Movie Review: “Captain America: CIVIL WAR”

Captain America: CIVIL WAR

The third installment of Captain America’s franchise is the darkest yet of the lot, a sprawling, globetrotting adventure that draws in a veritable kitchen sink of Marvel heroes. The story opens in 1991, with Cap’s friend James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) being thawed out and mnemonically pried open by a few choice words in Russian, setting him out on a quick mission to recover several packets of super-soldier serum and leave no witnesses. Fast-forward to present day, and Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) is casing out portions of Lagos, Nigeria, with the team assembled at the end of “Avengers: Age of Ultron”. Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) are there to help Cap take down Hydra baddie Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo), who emerged from the wreckage of the former S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters as the enhanced and completely psychotic Crossbones.

While the team seems to have its game down, for the most part, a miscalculation by the Scarlet Witch ends up creating more than the usual amount of destruction and the unseen body count ticker starts running. Badly. Speaking of body counts, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) is enjoying a bittersweet celebration at MIT, lauding the launch of his grant program to fund new technology, when he’s confronted by Miriam Sharpe (Alfre Woodard), the mother of a fatality from the Avengers’ battle in Sokovia. It’s a consistent theme for Stark–his past (or his father’s past) is constantly coming back to haunt him. Licking their emotional wounds, the team (including Paul Bettany’s Vision and Don Cheadle’s Lt. James Rhodes/War Machine) retreats to their compound in upstate New York, where U.S. Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) subjects the Avengers (sans a “retired” Hawkeye and the M.I.A. Thor and Hulk) to a dressing down, reminding them that they go in with the best of intentions but end up leaving without so much as picking up a broom and dustpan. If only they could clean up their messes so easily.


Captain America at Avengers HQ

Captain America (Chris Evans), facing ominous music


Ross explains that over 100 countries have come together to create the “Sokovia Accords”: an agreement that puts the Avengers under the management and oversight of a UN panel. The days of the Avengers’ autonomy are numbered, and they have precious little time to submit to the UN’s authority or face being shut down altogether. At this point, a rift begins to form between those on the team that are wary of the negative impact of the agreement and those willing to take that risk. The words spoken by the grieving Wakandan King T’Chaka (John Kani) following the Nigerian tragedy are obviously ringing in their ears: “Victory at the expense of the innocent is no victory at all.”

Captain America, in his usual indifference to any authority other than his own, frets about the new oversight being “run by agendas, and agendas change”. Called away to attend the funeral of one of the few people about whom he intimately cares, Cap manages to connect briefly with the former Agent 13, Sharon Carter–yes, CARTER–played by Emily VanCamp. The reeling Cap then joins the Avengers in Vienna for the signing of an agreement he has no intention to autograph himself. The team’s division becomes crystal clear: Iron Man, War Machine, Vision, and Black Widow all signed, but Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, and Falcon have refused. The divide widens as an explosion rips apart the UN compound, killing King T’Chaka and leaving evidence that points to Bucky as the culprit. There’s enough set up with the shadowy Zemo (Daniel Brühl) to suggest that perhaps Bucky’s not 100% in control of his own decisions.


Tony Stark and Steve Rogers

Bromance on the rocks: Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) and Steve Rogers (Evans)


The second act focuses primarily on Captain America’s hunt for Bucky and the lengths to which he will go to protect his friends from just about everything–except himself. In one of the few cases where Cap puts the individual in front of the team, Rogers is willing to sacrifice it all to save his long-lost best friend. Of course, Bucky is more than just lost; he’s a ticking time bomb. The half of the team that forms behind Stark settles on the idea that Bucky needs to be put behind bars and anyone who stands in their way is a criminal. Rogers rebuffs Stark’s renewed offer to sign on the dotted line for the Sokovia Accords, and the counter-team forms up behind the Captain and his shield.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a kitchen sink approach without adding even MORE superheroes into the mix. Team Iron Man adds Black Panther (the Wakandan heir–now King T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman) and Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland); Team Cap adds Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and a not-truly-retired Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). What follows is a messy brawl where neither side really, truly wants to hurt the other. More like, they all just want to stop the other team from getting their way without inflicting too much damage. Unfortunately, this is the Avengers, and if there’s one message we’ve learned from prior movies (and the high-tech PowerPoint Ross put on earlier), it’s that things will get out of hand quickly. The injuries, both emotional and physical, take their toll, with Cap and Bucky barely escaping to chase after Zemo.


Partial view of TeamCap

A partial view of Team Cap: Hawkeye (Renner), Scarlet Witch (Olsen), Captain America (Evans), and Bucky (Stan)


It’s impossible to go into much detail on the third act without spilling spoilers left, right, and center, so suffice to say that the action continues apace. Cap and Bucky are a comfortable pairing–both are damaged goods, men out of time who’ve seen and done things they wish had gone differently. Stark is a man haunted by the ghosts he will never shake, and he’ll swing at anything that will make the pain go away.

This movie is very much a Captain America film–a slower burn with plenty of action and character development. On the other hand, it also tries really hard to make sure that no one feels left out, which only seems overdone when it comes to Ant-Man and Spider-Man. Black Panther fits in well as a superhero who has no real need for a team (and will suffer an alliance), but Ant-Man and Spider-Man seem there for only two things: 1) comic relief, and 2) setups for 2018’s “Ant-Man and The Wasp” and Disney’s reboot of the Spider-Man franchise, respectively. The subtler sarcasm of Falcon and Hawkeye fits well with the vibe of the movie, but the slapstick and neophyte humor of the insect and arachnid just don’t work nearly as well.


TeamIronMan: Black Panther, Vision, Iron Man, Black Widow, and War Machine

Team Iron Man: Black Panther (Boseman), Vision (Bettany), Iron Man (Downey Jr.), Black Widow (Johansson), and War Machine (Cheadle)


Even so, this is a great film and a worthy addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe–dramatic, action-filled, and intense. Everyone is bringing as much A-game as they can, and the team leads (Evans and Downey Jr.) are just outstanding. Each plays their role with a genuine approach that shows these two actors really understand how to play tortured souls.

When it’s not heart-stopping, it’s heart-wrenching; “Captain America: CIVIL WAR” isn’t just about the chasms that form between friends when they sit on opposite sides of an issue, it’s also about the internal struggles that people face when they have to make tough choices that have real and painful consequences.

Is “Captain America: CIVIL WAR” for kids? Well, not really. I’d probably peg this as for ages 10-and-up, but if the child has already seen and ably managed “Captain America: Winter Soldier” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron”, they’ll do fine here. The screening I attended was in IMAX 3D and the fight scenes were somewhat hard to follow due to the format’s poor handling of incredibly fast movement. I recommend aiming for 2D or regular 3D for this one unless there’s an absolute preference for IMAX 3D. As per usual, there are two extra post-credit scenes for this movie–one immediately following the initial set of cast credits and one at the very end of the full credit roll. In other words: stick around until the screen is completely unlit.

3-1/2 out of 4 stars

“Captain America: CIVIL WAR” opens nationwide on May 6, 2016. This movie is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of violence, action, and mayhem.


The mythical mom

mother and son silhouette

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I was deep in conversation with my boss about our current parental challenges when she tossed something at me I didn’t expect: she called me a “better than average mom”. Me? Really?

Not really being sure what constitutes “average”, but being wholly surprised that I could be considered above that waterline, I pointed out what I tend to see on Facebook that often induces my own sense of being behind that particular curve.

There are the moms who seem to be able to handle it all…

…their hair and makeup always look spectacular.

…they always rock these sweet outfits that make them look so ridiculously cute.

…their kids are on multiple sports teams each and the schedule seems to manage itself.

…they’re so lovey-dovey with their spouse or significant other that you wonder if they’re secretly still newlyweds.

…they always seem to be cooking the most amazingly complex, attractive food that takes a ton of time and that their kids just LOVE.

…they’re typically on their way to or coming back from a workout where they just crushed a personal record or finished off the latest Beachbody DVD.

In other words: they’re fricking fantastic at being moms AND getting it all done.

Or are they?

My boss (probably) rightly pointed out that we typically only take pictures at our best. True enough, I don’t see a ton of people taking selfies in meetings when they’re being told that the thing they’ve been working on is getting sidelined or defunded in favor of something else. And rarely do they stop to take video of little Timmy having THE MOST EPIC MELTDOWN EVAR AND ISN’T IT SOOOOOO FUNNY. In general, you don’t see these same moms showing snaps of their ultimate bedhead or how they look trying on the pants that don’t really fit super-well because women’s sizing is complete bullshit and any size in one designer may be a complete other size in another designer.

In other words, while we show all of these pictures of us at our best, it’s easy to assume that when we don’t have those ourselves we must be at our worst. We’re psyching ourselves out, seeing pictured perfection that’s lit just so and snapped with costly digital SLR’s–not looking at the reality when the accent lights are put away and the best you’ve got is the camera on your old iPhone 5.

I don’t know that there’s a perfect mom out there, although I think that every mom who tries to be perfect is striving for something that looks like success to them. And it’s really easy to fall back on the assumption that if little Timmy isn’t an A student who plays three sports and two instruments, who volunteers in his spare time and cleans the house, that somehow you’re a failure as a parent.

The thing is, it’s not our responsibility as parents to outshine each other; our responsibility is to raise civilized humans that can grow up to be improvements on the original models. We shouldn’t be setting ourselves up to assume that every mom who rocks some fab blow-out is looking like that all the time–nor should we ignore those times when we look in the mirror before heading out and our own hair looks REALLY FRICKING CUTE. Call it out. Note it. You don’t have to take a picture of it to remind yourself that it happened.

My idea of the actual average mom is someone like me:

…she has a pretty full day, whether that day is spent at home, at a business, or somewhere in-between.

…she has those days where she looks really adorable or hot, and she has other days where you wonder if she needs to do laundry and learn about that thing called “a comb”.

…she cooks as healthy as she can based on what she can afford–both in time and money–and she makes choices all the time about whether she can “afford” to cook more than one meal or if the kids will just have to deal with whatever’s put on the table. (This also assumes that she’s the one doing the cooking, which may not be the case.)

…she wants to be healthy, for whatever definition that is in her mind, and she could always do more–but she’s trying. And some days, she just deserves credit for even thinking about trying, because even that can be hard.

…she maps out her schedule in her head on a daily basis, trying to figure out how to keep all the moving parts of her life from colliding in spectacular fashion.

…she sometimes yells at the kids because they’re not always behaving like those smiling, happy-faced kids that you see in those random posed pictures.

…and–most importantly–she deserves a freaking break every now and again, because perfect doesn’t and shouldn’t exist.

Our kids won’t always be perfect, either, and misbehaving isn’t always a sign of bad parenting. Sometimes it’s just fatigue or hormones or hunger or stress or any one of 1,000 other things that we can’t tell because the Psychic Hotlines just don’t work.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that we all should cut each other some slack–and we need to save a bit of that for ourselves, too. It’s hard to unlearn years of self-suppression, but maybe we each deserve the opportunity to consider ourselves “above average” from time to time.

Can we survive the terrible tweens?


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Let me start this off by saying something that should go without having to be said: I love my children very much. Even so, the tween years may just put me in the ground. Or, more likely, they’ll make me desperately wish that my body didn’t hate alcohol so much. Sure, the “tween” years are typically defined as ages 10-12, but it’s clear that dd is advanced for her age, since we’re seeing signs of tweenage at the tender age of 9 years old. *cough*

I remember pretty vividly what I was like as a teenager. Let’s say it wasn’t pretty for my parents. I feel like I spent most of my teen years grounded or in some kind of pre-grounded status, hovering between “I slammed that door” and “I’m about to slam that door”. It was the standard issue, run-of-the-mill thing where you want to have freedom and independence (to a point) and constantly feel like you are bumping up against boundaries or requirements that seem restrictive.

“Do the dishes”

I think I pretty much constantly avoided doing the dishes, leaving them for my already overburdened mother, because I just found them to be a chore. I pretty much always considered doing the dishes an awful task until I had dd and suddenly found my sink overrun with dishes and my “works” for my breast pump. My life felt completely out of control: I wasn’t able to produce enough milk for my newborn daughter, I had absolutely no idea how to communicate with this tiny individual who seemed to expect that I’d know EVERYTHING about taking care of her, and there was the rest of my life to balance with all these new responsibilities. Doing the dishes suddenly became hypercritically important. To this day, it’s understood that I’ll disappear into the kitchen for as long as it takes to get the dishes done following any dinner party or get-together, to the point where people have to track me down. It’s not that I’ve become anti-social; I’ve become anti-dishes-in-my-sink-and-on-my-counter-overnight. Call it irony, if you will. I prefer to think of it as cosmic payback for all the crap I put my mother through.

“Clean your room”

OK, so this is one where I’m still pretty much a mess. My “filing system” at home and work is typically chaotic piles that look like posed pictures for a manual on how to be a hoarder. Occasionally, I’ll just lose what’s left of my cool and ritually toss things en masse into a trash bag, and haul it all out without much in the way of sorting or dividing. I’ve learned to let go of my attachment to things I’ve collected over the years. And so it is that when I look at the kids’ rooms and see stuff all over the floor or their dressers, I just nod and consider it genetics. My mother used to threaten to go through my room with a steam shovel. It’s more likely dh will take that hard-line with the kiddos, while I’ll just roll my eyes and move along. As long as the clothes are clean and there are no mammals in the house other than those I’m related to by marriage or blood, I’ll generally shrug it off. I’ve been to friends’ houses where the clutter was so thick that you couldn’t walk without having to step ON things or sit ON things. We’re nowhere near there–and there would be either an intervention first or we’ll get invited to be on a reality TV show (which would trigger an intervention).

“Watch your mouth”

Ah, this is my downfall. My ass continues to be smart to this day (as my father will surely attest–though I’d like to point out that this is MOST DEFINITELY a dominant gene that he passed down to me). After all, better to be a smart-ass than a dumb-ass. And so, it’s completely unsurprising to me that my children have inherited this trait as well. “Backtalk” is actually something that’s both annoying and completely necessary, in my mind. Sure, the kiddos will tend to lose nine out of ten arguments on things where they just want something for the sake of winning the argument, but if they give me a real justification for why they think I’m so wrong (and they’re wrong), they may win. Lately, the tween hormones have gotten dd more on the shrill shrieking tip than just the standard backtalk; it’s like she’s found some really awful frequency that would make most dogs run for cover. I’d actually rather that she just fussed at me or pushed back on me verbally rather than tried to rupture my eardrums.

And yes–I fully expect that there’ll come a time when the kids start swearing at me/us. What they don’t hear from us, they hear from their friends at school (which is how it worked for me). Self-censorship only goes so far. I could avoid using every profane word and they’d still learn them–plus more. THANKS, URBAN DICTIONARY.

*      *      *      *      *

We’re lucky that dd still thinks boys have cooties. It’s 6-year-old ds who has a close girl friend (he’s too young for those last two words to be together). Frankly, I’m not sure how ready I am for the talk beyond what I’ve already had–and we have already done a variant of the talk. Well, I’ve had one with dd. I assume I’ll need to do much the same for ds at some point soon, but it’s hard for me to forecast when.

“I have to help every day. It’s so boring!” – ds

I get it, kid, I really do. I feel ya. Been there, done that. Reliving this and watching them start down the path of *all the hormones at once*, I feel badly that it’s yet another thing I can’t shield them from. And yet, it’s a rite of passage, so here we are.

Time to buckle up; it’s gonna be a long few years.