Captain America

Stop Worrying,Your Childhood is Fine!

This memorial day weekend, Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn was compelled to defend himself after receiving several abusive messages on his Facebook page – ranging from being called a Nazi to threats to his cat. What were the reasons for this outpouring of anger?

In the cold embrace of the night, had Mr Gunn entered everybody’s home to leave something unsanitary in front of their fireplaces like a perverted Santa?

Perhaps the outpouring of such vitriol was decided as the best course of action because James Gunn, the director of Super, was in actuality a war criminal who slept upon the corpses of his enemies and used child slave labour.

Perhaps, on a lesser level, upon being asked for the time, Mr Gunn instinctively gave the wrong time ensuring hundreds, if not thousands of people were late for meetings, parties or trysts.

No, it was none these options. What happened, dear reader, was James Gunn had something to say about this whole Captain America business, wherein Marvel recently announced the 75-year-old superhero had been working for the bad guys all along.

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There are numerous opinion pieces out there about this, you don’t need me to hold your hand to find them. A lot of people are angry. That’s fine. Everyone is allowed to be angry about something. I myself feel the whole thing is a bit of a cheap gimmick. However, Gunn was suggesting that perhaps the histrionics were unnecessary.

‘If you’re a forty-year-old dude claiming a comics company ruined your childhood because of a plot twist,’ the director wrote. ‘You might consider that your childhood really wasn’t that great to begin with.’

And lo his call was heard across the globe and people decided they weren’t happy about being told to calm down. They cried, they hollered, they threatened to chop up his cat.

Meanwhile, Melissa McCarthy commented that those people who feel the new Ghostbusters was ruining their childhood were blowing things out of proportion. She was immediately put in her place by people one can only assume were keeping one eye on their GB Blu-ray lest it should burst into flames.

These are not isolated incidents and if you’re feeling brave enough, you could Google the response belched out into the world when Michael Bay announced the first Transformers film. The cries of ‘Michael Bay Raped My Childhood’ were both alarming and odious.

Now, let’s get some perspective here. Imagine the internet as a large lake. The fan vitriol regarding any franchise is the equivalent of a fish’s fart bubbling to the surface when stacked up against truly important matters. But for those people who dare to suggest that it’s anything other than that are being met with the intensity usually reserved for countries that commit genocide. Hell, people will use Change.org to create petitions to twist their childhood passion into something they alone want. See the one created earlier this year to get George Lucas back in the director’s chair because apparently the critically acclaimed Force Awakenswasn’t that good. Yeah, Force Awakens needs George ‘Revenge of the Sith’ Lucas to bring back some glory.

In 2013, The Guardian published an article, Rise of the New Geeks, that highlighted how things like comic books, superheroes and fantasy were now mainstream. Film companies were now interested in getting ‘geeks’ on their side as it meant more bums on seats. Shops from both ends of the financial spectrum offer goods emblazoned with Batman, Gandalf and Spider-man. Three years later and it’s hard to not think that ‘geeks’ rule the roost.

I remember the days before all that happened. When I was in high school, Doctor Who was still on permanent hiatus, I was laughed at for enjoyingThe Goon Show and the pinnacle of being cool was wearing Naf Naf jackets and watching Byker Grove. I love the fact that some of my favourite things are popular in the mainstream now, but the level of entitlement that has come with it is bordering on sickening.

Full disclosure, I hated the idea of Batman Vs Superman and the Evil Dead remake. However, I at least went out of my way to see both films and although I’ve changed my mind about one, I still think the other is a terrible idea. However, whilst I’m prone to a drunken argument with increasingly disinterested friends about the lack of virtues in that film, I would never dream of sending death threats to those who made it, or worst still those who loved it. The film didn’t work for me, but good on you for liking it.

However, a number of those who did like a certain film about an angry mummy’s boy fighting another mummy’s boy who could fly felt that they were entitled to lynch those who hated it. Namely: the critics. In what could only have a been a monumental act mental gymnastics, some felt that the film’s lukewarm reception was down to Disney paying for good reviews. Once that seed was planted, it spread across the internet and right now, you can go on social media and find numerous unsubstantiated ‘facts’ that Disney is bribing people to not like a film. Because, sure, that’s how big business works. My review ofBatman Vs Superman can be found here. If you ask nicely, I’ll show you pictures of my house in Malibu bought with my ill-gotten gains.

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And it doesn’t stop there. Look at the reviews for the new Ghostbusters toys on Amazon. One man is deliberately buying them so that he can give them one star reviews and cement his legacy as an utter self-opinionated idiot. When a nine-year-old child’s review for Age of Ultron ended up online, grown men tore him down, saying the film wasn’t made for him. That’s right, a film about adults in spandex punching robots wasn’t made with children in mind.

We have become so obsessed with our own childhoods, we are denying the right for anyone else to have their own unless it aligns with our expectations. Maybe in a sense, people are afraid of growing up, so cling desperately to their youthful obsessions because the world is a big and scary place. And in a way, that’s fine. I write as a 35-year-old man wearing Captain America pyjama pants. However, what I see happening time and time again, is this idea that childhood things should grow up with us. When the Doctor Whoepisode Let’s Kill Hitler was announced many moons ago, I stumbled across numerous requests from fans saying that Doctor Who was too childish and what was needed was an episode where The Doctor visits a concentration camp. Just let that settle in. How adult. How grown up. How paradoxically childish.

Our childhood is gone; it’s never coming back.It’s something we have to deal with. However, the spoilt entitlement we had as children appears to still be the main driving force behind the thinking of others. So what if Ghostbusters turns out to be a dud? So what if there’s four women in the lead? You know the worst thing that’s going to happen? A little girl is going to want to see a film that has characters she can relate to. They may even come out of the film that ‘ruined your childhood’ and want a proton pack, or – whisper it – may even want to watch YOUR Ghostbusters. Imagine that!

Your childhood isn’t being ruined. You’re doing fine. You will get through this. Now, get out of the  playhouse and let the other kids have a turn.

This articel was previously published on noonanjohnc.com.

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Ant-Man (2015)

In a world where we can (probably) download images of what Chris Evans ate for lunch during Captain America: Winter Soldier, it probably comes as no surprise that the pre-production problems of Ant-Man are well known. Kinetic director Edgar Wright (The World’s End) had been working on fleshing out the diminutive superhero since closing up shop on Spaced. Cut to 2011 and it’s announced that Wright will be working with Marvel to get Scott Lang out to the public. And then 2014 rocked by and the much-rumoured ‘creative differences’ between wright and Marvel comes to a head when Wright allegedly walks weeks before shooting, unhappy with certain changes. And just as suddenly, Peyton Reed was locked in to take the helm.

Taking into account the history, it wouldn’t have been surprising if the film turned out to be an omni-shambles of design by committee. Instead, Ant-Man manages to do something fresh with what is essentially the tired origin trope. Paul Rudd is Scott Lang, an electrical engineer and common thief. He roommates with three fellow ex-cons and has restricted access to his daughter. Scott wants to be straight, but is convinced to take one last job. Leading him to be taken under the wing of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who convinces Scott to work for him and steal a top-secret project from Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), Pym’s protégé who is wandering dangerously close to the dark side. To help Scott with his mission, Pym trains him to be Ant-Man; a diminutive superhero with all the force of a bullet.

Ant-Man is not your usual superhero movie, as the above shows. It’s more akin to a heist movie with Pym and Scott working together to develop and hone his skills as Ant-Man. Along the way, Pym struggles in his relationship with his daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly). Hope, infinitely more skilled than Scott, wants to don the Ant-Man suit herself and most of the conflict comes from her trying to understand why her father is so adamant not to allow her. These scenes are surprisingly effective, with the success coming from both actors treating the material truthfully and honestly whilst Rudd bounces around in the background providing the comic relief.

Rumours persist that Wright was unhappy with the rewrite of his and Joe Cornish’s script, wanting to keep his film at arm’s length from the juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. How much of that is true is unknown. However, there are numerous cameos storylines that carry on from Marvel’s properties, including a cameo from Iron Man 2. Unless you’re an avid Marvel fan, none of these will particularly affect your understanding of the narrative and all will have a good time.

Ant-Man’s real issues come from racial profiling that sees all minorities either wise-crackers or safecrackers. It’s not overly offensive, but it is a little problematic. In addition, Judy Greer is entirely wasted as Scott’s ex-wife. Even when her daughter is in danger during a climatic moment of the film, its both her ex and her new husband that do the protecting. If you’re going to use an actor from Arrested Development and Archer, we want more from her than scolding Scott and being scared.

That aside, with excellent effects, witty wordplay and charismatic screen presence by all those involved, Ant-Man manages to punch above it’s own weight. It’s not quite Guardians of the Galaxy, but it’s nowhere near as pedestrian as Thor 2. It’s another win for Marvel.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), aka Captain America, is slowly adjusting to his new reality of modern day Ameerica. Like Tony Stark in Iron Man 3, he’s slightly shellshocked from what happened in New York during The Avengers. Despite seeking a quiet life (he’s making a list of things he’s missed out on, including The Beatles), he’s routinely called up by SHIELD Director, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), to perform clean up operations. When a hit is taken out on a member of SHIELD, it sparks off a series of events that leads Rogers and skilled assassin, the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), down a path filled with intrigue and conspiracy. Albeit a conspiracy where people can punch through walls, which presumably Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward didn’t do during Watergate. But who is the mysterious Winter Soldier? How is he connected to Captain America? And why does he look like James Franco’s Green Goblin? Only one of those questions will be answered in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

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The Avengers (2012)

The first three chapters out of the Marvel Studios stable were, it’s fair to say, a mixed bag. Jon Favreau’s Iron Man was a solid affair that tried to ground Tony Stark firmly in reality, only for it all to blow up in his face with the ill-judged, ill-paced, ill-Mickey Rourke sequel that was nothing more than a PowerPoint about daddy issues. The Incredible Hulk tried to put the comic back into comic book movie after Ang Lee’s previous effort, Hulk. Instead, powered by Edward Norton’s self-importance, it lost its way in the second half and became as involving as a film of two CGI characters beating the shit out of each could be.

If Marvel Studios took stock of all this is up for debate, but what can be agreed on is their next two efforts, Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor, brought a lot more to table. Tighter pacing, more experimentation (Go on, who had money on Kenneth Branagh directing Thor?) and more importantly a genuine sense of fun that was lost in The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2. They stopped being about simply pleasing the whims of the fanboy and more about being ensuring that everyone had a good time. Which brings us bang up to date with The Avengers, written and directed by Joss Whedon and starring pretty much everyone from the last five Marvel movies with the Ted Norton sized hole being filled in by Mark Ruffalo.

So, to summarise; Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) half brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), has returned from his exile and he’s bringing an army of aliens intent on taking over the planet Earth. Only the Avengers can stop them. Except the Avengers don’t exist yet. Yep, despite the seemingly never-ending appearances in other people’s films, Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) hasn’t actually got round to gathering everyone up due to his funding being pulled. So he spends part of the first act trying to re-convince people to join his gang with a little help from ex-soviet spy, Black Widow (Scarlett Johanssen) and uber-archer, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). And when I say ‘part of’, I mean it. Joss Whedon has made it very clear that the backbone of his film is the clash of characters that comes from Marvel’s rosta, so it’s no surprise we speed through getting the band back together.

When everyone is present and correct, Whedon’s script ensures that the one-liners fly as fast and as hard as the fists. Like Whedon’s previous work, it’s the dialogue that shines through. From the culture clash between Captain America (Chris Evans) vs Iron Man (Robert Downey Jnr) right down through the almost Shakespearean verbal sparring between Loki and Thor to the grunting match between Thor and Hulk, it all just works. However, it’s not all about the words is it? You came to see a rock show, not some Poet Laureate, I know. And be assured that Whedon delivers on that front too. From the annihilation of Manhattan Island to the downing of a village sized airship, Whedon’s direction is confident with a healthy dash of experimentation. On top this, we have a number of superhero fights that are sure to plague the forums for years to come. With this and 2005’s Serenity, it’ll be interesting to see how he deals with the more visually sober Much Ado About Nothing later this year.

With so many characters on-screen, there is always the danger that some of Earth’s mightiest are going to be MIA. And unfortunately this does happen. Jeremy Renner seems to spend most of his time appearing in a completely different film. There’s probably a few reasons why there hasn’t been a Hawkeye movie and this movie highlights them. Whilst even Scarlet Johanssen gets to do a hell of a lot more than she did in Iron Man 2 (she comes across something resembling a human being as opposed to a Tony Stark sex doll), Renner just stomps around smoldering. I would almost argue that he’s surplus to requirements if it wasn’t for Maria Hill played by Cobie Smulders, who has inherited the lion’s share of exposition dialogue; ‘What happens now Fury?’, ‘Where’s Captain America?’ etc.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Mark Ruffalo as the world’s worst sponsor for anger management, Dr Bruce Banner/Hulk. Ruffalo is a delight every time he’s on-screen. Compared to Eric Bana and Edward Norton’s portrayal of Banner, Ruffalo plays him less tortured soul and more man just trying really hard to be left alone. Even when he does dip his toe into melodrama and confesses all about his alter-ego, it works for him rather than against him (‘I swallowed a bullet, he spat it back out’). When he finally does lose his rag, The Hulk (voiced by 70s original Lou Ferrigno) is impossible to watch without a big, cheesy grin on your face.

In summary, The Avengers is fantastic addition to the Marvel Studio canon. Like Thor and Captain America, it reminds you that, yes, films like this can never be more than fun and explosions, but that doesn’t mean they have to be instantly forgettable (Hello Spiderman 3). If they can keep this kind of quality control, which really does mean trusting your talent to call the shots rather than forcing them into bad decisions (hello again Spiderman 3) then the thought of the forthcoming Thor 2, Captain America 2, Iron Man 3 and The Avengers 2 seems less depressing then it originally did.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

To be honest, Captain America is one of those comic book characters I never cared for (A bit like the Green Lantern, and look how that turned out). He’s always struck me as a someone reeking of jingoism. He even pre-dates Team America by a good 60-odd years, but back then he had a purpose. He took on the old National Socialists and helped kids feel safer about what was going on around them and helped them love propaganda that little bit more. I’m sure my view point is not that controversial. Even Marvel/Paramount realised the character’s somewhat niche marketability and released this latest movie adaptation of old red, white and blue to the foreign markets with two titles; Captain America and The First Avenger. The latter adopted by Russia and South Korea.

So, yeah. I’m not a fan. Which is why it was all the more surprising to find myself really enjoying this two hours of WW2 comic book gumph. Captain America tells the story of how Chris Evans’s freaky CGI body becomes super-buff so he can take on Hugo Weaving’s freaky CGI head. Or something to that effect.

A lot has been made of the great efforts used to make Chris Evans look skinny. I had originally thought that they were going to blu-tac his head on to some skinny bugger in the same way they did for Fred Claus. Obviously they didn’t and the effects used are extremely well done. Unlike Fred Claus, which needs to curl up and die somewhere or be gone long enough for us to forgive Paul Giamatti. Whichever comes first.

The tone of movie works well. It was a brave move to set the entire story within World War 2. They could have gone the way of 1990’s Captain America and have him fighting Red Skull in 1993, which may have been the easier option. Don’t get me wrong. There’s about as much depth to this as there is in the eco-fable that was its predecessor. However, you’re being taken on such a ride, it doesn’t really matter.

Hugo Weaving – word class scenery chewer. That is all that needs to be said.

Oh, it has some horrible moments in it. Tony Stark’s father makes an extended cameo for no other reason than for people to go ‘ooooh, look it’s Tony Stark’s father! He has a mustache’. The underwritten romance between Evans and Hayley Atwells does grate with it’s needless will-they-won’t-they bollocks, but not enough to ruin the film as a whole. What does piss me off the return of Marvel’s favourite fucking bookend, Samuel L Jackson. It is this reviewer’s humble opinion that the sooner they do a Nick Fury movie, the sooner it will bomb harder than David Hassehoff’s effort and we can all get on with our lives, enjoying films that don’t have him in them. And if anyone dares mention it’s worthwhile because it’s linking everything together for The Avengers movie, may I offer that you go play in the traffic.

So, in summary Captain Amer-I-CA — FUCK YEAH!

It’s not that good, but I couldn’t resist that last line.