‘Captain America: Civil War’ is an allegory for American politics

You’d think that an ultimate showdown between superheroes would be funny and absurd as Lemon Demon’s “The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny,” but Anthony and Joe Russo’s superhero showdown “Captain America: Civil War” isn’t funny.

The only part that’s remotely funny is the banter in an almost 12-minute battle sequence at an airport.

Other than that, the painstakingly long two-and-a-half hour film is mostly about what keeps bubbling up in conversations: politics.

Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, “Captain America: Civil War” centers on a political debate America’s all too familiar with: the battle between whether governmental bodies should have more or less oversight. In it, the Avengers become an allegory for America and representatives within the organization aren’t willing to compromise on how the Avengers should be governed.

Armed in his red Iron Man costume, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) stands with democratic values, believing that the United Nations should oversee the Avenger team. Donning a red, white and blue shield, Captain America (Chris Evans) sides with traditional republicans beliefs, advocating for less governmental control and more freedom of choice.

The resulting arguments aren’t pretty. They’re nasty, vindictive and very, very physical (These are the Avengers after all). Plenty of people get hurt. And even after the battles are over, the fissure remains.

“Captain America: Civil War” was directed by brothers Joe and Anthony Russo. The screenplay was written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. 

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‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ echos Big Brother themes

Marc Webb’s “The Amazing Spider-man” showed the power of an individual in the age of the Internet. Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises” discusses the social inequality between the rich and poor. J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek Into Darkness” reminds us of Naomi Klein’s “shock doctrine” in a post-9/11 world — that the shock of terrorism can easily became a catalyst for war.

If the recent slew of superhero blockbusters are anything to go by, superhero movies are a time capsule into the troubles of an era. Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (who also co-wrote “Thor: The Dark World”), “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is a frightening commentary on current events.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), better known as the super-soldier Captain America,  is adjusting to life in modern-day D.C. after he’s been preserved in a block of ice since 1945 and revived to fight aliens with the Avengers team (consisting of himself, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye). Now, a S.H.I.E.L.D. contractor, he serves his country by running along the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool and going on covert rescue operations — sometimes with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s spy-assassin Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson).

As S.H.I.E.L.D. develops Project Oversight — which uses satellite monitoring technology to observe and kill civilians before they become a threat to national security, Captain America has misgivings on working with the government. Captain America’s reservations echo the feelings of ordinary Americans who read or listened to Edward Snowden’s Big Brother-esque revelations about the NSA for the past 10 months. According to a USA Today/Pew Research Center poll, the majority of Americans oppose the NSA’s collection of metadata.

“This isn’t freedom. This is fear,” Captain America says.

Markus and McFeely’s screenplay (based on Ed Brubaker’s story) illustrates the implications of the elimination of privacy, highlighting the dangers of the immense information stored online. One Orwellian nightmare: Big Brother is always watching you and can kill you anytime from anywhere.

German HYDRA scientist Dr. Arnim Zola (Toby Jones) does just that. He created a computer program that could predict a human’s future affiliations and behaviors based on his or her past; this is based on emails, texts, videos, social media and other records of communication. In turn, the program selects S.H.I.E.L.D.’s targets — threats to national security who are preemptively killed by drones.

And who threatens the status quo? Our esteemed forth estate, our whistle-blowers, our activists and superheroes…

Directing duo Anthony and Joe Russo (known for sitcoms “Community” and “Arrested Development”) deliver a scary superhero film — filled with extra-long action sequences and paranoia.

“Trust no one,” warns S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) after he’s ambushed by D.C. police in a long car chase and police shootout.

The scariest part of this film: it resembles our own world.

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” was directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo based on Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s screenplay and Ed Brubaker’s story. The comics were created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. The story will continue in “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

Once upon a time on ‘Thor: The Dark World’…

According to Celtic myths, Samhain, the first of November, marks the end of summer — when ghosts, spirits and fairies can haunt our world. People honored the dead by dressing up in costume, going door-to-door for food — a tradition memorialized in the modern Halloween festivities.

So perhaps it’s fitting that “Thor: The Dark World” was released in Samhain (the Irish word for November) — days after U.S. daylights savings time. The dead return to our world as the day grows shorter and darker.

The second of Marvel’s post-Avenger’s films (the first was this summer’s “Iron Man 3”), “Thor: The Dark World” chronicles the Convergence — a once in a blue moon phenomenon when nine planets overlap and objects can be seamlessly transported from one place to another.

Normally, that would be a magical wonder — one that astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) explains with science. But the legend of Thor’s made out of the stuff from myths and fairy tales.

No, not Disney’s “Tarzan” (although Jane and Thor did have a few Tarzan moments when he fell out of the sky in the first Thor movie).

This fairy tale is made of grimmer stuff — the kind where fairies stole you away like the Pied Piper.

The dark fairies in this story are from the Unseelie Court, led by dark elf Malekith (Christopher Eccleston). Malekith created a liquid weapon called Aether, which is supposed to bring darkness to the world.

While Asgardians stopped Malekith’s evil plot years ago, the Convergence would be the perfect opportunity for the dark elves to try again: unleashing darkness on all nine worlds, including Earth.

That’s the backdrop to this movie, and Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s screenplay’s layered like Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

On one level, they’re dealing with the aftermath of “The Avenger’s” and the alien invasion of New York City; prisoner-of-war Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is brought back to his home planet in chains. His hammer-wielding older brother, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), fights to fix Loki’s mess.

On another level, the writers are threading the plot of the mediocre 2011 “Thor” film — which plays out like a typical Shakespearean rom-com. Jane, her snarky sidekick Darcy (Kat Dennings) and their mentor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) return, studying anomalies in Earth’s gravity. Jane feels slighted by her crush Thor, who never contacted her after he abruptly left.

Luckily, the dark elves play matchmaker, and their nefarious plot reunite Jane and Thor.

“Thor: The Dark World” offers a much more dynamic plot-line than its predecessor. Unlike the first Thor movie, which divided its time evenly between the wild magical woods of Asgard and the rigid mundane cities of Earth, time spent in Earth’s brief.

But that doesn’t mean this fairy tale’s “once upon a time” gets a “happily ever after.” After all, the Marvel sagas continue with “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” in spring 2014 and “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” in the summer of 2015.

Unfortunately for us, movie-goers, suffering through each superhero blockbuster until the release of Joss Whedon’s next highly anticipated (and highly lucrative) Avengers movie, most of the characters in this film, including our titular hammer-wielding muscleman, are as flat as the comic book paper they came from.

“If we shadows have offended/ Think but this, and all is mended.” — Puck from William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

The only exception is Loki (and Tom Hiddleston — who won best male newcomer and best villain for his reprising role). The honest trickster god captured our hearts in “Thor” and “The Avengers” and promises to be as mischievous as the prankster Puck.

Just remember (because Shakespeare taught us well): it’s all fun and games until somebody dies.

“Thor: The Dark World” is directed by Alan Taylor of “Game of Thrones” fame; the screenplay was written by Christopher Markus, Christopher Yost and Stephen McFeely, based on Don Payne and Robert Rodat’s story and Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Larry Lieber’s Marvel comic books.

‘Iron Man 3’ resembles ‘Die Hard’

Iron Man 3 is Tony Stark’s epilogue to The Avengers, Josh Whedon’s film about the formation of Captain America (Steve Rogers), Iron Man (Tony Stark), Thor, the Hulk (Dr. Bruce Banner), Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff) and Hawkeye (Clint Barton) into the superhero team. Since Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) fell out of the sky after battling aliens in The Avengers, Stark’s been plagued with nightmares. Even thinking about New York sends him on panic attacks.

The genius billionaire playboy philanthropist has a lot to panic about. The Avengers’ enemies span worlds and galaxies. But the action in Iron Man 3 doesn’t have to do with the Avengers’ shared past.

The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a terrorist who has been bombing sites from Kuwait to the Grauman Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, has a personal vendetta against Stark. Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), the criminal mastermind behind the Mandarin’s plans, offered his think tank services to Tony Stark years ago, but Stark refused. Now, the villains want what Stark has: his girlfriend, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). And Killian is willing to ruin Stark’s Christmas.

Written and directed by Shane Black, the third installment of Iron Man resembles the narrative arch of John McTiernan’s 1988 action flick Die Hard, which followed NYPD officer John McClane (Bruce Willis) as he tried to save his wife against German terrorists during a Christmas party in Los Angeles. In Iron Man 3, Colonel Rhodes (Don Cheadle) serves as Stark’s Sgt. Powell (Reginald Veljohnson), the friendly black cop who assisted McClane in his rescue operation.

Not only do both the movies occur during the same time of year in warm, sunny places, but they also feature spectacular explosions and fireworks. The films contain terrorist plots and show the bravado of its heroes. Officer John McClain walks on broken glass while Tony Stark throws himself at glass windows at one scene, not wearing his protective Iron Man armor.

To continue the analogy, both films have been well received. During its opening weekend on July 22, 1988, Die Hard brought in $7,105,514, ranking third in box offices. Iron Man 3, which was released on May 3, brought in an estimate of $175.3 million domestically, ranking no. 1 in theatres during its opening weekend. Despite containing a nearly identical story arch, this illustrates the successes of both films.

Although Iron Man 3 is an upgraded version of Die Hard, its popularity extends beyond the fiery-orange explosions. Rather than limit the action to 40 floors in one building,  Iron Man 3 capitalizes on its global plot. Shane Black and Drew Pearce’s screenplay takes Stark from his mansion in Malibu, Calif., to investigations in Rose Hill, Tenn. With unlimited Stark Industries technology, Iron Man 3 shows off Stark’s new armor and gadgets. He can now power multiple robotic suits without wearing them.

Compared to other films in the franchise, Iron Man 3 highlights Stark’s emotional distress. Although Stark is known for his biting wit, Drew Pearce and Shane Black’s screenplay shows that underneath his robotic armor, he’s human. He’s cagey when Colonel Rhodes questions him on his lack of sleep. Instead of replying with a flippant remark, we see Stark break down with post-traumatic stress.

This is a clear departure from the Tony Stark we’ve come to love and expect. In fact, in one scene when the audience expects a witty or misogynistic comeback, Stark’s response is, “I’ve got nothing.”

Without his sarcasm as a shield, Stark seems more vulnerable and serious. This is exemplified in one scene featuring Stark and Harley Keener (Ty Simpkins), a Tennessee boy who finds Iron Man in his garage. As Harley begins prying into Stark’s life and the events in New York, Stark starts hyperventilating about not being able to save Pepper Potts. With the straightforward reasoning of a child, Harley is able to calm Stark down: “You’re a mechanic, right?” Harley asks. “So build something.”

“Okay,” Stark answers.

All almost aboard the ‘Rise of the Guardians’

Once you pick up your suspension of disbelief along with your 3D glasses as you walk into the theater, “Rise of the Guardians” becomes quite an enjoyable film.

Based on William Joyce’s “Childhood of Guardians” series, the film centers around Jack Frost (Chris Pine), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) and the Sandman — five guardians appointed by the Man in the Moon to protect children’s belief in magic against the forces of the Bogeyman, Pitch Black (Jude Law).

With an estimated $145 million budget, Dreamworks Animation’s “Rise of the Guardians” looks beautiful. Jack Frost, with his youthful face, big blue eyes and playful and carefree grin, is eye candy — cute as the Zac Efrons, Justin Beibers or Josh Hutchersons of the world — as he lures kids into snowball fights and guarantees snow days. (After all, who doesn’t love a guy who’s good with kids?) Meanwhile, the film’s animation is delightful, featuring a potpourri of colors and wonders. Easter eggs walk into rivers of pink dye while dreams float out of your head and prance around. Yetis assemble and paint Christmas toys in the North Pole while tiny tooth fairies, which resemble hummingbirds, flutter under pillows to collect teeth.

Although Pine may be as good looking as his animated counterpart, Jack, the 32-year-old actor’s voice is too deep to match the face of his character — who looks half his age. Pine’s voice, who commands the Starship Enterprise in J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” reboot, is too suave, smooth and confident for a character who’s young and lost — trying to discover who he is and why he died. Closer to teenaged heartthrobs, like Efron or Hutcherson, would have been better suited for the role.

Meanwhile, Pine’s co-stars shine with their mastery at accents. Although we know Jackman can sing and voice a pretty good American accent, it’s refreshing to hear Jackman’s native Australian accent as he voices a large bunny that resembles a kangaroo. Meanwhile, Baldwin’s Russian accent completes the unconventional Santa Claus character, which also has “naughty” and “nice” tatooed on his arms. And Law, with his English accent, always sounds sexy — even when he’s voicing a misguided, black-haired villain that resembles Loki from “The Avengers.”

“Rise of the Guardians” takes us on a journey on the Polar Express — proving that you’re never too old to believe in magic. All you have to do is open your heart and believe.

“Rise of the Guardians” was directed by Peter Ramsey. The screenplay was written by David Lindsay-Abaire.