“CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” (2016) Review

 

“CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” (2016) Review

One of the more popular story lines to emerge from Marvel Comics was the 2006 story called “Civil War” in which many comic book characters from the company’s franchise battled over a new law designed to have superpowered individuals act under Federal regulation. Kevin Fiege and Marvel Films decided to adapt this story line for the final film in their Captain America trilogy.

“CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” features some differences from the Marvel Comics comic series. The latter featured the Superhuman Registration Act, which would force those with superhuman abilities to register with the U.S. government . . . even at the expense of their secret identies. All those with special abilities – via magic, science, extra-terrestrials and even gods – would be forced to register. The 2016 movie featured the Sokovia Accords, a set of internationally ratified legal documents that provide regulation and frame-working for the military/law enforcement deployment of enhanced individuals, particularly the Avengers. To be honest, the difference between the Superhuman Registration Act and the Sokovia Accords strikes me as rather minimal.

However, the plot for “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” began with a flashback to 1991 when a mysterious assassin intercepts an automobile on an isolated road, carrying a case of super-soldier serum. The plot jumped some twenty-five years later to Lagos, Nigeria; where a team of Avengers under the command of Steve Rogers aka Captain America stop a HYDRA team led by Brock Rumlow aka Crossbones from stealing a biological weapon from a lab in Lagos. When Rumlow blows himself up, hoping to kill Steve; Wanda Maximoff aka tries to displace the blast into the sky with telekinesis. Unfortunately, the blast destroys a nearby building, killing several Wakandan humanitarian workers. Because of the Lagos incident, U.S. Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross informs the Avengers that the United Nations is preparing to pass the Sokovia Accords, which will establish a U.N. panel to oversee and control the team.

Some members of the Avengers support the Accords and decide to follow Tony Stark aka Iron Man, who continues to feel guilt over his creation of the A.I. Ultron and the latter’s destruction of Sokovia. Others decide to follow Steve, who remains suspicious of the governments’ use of enhanced individuals. But when a bombing disrupts a conference in Vienna where the Accords were to be ratified and kills King T’Chaka of Wakanda, security footage indicates that the bomber is James “Bucky” Barnes aka the Winter Soldier, whom T’Chaka’s son, T’Challa aka Black Panther, vows to kill. Steve, who has been searching for Bucky since the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D., becomes determined to find Bucky first before anyone else can harm him and find out what really happened in Vienna. The search for Bucky manifests into another story line when the latter and Steve begin to suspect that someone from HYDRA might behind

I must admit that when I first learned that the third Captain America movie would be an adaptation of Marvel’s “Civil War”, I was not happy. I felt certain that the movie would be more of an Avengers tale than another Captain America movie that would round off the character’s trilogy. But I had decided to put aside such fears and see the movie. “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” had a great deal to offer. Exciting action sequences, plenty of travel, drama, thought provoking issues and especially some first-rate acting.

One aspect of “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” that really caught my attention were the issues presented in this story. And the issues in this story seemed to focus on guilt and responsibilities. This especially seemed to be the case for the Avengers in the wake of what happened in Sokovia and Lagos. Although Steve, Sam Wilson aka the Falcon, and especially Wanda feel guilty for what happened in Lagos; they would prefer to deal with the consequences on their own rather than allow the government to take control of their lives as Avengers. Tony, James “Rhodey” Rhodes aka War Machine, Vision and Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow seemed to feel that the best course to deal with the consequences of the group’s actions is to allow the government to control their actions. What is interesting is that while various governments and especially Thaddeus Ross want the Avengers to pay a high price for what happened in Sokovia and Lagos, Ross refuses to acknowledge guilt or pay the consequences for the battle in Harlem between Bruce Banner aka the Hulk and Emil Blonsky aka Abomination in “THE INCREDIBLE HULK”. Someone had pointed out how friends found themselves on opposite sides of this conflict. I saw this theme played out with Natasha, who found herself opposing Clint Barton aka Hawkeye, Sam and Steve – three men with whom she had formed close friendships. This theme also played out with Wanda’s growing friendship with Vision, when the pair of them took opposing sides on the Accords issue.

The past seemed to weigh heavily in this movie, as well. The ghost of Steve’s past – in the form of one “Bucky” Barnes manifests on the heels of the Vienna bombing. Another ghost from Steve’s past manifested in the form of Sharon Carter, a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, whom he had first met in “THE WINTER SOLDIER”. Both Steve and Sam were surprised to discover that Sharon was the great-niece of his former love, Peggy Carter. One could say the same for Bucky, whose past as the brainwashed Winter Soldier is not only used to frame him for the Vienna bombing, but also manifests in the discovery of Howard and Maria Stark’s fates. And while I found this revelation rather interesting, I did not find it particularly surprising, after the events of “THE WINTER SOLDIER”. In fact, many fans of the franchise did not seem surprised. Tony’s ghosts from the past also formed a cloud above this story. His and Bruce’s creation of Ultron not only led to Sokovia’s destruction, but also to his support of the Sokovia Accords. More importantly, Sokovia’s destruction led a colonel from an elite Sokovian commando unit named Helmut Zemo to seek revenge for the deaths of his family during the battle against Ultron. And the newly ascended King T’Challa struggled to deal with his father’s death, as he sought to kill Bucky for the death of his father King T’Chaka during the Vienna bombing.

But “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” is foremost an action film. And the movie featured some first-rate action sequences. Many film critics and moviegoers have been talking about the battle between the two Avengers factions at a Berlin airport. And yes, I found it impressive . . . somewhat. My favorite moment occurred when Scott Lang aka Ant-Man transformed himself into a giant, taking everyone by surprise. But if I must be honest, the airport sequence is not my favorite action scene in the movie. One of my favorites proved to be the chase sequence in Berlin in which the police, Steve, Sam and T’Challa pursued a fleeing Bucky. Another favorite turned out to be the movie’s first action sequence in which Steve’s Avenger team battled against Rumlow and his HYDRA team in Lagos.

The movie also featured some excellent acting. To be honest, I cannot think of a bad performance in this film. Once again, Chris Evans stepped up to the plate and provided another first-rate performance as Steve Rogers aka Captain America. For once, his Steve proved to be a more reflective man, who had learned to control his quick temper (until near the end of the film). I can also say the same for Robert Downey Jr., who gave another excellent performance as Tony Stark aka Iron Man.

Scarlett Johansson was excellent as former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow, who desperately tried to get Steve and Sam to cooperate with the government and sign the Accords. Anthony Mackie’s portrayal of Sam Wilson aka the Falcon proved to be a little more emotional and satisfying, as his character openly expressed contempt toward the Sokovia Accords and minor distrust toward Bucky Barnes’ re-appearance in Steve’s life. Sebastian Stan continued his excellent performance as Bucky Barnes, now a desperate man trying to keep both his memories and his life intact. Don Cheadle’s performance throughout most of the movie struck me as solid. But I must admit that he really stepped up his game and gave a very poignant performance in his last scene in which he and Tony discuss the near tragic circumstances of the Berlin airport fight. Both Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany clicked on screen as Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch and Vision. This was especially apparent in one scene in which Wanda becomes aware that Vision has been trying to prevent her from leaving the Avengers’ headquarters.

Chadwick Boseman made a very impressive debut as T’Challa aka Black Panther. Boseman did an excellent job in portraying T’Challa’s barely controlled anger over his father’s death and his obsession in exacting revenge. Eight years after “THE INCREDIBLE HULK”, William Hurt repeated his role as Bruce Banner’s main adversary, Thaddeus Ross, who has become the U.S. Secretary of Defense and main supporter of the Sokovia Accords. And he was a lot more subtle and scary in this film than he was in the 2008 movie. Daniel Brühl gave a very subtle, yet intense performance as Helmut Zemo, the former Sokovian commando who wanted revenge against the Avengers for the deaths of his family. Alfre Woodard gave a very sublte, yet emotional performance as a woman who had confronted Tony about the death of her son in Sokovia. The movie also featured some solid performances from Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, John Slattery, Hope Davis and Frank Grillo.

Despite my admiration for the movie’s cast, the action sequences and some of the issues raised in “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR”, I had a major problem with it. In fact, I had several problems with it. First of all, the whole idea behind the Sokovia Accords really made no sense to me. I could say that this whole matter began because several Wakandan civilians were killed, when Steve and Wanda were trying to stop Rumlow from harming others through self-detonation. But it really began with the Chitauri invasion of New York in “THE AVENGERS”. Then came the fallout from the destruction of the HYDRA sponsored helicarriers in “THE WINTER SOLDIER”, along with Iron Man and the Hulk’s battle in South Africa and the destruction of Sokovia in “AGE OF ULTRON” and finally, the Lagos incident in this film. For some reason, people like Thaddeus Ross want to solely blame the Avengers for the civilian fallout and not the villains. In the case of the events of “AGE OF ULTRON”, Tony, Bruce and Wanda were to blame. And Wanda . . . was not an Avenger at the time. What I could not understand is that neither Steve, Sam or anyone else who supported them had bothered to point this out. In fact, no one had bothered to point out Ross’ own involvement in the Hulk v. Abomination battle that nearly destroyed Harlem in “THE INCREDIBLE HULK”. You know . . . like Tony and Natasha?

Even if the Avengers had found themselves under government control, the possibility that innocent civilians might get hurt would always be possible. Not even the Avengers or any other costumed hero/heroine can save everyone. Yet, no bothered to point this out. I also noticed that Thaddeus Ross failed to mention the Hulk v. Abomination battle in Harlem. This is understandable, considering he was partially to blame for what happened. But why did no one pointed this out? And could someone please explain why the Accords were named after the Sokovia incident, instead of the incident in Lagos, which had kick-started the international community’s decision to create them in the first place? Martin Freeman portrayed a character from the Joint Counter Terrorist Centre, who helped Ross regulate the Avengers. The problem is that . . . he really did nothing in this movie, except show up and then sneer, first at Bucky and later, at the movie’s villain. Frankly, I found his appearance in this movie a complete waste of time. Speaking of waste . . . Frank Grillo, who had skillfully portrayed Brock Rumlow aka Crossbones in “THE WINTER SOLDIER”, reprised his character for this movie. And guess what happened to him? The poor schmuck was bumped off via a suicide bombing some twenty to thirty minutes into the film. Am I to believe that Rumlow, a major character in “THE WINTER SOLDIER”, had been reduced to a cameo, a plot device for the Lagos sequence . . . and nothing else? I guess so. In the end, Marvel ended up wasted Grillo’s time, just as they had wasted Thomas Kretschmann’s time in “AGE OF ULTRON”. And what were the German special forces, the GSG 9 doing in Bucharest, Romania? Bucharest was Bucky Barnes’ home at the time. And it was at his apartment where the GSG 9 tried to arrest him. What were they doing in a foreign country, trying to arrest an American citizen for a terrorist attack (the Accords conference) that happened in another foreign country – namely Austria. What on earth was the GSG 9 doing there?

I also had a problem with Tony Stark’s discovery that Bucky Barnes was the HYDRA assassin who had killed his parents. This discovery led Tony to try to kill Bucky, and Steve to come to his best friend’s defense. Two years earlier, Natasha Romanoff and Nick Fury had released top secret S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA files on the Internet, during the battle at the Triskelion in “THE WINTER SOLDIER”. Through these files, Helmut Zemo discovered that Bucky was a brainwashed assassin used by HYDRA to kill Howard and Maria Stark back in 1991. If Zemo had been able to gain access to those files, why did Tony or any Stark Enterprises employee failed to do so? Why did he not make any attempt to access the files? A man, whose own father had been one of the co-founders of S.H.I.E.L.D. and a former enemy of HYDRA’s? Considering Tony’s nature, I find it difficult to believe that he never bothered to make the attempt. I have a deep suspicion that screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely may have deliberately ignored this issue so they would have an excuse for Tony to suddenly react to Zemo’s revelation. How sloppy . . . and manipulative.

And then there is the problem of Robert Downey Jr. The actor was first cast in “CIVIL WAR” in a supporting role. However, the actor refused to do the movie, unless he was made a co-star. And Marvel gave in to his demands, because they so desperately wanted him in another Marvel film. Why did they allow Downey Jr., who portrayed Iron Man, to become a co-star in a Captain America movie? The name in the movie’s title is Captain America. I do not recall the name of Iron Man being in the title. So, why did Kevin Fiege and Marvel allow Downey Jr. to hijack half of Chris Evans’ third solo film? Especially since Evans was the lead in one of Marvel’s biggest hits – both financially and critically. Why did a Captain America movie end up giving as much attention to Tony’s character arc as it did to Steve’s? Tony’s character arc had more screen time than Bucky Barnes or Sam Wilson, who had stronger emotional connections to Steve than Tony. Why did the movie’s screenplay featured a five-to-ten minute scene in which Tony Stark recruited Peter Parker aka Spider-Man for his team and did not bother to show how Steve recruited Clint Barton and Scott Lang? In a Captain America movie?

You know, Marvel could have saved the Civil War story line for an Avengers film and wrapped up Steve’s connection to HYDRA in this film. This movie could have focused upon Steve’s efforts to help Bucky and put HYDRA behind him for good. The movie “ANT-MAN” featured former S.H.I.E.L.D. official/HYDRA mole Mitchell Carson alive and well at the end, with a sample of Darren Cross’ Yellow Jacket serum in his possession. They could have tied this up with the Winter Soldier program . . . or create another plot featuring HYDRA. The narrative for “CIVIL WAR” could have focused on the Winter Soldier program, allowed Helmut Zemo to remain a HYDRA agent, allowed Steve’s friendships with both Sam and Bucky to become more complex and allowed his relationship with Sharon Carter to develop at a decent pace. Instead, Fiege and Marvel decided to (temporarily?) end the HYDRA story arc with former S.H.I.E.L.D. director Phil Coulson and ATCU director Glenn Talbot blowing up HYDRA bases . . . off screen in an “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” episode called (3.18) “Singularity”. I found this so unsatisfying. And since Marvel and Fiege decided that this third Captain America movie should be more about the Sokovia Accords, this left Sam and Bucky engaged in a long and rather stupid running joke regarding their mutual competition for Steve’s friendship. The latter’s romance with Sharon proved to be very rushed. And instead of admitting this, some fans are blaming actress Emily VanCamp and the Sharon Carter character, instead of the movie’s screenwriters and producers. They have also began promoting the idea of Steve becoming bisexual and beginning a romance with Bucky (and not Sam, whom I suspect was not white enough for them). And I am not the only one who has noticed that Zemo’s motivation for revenge against the Avengers bore a strong resemblance to the Maximoff twins’ hostility toward Tony Stark in “AGE OF ULTRON”?

“CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” featured some excellent acting by a cast led by Chris Evans, some interesting issues on whether government intervention is a good thing or not, and some great action sequences, thanks to directors Anthony and Joe Russo. But for me, “CIVIL WAR” turned out to be nothing more than an Avengers movie shoved into a Captain America flick. And in the end, I found this rather unsatisfying and schizophrenic.

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“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” and the Disappointment of Season Two (2014-2015)

“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” AND THE DISAPPOINTMENT OF SEASON TWO (2014-2015)

I might as well put my cards on the table. I did not like Season Two of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”. In fact, I almost despised it. But what I despised even further is this belief among television viewers and critics that Season Two was an improvement over the series’ first season. This told me that today’s society has no real concept of what constitutes good or bad storytelling.

After the Season One finale, (1.22) “Beginning of the End”, first aired, I made a prediction that the producers and writers would respond to the complaints about the show’s slow storytelling and give them what they want in the following season. When I first saw the Season Two premiere, (2.01) “Shadows”, I saw to my disappointment that Joss Whedon’s Mutant Enemy, Marvel and Disney did exactly that. “Shadows” was a travesty for me. But the worst was yet to come. By the time the series’ mid-season finale (2.10) “What They Become” had aired, I was ready to throw in the towel for this series. So, what kept me watching “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” after that horrible mid-season episode? My family. By this time, the members of my family had become regular viewers of the show. However, I did my level best to ignore as many episodes as I could. Unfortunately, I was unable to ignore most of the episodes that made up the second half of the show.

Where there any aspects of Season Two of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” that I liked? There were some performances that impressed me. Both Reed Diamond and Dichen Lachman made first-rate villains as former HYDRA commander Werner Reinhardt aka Daniel Whitehall and the Inhumans’ leader Jiaying. I suppose I have to give some credit to Mutant Enemy and Marvel/Disney for promoting Henry Simmons (Alphonso “Mack” MacKenzie) to series regular, despite getting rid of B.J. Britt (Antoine Triplett) and maintaining J. August Richards (Mike Peterson aka Deathlok) as a recurring cast member. This show’s attitude toward non-white characters and performers is still bad enough to make my stomach turn. And there are at least four episodes that I managed to really enjoy this season, namely:

(2.04) “Face My Enemy” – Agent Melinda May is kidnapped and a HYDRA impersonator takes her place in order in order to lure S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Phil Coulson into a trap. This episode first introduced the brainwashed Kara Palamas aka Agent 33.

(2.15) “One Door Closes” – This episode featured flashbacks on how agents like Alfonso MacKenzie, Bobbi Morse and especially Robert Rodriguez survived the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D., while serving aboard one of the agencies’ aircraft carriers and formed their own S.H.I.E.L.D. faction.

(2.17) “Melinda” – Once again, Agent May is the focus. In this episode, she looks into Coulson’s actions as S.H.I.E.L.D. director, while in control of the agency’s main base. This episode also flashed back to how her first encounter with the Inhumans led to a great deal of trauma for her.

(2.21-2.22) “S.O.S.” -The two S.H.I.E.L.D. teams, now under Coulson’s leadership, try to prevent Jiaying from destroying the agency and mankind. Meanwhile, Bobbi Morse is held hostage by Grant Ward and Kara Palamas in order to coerce her into confessing her actions as a S.H.I.E.L.D. mole within HYDRA.

It is a miracle that I actually managed to enjoy three of this season’s twenty-two episodes without being disgusted, bored or pissed off. Why? Because there is a good deal of Season Two that I heartily disliked. One, I disliked the change in the series’ storytelling. I disliked how Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen seemed more interested in providing as much action as possible, without any real consideration toward the series’ narrative. There have been complaints about the series’ convoluted writing for the past season. But most fans and critics have not been listening or paying attention. Even the season finale, “S.O.S.” reflected this penchant to stuff as much action as possible. I found it unnecessary for the writers to include two major story arcs in this episode. They could have saved the Bobbi Morse kidnapping arc for a separate episode.

And then there was (2.19) “The Dirty Half Dozen”, the series’ tie-in to the summer blockbuster, “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON”. The writers took a break from the Inhumans story arc to bring back HYDRA and do . . . what? Coulson, his team, Robert Gonzales’ S.H.I.E.L.D. team, Grant Ward and Kara Palamas infiltrated a HYDRA base operated by one Dr. List to save Mike Peterson aka Deathlok and Inhuman Lincoln Campbell, who had been kidnapped by the villainous agency. This gave Coulson the opportunity to discover the location of the main HYDRA base and the organization’s leader, Wolfgang von Strucker. This whole episode was about setting up the prologue for the second “THE AVENGERS movie and trying to repeat the critical success of Season One’s (1.17) “Turn, Turn, Turn”. As far as I am concerned, the Season Two episode failed. Why? The Season One episode had a far reaching impact on both the season and series’ narrative. “The Dirty Half Dozen” barely made an impact on the rest of the season, other than driving Ward and Kara away from S.H.I.E.L.D. And the season’s main narrative immediately returned to the Inhuman story arc. I have never known for Mutant Enemy to be this clumsy in their writing in the past.

Another aspect of Season Two that I disliked so much was the unwillingness of the showrunners to take their time with their stories. “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” is supposed to be at its core, a serial drama. The story lines for serial dramas are supposed to take its time … even to the point of them being played out over several seasons. Due to some need for higher ratings and pleasing the fans who seemed to be unaware of what a serial drama is supposed to be, the Whedons and Tancharoen rushed headlong into Season Two’s story arc without bothering to set up the introductions of the new characters. Well, I take that back. They took their time with the Daniel Whitehall and Jiaying characters. But they rushed headlong into the introductions of Lance Hunter, Alphonso MacKenzie and Bobbi Morse without any real setup. Why? They wanted to rush right into the action. Storytelling has now reached a point in which novels, movies and serial television series have to jump into the action without any real set up or introduction. Why? Because so many people have become so damn impatient. Or else today’s society has the attention span of a gnat.

Mutant Enemy also did a piss-poor job of handling some of their characters. For example . . . there is Grant Ward. Why is this character still on the show? Why is he still a regular? He was in slightly more than half of the episodes, this season. In fact, he was missing a lot in the second half of Season Two. He has become a irrelevant character. Mutant Enemy should have wasted his ass at the end of Season One. Most of Season Two saw Brett Dalton portray Ward as some mysterious super spy, while channeling Julian McMahon’s acting style. It did not help that producer Jeffrey Bell tried to claim that Dalton possessed the same level of acting skills and screen presence as James Marsters of “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”. I did not know whether to laugh at the implication or shake my head in disgust. Worse, I was subjected to three episodes of the saga regarding Ward’s relationship with his brother, Senator Christian Ward (Tim DeKay). The entire story arc came to nothing and no future impact upon the series’ narrative. Ward ended the season with accidentally killing Kara and declaring his intentions of becoming the new HYDRA leader. All I can say is . . . good luck. Why? Recently, Marvel and Disney announced that Daniel Brühl had recently been cast to portray Baron Zemo, the new HYDRA leader for the upcoming film, “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR”. If so . . . why is Ward still around?

Another problematic character for me proved to be Skye aka Daisy Johnson aka Earthquake (or whatever her name is). I used like Skye . . . back in Season One. I did not like her very much in Season Two. Her story arc dominated the season just a little too much. She also lost some of her sense of humor. Her martial arts skills developed just a bit too fast for me to consider them realistic. And quite honestly, I realized I could not care less about the Inhuman story line. Or the fact that Skye became a “super being”. I am still pissed that Mutant Enemy allowed Skye to become one without any change in her physical looks. Yet, it was so damn important that another character, Raina, have her looks drastically altered. I guess that is what happens when an actress of African descent appears on this show.

Then again, this series’ treatment of its non-white characters, especially African-Americans, has always been problematic . . . even in Season One. It grew worse in Season Two. At least two non-white male characters – Antoine “Tripp” Triplett and the other S.H.I.E.L.D. director Robert Gonzales – were bumped off. I am still angry over Trip’s death. And I am disgusted over the handling of Gonzales character. I cannot count the number of episodes in which Coulson maintained this smug and superior attitude toward Gonzales, which left me feeling disgusted. The manner of his death also disgusted me. But I was not surprised. Mutant Enemy also managed to kill off three non-white female characters in “S.O.S.” – Jiaying, Raina and Kara Palamas. Three non-white women . . . in one episode. What in the fuck?? Disney/Marvel and Mutant Enemy did make Henry Simmons a series regular at the end of the season. Yet, they did so at least sometime after they had promoted Adrianne Palicki. They also promoted Luke Mitchell, who portrays Inhuman Lincoln Campbell. But for some reason, J. August Richards, who has been portraying Mike Peterson since the series’ premiere, is still stuck portraying a recurring character. Why? Was it really that important to Marvel/Disney and Mutant Enemy to provide a white male love interest for Skye? Let me get this straight. It was okay for Mutant Enemy to have two regular characters portrayed by women of Asian descent. It was okay for the production company to have three regular characters portrayed by British white . . . one woman and two men. But for some reason, they cannot maintain more than one regular character of African descent? Too disgusted beyond words.

I do not know what else to say about Season Two of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”. I disliked it. Immensely. The series’ writing struck me as a clear indication that the quality of storytelling, especially for the serial drama format, is going down the tubes. Even worse, a good number of television viewers and critics seem unaware of this. Their idea of good storytelling is to rush headlong into the narrative with a great deal of action and hardly any setups or introductions. This is sloppy writing at its worst. However, I suspect that nothing will really change for Season Three.  Some of the mistakes I had spotted, while watching Season Two, continued in the 2015-2016 television season. Hmmm. Pity.

How Iron Man Ruined “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR″ For Me

 

HOW IRON MAN RUINED “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” FOR ME

I am so disappointed with Marvel. And I am especially disappointed with its latest entry for the Marvel Cinematic Universe – namely “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR”. I never thought I would be so disappointed with a Captain America film, considering how much I loved “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER” and especially “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER”.

As for “CIVIL WAR”, I found it disappointing. Worse, I left the movie theater feeling unusually angry. And a great deal of my anger was focused on Tony Stark aka Iron Man’s role as the movie’s co-lead, which the writers had allowed to nearly dominate the film. Someone on the TREK BBS forum had pointed out that “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” had sewn up the plot lines left dangling from “THE WINTER SOLDIER”. And the movie did so . . . WITH BAD WRITING!

“CIVIL WAR” started with a flashback of Tony’s parents getting killed in 1991. The screenplay tried to make a mystery of it, but even a dummy would have known who was the killer.
Steve’s romance with Sharon Carter was rushed, because the Sokovia Accords story line and Tony’s man pain made it impossible for the screenwriters to do justice to it. Now, we have fans demanding that Steve become a bisexual, so that he can have a romance with his old buddy, Bucky Barnes. One, I cannot believe that these fans are so unwilling to see how badly written that Steve and Sharon’s romance was that they would rather he become a bisexual. Really? Because the screenwriters had failed to follow up the promise of Steve and Sharon? And two, I find it ironic (or not) that they would not consider Steve having a romance with Sam Wilson, who is African-American.

Speaking of Sam and Bucky, I noticed that their relationship was never really explored. Instead, the movie presented their rivalry over the role of Steve’s “best friend” in a series of silly comedy routines in which they are mildly hostile toward one another. The movie spent 10 to 15 minutes showing how Tony Stark recruited Peter Parker (who really had no business being in this movie) for Team Iron Man. They could have saved this first meeting in MCU’s upcoming“SPIDER-MAN” movie. Yet, “CIVIL WAR” failed to explain or show why Scott Lang and Clint Barton had decided to side with Steve.

Zemo’s whole revenge plot was all about Tony finding out that Bucky, as the brainwashed Winter Soldier, had killed his parents in order to break up the Avengers for what happened in Sokovia. Again, it became all about Tony. The worst aspect of all of this is that Marvel ended Steve and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s conflict with HYDRA in such a weak manner. The studio ended it on “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” – with Phil Coulson and Glenn Talbot coordinating a series of bombing on HYDRA bases . . . off screen. I found that incredibly pathetic. Someone on Tumblr had pointed out that Steve Roger’s personal arc in “CIVIL WAR” had been weakened by the screenwriters’ unnecessary focus on Tony Stark. After seeing this movie, I heartily agree. What is really sickening about this is that Marvel Studios came up with the idea to focus the Civil War arc in a Captain America movie in order to lure Robert Downey Jr. into another Marvel film.

You would think after the box office successes of movies like “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” and“GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” that this idea was unnecessary. But apparently, Marvel thought otherwise and decided to shove an Avengers film into a Captain America movie . . . all because they could not do without the increasingly overrated Robert Downey Jr. And because of this decision, I have now developed deep contempt toward Marvel Studios.

Top Five Favorite Episodes of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” Season One (2013-2014)

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Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season One of Marvel’s “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”. Created by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, and Maurissa Tancharoen; the series stars Clark Gregg.:

 

TOP FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” SEASON ONE (2013-2014)

1 - 1.17 Turn Turn Turn

1. (1.17) “Turn, Turn, Turn” – All hell breaks loose when the events of “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” leads to the downfall of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the exposure of HYDRA moles within their ranks.

2 - 1.21 Nothing Personal

2. (1.20) “Nothing Personal” – Former S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Maria Hill helps Coulson and his team track down fellow agent Skye, who has been snatched by HYDRA and former ally, Mike Peterson aka Deathlok.

3 - 1.13 - T.R.A.C.K.S.

3. (1.13) “T.R.A.C.K.S.” – The team’s search for the head of the Centipede organization, the Clairvoyant, takes a troubling turn when they board a train in Italy on which a Cybertek employee is shipping a package to Ian Quinn, a wealthy follower of the Clairvoyant.

4 - 1.10 The Bridge

4. (1.10) “The Bridge” – Coulson recruits Mike, who has become a new S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, to help him and the team track down fugitive Edison Po and the Centipede organization, which is a part of HYDRA. Unfortunately, trouble ensues when Centipede manages to kidnap Mike’s son.

5 - 1.15 Yes Men

5. (1.15) “Yes Men” – The team helps Asgardian Lady Sif hunt down enchantress Lorelei, who has plans to create an army with the help of Human males. Unfortunately, the team and Sif encounter trouble when Agent Grant Ward falls under her spell.

HM - 1.22 Beginning of the End

Honorable Mention: (1.22) “Beginning of the End” – In the first season’s finale, Coulson and his team raid the Cybertek facility controlled by HYDRA agents and receive much needed help from former S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury.

“POLITICAL ANIMALS” (2012): Episode Ranking

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Below is my ranking of USA Network’s 2012 six-episode limited series called “POLITICAL ANIMALS”. Created by Greg Berlanti, the series starred Sigourney Weaver, Carla Gugino and Ciarán Hinds:

 

“POLITICAL ANIMALS” (2012): Episode Ranking

1- 1.05 16 Hours

1. (1.05) “16 Hours” – Secretary of State Elaine Barrish instructs one of her twin sons, Douglas “Doug” Hammond, to keep an eye on journalist Susan Berg during a trip to San Diego regarding a sunken Chinese submarine, in order to keep her distracted from any news regarding the drug overdose of her other son, T.J. Unexpected sparks results. And Elaine’s mother, Margaret Barrish, discovers that Doug’s fiancee, Anne Ogami, is bulimic.

 

 

2- 1.01 Pilot

2. (1.02) “Pilot” – After a failed attempt to win the Democratic nomination for President, Elaine asks her husband, former President Donald “Bud” Hammond, for a divorce and becomes Secretary of State for election winner Paul Garcetti in this episode that introduces the series.

 

 

3- 1.04 Lost Boys

3. (1.04) “Lost Boys” – This episode featured flashbacks that revealed the origins of an earlier suicide attempt of T.J. Hammond, while he struggles to open a new nightclub. Meanwhile, Elaine and President Garcetti deal with a Chinese submarine that nearly sunk off the U.S. West Coast.

 

 

4- 1.06 Resignation Day

4. (1.06) “Resignation Day” – While the Garcetti Administration deal with the tragic crash of Air Force One and President Garcetti, Doug decides to elope with Anne; and both Elaine and Bud contemplate her running for president again in the near future.

 

 

5- 1.02 Second Time Around

5. (1.02) “Second Time Around” – Elaine convinces President Garcetti to appoint Bud as a negotiator to release three journalists held hostage in Iran. Susan serves as a member of the journalist corps, appointed to cover the story. And Doug leaks to Susan that Elaine will make another bid for president.

 

 

6- 1.03 The Woman Problem

6. (1.03) “The Woman Problem” – To prevent Elaine from running for President again; President Garcetti asks her mentor, Justice Diane Nash, to retire from the Supreme Court, so that he can appoint Elaine to replace her. And Elaine’s announcement of her decision to run for President draws negative reactions from Margaret, Doug and T.J.

“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”: (2.01) “Shadows” Commentary

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I first wrote this article after the airing of the Season Two “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” episode, (2.01) “Shadows” in the fall of 2014:

 

“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” (2.01) “Shadows” Commentary

Ohmigod! Did “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” lose its sense of humor? I realize that the show is supposed to take a darker turn, but they seemed to be overdoing it.

After an hour of viewing, I realized that the only flash of real humor came from Antoine “Trip” Triplett. The episode revealed that Jemma Simmons left the agency during hiatus. And we do not know the circumstances that led her to finally leave. This is a scenario that should have happened either in the Season One finale, (1.22) “Beginning of the End” or in this episode. Instead, it happened off screen. And what was up with that speech from new S.H.I.E.L.D. Director, Phil Coulson near the end of the episode? He sounded as if he had a burr up his ass.

The scene between Skye and Ward was simply wince inducing. Were they trying to make Ward seductive? How can I be brutally frank? I never really cared about Ward. In fact, what was he doing there in the first place? I doubt that he knows everything about HYDRA. I even doubt that he knows everything that Garrett knew. His presence with Coulson and the others make NO SENSE to me whatsoever. As for Skye, she has more or less lost her sense of humor, let alone personality. Now, she is bland.

Why would the U.S. Army give Glenn Talbot a promotion for losing Coulson and his crew in the last season? What were the circumstances that led Lucy Lawless and her crew of mercenaries to join the new S.H.I.E.L.D.? As for Nick Blood – the so-called “sexy” British mercenary and television cliché – could Whedon and Company be more unoriginal? And what was up with that ridiculous slow motion scene near the end of the episode? Was this episode directed by John Woo or something?

Well, it happened . . . just as I had feared. The producers caved in to the public’s inability to deal with the serial drama format . . . and they ended up forcing the action for this season – to the extreme – down our throats. In fact, everything about the writing in“Shadows” was rushed – including the introduction of new characters and situation. Whedon and Co. dumped its usual style of storytelling and rushed the story in order to satisfy the critics, the viewers and the Disney corporate suits who had complained about Season One’s slow development of the story line. Apparently these critics know nothing about story development in a serial drama format. And I guess Whedon and Co. lost that knowledge as well.

The only interesting aspect about this episode was the 1940s flashback featuring Peggy Carter, “Dum Dum” Dugan, Jim Morita and the new Big Bad, Daniel Whitehall. The rest of it was a rushed job filled with over-the-top action, along with grim and humorless characterization. If this new episode had been the first episode of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” I had seen, I would have given up on this series with the drop of a hat.

“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” Season Two – At Mid Point

 
“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” SEASON TWO – AT MID-POINT

Ever since the second season of Marvel’s “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”, many television viewers and critics have waxed lyrical over their belief over the series’ improvement from Season One. And yet … the ratings for the show seemed to reflect differently from this view. Regardless of the opinions of others or the ratings, I have my own views about the show’s Season Two.

I am going to be blunt. I do not like Season Two of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”. In fact, it has turned out to be a major disappointment for me. Last season, many fans and critics complained about the show’s pacing and slow revelation of the season’s main story arc. For them, Mutant Enemy’s handling of Season Two’s story arc has improved a great deal. I disagree. I had no problems with the development of Season One’s story arc. For me, it was no different from the formats for previous Sci-Fi/Fantasy serial television shows like “BABYLON 5”, along with Mutant Enemy’s “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” and “ANGEL”. All three shows began their story arcs for each season slowly and eventually build up the story arc to a mind boggling conclusion.“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” did the same. Many fans, critics and even Marvel claimed that Season One’s slow build up and occasional breaks had more to do with allowing the season’s story arc to build up to the plot for “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER”. I say bullshit to that.

“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”, like many other television shows with twenty-two (22) episodes per season, usually took occasional breaks in order to stretch out 22 episodes within a time period of seven to eight months. This is nothing new. These breaks have been going on for many television shows for a long time. In their impatience and occasional stupidity, many forgot that. Many also seemed to have forgotten that “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” was a serial drama about government agents that work for an intelligence organization … not about superheroes and superheroines. For some reason, many fans ignored the show’s title and honestly expected the constant appearances of costumed Marvel superheroes and superheroines. Why? I have no idea. But Disney (who owns the ABC Network), Marvel and Mutant Enemy decided to heed the complaints for the sake of ratings and change the series’ style.

What did they do? Well, they introduced new characters – especially new agents – in the wake of the downfall of S.H.I.E.L.D. from the spring of 2014. How did Mutant Enemy introduce these new characters? Actually, they did not. Instead, new characters such as Alphonse “Mack” McKenzie, Lance Hunter and Isabelle Hartley had already been recruited as S.H.I.E.L.D. agents when the first episode, (2.01) “Shadows”. The episode also quickly introduced a new villain, a HYDRA official known as Daniel Whitehall, with a flashback to the past. The new characters, along with familiar characters such as Phil Coulson, Melinda May, Skye and Antoine Triplett, were quickly thrust into a new mission, which quickly morphed into part of the season’s new story arc – the recovery of an alien object known as the Obelisk. Everything about this episode seemed to hint “speed”. Missing from “Shadows” was Agent In fact,“speed” seemed to be the essence of the plotting and pacing for the first half of Season Two.

I find it ironic that many fans complained about how certain characters like Akela Amador, Chan Ho Yin and the Asgardian refugee Dr. Elliot Randolph seemed to have come and gone with the wind. Yet, they failed to realize that similar characters in Season Two did the same … or appeared in at least two to three episodes before disappearing. I refer to characters like Isabelle Hartley, Carl Creel, and Senator Christian Ward. But this did not bother me … except for their handling of Agent Amador and Senator Ward. What really bothered me was the handling of certain recurring or main characters.

There have been complaints about Mutant Enemy’s handling of its minority characters … well, its African-American characters. I never understood why it was so important for the Mike Peterson character to disappear after the Season One episode, (1.22) “Beginning of the End”. What the hell happened to him? Ten Season Two episodes have aired since and not once has the series revealed his whereabouts. Come to think of it … what happened to Akela Amador? She was imprisoned by Coulson’s team … even after they had learned that HYDRA had coerced her into pulling off several robberies on their behalf. HYDRA had released prisoners such as Raina and Ian Quinn, after the S.H.I.E.L.D. Civil War. What about Agent Amador? What happened to her? Off all the new S.H.I.E.L.D. agents introduced during Season Two, only two got the shot end of the stick. One of them was Isabelle Hartley, who was killed off in “Shadows”. The other character was Alphonso “Mack” MacKenzie, who was more or less used as some kind of therapy tool for the Leo Fitz character, before being transformed into some kind of zombie in the episode, (2.09) “…Ye Who Enter Here”. As of the season’s mid-season finale, (2.10) “What They Become”, Mack is no longer a “zombie”. But no one knows if he has fully recovered. I fear that Mack’s fate will become similar to that of the Elam Ferguson character from AMC’s “HELL ON WHEELS”.

Ruth Negga continued her role as Raina, the mysterious woman who had aligned herself with HYDRA and later, a man named Calvin Zabo who might be an Inhuman. As it turned out, Raina is also an Inhuman … like Skye. However, she underwent a physical transformation:

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And Skye … did not:
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Why? Why Raina and not Skye? Why did a character portrayed by an actress of Irish and African ancestry transformed into a non-Human form?

Finally, I come to Antoine “Trip” Triplett. The show’s “Legacy” agent, who had played a major role in the defeat of John Garrett, a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent-turned-HYDRA mole at the end of Season One, seemed to have been shoved to the background by the writers under showrunners Joss and Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen and producer Jeffrey Bell. Why? Mutant Enemy and Marvel claimed that Britt was under contract to the BET series, “BEING MARY JANE”, which meant in their eyes, they could not use him as much as they “wanted”. Hmmm … more bullshit. They were able to use a great deal of Britt in the second half of Season One. And the actor appeared in less than half of the latest season for “BEING MARY JANE”. In fact, the latter has been scheduled by BET to end in 2015. What was the point in sidelining Britt in that manner? And why did they killed off Britt’s character with some of the most contrived writing I have seen on this show in “What They Become”, without allowing him to have a major appearance in said episode? It was just disgusting to watch.Speaking of contrived writing, I encountered a good deal of it in Season Two. The writers for “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” went through of minor story arcs with the speed of a ballistic missile. I realize that Season One had its share of one-shot episodes – especially in its first half. Again, I have no problems with this. One-shot episodes were pretty common in televised serial dramas like“BUFFY” and “BABYLON 5”. But in Season Two of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”, the writers would set up a story arc with a great deal of build up and end the story arc within two to five episodes. The series ended up wasting potential characters and story arcs like Carl Creel, Jemma Simmons’ role as a S.H.I.E.L.D. mole within HYDRA, the introduction of Senator Christian Ward and the Daniel Whitehall character. Mind you, Whitehall lasted for ten episodes. Only, I had not expected him to be introduced so fast … and killed off so soon. Speaking of speed, I had no idea that the Skye character would be exposed as an Inhuman – part of a race of superhumans who had been engineered by aliens such as the Kree – so soon. Halfway into Season Two? I found this rather quick, considering that Marvel has plans to release a movie about the Inhumans in 2018, four years from now. Do they really expect“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”, with its sketchy ratings, to last that long? If so, they could have waited a little longer.One last example of the show’s fast-paced narration was its tendency to shove two or three subplots into one episode. Other television shows have done this as well. But in a serial drama format, most writers would include the main story arc and a minor subplot that had little to do with the former. Mutant Enemy’s writers did not utilize this style. In order to keep the story arc going at neck break speed, they would shove two plotlines that had a great deal to do with the main story arc into one episode. This resulted in several episodes coming off as convoluted and very confusing. Several critics have complained about this, but most viewers and critics are pretending that this is a sign of improved writing from last season. Apparently rushed storytelling is now Mutant Enemy/Marvel’s idea of writing for sci-fi serial drama. Really? Speed writing for viewers or critics with the attention span of lice?Another problem I had with Season Two of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” is the character of Grant Ward – former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and HYDRA mole. Why is he still alive? Why? I suppose Marvel and especially Mutant Enemy still want actor Brett Dalton around. Just recently, producer Jeffery Bell said the following about the character and the actor:“What we love is that Brett Dalton is this actor that brings this complexity to this guy, a lot of the way that James Marsters brought it to Spike on Buffy and Angel.”

Okay, it is official. Mutant Enemy has a hard-on for Brett Dalton. But when I read the above quote, I did not know whether to laugh or upchuck. Look … Dalton is a tolerable actor. He is pretty solid. But I CANNOT believe that Bell had the nerve to compare Dalton with the likes of James Marsters. To this day, I consider Marsters to be one of the best actors or actresses I have ever seen in a Mutant Enemy production hands down. One of the best … ever. Dalton is nowhere that good. Now, I will admit that although Spike proved to be one of my favorite television characters, I have no love for Grant Ward. I disliked Ward when he was one of the “good guys” during most of Season One. When he proved to be a HYDRA mole, my feelings for him did not change on whit. I realize that Mutant Enemy was trying to make him complex. But thanks to Dalton’s performance, I simply failed to be impressed. But my dislike of the Ward character has nothing to do with my opinion of Dalton as an actor. I also disliked the vampire character Angel, also featured in“BUFFY” and “ANGEL”. But despite my dislike, I cannot deny that actor David Boreanaz’s portrayal of the character was superb. Another actor that made a name for himself portraying a morally questionable fantasy character was Julian McMahon, who portrayed the human-demon hybrid for three seasons in “CHARMED”. Like Marsters and Boreanaz, McMahon was superb in the role, despite producer Brad Kern’s shabby handling of the character during his last year on the show. Hell, he proved to be the best actor during the show’s eight season run. I noticed something else. Ever since the premiere of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” Season Two, Brett Dalton seems hellbent upon impersonating McMahon. Why, I do not know. Brett Dalton is no Julian McMahon. He should simply give up the effort.

Also, Mutant Enemy’s efforts to retain the Grant Ward character has resulted in some seriously contrived writing. After Ward’s capture in “Beginning of the End”, new S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Phil Coulson decided to keep the former agent at the new hidden base. Why? So that he can provide the new S.H.I.E.L.D. with information on HYDRA? What could Ward possibly know? He was a low-level HYDRA mole. I doubt that John Garrett knew everything. Hell, I doubt that Garrett, who can be very manipulative, told Ward everything. Anyone with brains or common sense should have realized this. Why keep Ward around? So that Dalton can do his Julian McMahon impersonation every now and then? Then Mutant Enemy decided to hire actor Tim DeKay to portray Ward’s older brother, Senator Christian Ward. DeKay appeared in two episodes – (2.06) “A Fractured House” and (2.08) “The Things We Bury” – before his character was killed off camera by Ward. Aside from giving the writers an opportunity for Ward to escape imprisonment, what was the purpose of DeKay’s presence on the show? I cannot decide what was more wasted – the Jemma Simmons w/HYDRA mini arc, Antoine Triplett’s Season Two presence, or the use of the Senator Christian Ward character. Even when the writers finally had a chance to rid the show of Ward in the mid-season finale, “What They Become”, they kept him alive with some ridiculously contrived writing. I suspect this is Mutant Enemy and Marvel’s way of giving Ward some kind of redemption by the end of the season. If so, this will proved to be the fastest redemption arc in television history. And right now, I found myself feeling disgusted over the whole matter.

I really do not know what else to say about “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”. Other than I have washed my hands of this show? I cannot believe this is the same television series that I had fallen in love with, last year. I have to end this article before I find myself in danger of upchucking again. Dear Mutant Enemy. You have become such a disappointment to me.