CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (NO SPOILERS)
It's the #1 movie at the box office in North America for three straight weeks. And aside from a "Hail Hydra" hugging meme, the internet's already gone silent on it and moved on to the next thing.
I finally saw the movie over the weekend, and will now attempt a review -- without spoilers. This one goes out to the late crowd. The slow movers. The Blu-ray fans. The serious home theater owners. And to all of those with a family life that comes first and interrupts your movie-going plans to the point where it feels like you need to abandon all social media to avoid being spoiled for weeks on end...
I liked this sequel far more than the first movie. While I enjoyed the first movie, I didn't love it. It did its job. It had some nice parts to it. But I don't know. It just seemed too schlocky at times in the middle of a series of movies that were brighter, shinier, and more modern. Plus, it was weighed down by its story, which didn't seem well focused, either.
The thing that allowed "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" to be so great is that it wasn't hamstrung by an origin story again. It flashed back to it a bit to help set up one of the mysteries of the movie, but it didn't spend too much time there. (Even then it wasn't a spoiler for the comics readers in the audience.) The bulk of this movie is brand new, even when you could pick out the elements of comics history (and modern current events) that informed it. I'm not even saying that the movie was boldly original or groundbreaking, as it has lots of well-worn elements from movies going back decades. But it puts those elements together well, sticking with just enough to crown this as a superhero movie, while providing something more of a political thriller than a superhero blockbuster.
You do have to be willing to buy into it, though. The action pieces are so far over the top that you might break out of the movie once or twice. I accepted it for what it was -- a trope of the genre -- and enjoyed the creativity and excitement of it all. Yes, Cap jumps a long distance far too often in the movie. Some wounds on various characters heal miraculously quickly at times, or seem to incapacitate them to the whims of plot necessity. But you know what? I'm fine with that. I'm happy to have a bag of popcorn in my hands and the delightful spectacle of a big screen movie playing in front of me. As with comics, I think there are far too many people who don't appreciate the splendor of it all. This is the movie you paid money to go see. Stop asking for it to be something we all know it isn't going to be.
Part of the trick to it is that the writers and directory never made a joke out of it. They didn't wink to the viewer and try to apologize for their decisions. Characters stayed real, and the cinematography and editing kept things feeling ground-level, even when the action took place in a fantastic place.
But, again, this movie wasn't following a simple origin story, nor was it strictly following a comic book story. I didn't know where it was going to go next, and that's what I appreciated it for. The crazy car chases and hand-to-hand combat and aerial moves worked for me. If you thought it was too much, I'll understand.
It blended in a fairly large cast well. When I look back at the cast list for the movie, it's impressive that they had so many characters -- and so many villains -- without destroying the movie's focus. This isn't like the '90s Batman movies that would add in more villains and make the movie worse. This was an ensemble cast that filled specific roles. I'm not even going to name them all, just to keep you hidden from the spoilers. (I should have known one of them, for example, but I forgot she was in it and wasn't familiar with the actress. She turned out to be a nice surprise.)
I bought into the movie hook, line, and sinker. Some of it might have been obviously telegraphed and some of it is anti-climactic if you've read the right comics, but that's all part of the show, I think.
"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is a fun action movie. It flies on its own, doesn't play it safe, and made two hours pass by quickly. It's a winner.
And, yes, there are two end credits scenes. The mid-credits one is the more important of the two. If your bladder can't make it to the last one, you won't miss much.
SUPERMAN OF THE 1960s
My five-year-old daughter's newest favorite show is "Bewitched." Yes, the original 1960s series. The cable network she's watching them on is showing the latter seasons. Those are the ones in color with Dick Sargent. She giggles at the silliness the whole way through. For Dad, watching Elizabeth Montgomery every day is not a chore...
This weekend, she watched an episode in which Paul Lynde, one time center square on Hollywood Squares, played Samantha's uncle. For various plot reasons, he became whatever he was thinking. In the final third of the episode, that meant he became Superman so he could fly away.
Paul Lynde is Superman.
If the Batman series on ABC at the time was considered "campy," what adjective would they use for this scene?
If you want to see more, it's up on YouTube.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #304: "California Schemin'"
Peter Parker begins a book tour in support of his book of Spider-Man photography, but The Black Fox's plans interupt this superhero time off.
I like The Black Fox. He's one of a number of the goofier villains we'll see in the course of this series, but one with a certain charisma and charm. He's a thief, and an old man who wants that one big payoff so that he can retire to the Riviera. But Spider-Man always gets in the way. I like the simple black and blue costume paired with the shock of white hair and generous moustache. It's an interesting contrast to see the young and lively Spider-Man taking on the presumably old and slow Black Fox. Like Spider-Man against bigger and badder foes, The Black Fox has to use his wits. That chess match combined with the unlikely physical battles makes for a fun match-up, whenever the two find each other.
In fact, the issue doesn't really start moving until the second half, when Peter Parker spots The Black Fox from afar at a black tie affair and pursues him. That little bit of action -- resulting in the Fox's getaway and Peter Parker's change of plans -- saves the issue. Up until that point there's a lot of expository dialogue and slow-moving short scenes:
- There's a page devoted to Peter showing Aunt May the prototype for his book to impress her. It's a cute page, but doesn't add much. Mary Jane runs into a neighbor in the apartment building who'll come to prominence in a few issues, but whose first appearance here feels leaden. His final word balloon on the page indicates to the reader that he's bad news and to keep an eye on him, so it's worth something. But it doesn't add to the core story for the issue, which is put off for way too long.
- Peter and Mary Jane go to Disneyland for a page because, uhm, I guess David Michelinie wants to show Peter's youthful fun side? Disney wouldn't buy Marvel for another 20 years, so I can't blame corporate synergy here.
- The first two pages set up the book and the ways Peter is being basically screwed over in the licensing rights side of things. It seems like such an obvious and old angle today, but I bet the topic of creator rights and licensing wasn't as well known and common in 1988 as it is today. I wish a stronger link had been made to this opening scene and the closing darkened smoke-filled room scene of the previous issue. I bet not everyone realized those evil men were his book publishers from the top of this issue, especially since they're not seen here.
- Spider-Man stops a bookie from killing a gambler by helping them to work together better. It's a quirky and cute page but, again, feels like complete filler.
After some strongly focused issues with major A plots supported by occasional B subplots, this issue feels like a collection of unrelated B plots until the A plot kicks in at the end. It's a trap of serialized storytelling.
The big artistic talking point for this issue is Joe Rubinstein's inks. With the book going into its summer bi-weekly crunch, McFarlane had an inker for this issue. (Amazingly, it was the only guest inker he needed for these six issues.) Rubinstein's ink line couldn't be more different from McFarlane's. It's thick and chunky. It's closer to what Klaus Janson's inks looked like over Frank Miller's than anything else. McFarlane has always had a very thin line with his inks, using multiple lines to shade things in with crosshatching or to add texture. Rubinstein is more of an old school comics artist in all the best ways. He has a huge variation in his line weight from thin to thick. He doesn't use as many lines as possible. He's more about simplifying them and making them bold.
There's a tension between McFarlane's designs and Rubinstein's inks. It's tough to say without seeing the original pencils, but I'm guessing McFarlane did work closer to layouts in this issue. I know that later in his career he was more comfortable with drawing more directly in ink, but I'm not sure when that started. This issue might be proof that it started earlier than I thought. McFarlane's figures occasionally look stiff and lumpy under Rubinstein's ink lines. Sometimes it works, but many times it falters; as a McFarlane fan, you just know what that panel is supposed to look like. Rubinstein has his own style, though, and it's powerful enough to cut through.
There are spots where it works to the art's advantage, even when it seems to overwhelm McFarlane's pencils. And there are times when it looks like McFarlane's finishing touches were needed to sell the drawing. This might very well indicate a weakness in McFarlane's art; if a style is needed to save the underlying forms, it's a weakness. There's a panel at the bottom of the second page that has both examples in it:
J. Jonah Jameson looks great under Rubinstein's inks. I like the thick outline by the chin and over the forehead. I love the tone added on the right half of his face, and even the rectangular pattern behind him. The hand holding the cigar -- they were still allowed to draw that in DeFalco's Marvel of 1988 -- maintain their shape and form, distinctively McFarlane's with a nice finishing touch by Rubinstein to add a variety of line weights in there. It helps separate the pinky finger from the busy background with a thicker line, and keeps the fingernail lines thin to emphasize the shapes of the fingers overall more.
But then there's Peter Parker in the background. His hair doesn't look right somehow, and that's mostly due to the ink line. Again, this is likely not Rubinstein's fault. McFarlane's style works in his ink line best. But the face looks piggish and unsure. The upturned nose looks distinctively un-McFarlane-esque, and those eyebrows are more monstrous than normal. It's a great example of how important it is to match an inker up to a penciler's work. I send my sympathies to the editors who have to traverse those landmines.
Other details are off, too. Again, there's no way to tell how much of it was McFarlane pressing to get the issue done on time, or how much was Rubinstein's style clashing or having to fill in blank spots left to him. The webbing on Spider-Man's costume looks wrong. It's still concave where it's supposed to be and convex where it's not. But the final ink line looks off. Compare it to the work McFarlane does with his own inks and the different is dramatic. Check out Spider-Man's left leg on this one, where the webbing disappears around the ankle and wraps around his shin in a twisted way.
In the end, it's just another bump in the road to get to the McSpidey most of us remember and love. The next issue does a great job in putting the art back on that road, and I can't wait to talk about it. Mostly, that's because it features a character with a cape. McFarlane's epic capes are always fun to see on the page. We'll get to that next week...
Two last on-going concerns:
Felix Appearance: McFarlane famously put Felix the Cat into every issue of his Spider-Man run after a certain point. I hadn't been looking for them before now, but here's the one from this issue:
We'll keep better track of those as the issues go by from here on out.
Spawn Watch: This random bookie on the street reminds me of Sam from "Spawn." And, yes, Harvey Bullock. It's one of McFarlane's stock figures, I guess. The whole page is a cute gag, even if it doesn't impact the overall story one bit. Give it a read.