Trailer Tuesday: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Every Tuesday, I will post a trailer I saw in the past week that I felt was worth sharing.

Finally, a superhero trailer worth sharing. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is my currently most anticipated superhero film of the coming year, far more so than Thor: The Dark World. To be fair, though, this is just my bias. Marvel has so far done a good job of differentiating their different superhero franchises in terms of genre, and I simply tend to like the international thriller/spy genre better than fantasy films – not that Thor doesn’t look good, which it does, largely due to the presence of fan-favorite Tom Hiddleston’s Loki.

Getting back to Cap, however. Chris Evans returns to the role of Steve Rogers/Captain America, as is Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, and Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes (here returning under the guise of the titular Winter Soldier). The trailer showcases a possible rift within S.H.I.E.L.D., as Steve Rogers shows his disagreement with their policies.

We finally get a moving image of Anthony Mackie as the superhero and long partner to Cap, the Falcon, and we’re now able to get a better idea what his flight looks like. I have to say, it’s not the most believable looking – but then again, the concept isn’t very believable either. Falcon does not get much screen time in the trailer, and neither does the supposedly central villain, Winter Soldier, who despite that still gets to do cool bad-guy stuff as he antagonizes a freeway and catches the Captain’s shield.

The movie is directed Anthony and Joe Russo, previously known for their work on sitcoms, such as Community. Considering the fact that most of the action is typically to fully orchestrated by the directors in these films anyways, technical expertise in shooting action is probably not required, whereas the sitcom experience will help them capture the character and humor that the Marvel franchises have become known for.

Overall, all of the fandom aside, it’s just a cool trailer for an action movie that looks exciting, and worth seeing. Captain America: The Winter Soldier comes out in March of next year.

Casting Friday: Giamatti Rhino, Olsen Avengers

Each Friday, I will summarize the important casting news or rumors from the preceding week, giving you a preview of who’ll be playing who in the future!

Giamatti Rhino

While The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is yet to come out (it is scheduled for May 2nd, 2014), actor Paul Giamatti, who plays the villain Rhino in the film, already confirmed his appearance in The Amazing Spider-Man 3. The film is currently slated to be released on June 10th, 2016. Whatever else could be said about this news, it is definitely a spoiler for the second film.

In the same interview, Giamatti said he does not know whether he will be appearing in the 4th film of the franchise, also already greenlit. He did not reveal anything further about the rumors of a Sinister Six team-up in upcoming films.

Olsen Avengers

I’ve previously talked about the rumor of Olsen playing Scarlet Witch in Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, but there has been no confirmation of it until now. Granted, the quote does not specifically mention the role, but Samuel L. Jackson, who of course is playing Nick Fury in the film, confirmed that she is involved:

“I don’t think we begin shooting before March of next year. I know we’re shooting in London, that James Spader is Ultron and going to be the bad guy, and that we added Ms. [Elizabeth] Olsen, but I don’t know what she’s doing, if she’s on the inside or the outside. I haven’t seen a script.”

Not many more casting news this week. I, for one, am waiting for news on who’s playing Constantine in the upcoming tv pilot!

Vin Diesel Claims to Be Playing Groot in Upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy

grootAccording to CinemaBlend, Vin Diesel is voicing the character Groot in Marvel’s upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy. This comes after months of speculation and guessing, mostly generated by Vin DIesel himself continuously teasing various meetings with Marvel. One gets the impression Diesel is too impatient, breaking news that Marvel subsequently has to come out and debunk as being simply not true.

It started a month ago, as Vin Diesel put up on his Facebook page the following message: “P.s. Marvel has requested a meeting… no idea what for… haha, you probably know better than me…” The teasing message set the internet on fire, particularly considering that almost a year before that, he had already stirred rumors himself by setting a picture of Vision of Avengers as his profile photo.

Vin DIesel in Avengers 2?

Vin Diesel in Avengers 2?

This was followed up by a picture in July next to an issue of Avengers #2, coupled with a cryptic mention of “tunnel vision” –

Marvel meeting today…

Only the people in the room can tell you what was discussed…P.s. Thanks to Our page, for pushing to make it happen… you know I get tunnel vision with my work… and after that meeting today… wow!

After all of this, however, Kevin Feige, Head of Marvel Studios, publicly denied any immediate plans regarding Diesel’s role in the cinematic universe: “No. It’s so far ahead it may not even exist. So, there’s nothing to announce. But, I love Vin and he’s an amazing personality. Look how much attention he’s gotten for a meeting. He’s incredibly shrewd. He’s got a Riddick movie that I can’t wait to see. And the “Fast & Furious” franchise, in addition to Vin, is a franchise I admire a lot for turning the sixth and next year the seventh into the biggest and most popular one. As far as a piece of it? Could someday we do a “Luke Cage: Hero for Hire” in that kind of vein. Totally.”

Earlier today, however, the actor confirmed he is playing Groot, the tree-like Guardian of the Galaxy. The actor is evidently excited to do the role because it “defies expectations”: “So if everybody thinks you’re going to go for this one thing and you flip it entirely and go for the strangest Marvel character, it’s interesting. And when something is interesting, it’s inspiring.”

I’m not sure if I’m inspired by the choice, but it is exciting to have the next-to-last GoG spot filled. Diesel also indicated that the actual role he took may have been due to scheduling, planning to knock out the part between press for the upcoming Riddick and filming Fast and Furious 7.

In other news, the first production stills of Guardians of the Galaxy surfaced earlier this week – you can see the pictures below, featuring someone identified as Glenn Close, playing Nova Prime in heavy make-up, as well as a Nova Corps member, and some aliens fleeing from an unseen danger. guardians4 guardians3 guardians2

The Wolverine Is Surprisingly Effective

 

Poster for The Wolverine, Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Poster for The Wolverine,
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

The superhero movies so far this summer have not wowed me, at best meeting expectations without exceeding them. My expectation was not high, however, for the new Wolverine movie, considering the sheer awfulness of the 2009 X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie, which was the only other solo Wolverine movie to date. This one, however, really captures the mutant’s essence, and was a genuinely pleasant surprise, making the film my favorite of the summer so far.

Because the Wolverine is effectively indestructible, the temptation might be to ramp up the power of his foes, effectively engaging in a cinematic arms’ race. One of the first of several right moves this film makes is de-powering Logan early on, making him susceptible to physical harm which he would have previously been easily able to shrug off. This means the fights with even regular human opponents to carry weight in the film, whereas one could reasonably said that, considering his power set, they would otherwise be meaningless unless a third party is in danger.

This also allows the filmmakers to scale down the plot as a whole, placing the titular mutant in what is essentially a Japanese gangster drama with superhero elements thrown in. The majority of the plot circles around a beautiful woman inheriting a large fortune, elements which would keep her from receiving it at any cost, and a rugged, dejected outsider who strives to defend her from those forces. Described that way, it sounds more like a film noir detective movie than a summer action blockbuster.

To be clear, there is no lack of action, or over-the-top superheroics here. The fight scene which has been talked about more than any other is a confrontation with gangsters on top of a speeding bullet train. Even faced with possible mortality, Wolverine seemingly sometimes has no regard for his own physical well-being, possibly out of sheer habit or simple dumb bravery, hurling himself around in combat with wild-eyed rage. Us comics fans, we like to see this. The berserker rage is, after all, an essential part of the character.

The film was shot in Japan, with a largely Japanese cast, which is definitely a change of pace. Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine and Svetlana Khodchenkova’s Viper, as well as Famke Janssen’s Jean Grey who haunts the hero in his dreams, are the only outsiders in this film. For the most part I am happy to see a film of this scope where all of the supporting characters are not immediately recognizable. It allows oneself to submerge in the story to a greater degree, which is welcome in an age where each project has to be stacked with stars in order to be produced. Tao Okamoto as the woman in distress does a great job, considering she is tasked with providing the emotional heart of the story. A failure on her part would have meant that we do not care what Logan is fighting for. The other stand-out performance here is by Rila Fukushima, who provides not only much of the humor of the film, but also looks seriously intense when she wants to. The character sets herself up to follow Wolverine around for at least a while, and I for one would be disappointed to not see her at Logan’s side if there is another Wolverine film made. She does not seem to be cast in the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past, at least officially, but that is at the very least fully understandable given the cast in the film is already bursting at the seams.

The Japanese setting itself provides much of the visual excitement of the film. It is nice to, for once, see a superhero movie not set in New York. More than that, however, the moody weather and landscape, as well as the beautiful architecture, means that sometimes the location downright steals the show, though not in a negative way where it would distract from the impact of a scene. Simply put, the set design and locations chosen for this film are all top-notch, allowing the film to combine the fun of an action story with the thrill of watching something that is exciting aesthetically speaking.

This is not to suggest that everything in the film is pure gold. The climax of the film unfortunately succumbs somewhat to the generic action film confrontation in a villainous lair we have come to expect from every superhero movie (the alternative being a fight which knocks down half a city). The before-mentioned Viper character, too, has the general effect of simply not fitting in. Why her inclusion was necessary, frankly boggles the mind, as she appears simply to be a refuge from the much more garish X-Men movies Wolverine comes from originally.

These, however, are mere squabbles. The first two acts of the movie are so enjoyable, and the setup for the final confrontation is simply so satisfying, that nothing short of a complete fail in the climax could derail the momentum of the film. And it isn’t like any of the elements that I described as downsides are really bad, either. They merely don’t fit in as well as the other elements. Those slightly schizophrenic tendencies aside, the movie really does a fine job, and I suspect will serve as the quintessential Wolverine film for the foreseeable future.

How I Switched to Marvel Comics

Over the past year, I have found myself reading more and more Marvel comics. Part of it is simply increased familiarity with the characters, I admit. I know enough to be able to separate between the movie and comic universes, but simply have not had enough access to the reading material to really familiarize myself. In that sense, me reading much more Marvel comics is a success of their cinematic universe. I don’t know that any particular marketing grabbed me, but to the extent that The Avengers could be considered advertisement for the far less lucrative comics market, it succeeded.

That being said, I did not run out immediately after watching a movie to buy a bunch of Captain America back issues. Marvel, just like their competition, do suffer from the painful issue of having such deep backstories for all of their characters, that the barrier of entry is simply too high for most. That same history is, of course, what makes it enticing, and I’m certainly not advocating reboots. I AM making strides in understanding and appreciating more of that history, but the true revelation for me was that I can, and do, enjoy certain pockets of the Marvel universe as standalone stories.

From Hellblazer #1, Art by John Ridgway and Lovern Kindzierski

From Hellblazer #1, Art by John Ridgway and Lovern Kindzierski

First of all, I’d like to address why I wasn’t reading Marvel comics to begin with. When I initially started reading comics, I simply wasn’t into superheroes; or at least the traditionally colorful ones. The first graphic novel I read was James O’Barr’s The Crow, which suited my teen angst well. I then transitioned into Sin City, following the 2005 release of the movie. I enjoyed comics, but I was fearful of being stereotyped. Comics, I had decided, weren’t for kids as a whole, that was just the Spider-Man stuff. I was wrong, I know, but give me a break – I was 16, the main interest in my life at the time was Metallica. Later that year, I saw the Constantine movie, and realized I simply could not get enough of this mage who so skillfully defies Lucifer himself. Or, at least, I wasn’t getting enough from the movie, so I was excited to find out it was based on an ongoing series! The first issue, drawn by John Ridgeway, seemed… old. But cool, like a chronicle of magic in the late eighties. At first, I thought Constantine was a bastard, and of course he was; but he was my bastard, and I knew he’d do the right thing in the end, great personal sacrifice be damned.

In my later reading, I got really into, and really sick of Spawn, became a die hard Gaiman fan, began worshipping Miller and then was decimated to find out about his personal views… When it came to superhero comics, however, my choice seemed to be spelled out to me and were static: 1. A lot of my favorite comics were from Vertigo, and I knew DC owned them; 2. Batman. In the competition between the big two, I sided with DC not because I read many of their comics, but because I read any of their comics: Batman, and their indie imprint Vertigo’s titles. I knew about mainstream comics, I thought, but really didn’t read them much at all.

DC’s New 52 offered me a way in to their main universe, however, and I jumped in. Reading from 1 to 5 monthly titles since the reboot. While I really like Snyder’s Batman, and Swamp Thing certainly has very cool moments, my faith in DC began wavering with, once again, my original favorite comic character – John Constantine. I found out he was in the Justice League Dark team, and naturally had to check it out. I tried, I really tried to like that version of Constantine. I’m not a negative guy, I actually thought the Keanu Reeves version was descent, aside from the obvious differences. I realized very quickly, however, that this was no longer the character I loved. I like the idea of the magical character being in a superhero world, but he can’t himself become a superhero, and unfortunately in his current comics his powers are pretty much akin to Zatanna’s – “Denialpxenu gninthgil morf sregnif!” There’s no real reason why Constantine fights the Cult of the Cold Flame in those comics, except that they’re bad guys. Once again, I appreciate the need for some background knowledge in most comics, but this is New 52, everything should be explained, right? Satisfied to continue reading the Hellblazer monthlies, therefore, I promptly dropped JLD. Imagine my dismay, when I found out Hellblazer was being cancelled and replaced with Constantine, a DC Universe book. I tried to remain optimistic, even picked up more of the JLD comics to try and get into this version of the character, but none of those comics grabbed me. For about a minute, I wasn’t sure I would continue reading any mainstream comics at all, prepared to retreat to the indies, where it’s safe…

Variant Cover of Young Avengers #1, Art by Bryan Lee O’Malley

What changed that, is me seeing the Bryan Lee O’Malley variant cover for Young Avengers #1. I was already a huge Scott Pilgrim fan, resulting in me purchasing the comic solely for the cover, which is the only time I had ever done this. I’m really glad I wasn’t lead astray, because I now strongly believe that comics like Young Avengers by Kieron Gillen represent the future of comics. The characters, while being respectful of the old guard of superheroes they are emulating, are modern, and have modern relationships amongst them. Which is why, despite me having not previously had absolutely any awareness of who the characters were, I was engaged completely from reading the first issue. I love that the comic’s lineup is not exclusively male, and that it is definitely not hetero-normative. I love that gay characters are given the space to just be a really adorable couple, without their relationship being a major stumbling point for the plot. I love that Captain America’s counterpart in the comic is a latino girl without that being overexplained or publicized and discussed by the media at large. I got the sense that these characters were people, living their lives (as super-powered as those lives may be). And the story, and the storytelling is REALLY COOL! I keep seeing things in that comic that I had NEVER seen in comics before, both in Gillan’s writing and the art by Jamie McKelvie;and while I’m not, as I’ve established, an expert, I have read a lot of comics since 2005. Reading this comic is almost akin to watching a modern music video, having only seen pre-eighties cinema before. It’s jarring, and you can question the value of the content all you want… But it’s vibrant, and I feel alive when I read that comic.

I have found similar experiences in Deadpool and Hawkeye, for completely different reasons.  Deadpool is funny to the extent that superhero comic have no right being, and a friend just told me he teared up two pages into Fraction’s Hawkeye #1. Fraction’s FF is similarly wonderful. I understand if I end up being mocked at my shock, but I actually didn’t realize that could be done in Marvel superhero comics, which is why I haven’t been reading them! I’ve since gone back and have been systematically familiarizing myself with the Marvel universe at large, and while it isn’t all gold, the characters and stories are actually really interesting and complex. I can follow, understand, and empathize with these characters, which I had found increasingly difficult to do in DC.

So there it is. I did not mean to put down DC comics with this article in any way, because I certainly do still enjoy a lot of DC comics. Vertigo is putting out more Sandman, which I can’t wait for. Snyder’s Batman is, once again, great, and there is nothing DC is currently getting wrong they couldn’t fix by hiring, and keeping the right writer; the key to which is, I believe, let them do interesting, character motivated stories. And I’m sure there are many great titles I’m just not reading! So, let this be an assignment to my readers – what else should I be reading, on either of the big two, that makes me excited about comics? Because let me be honest – I just don’t have the time and money to be reading comics I don’t love.

Man of Steel

Poster of "Man of Steel"

Poster of Man of Steel (Courtesy of Wikipedia.org)

For fans of comic books, the last few summers have been hugely exciting. Marvel, now property of Disney, has been putting out movies based on characters from their movie universe since 2008’s Iron Man, making piles of money on even their lesser-known characters like Thor. This culminated, of course, in last year’s release of Avengers, which broke countless records in the Box Office, and was a pretty great action movie to boot. Warner Brothers, on the other hand, have been looking on in what must have been horror, as they saw their Dark Knight franchise draw to a close, as successful a close as it may be; and their numerous attempts to put a Justice League movie, based on the wealth of DC Comics characters under their ownership, all ended in development hell.

If the hype is to be believed, however, Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel will be a new start for the other half of comics’ big two. Considering it is being produced by Christopher Nolan, there were predictable changes made – characters added, changed, plot points altered, storylines condensed. All of this is understandable, and one gets the clear feeling that we are witnessing the beginning of a strong new movie franchise. Superman in this movie is angrier, edgier, and while the film overall is certainly not flawless, it is a fine start.

While it is standard for new superhero franchises to begin with an origin story, Man of Steel specifically follows the example set by Batman Begins. Both avoid a linear storyline, allowing them to avoid the obligatory boring first hour where the principal players are set up. Instead, they are able to tell the required parts of the back-story as they become relevant, in flashbacks. Similarly, the film is as much a setup as anything, the audience finally seeing the character as an established hero at the end. It is an effective technique, to be sure, and it certainly leaves one looking forward to the inevitably upcoming sequel. It does, of course, leave the film open to the obvious danger of the end goal being, in a way, the status quo.

Luckily, great care is taken with this film to ensure it is anything but boring – to the point that the excitement almost becomes dull by over-saturation. The action is intense and fast-paced, and for fans of action cinema, initially glee-inducing. This is not, as promised, your father’s Superman, and Henry Cavill is no overgrown boy scout. Unfortunately, as much as the redefinition is a welcome one, the lack of earnestness on part of the character which has always been characterised by his care for humanity leaves one with a cynical aftertaste. The one promise the film fails to deliver on is Superman saving us. Sure, he wins, as we knew he would, but despite the numerous Christ imagery, one never gets the feeling the Man of Steel does any of it for us. There’s an adversary to be bested, which is accomplished. It is as if caring was deemed “too lame” for modern audiences. Consequently, he ploughs his similarly invulnerable opponents through countless buildings, seemingly giving no thought to what no doubt must be thousands of innocents within. It is true his enemies must be defeated at any cost, and even if Metropolis is destroyed completely in the process, a military strategist would deem it an acceptable loss when weighed against saving the entire planet. Clark Kent, however, is not in the military, he was raised by farmers in the heartland of Kansas. To Superman, even a few people dying is NOT an acceptable loss, inevitable though it may be, and he must make every effort at every turn to prevent it. That’s what makes him a great, and ultimately, vulnerable character – without that vulnerability, the character would be the epitome of boredom.

The change makes sense, of course, from a marketing perspective. The film does end on a note of Superman setting himself up as the resident protector of mankind, and the hope is, I think, that now that the franchise is set up, the character will be allowed to return to his actual roots. Here, too, there is a comparison to be made with producer Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy – while in the first instalment, Batman is perfectly happy to simply allow his enemy a fall to his death, an analogous confrontation with the Joker in the second film ends in the stalemate that defines the character – he is unwilling to kill, or through inaction, allow the death of a human being. The cultural cache and the box office assured by the first film of the franchises allows for greater complexity in the follow-up.

The cast of the film certainly warrants mention. Here the supporting actors are actually better known than Henry Cavill himself, who not only looks the part, but projects the character’s strength with ease. Lois Lane is probably the best-known non-powered character in the Superman mythos, and Amy Adams’ version of the intrepid reporter is almost certainly the finest seen on film so far. She projects confidence and intelligence; gone are the days of Ms. Lane, an investigative journalist, not realizing that her subject, the man she is in love with, and colleague are the same person. I, for one, couldn’t be happier, I always thought that glasses obscuring a superheroes identity were by far the least believable element of the entire story, flying and heat-vision included. In the rest of the cast, we have Russell Crowe as Jor-El, Superman’s birth father, defending his son in both living and holographic form fiercely. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, on the other hand, teach the child in the ways of being human, the adoptive father controversially instructing his son to keep his powers hidden, for fear of prosecution. This is an interesting dynamic, but one can barely help but miss the old Pa Kent, who taught the young Clark to help others at all costs. Of course, every hero is only as interesting as his villain, and Michael Shannon’s General Zod is the embodiment of menace. While there is no particularly great complexity to the character, he is a worthy adversary, to be sure, due to the absolute conviction of the performance, his stern expression the absolute picture of grim, terrible determination.

Ultimately, therefore, purely as setup, Man of Steel is a fine film. In visual terms, it defines for what may be the next decade the way that DC universe’s superheroes fight – they are out for blood, move at terrifying speed, and their fights are akin only to natural disasters in terms of destruction. Whereas Richard Donner famously made us believe some thirty-five years ago that a man could fly, Zack Snyder showed us that a man could punch another guy through a skyscraper in the blink of an eye. And for fans of superheroes, that’s cool. We want to see that. But we also want to see our heroes care about things, have desires, suffer from their failures… So here’s hoping. In the meantime, as one of the last lines in the film goes, “welcome to the planet”, Superman!