human resources level pandering.

All of that said, Endgame succeeds because it ultimately satisfies on an emotional, psychological and narrative level as a conclusion to the twenty-two film Marvel epic that has dominated popular culture for the last decade. The story leaves no loose ends or arcs unfulfilled, and that is really all you can ask from a movie like this.

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The sun at the center of this cinematic universe is Robert Downey Jr, whose skill, charisma and charm have propelled the MCU forward from day one. Without Downey Jr as Iron Man, none of this stuff works…none of it. Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pratt, Mark Ruffalo and all the rest do solid work as their respective super heroes, but none of them could carry this franchise like Downey Jr. has. When Downey Jr. stops being Iron Man, and that day will eventually come, Marvel/Disney is going to take a big hit…I promise you that.

The ensemble of Endgame all do decent if unspectacular work with a few notable exceptions. On the plus side, Paul Rudd and Chris Hemsworth are fantastic, as both of them fully commit and have impeccable comedy chops (who would’ve thought that Thor would be the comedy gold in the Marvel universe?). As for the negative side…good lord…Brie Larson is just dreadful. Now to be fair, I have not seen Captain Marvel…so maybe she is great in that, but in Endgame you could’ve replaced her with a cigar store wooden Indian and it wouldn’t have made the slightest bit of difference. Larson is so dead-eyed it seems like she died on the table while undergoing a charisma bypass and we are left to watch her corpse be animatronically maneuvered throughout the movie.

There are also some issues with narrative incoherence in the film, mostly dealing with the topic of time travel. The lack of “time travel rules” clarity makes the whole enterprise pretty confusing and logically unstable if you try and follow it too closely. The best approach is to leave logic at home, where it is hopefully safe and sound, and just go with where the movie takes you. The logic/time travel issue though is a big reason that the film doesn’t soared like Infinity War did, which had a very clear and concise plot from which all of the action seamlessly flowed. In Endgame the plot feels more like a manufactured way for Disney to escape any commitment to what took place in Infinity War that could dare harm the corporate bottom line by taking away some cash cows.

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While Endgame is the end of this phase of the MCU, Disney has a plethora of Marvel movies lined up for the next few years as they keep the assembly line going. As stated, the next phase is going to have a bumpy time of it as Disney is trying to transition to younger and more diverse stars to refill some roles. Disney is betting big that Brie Larson and Captain Marvel will be the female equivalent of Robert Downey Jr. and Iron Man, the new sun at the center of the Marvel universe. That is a bad bet, as Larson has big shoes to fill and very little feet with which to fill them.

Disney’s desire for more diverse Marvel movie characters, like a Black Captain America or a Latina Hulk, may (or may not) be a noble idea, but just as it did in comic book sales, it will negatively affect the bottom line at the box office. In my opinion it will also affect the artistic and cultural value of the films, for as I keep saying, “wokeness kills art”….but that is a painful discussion for another day.

In conclusion, Avengers: Endgame is a worthy finish to this phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise. The film has its ups and downs but ultimately is a satisfactory ending for the long journey we’ve all been on with these characters over the last decade. If your a fan of super hero movies, you should plunk down your Disney tax and help pad Bob Iger’s bank account by seeing the movie in the theatre. If you have just a passing interest in super hero movies, then wait for it to come out on cable or on Disney’s soon to be active streaming service, which will no doubt bring in even more gobs of money for Mickey Mouse. But Mickey should enjoy this ride while it lasts, because it won’t last forever. Just over the horizon there could be some some stormy weather waiting for Disney.

©2019

Captain America v Trump in Battle of the Useful Idiots

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Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes 38 seconds

President Trump’s summit and press conference with Vladimir Putin on Monday in Helsinki went so poorly that even superheroes and superhero wannabes went into hysterics over Trump’s alleged betrayal of the American intelligence community.

The reason for the media uproar in the wake of the Helsinki summit was that in reply to a reporter’s question Trump stated, or misstated depending on whom you listen to, that he believed Putin when the Russian leader claimed there was no Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election in 2016.

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On CNN, that silver-spooned, silver-haired Silver Surfer clone Anderson Cooper, immediately responded to Trump’s performance by shrieking,

“You have been watching perhaps one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president at a summit in front of a Russian leader certainly that I’ve ever seen.”

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Former head of the CIA John Brennan, who looks and acts frighteningly similar to Thing of the Fantastic Four, tweeted…

“Donald Trump’s press conference in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of “high crimes & misdemeanors.” It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???”

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Former director of the CIA and NSA Michael Hayden went full Hulk when in response to Trump’s contradicting the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Hayden monosyllabically rage tweeted

“OMG. OMG. OMG”

Then a “real” superhero jumped into the fray. Chris Evans, the actor who plays Captain America in the Marvel franchise films who is the perfect representation of America because he is so boyishly handsome, ridiculously muscular, emotionally infantile and staggeringly empty-headed, tweeted of Trump…

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“I don’t even know what to say. Today was a disgrace. @realDonaldTrump embarrassed America and should be ashamed of himself. Shame on anyone who chooses to ignore Russia’s interference in our democracy for the sake of Trump’s political well-being. I’m at a complete loss.”

I have a sneaking suspicion Mr. Evans is often at a complete loss…like when he comes upon a doorknob. Apparently the Captain’s twitter finger is even more powerful than his vibranium shield because he didn’t stop there…he followed up by tweeting

“This moron, puppet, coward sided with Putin over our own intelligence agencies! On a world stage!! BASED ON NOTHING MORE THAN PUTIN’S WORD! Why? Can ANYONE answer that?? What the hell is happening. Politics aside, this is 100% un-American. Where are you @GOP???”

Captain America’s logic is pristine…I mean how could anyone in their right mind dare to question America’s saintly intelligence community about their limited and still evidence free “assessment” that Russia interfered in the American election?

Sure, the American intelligence agencies were asleep at the wheel on 9-11, wrong about WMD’s in Iraq, ran a secret rendition and torture program, spied on American citizens, international allies and the U.S. congress, and then lied and perjured themselves about all of the above in order to cover their backsides…but when it comes to what happened in the 2016 election we should totally take their word for it!

Evans was joined in his twitter rampage shortly thereafter by fellow Marvel talent James Gunn, who in addition to writing and directing the Guardians of the Galaxy movies also produced this year’s smash hit Avengers: Infinity War movie. Gunn re-tweeted this…

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In an ironic case of “he who liveth by Twitter, dieth by Twitter”, Gunn, who is notoriously quick on the draw when it comes to tweeting, transformed into an ex-Marvel talent later in the week when he got fired from directing Guardians of the Galaxy 3 after some entirely unrelated decade-old tweets of his surfaced in which he joked about rape and pedophilia. No doubt Gunn’s Twitter handle will now be holstered.

While Gunn’s re-tweeted Thanos meme is legitimately funny, equating Thanos, the villain in Infinity War who kills half of all beings in the universe in order to restore balance, to Putin, is hysterical…literally.

The mainstream media may claim otherwise, but the truth is Putin is not some omnipotent super-villain intent on universal or even global domination. Putin presides over a nation with only the 9th largest population, 11th largest economy (by projected GDP) and the 4th largest military budget (which is nearly ten times smaller than the U.S. military budget), that is not a Thanos level of super villainy…that doesn’t even rise to the level of Ultron, Loki or Lex Luthor for goodness sakes.

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If Putin were truly a Thanos-level super-villain he would at least have the world’s largest economy, largest military budget, more foreign military bases than any other nation in human history, the largest prison population, a vast worldwide eavesdropping surveillance system along with extra-judicial kill lists and also have fomented coups and waged wars  in such far off and diverse lands as Ukraine, Libya, Egypt, Honduras, Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan. Of course in order to have all of those things Putin would have to be the President of the United States.

The reality is that Putin is nothing more than a Russian nationalist whose interest is in protecting Mother Russia and its people from existential threats, which historically for Russians are a much more pressing matter than for those of us living in the United States.

It is difficult for Americans like James Gunn and Chris Evans to grasp, but a little over 75 years ago the elite of the Nazi war machine were a stones throw from Moscow. Maybe if we Americans learned our history from somewhere other than Marvel movies we would know that it wasn’t Captain America that defeated the Nazis, it was the Soviets who broke the back of Hitler’s military monstrosity and who lost more than 26 million lives in the process.

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Even in the last thirty years, Russians have had to survive the chaos and calamity that befell them when the Soviet Union collapsed, NATO encroached on their borders and America shamelessly meddled in their elections and economy.

The truth is that Anderson Cooper, John Brennan and Captain America Chris Evans, all inhabit different wings of the same American propaganda machine that has no interest in hearing differing or nuanced view points and has its heart set on demonizing and castrating Russia.

Cooper, a former intern at the CIA, cheerleads for American militarism and stokes the flames of Russo-phobia nightly on his CNN “news” show.

Brennan now plays a “serious” pundit on MSNBC, who routinely calls Vladimir Putin a “low-life thug”.

Since Brennan aided and abetted torture and treasonously spied on his own government while he was at the CIA, should he be considered a “high-life” thug because he is well paid as a member of the political and media establishment?

Chris Evans is also part of the American propaganda machine – the Hollywood wing. Is Evans aware that most of Hollywood, including Marvel and its parent company Disney, make movies in cooperation with the Pentagon? Does he know that in exchange for use of military equipment, personnel and expertise, the Pentagon gets creative control of those projects and eliminates any negative narratives that shed a bad light on the U.S. or its military to insure that those films will be coercive advertisements for American militarism?

Is Chris Evans aware and comfortable with the fact that America’s intelligence community also has a fruitful working relationship with Hollywood that has distorted history and whitewashed torture?

Does Chris Evans also support the cavalcade of anti-Russian films and television shows being churned out in recent years by Hollywood that brazenly dehumanize Russians and make Americans more susceptible to believe any negative story they hear about Russians in the mainstream media?

Maybe the vacuous gruel that is the Russiagate case will expand to become a sumptuous feast of evidence proving Putin’s guilt and Trump’s complicity. And maybe Trump is exactly what the media and Captain America claim he is…a useful idiot who is a “moron, puppet and coward”…but upon closer examination, the same could also be said of Evans who, wittingly or unwittingly, enables the Pentagon and Intelligence agencies’ militaristic and Russo-phobic propaganda campaigns to indoctrinate the American people to be gullible to the media, subservient to authority and aggressively belligerent toward Russians.

Add in the fact that liberals in Hollywood and the media are now so deeply in the throes of their virulent anti-Russian hysteria that they actually equate any alleged Russian election interference with the atrocities of 9-11 and Pearl Harbor, and you have a perfect recipe for a potential war…talk about useful idiots.

This article was originally published at RT.

©2018

 

 

 

Avengers: Infinity War - A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars                  

Popcorn Curve* Rating: 3.9 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. If you love or are even lukewarm for super hero movies, then definitely see Infinity War in the theatre. 

Avengers: Infinity War, written by Christopher Markus and Stephen Feely and directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, is the story of the famed superhero cooperative The Avengers, as they try and stop super-villian Thanos from taking control of the universe. The film stars…well...just about everybody, including, Chris Evans, Chris Pratt, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Elizabeth Olsen, Don Cheadle, Chris Hemsworth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chadwick Boseman, Tom Holland, Paul Bettany, Josh Brolin and Zoe Saldana, just to name a few. 

Like all red-blooded Americans, over the years I have paid my fare share of Disney taxes to our Mouse-eared overlords presiding over us from their lair at the Happiest Place on Earth®. Just in the last year alone I have already paid hard earned cash to Mickey Mouse to see The Last JediSpider-Man: Homecoming, Black Panther and now Infinity War and will no doubt see Solo: A Star Wars Story when it comes out at the end of the month. I have usually been underwhelmed by Mickey's moviemaking prowess and at the end of the day have felt cheated by the Disney tax man. That trend was reversed with my journey to the theatre to see Infinity War.

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Infinity War is the nineteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the third of the Avenger films, and is the first of the bunch to not feel like a complete commercial for itself. Having sat through the majority, but not all, of the previous Marvel movies, I have to say that Infinity War is easily head and shoulders above all the rest, and is worlds better than the previous two Avenger films. 

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What I appreciated about Infinity War was that unlike all the other Marvel movies it had a villain, Thanos, who is a complex character that is not only worthy of The Avengers as an adversary, but of my attention. Thanos embodies an existential struggle that is much more complicated than just wanting the world to bend the knee to him, which is a refreshing change from previous Marvel ventures.

To the film's credit, Thanos may appear at first glance to be the embodiment of all evil, but upon closer inspection through the lens of Josh Brolin's CGI enhanced performance and the character's motivations, he is revealed to be less a villain of epic proportions than a misunderstood hero who has taken an unbearable burden upon his muscular shoulders out of noble if misguided intentions. 

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Unlike Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, Spider-Man, Dr. Strange and the rest who reside in a Manichean world of black and white, Thanos must make hard decisions from the moral and ethical grey area in which our reality truly exists. Unlike his alleged "good" adversaries, Thanos does not get to cut corners or have happy endings, he is only left with the burden of his calling and the consequences of his choice which make him a multidimensional and pretty fascinating character. 

Infinity War also succeeds because it challenges our conditioning and embraces the notion that there are no easy Hollywood answers to be found, and I found that extremely refreshing after having sat through over a dozen predictable, world destroying, sense assaulting Marvel movies over the years. 

To be clear, I don't think Avengers: Infinity War is a great movie, but I do think it is a very good super hero movie. It, like all other super hero films, pales in comparison to Christopher Nolan's masterful Dark Knight Trilogy, but that is so high a bar I doubt anyone will ever reach it, never mind exceed it. 

The problems with Infinity War are less specific to this film than they are systemic to the genre, and they include too much cringe-worthy dialogue, too much snark, too much mindless destruction and in general…well…just too much.

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And yes, I know I am nitpicking here, but some of the performances in Infinity War are so bad as to be distracting. Mark Ruffalo may very well be the best actor in The Avenger movies but his performance in Infinity War is so abysmally wooden and out of sync as to be startling. I was actually embarrassed for Ruffalo watching him half ass his way through the movie, spewing out his dialogue with such vacuity he seemed more like an extra in a community theater production than an multiple Oscar nominee. 

Another issue I had with the film is an issue I have with all Marvel movies and that is that I find the cinematography to be pretty lackluster. These Marvel films all appear so flat and visually dull to me, and their failure to use color or shadow to further propel the narrative or reinforce the sub-text is a cinema sin. Infinity War, like almost all big budget studio films, relies heavily upon CGI, which I feel is not quite where it needs to be in terms of visual quality and dramatic realism.

But besides Ruffalo, the hackneyed dialogue and my cinematography snobbery, Infinity War kept me captivated for the entire two hours and thirty minutes, which is no small accomplishment. It did so because the fight scenes were, for the most part, interesting, original and well-choreographed and the storyline was dramatically compelling due to a sense of the good guys being in genuine peril. 

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I also must say that even though the preceding Marvel movies were entirely underwhelming, you could not have made Infinity War without them. The rather boring, paint by numbers, eighteen pieces of manufactured Marvel cinematic junk preceding Infinity War did effectively introduce all of the relevant characters to the audience, and so since we know them, we have at least a minimal investment in them heading into Infinity War, which excels at dramatically exploiting our connection to its characters. 

It is no small achievement what Disney has pulled off with their Marvel money making machine. Infinity War has pulled in nearly a billion dollars in just its first week in theaters, which will add to the incredible $15 billion haul (on a $4 billion investment) thus far for the Marvel franchise films. For Disney to keep the franchise coherent, interwoven and so fantastically financially successful is an incredible Hollywood achievement (even if it may be killing the movie industry and cinema in the process…but that is a discussion for another day), especially when you compare it to the more mundane results of the DC Comics/Warner Brothers collaboration.

In conclusion, I was genuinely surprised how much I liked Infinity War, especially considering how much I disliked most of the previous Marvel movies. If you are even a lukewarm fan of super hero films, I recommend you definitely go see Infinity War in the theatre. If you despise super hero movies then it stands to reason that you'll despise Infinity War because it packs more super heroes per capita than any other movie of which I can think. 

One word of warning though for parents, I do not think Infinity War is suitable for kids. I would put the cutoff at maybe 12, but your mileage may vary. The reason being is that there are some pretty heavy themes presented and also there is some surprising cursing. As for adults who like acting like kids, go see Infinity War in the theatre, it is well worth the time and energy of super hero fans. 

*The Popcorn Curve judges a film based on its entertainment merits as a franchise/blockbuster movie, as opposed to my regular rating which judges a film solely on its cinematic merits.

FILM COMMENTARY

****WARNING: THIS SECTION CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS!!****

 

****THIS IS YOUR LAST WARNING…MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!!****

 

In 2016 Captain America: Civil War came out and its themes and color palette made my take notice. The reason I was so intrigued by Civil War, was not because it was a good movie, I didn't really think it was, but because it was a remarkable piece of evidence in support of my Isaiah/McCaffrey Historical Wave Theory. 

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Civil War's poster was a vibrant battle of red versus blue, Iron Man versus Captain America. The theme of the film was that The Avengers were torn apart (due to an overseas misadventure) and divided into separate factions, globalists versus nationalists, and they went to war with one another. The film was obviously conceived, written and shot well before the 2016 election, but it was the perfect film to represent the struggle going on in America's, and the world's, collective consciousness. 

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Added to Civil War, was the fact that another big blockbuster superhero movie had similar themes and color palette…Batman V Superman. The posters for BvS were also a striking blue versus red, Batman (blue) versus Superman (red). While the words civil war were not in the title, civil war was the best way to describe the theme and sub-text of BvS

The third film of 2016 which resonated with the McCaffrey Wave Theory was X-Men: Apocalypse. That film also highlighted a civil war-esque level of infighting between different faction of mutants aka X-Men, although its poster and its box office made it much less relevant. 

When all three of these films came out in the same year as our very contentious presidential election, it was proof positive that the Isaiah/McCaffrey Wave Theory was an accurate way to measure the turmoil bubbling just beneath the conscious surface of the masses. (The Isaiah/McCaffrey Wave Theory accurately predicted in the face of much scorn Trump's and Brexit's victories in 2016). 

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The reason for this quick look back at super hero movies as they relate to my Wave Theory, is that watching Infinity War through the prism of my Wave Theory, was very unsettling. The themes present in the film are pretty obvious to any cinephile with the will to look, namely globalists, in the form of Iron Man and his crew, are able to convince the nationalists, Captain America and his crew, to fight an external enemy that is an existential threat to the status quo and the world order…Thanos. 

To see it another way is to see it as globalist capitalism (Avengers) versus a sort of nationalist post-capitalism (Thanos). Thanos wants to wipe out half the population of the universe because of dwindling resources, so that the other half can live and prosper in peace and harmony. Thanos is not choosing who lives or dies based on their race, creed, class, power or religion, it is totally random who is to be eliminated and who is to live. 

Iron Man and the rest of The Avengers see that as immoral, unethical and evil, and they fight with all they have to make sure that the status quo, where questions of resources, class and social power are never addressed, reign supreme. The sub-text of Infinity War is a sort of Sophie's Choice, with Thanos choosing and The Avengers refusing to choose, which ultimately is a moral and ethical conundrum due to the fact that, like iconic Canadian arena rockers Rush tell us, "if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice". 

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Late stage globalist capitalism is equivalent to a cancer upon the planet, devastating and exploiting natural resources and human populations as it spreads across our world. Like cancer, this form of capitalism can only survive if it is expanding, therefore stasis is death, and it must devour everything in its path, which eventually will include the planet we all live on. 

Iron Man is the face of multi-national corporate power (Stark Industries), and he must keep American capitalism alive at all costs, because if it dies, he dies. Captain America's nationalist impulses are very quickly co-opted and overridden in the face of a threat to the globalist capitalist order. Although it is never articulated that Iron Man and the globalists have defeated Captain America and the nationalists, it is very clear this is the case when Captain America and company come out of hiding to fight side by side with the globalists to defeat the establishment destroying power of Thanos. 

The fact that the "good guys" in a Disney film are fighting to save American "free market" capitalism is not the least bit shocking…especially when Disney is on the verge of acquiring 20th Century Fox which will give them an astounding 40% market share of the domestic film market. Disney undoubtedly is the height of globalist corporate power in media, and in Infinity War they have recruited The Avengers to fight their ideological battle to the death. 

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Thanos on the other hand, may have a very bad solution indeed, mass exterminations, to the resource scarcity issue, but at least he is addressing it, which none of the The Avengers dare do. The Avengers only solution is for them to fight tooth and nail for the right to close their eyes and whistle past the graveyard, in other words to make sure that things stay the same, which is untenable and will eventually result in the death and destruction of the entire human race and the planet earth. When comparing those two solutions, Thanos versus The Avengers, as cruel as Thanos' solution is…the chilling reality is that it is the only one that is viable long term. And the even more complicated and unsettling thought is that as unconscionable as Thanos' solution is, it may be the most moral and ethical if the choices are do nothing and do something awful. 

Thanos is symbolic of the uncomfortable questions that America, and the world, desperately ignore, and they do so at their own peril. If Thanos were a presidential candidate, he certainly would not be a centrist Democrat or Republican (or in Euro terms, a Merkel or Macron) like Iron Man and Captain America, no, Thanos would not be part of the centrist establishment at all. Thanos would be a sort of "independent" (meaning he defines himself in opposition to the old establishment) authoritarian (for example- a sort of amalgam of Xi, Mao, Putin and Stalin), who would have harsh, cold-hearted and brutal answers to the questions of immigration, income inequality, global warming and empire that would come at a very high cost to humanity…but he would also bring a solution to the problem of terrorism, environmental degradation, resource scarcity and resource-fueled wars. 

In regards to the Wave Theory, Infinity War is what I consider a level 6 force on the Wave Scale because it is not as dynamic and distinctive visually in terms of color palette (for example, its poster is rather visually mundane without any dominant colors never mind something as obvious as red versus blue) as say Civil War or BvS (both level 9) and also because it not only has no other big budget film buttressing its theme as Civil War did with BvS, but DC's Justice League and Marvel's Black Panther have optimistic narratives that counter it a bit. That said, the reason Infinity War is intriguing is because it portends an ultimate end/destruction to the status quo, and that in and of itself is a staggering statement in a mainstream blockbuster, never mind the fact that so many iconic, archetypal characters vanish before our eyes in the film's final scenes.

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Much like The Empire Strikes Back, the best of the Star Wars films, hit theaters in 1980 and was a sign post for the rising American empire of the coming Reagan years whose laissez-faire, trickle down, Wall Street friendly economics has dominated the globe for the past 38 years, Infinity War is hinting at the end of that system, and the coming of a new one. What that system is, be it a Chinese style-authoritarian controlled capitalism, a neo-Marxism, an authoritarian nationalist socialism, or something else, I have no idea, but if history is any guide, it will be a fierce backlash to the greed fueled corporate globalism of the Reagan era (1981 to now). And if Infinity War, which is quickly eclipsing at the box office and in the cultural consciousness the thematic optimism of Black Panther (not to mention that Black Panther himself, and all he represents, is obliterated in Infinity War), is any guide, the transition to this new system will be tumultuous to say the least. 

Another similarity between Infinity War and The Empire Strikes Back is that main characters symbolizing "good" are "killed". In Infinity War there are a plethora of super heroes turned to dust, and in Empire, Han Solo is frozen. But just like Solo was unfrozen in the Return of the Jedi, I have no doubt that all of the now vaporized superheroes will return in the next Avengers movie (Disney ain't turning off the Marvel money machine just to maintain narrative integrity!). But just because the actions in Infinity War, just like those in Empire Strikes Back, are cinematically reversed, does not mean that they do not hold the secret to what lies ahead for our collective consciousness. The turning point of the collapse of the establishment genie is out of the bottle (collective consciousness), and reviving a coterie of evaporated superheroes will not change that fact in the wider consciousness. 

Think of it this way…if, for example, there is another 2008 level meltdown in our economy, then the political and financial establishment are toast. Apres the unbridled corruption of Reagan (Bush/Trump/Clinton etc.) era American Capitalism, le deluge. The deluge is Thanos. Prepare accordingly while you can. 

©2018

Spider-Man : Homecoming - A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER-FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

My Rating : 2.35 out of 5 stars.

My Recommendation : SKIP IT IN THE THEATRE. SEE IT ON CABLE OR NETFLIX.

Spider-Man: Homecoming, directed by Jon Watts, is the coming of age story of Peter Parker and his superhero alter-ego Spider-Man. The film stars Tom Holland as Spider-Man, with supporting nods from Michael Keaton, Marissa Tomei and Robert Downey Jr.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is the first installment of the second re-boot of the third Spider-Man series of films. If that sounds confusing to you, you are not alone. The original cinematic Spiderman was Tobey Maguire who starred in three films produced by Sony from 2002, 2004 and 2007. Sony then re-booted the series in 2012, with Andrew Garfield as the new Spiderman and Emma Stone his love interest. Garfield lasted for two films, the second coming out in 2014, then he ran afoul of Sony's studio head and was summarily exiled from Spideydom. Now, just three years later, Spidey is back, this time with Disney/Marvel producing after the two mega-studios made a deal to bring Spider-Man back into the Marvel fold, adding one more branch to their gargantuan money tree. Tom Holland dons the signature blue and red tights this time for his first star turn in the Spider-Man franchise. Holland has played the character once before in a supporting role in Captain America : Civil War

I enjoyed the first two Tobey Maguire Spider-Man films, they were solid, well-made movies with a distinct aesthetic and style and that I enjoyed. The third Maguire Spider-Man was an abomination that was so atrocious it stopped the franchise in its tracks. I admit I have never seen the Andrew Garfield Spidey films because at the time they seemed to be a gratuitous money-grab being that they were re-booting the franchise just five years after the last series ended. This time around they are re-booting after only three years, but it is a true re-boot where Spider-Man is absorbed into the Avenger's universe, so that somehow seems a bit less artistically bankrupt as the Garfield versions.

I am a fan of the Spider-Man character, so I had high expectations going to the theatre, but sadly I must report that Spider-Man: Homecoming is a very mixed bag of a movie. It isn't awful, but it certainly isn't great either. There are good elements and bad elements. In keeping with my optimistic nature…*please stop laughing*...I will get to the good points first. 

First off, Tom Holland does excellent work as Spider-Man. In this re-boot, Spider-Man is fourteen and fifteen years old, in other words he is a really annoying teenager. Holland does an exceedingly good job of capturing teenage angst and ennui, as well as the frustrations, social fragility and mental chaos that encompass adolescence. His voice even has a subtle crack to it that lets you know this is a boy thrust into a man's world. Holland seems to have a very bright future, and I hope he can use the monstrous success of this Spider-Man movie to spread his artistic wings and do more than carry water for the Disney money machine.

Holland is not the only bright spot in terms of acting. Michael Keaton plays the villain, Vulture, and he gives a terrific performance. There is an underlying menacing quality to Keaton in this film that he wears very well. It is great to see Keaton back in the game and crushing diverse, quality roles after his years of exile from the big stage. In some ways, Keaton's Vulture character is like his fictional alter ego in the movie Birdman, which can make for an ironically enjoyable perspective on his work in Spider-Man. 

Robert Downey Jr. reprises his iconic Iron Man role in the movie. Downey is the quintessential Iron Man. He is the perfect mix of charisma, charm and emotional fragility to bring a superhero to life on screen and he is uniquely qualified to never be overshadowed by all the pyrotechnics surrounding his performance. 

The film also does something very smart which a lot of television shows have started to do as well, namely, that they use music from earlier eras in order to conjure a sense of nostalgia in older audience members. Make no mistake about it, Spider-Man is a movie for teenagers, but the music in it is the music of the 70's and 80's, in other words the music from the teenage years of late baby boomers and generation X. Television shows like 13 Reasons Why and Stranger Things have used this musical technique to great effect in the last year. This is a brilliant device to bring older audiences into the story without alienating younger viewers. 

Another wise move by the filmmakers is that they do not try and do too much right out of the gate. Too many superhero films are unbalanced between superhero and villain, and superhero and task. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, Spider-man and Vulture are a pretty evenly matched, and Spider-man is not entrusted with having to save the world, just his little corner of it.

And now for the bad news…as I stated earlier, Tom Holland is fantastic at portraying a teenage boy, in fact he does too good a job. Spending two and half hours with a teenager is not something anyone in their right mind would want to actually do…hell, not even a teenager would want to spend that much time with a teenager. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, we are stuck with an annoying, whiny teenage idiot who makes the same moronic decisions most every teenager would make. Teenagers will relate to him, but adults will want to slap him silly for being so continuously stupid.

Another issue is that the portions of the story that deal with Peter Parker's high school life and friends are pretty unbearable. All of the teenage characters are painfully one-dimensional and are numbingly predictable and corny as hell. Peter Parker and friends are a drag on the entire film.

The story also suffers from a lack of clarity because the film makes large jumps in time and doesn't fill in the gaps properly in order to flesh out the characters and drama. For instance, the movie open with crews cleaning up in the wake of the destruction created by the Avengers in their New York City brawl with aliens in the first Avengers film. Then the movie jumps eight years ahead and we never get to see the critical moments in the development of Keaton's Vulture character, which to me would have been the most interesting part of the film, and we never got see it. 

Spider-Man: Homecoming also suffers from two things that afflict the Marvel films in general, namely that they are visually flat and stale, and also that they are thematically much too paltry and light-hearted. In terms of the visuals of the film, director Jon Watts, whose resume isn't exactly inspiring, is in way over his head. This movie is aesthetically more akin to a made for television movie than it is a cinematic enterprise. To be fair to Watts, Disney/Marvel run a very tight ship and are not interested in artistic vision, only franchise conformity and box-office returns.

As for the light-hearted nature that permeates all of the Marvel films, Spider-Man: Homecoming is definitely no exception. Like all of the Marvel movies, there is a tsunami of zippy one-liners and a flippancy that seeps out of its every pore. I understand that "entertainment' is the goal with these movies, but that doesn't mean they have to be so shallow and frivolous. Christopher Nolan proved with his Dark Knight trilogy that superhero movies can be entertaining and also artistically and archetypally illuminating at the same time. Even Sam Raimi with the original two Spider-Man films was able to pull that off, as was Ang Lee with his much maligned, Jungian inspired, Hulk. Just this year we have seen the superhero game elevated to a much higher level with James Mangold's superior Logan and Patty Jenkin's well-crafted Wonder Woman. Spider-Man fails to live up to the standards set by these quality films, but the truth is the same can be said of all of the Marvel films and Disney doesn't care as long as the money train keeps rolling. 

The final issue I had with Spider-Man: Homecoming was that the rules of the cinematic universe were never clearly defined. What I mean by that is that superhero movies are pretty incredible to begin with, so you have to have a set of rules for the film that the movie sticks to or else the story loses much needed credibility. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, for instance, Spider-Man is knocked out by bumping his head on a roof, but when he gets punched by a super-arm or is in a car crash, he comes out entirely unscathed. It is a little thing, but sometimes the little things add up to a big thing. 

There was one thing that was both good and bad about the film. There is a B-story sub-text about class in the film that is pretty fascinating, which is the good thing, the bad thing is it is so minor as to be quickly forgotten. Spider-man is a local, working class hero, or as Iron Man tells him, he has a whole "Springsteen vibe" going on. I think if the film had fleshed out this idea it would have been a very rich topic to explore. Keaton's Vulture is the same as Spider-man, a blue collar local guy, whereas Iron Man and the Avengers are a globalist bunch of elitists trying to impose their values on the locals. Politically, this is a potent narrative that we have seen play out across the globe and even in our last election. A superhero movie can sometimes be the best place to hash out archetypal and mythic conflicts so that viewers can find nuance, or clarity, whichever they most need. Sadly, Spider-Man: Homecoming spent more time with adolescent pursuits and mostly turned a blind eye to the class struggle that was taking place at the heart of the story, and the film is lesser for it. 

The bottom line is this, Spider - Man: Homecoming is just…ok. It is an admittedly fun but basically mindless movie that will no doubt entertain millions and make billions. If you are a superhero fan you will see the film regardless of what I say, but if you are lukewarm on these types of films, I think you can skip it in the theatre and see it when it's on cable of Netflix. 

In conclusion I will share this, that over the years many readers have emailed me to tell me that they think I am a vicious misogynist, racist and xenophobe, and with my tepid review of Spider-Man: Homecoming, they will no doubt add "incorrigible arachnophobe" to the list of evils that afflict me. I will simply say this in my defense…I am not an arachnophobe (some of my best friends are spiders!!), I am just a cinephile who yearns for a bit more from the standard summertime popcorn movies that Hollywood continuously uses to separate fools like me from their hard earned money. My spidey-senses are telling me I'm going to need to lower my standards. 

©2017

Dr. Strange : A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

My Rating : 2 out of 5 Stars

My Recommendation : Skip it in the theatre. See it on Cable or Netflix. If you are a superhero lover, you'll see the film anyway, so my recommendation is meaningless.

Dr. Strange, starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role, is the story of a genius, hot shot neuro-surgeon who falls on hard times after an accident and searches the world for a way to heal himself. Through a fortuitous path, the good Doctor finds himself in Kathmandu studying the mystical arts and being thrown into the esoteric world of superheroes, magic and multi-dimensions. 

Dr. Strange is the fourteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that is the one inhabited by Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Spider-man and The Avengers to name but a few. The film is directed and co-written by Scott Derrickson. It boasts an impressive cast of supporting actors including Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelson, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Stuhlberg.

I admittedly knew very little about the comic book character Dr. Strange before seeing the film. Marvel, and their parent company Disney, are well aware that Dr. Strange is a second level type of superhero. He isn't on par with his more famous compatriots like Spider-man, Hulk, Captain America or Iron Man. So the studio wisely uses this film to roll out not only a "new" property in their cinematic universe, but in doing so they also prepare the audience for multiple and changing versions of the cinematic universe they have already created. What I mean by that is Dr. Strange is not just a superhero, he is a mystical hero, who is part of a group that can cross over into other dimensions, mess with time, and generally warp all that we think we know for sure. It is a very savvy move for Marvel/Disney to roll Dr. Strange out now as it allows them to have a new money-making franchise and also gives them the flexibility to change and alter the current direction of Marvel films by giving themselves the ability to "change universes" through Dr. Strange's multi-dimensional time-line jumping. So they can make a film where Captain America is evil or the Hulk kills Spider-man, and then have Dr. Strange come along and either turn back time or jump to another universe in the multi-verse…pretty savvy.

Disney is on fire right now in terms of the moves they have made in recent years. In 2010 the studio bought Marvel comics and their cavalcade of superheroes, the only notable exception being the X-Men who are stuck over at the creative hell known as Fox. The purchasing price was $4 billion which, sadly, was just out of my price range. That is a lot of money for any studio to invest, but the move has already paid for itself with multiple successful franchise films and spinoffs in the time since the purchase. Disney has pumped out twelve Marvel based films in the last six years, with many more to come. These twelve films have made in excess of $9 billion. Add to that the shrewd move to purchase the Star Wars franchise from George Lucas for another $4 billion, which has already paid off handsomely as the first Star Wars film they made, The Force Awakens, made $2 billion worldwide last year. And that evil mastermind Mickey Mouse plans to release new Star Wars films every year for the next few years ensuring another huge payday for the studio. In other words, Disney earnings are going to be very healthy for the foreseeable future.

So why am I talking all this inside baseball about movie studios and franchises and box office? Well, Dr. Strange is both an example of why that strategy by the studio is good for business and simultaneously bad for movies. Dr. Strange is not a terrible movie comparatively speaking, not at all, but it also isn't a great one. But it could have been a hell of a lot better than it was in the hands of a more daring and confident director. But daring and confident directors are not going to get a chance to mess with the Mickey Mouse Marvel Money Machine. Instead the Marvel films are all going to be formulaic, rather predictable, self-consciously cutesy, and cinematically somewhat lacking, just like Dr. Strange

On the other hand, if a powerhouse like Disney didn't own the rights to Dr. Strange, and they hadn't been so successful with the other Marvel franchise films, this character would never see the light of day, and Dr. Strange is a truly great character worthy of a film. The great disappointment is that the film Dr. Strange never lives up to the compelling intrigue that its main character brings to the show.

Like many Marvel films, Dr. Strange is two-thirds of a good-enough movie, but loses its way in the final third of the film. And like most of the Marvel films, Dr. Strange lacks an exceptional villain that can compete with its main character. Yes, there are villains in the movie, one played by one of my favorite actors, Mads Mikkelson, but that character is never fully fleshed out or given much to do in a rather shallow script. The other villain is an enormous evil entity that is visually unremarkable in every way, thus undercutting the power he may possess for viewers.

The first two thirds of the film are pretty interesting because the character of Dr, Strange is a fascinating one, and also because Benedict Cumberbatch is an actor with an imperative charm to him. Cumberbatch has a weird magnetism to him that draws viewers in to his private world even as he keeps them an arms length away. Cumberbatch's work in Dr. Strange is all the more impressive because it is a star turn that requires great charisma and appeal to be able to pull off, and I didn't think he had the goods to be able to do it, but he does. 

The rest of the cast do fine enough work in underwritten and underwhelming roles. Chiwetel Ojiofor is a terrific actor but is terribly under used as Karl Mordo. Tilda Swinton does a good job as The Ancient One. Swinton is always an interesting actress and her solid work here is a tribute to her talent as it is much more complex and nuanced a performance than the script gives to her. The rest of the cast, Mikkelson as Kaecillius, Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer and Michael Stuhlberg as Nicodemus West all do the best they can with the very little they are given.

Visually the film has some interesting sequences where we get to see the multi-verse and things of that nature, but all in all it is a rather stale bit of filmmaking. There are sequences that are reminiscent of Christopher Nolan's film Inception, which do Dr. Strange no favors because Scott Derrickson is certainly no Christopher Nolan, not in any way.

All that said, I did enjoy the film even though in total it is pretty sub-par. I think the reason I enjoyed it was that the character is so interesting, and that Cumberbatch does such a good job bringing him to life. I think another reason I enjoyed it was that I had very low expectations and was glad to just sit and turn off my brain after all the hullaballoo about the election. I have been very critical of the Marvel films of the past as they struck me as just the worst sort of mindless noise meant to separate idiots from their money…idiots like me. I think what has happened to me is that having sat through so many Marvel films, my brain has been softened to mush and I am now more pliable to the wishes of the evil wizard Mouse pulling all the strings back at Disney headquarters. Whatever the reason, I "enjoyed" Dr. Strange on a certain level, and while I wouldn't watch the film again, I will go out and read some of the comic books to learn more about the character. So that in and of itself says something positive about the film.

In conclusion, if you love super hero movies, you will see this film no matter what I say. If you are lukewarm on super hero films, you can skip this one and maybe catch it on cable or Netflix for free and at your leisure. I found Dr. Strange to be a fascinating character in a rather tepid film. I think you will feel the same way, which is why I recommend you skip seeing it in the theatre, and go read some Dr. Strange comics instead.

©2016

Captain America : Civil War - A Review

**** THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS!!! CONSIDER THIS YOUR OFFICIAL SPOILER ALERT!!!****

MY RATING : 2 OUT OF 5 STARS

SEE IT IN THE THEATRE IF YOU LOVE SUPER HERO MOVIES, IF YOU ARE LUKEWARM ABOUT SUPERHERO MOVIES, WAIT TO SEE IT ON CABLE.

My 2016 movie going has been pretty limited due to an insanely busy schedule, but with 'pilot season' fading quickly into the rear view mirror, I found some time to sneak off and see a movie this week. The last time I went to the theatre was when I ventured to the art house to catch Terence Malick's mesmerizing Knight of Cups. This time I decided to do my patriotic duty as a citizen of the United States of Disney and spend time in the dark with the great unwashed masses at the local cineplex and go see Captain America : Civil War.

Captain America : Civil War is the third Captain America film (Captain America : The First Avenger 2011, Captain America : Winter Soldier 2014) and the thirteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film is directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo and is written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. The film boasts an all-star cast which includes Chris Evans reprising his role as Captain America and Robert Downey Jr. doing the same as Iron Man, along with Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Rudd, to name but a few.

Captain America : Civil War is a pretty strange movie. In some ways it is an interesting, dare I say noble and courageous attempt to examine the ethics and morality of U.S. foreign policy and military actions and the struggle of Empire to maintain a uni-polar world while under great pressure from without and within to create a multi-polar world where cooperation among nations rules the day. On the other hand it is a terribly uneven and long (it runs for two and half hours) exercise in propaganda and corporatism that is little more than an elaborate commercial for itself, American exceptionalism, future Marvel franchise films, and the auto maker Audi.

To the film's credit, it is much better than either of the recent Avengers films. The Avenger films were an unmitigated mess, more spectacle than storytelling. The problem with the Avengers is that it is near impossible to create any drama when it is difficult to imagine a villain that could match up with the murderer's row of super heroes which include Thor, Hulk, Captain America and Iron Man. Captain America : Civil War avoids that problem by having the "villains" as equally as powerful as the heroes, because the "villains" are superheroes. Iron Man is a match for Captain America and each super hero faction matches up pretty well against the other up and down the line.

Another reason that Captain America : Civil War is better than the Avengers movies is because  the fight sequences are toned down to be less universally and randomly destructive, there are no city-wide rampages that leave New York looking like Aleppo, but instead the fights are more personalized between equally matched super hero combatants. The side effect of this is that the violence is more targeted and meaningful, and less chaotic and random. It also means that the film is less loud and over bearing in its bombastic destruction, which is a plus for anyone who isn't an adolescent and has a brain rattling around in their head.

To the film's credit, it raises a rather complex issue for a super hero movie, the issue of "collateral damage", with the super heroes contemplating all the innocents that have died as a result of their epic battles with various super villains like Loki and Ultron in the previous Avenger films. Captain America and his team believe that, while tragic, these civilian deaths are the price you pay for stopping evil. If you live in the U.S. and watch, read, or listen to any mainstream media, that will sound awfully familiar to you. Although on the surface they clash, Iron Man actually agrees with Captain America in principle about the collateral damage issue but he disagrees with how to strategically handle the fallout over civilian deaths.

Iron Man is the symbol of American ingenuity and capitalism, so he just wants to stay in business by any means necessary, and so he believes the Avengers should fall under U.N. control for the time being until this whole mess blows over. At the end of the day the disagreement over whether the Avengers will give up sovereignty to the U.N. gets pushed to the background as all agree that the Avengers are a universal good and are morally righteous having never intended to kill any innocents, so they are neither morally nor ethically culpable in any way. The disagreement which starts the Avenger civil war is really about how to handle the logistics going forward and Captain America's stubborn attachment to his principle on maintaining sovereignty.

As I watched Captain America talk about the specter of the U.N. having control over the Avenger's , I was reminded of the first time I ever heard of Americans being afraid of a tyrannical UN. I was driving through central Pennsylvania about 20 years ago with an incredibly sexy native Pennsylanian woman whom I will call The Amish Minx, and we saw two huge signs on trailers in someone's yard, one read "Keep the UN out of the US" and the other "Don't let the UN take our guns". The Amish Minx, who was born and raised in central Pennsylvania, had always told me the state was basically Pittsburgh and Philadelphia separated by Kentucky, and she used these signs as evidence backing up her thesis. She often referred to the state she loved as Pennsyl-tucky.

I think Captain America's message of defiance against the U.N. will deeply resonate in the heart of Pennsyl-tucky and the rest of the American heartland….which is what it is meant to do. Captain America refusing to give up his freedom to decide which bad guys to kill to the meddling, feckless and corrupt U.N., is perfectly American, which makes sense since he is Captain America after all, and not Captain International Political Organization, while Iron Man, the international businessman, is willing to compromise by appeasing the U.N.…for now. As the story progresses though, it is revealed that the real beef between Captain America and Iron Man is, as these things always turn out to be, actually very personal, as Iron Man feels betrayed by Captain America over the death of Iron Man's parents many years ago.

Oddly enough, for a film trying to tackle the heavy consequences of innocents being killed during Avenger battles, the fight scenes between the warring Avenger factions have an incredibly light, fun and playful tone to them. This uneven tone does the film and its alleged serious intentions a terrible disservice. The fights are little more than one-liner battles of wittiness and super heroes trying to out-cool each other. The other drawback is that while the Avengers can feel a little bad about killing innocent people while fighting evil, they themselves never have to fear death because they are never in any peril whatsoever. The fights and the film would have been much better served if the fights between the super hero factions carried some real danger to them. If the teenage Spider-man gets killed by Captain America over a nebulous principle, we have a much more dramatic and interesting movie…but the studio is out billions of dollars in the form of, yet again, another whole new re-boot of the Spider Man franchise.

Another thing that detracts from the collateral damage issue is that when the Avenger factions square off they do so in an airport that has been evacuated, thus it is completely devoid of the danger of civilians being hurt, a central theme in the movie. This big airport fight would have been so much better, so much more impactful and so much more meaningful, if the warring Avenger factions had to not only fight each other but take into account the innocent civilians that could be harmed by their fighting. This would have kept the collateral damage debate front and center in the film and it also would have complicated the battle, giving it much more drama, depth and dimension.

In terms of the acting…well…this is a super hero movie so...there are actors in it. Actually, to be fair, the actors all do very solid work. Robert Downey Jr. in particular is, as usual, terrific as Iron Man. He is a skilled and talented guy, and his Iron Man has never failed to be lively, smart, energetic and compelling. Chris Evans as Captain America is not exactly Laurence Olivier, but he is well suited for the role in that he is an all-American, impossibly handsome guy and he is comfortable letting his biceps do all the heavy lifting and serious acting. Scarlet Johannsen and Elizabeth Olsen do some quality work with the garbage they've been given in the script. Everyone else is pretty forgettable, although to be fair, the entire film, while entertaining, is pretty forgettable, so they fit right in.

The B-level super heroes that Marvel has scraped off the bottom of the barrel for this one are pretty funny in that they are nowhere near being ready to be prime time players. Black Widow, Winter Soldier, Falcon, Hawkeye, Black Panther, Vision and Scarlet Witch aren't exactly the '27 Yankees…they are more like the 2016 Yankees. That said, A-lister Spider Man does make an appearance, and is spectacularly and incredibly annoying. As I said, previously, the film would be better if the young Spider Man is convinced to fight for Team Iron Man, and then like so many young men drawn into the glory of battle, dies too young for a worthless cause. Admittedly, that would be a pretty heavy thing to throw into a Captain America movie, but considering the civilian deaths/collateral damage theme the filmmakers bring up it would, in theory, have been appropriate. Of course, that would make this a real, genuine film and not just some summer, popcorn movie fun…but I would argue you can have both. Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight is the gold standard for comic book films, balancing dark material and Super Hero entertainment, and Captain America : Civil War is no The Dark Knight…but it is better than the previous Captain America and Avenger films.

Not surprisingly, since the Captain America comic was originally created back in 1941 as American propaganda during World War II, when you dig a little deeper into Captain America : Civil War, you realize that it is little more than updated and more sophisticated propaganda for American exceptionalism in the twenty first century. The film is designed to reinforce what Americans have been conditioned to believe for generations through education and the media…that we are a special people and nation, and that when we kill innocent people it is not immoral, only an unintentional accident. This is the "good intentions" argument that self promoting nitwit Sam Harris likes to parade arounduntil a real super hero, Noam Chomsky, goes all Hulk on him and smashes his vapid argument for all to see. (CHOMSKY SMASH!!!) This is also the same thinking that brings cries of "moral equivalency!!" anytime someone tries to hold the U.S. accountable for its evil deeds.

 While the film appears to be about the Uni-Polar v. Multi-Polar debate and the collateral damage issue, it is actually very deceptive, because at its core the film never questions the morality or righteousness of the American/Avenger cause. In cinematic terms, doing that would mean that Team Iron Man would have to have a true come to Jesus moment and realize that Team Captain America must be stopped no matter the price….but that is not going to happen in the Disney owned Marvel Universe or this coprorately owned one either.

It is easy to make the argument that the Avengers have always been good and acted properly by stopping Loki or Ultron from destroying the entire planet because Loki and Ultron are comic book villains who embody true evil, and the Avengers are comic book super heroes who embody pure goodness. The comic book world is comfortably Manichean which is why we love and crave it so much. The clarity and surety that comic books and their films give us is reassuringly simple, even when it appears to be complex, as in the case of Captain America : Civil War. The real world rarely gives us such Manichean clarity, and it is almost always much less clear cut in the real world who is good and who is evil. The shaded area of grey in which we all live, which can be so uncomfortable for its moral ambiguity, will find no home in Disney's Marvel Universe.

Sadly, that won't stop audience members from unquestioningly swallowing the obvious propogandic lesson of the film, that the US, just like the Avengers, is always and every time right, morally and ethically, even when it does wrong, and that the U.S., just like the Avengers, is always and every time morally superior in each and every way to his opponents/victims, no matter who they are. When people or a nation put themselves morally above others, it gives them free reign to do anything because no matter what they do, it is good because they are good. The most obvious example of this…**WARNING: Godwin's Law in full effect!!**… are the Nazi's, who didn't think they were evil, they thought they were good and right ("If God is with us, who could be against us?"). The German thinking was that invading Poland or slaughtering Jews, though ugly, was acceptable because it served the greater and higher good, which was Germany and all its mythic glory. The Avengers and the U.S. aren't the Nazi's, but they are compelled by the same sense of self-reverence and moral superiority, which is an uncomfortable, but important idea to contemplate.

Even though at its core, Captain America : Civil War is a piece of propaganda for American exceptionalism and militarism, it is an entertaining piece of propaganda. I readily admit that I enjoyed the film. I thought it could have been a hell of a lot better, but for what it is, a summertime, popcorn, super hero movie, it is very entertaining. It keeps a solid pace and tempo, and never lulls or loses steam. Although it runs for over two and a half hours, I was never bored and never looked at my watch. It is for these reasons that I would say that if you like Super Hero films, you will definitely like Captain America : Civil War. If you are on the fence about these types of films, I would say, due to the issues of an uneven tone, save your money and wait to see it when it is on cable. Also, the film is not cinematically or visually vibrant enough or stylistically unique enough to demand that you see it in the theaters on the big screen. 

Whether you do what I did and venture out to the theatre to watch the film with the hoi polloi, or if you wait to see it on cable, my one piece of advice is to try to watch the film consciously, being aware of how you are being manipulated and how propaganda works on both the conscious and unconscious level. It is ok to enjoy a piece of propaganda, as propaganda can be well made and entertaining, as long as you don't become an unwitting victim of that propaganda, which will teach you to accept things without thinking and to never question the propagandists assumptions and basic premises. The only antidote to not thinking brought on by propaganda…is to think. So enjoy the film, stay conscious, and keep thinking and questioning.

©2016

Avengers : Age of Ultron - A Review

THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!

When you go see a comic book or superhero movie, you have a certain set of expectations. One might describe those expectations as 'lowered'. You certainly don't go into the theatre expecting to see Citizen Kane, but you do expect to see something entertaining and fun. When the stars align and a superhero film ends up being great, as in the case of The Dark Knight for instance, you are more than pleasantly surprised, you are downright thrilled. I didn't expect Avengers: Age of Ultron to be great, and the filmmakers certainly didn't disappoint on that count. Avengers is typical, sadly, of many recent films in the comic book genre (The Dark Knight series being the exception) in that it is big, loud, incomprehensible and incoherent. It will still make a billion dollars because kids of all ages will flock to to see it for the same reason that boogers are ingested at such an alarmingly high rate across the globe.

The key for a superhero film is not the superhero involved. Superheroes are great, everybody likes superheroes. What a superhero film needs though is tension. The key to creating tension is the villain. If you are going to make a great superhero movie, you need a villain that is equal or better than the superhero. There must be a balance in power and ability between the good guys and the bad guys. Avengers suffers from a lack of a clear cut and worthy opponent to take on its all-star team of superheroes. The first film suffered from the same malady. In contrast to the Avengers, the X-Men work because they have one group of super folk taking on another group of equally super folk. (That is not to say that X-Men movies are great, they aren't, they are just ok but could be great, the reason they aren't is singularly because of the truly poor directors at the helm of those films, not because they lack worthy villains). Professor X faces his shadow in Magneto for instance. The Dark Knight films worked so well because the Joker is as big a name and draw as is Batman. Bane may not be as famous as The Joker, but he was the physical better of Batman in every way and proved it in the final Dark Knight film (until he was dramatically and narratively undercut by an atrocious script twist in a horrendous breaking of the most basic of filmmaking rules!!). In the first Avengers film, Thor's trickster brother Loki was the villain. Loki is a a second rate character at best, and even on his best day struggles to challenge his more famous, and powerful brother Thor.  In Avengers: Age of Ultron a group of the most elite superheroes take on Ultron, an artificial intelligence hell bent on world domination. Ultron is nowhere near ready for prime time as a villain. The match-up between the Avengers, with Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow and Thor against Ultron is like the '27 Yankees against a little league team. Ultron and the actor voicing him, James Spader, both seem to possess the same singular super power, an overwhelming smugness. 

Due to a less than engaging villain, the film lacks any tension whatsoever. Avengers: Age of Ultron is about as interesting as watching kids playing with action figures in a sandbox. While it may be fun for the kids doing the playing, only an imbecile would be able to find watching them interesting for more than ten minutes at most.

The script makes no sense whatsoever. None. Zero. Trying to figure out what is happening and why would be a total waste of time, and the film assaults you so relentlessly that you are rendered completely incapable of critical thinking altogether, so you just sit back and let the spectacle overwhelm your senses. The film is much too long in terms of it being an enjoyable watching experience, but much too short in terms of it trying to explain itself.

There is not a single compelling or memorable scene, sequence or shot in the entire film. I saw it less than 24 hours ago and can barely remember anything about it. For a film that put so much money into production, it looks unconscionably cheap and flimsy. The CGI makes the film look flat and dull. The story, when not incoherent, is at best tedious, at worst entirely forgettable.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is another in a long line of recent films to have decided to focus on sheer volume and scale to overwhelm the viewer as opposed to winning them over with quality and worth. Like its obnoxiously loud and senseless predecessors Man of Steel, Transformers and Godzilla, Avengers turns the volume way up to 11, and it never met a building it didn't want to turn to rubble in the course of a poorly choreographed and cinematically flaccid and repetitious brawl.

On the bright side, the cast all do yeomen's work. In a film like this the job can be boiled down to this, look great, be charming and don't laugh out loud at your idiotic dialogue, or as George Clooney calls it, "Acting". The cast all succeed at the task before them. Robert Downey Jr. is really fantastic as Iron Man. His charisma, energy, pace and wit carry every scene he inhabits. Scarlett Johannson does admirable work as well, both seductive yet vulnerable, as Black Widow. She does a lot with the little given to her in bringing her role to life. Chris Evans (Captain America), Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Mark Ruffalo (Hulk) all do solid work as well in pretty thankless roles.  The actors are definitely not the problem with Avengers: Age of Ultron. The problem with Avengers: Age of Ultron is the laborious script and the impotent direction.

The fact that the first Avengers film made a billion dollars, and Avengers: Age of Ultron is most assuredly on its way to a billion, is less an endorsement of those films than an indictment of the human race. I couldn't help but think that the film's villain Ultron is very right, when he says, and I'm paraphrasing here, that 'mankind is a disease worth eradicating from the earth', after seeing the first weekend gross that hovered near $200 million. Just because Avengers is a comic book movie doesn't mean it has to be stupid. What is wrong with people that they go out and spend their hard earned money on this poorly made, steaming pile of garbage? If people are this stupid as to go see this junk than they deserve to be obliterated by Ultron, Transformers or Godzilla, or whomever the movie studios decide to send to abuse us next. If you are dumb enough to waste your money on these films then YOU are the problem. YOU are the one who is slowly but surely destroying whatever little dignity we as a species have left. YOU are the one who is too stupid to realize that it is YOU who are the destroying the little civilization we have left with your gluttonous, narcissistic, corrosive and idiotic lifestyle. YOU are the one who should get off your fat ass and go and take a good, long look at yourself in the mirror so YOU can see the face of foolishness, selfishness, gullibility and self destruction. Take a good look at that face…wait…hold on… hold on...that face looks an awful lot like…ME! (GASP!!) Nooooooooo!!!! Noooooooooo!!!! Noooooooooo!!! I'M THE IDIOT WHO SPENT MY HARD EARNED MONEY TO SEE THIS CRAP!!!  I MAKE ME ANGRY!!! I NO LIKE WHEN MY JUDGING OTHERS BAD DECISIONS COMES BACK TO BITE ME IN BACKSIDE!!! I EMBARRASSED AND ASHAMED I SO STUPID TO PAY TO SEE THIS HUNK OF JUNK!!!! SHAME MAKE ME RAGE!!! HULK SMASH!!!!

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