We Need To Talk About Steve Rogers (again).

Film Let's get the obvious out of the way first. Captain America: Civil War is awesome. That cultural barometer Rotten Tomatoes currently suggests a reviewer average of 93% and that's exactly about right. We'll get to the bat shaped elephant with an S on his chest more clearly in a minute but if you want a demonstration of how the RT algorithm largely works compare that to the other big comic book clash of the year which has now dropped to 27% to see how if something is of quality it will be rewarded with the reviews to match (unless you're of the mind that the entire critical corpus are all on the take from MARVEL to give positive reviews to their films and damn DC in which case this will simply confirm your worst fears).

Needless to say there will be spoilers in this listicle shaped discussion and it is one of those films which works best without any foreknowledge. There's at least one moment I wish I hadn't known about beforehand which is still amazing, but not quite as much first time as it might have been if it had come as the surprise it was meant to be. But genre websites have to attract the clicks and so it was they decided to include this moment in the headline of the article and so the content of a tweet. But unlike Bus Dodge where its best moments were the film, CA:CW is so rich in moments that there were about a hundred other things and incidents and stuff that are equally terrific. Make no mistake, this is the film Age of Ultron should have been (and I was less critical of Joss's nightmare than most people).


One of the fears that I think most of us had going into this was that it seemed like it was going to be The Avengers 2.5 and there is an argument that this is certainly the case. But it's also quite coherently Iron Man 4 and yet it still also manages to keep Cap as the focus character in his own film providing a coherent conclusion to his trilogy, paying off bits of story set in motion back in The First Avenger whilst also setting the scene for the upcoming phase of MARVEL films. If Age of Ultron felt like just another episode in the series, this is more like the mid-season finale as it also simultaneously pays off events from numerous other films along the way. You probably couldn't watch the three Cap films and feel like you've seen a coherent story but none of the MARVEL films function that way.

Notice how the Russos somehow manage to give each of their characters a "moment of charm" for want of a better description or at least a story beat which furthers their narrative within the MCU whilst also justifying their appearance in the film. None of the superhero characters at least feel like cameos with the possible exception of Ant-Man although even his gigantor scene and subsequent incarceration will have potential implications for his sequel. There's no especial reason why Vision and Scarlet Witch should have a bit of romance here, but it provides each of them some motivation going forward, not least Vis whose character arc is surely going to mirror TNG's Data as his artificial intelligence slowly absorbs humanity and investigates what it is to be a sentient being. Including wearing their clothes.

But the ballsiness of the finale in which it seems as though in the expected MARVEL way bygones will be bygones and then everything's turned around and we're given the fight we all turned up to see. Compare this to Bus Dodge in which the expected fight squibbles after two hours of build up. In this, they fight, they fight and then they fight some more as MARVEL fearlessly trashes friendships and the status quo of its universe because that's what the story is about. I was reminded of the anti-regeneration gun in Doctor Who's The Last of the Time Lords. The shift between the expectations as to what was going to be the ending and would have been in the hands of lesser film makers and what occurs is the Hollywood blockbuster equivalent of Martha's giggle.


If there's a problem and this is the 7%, it's that although the film portrays this as both Iron Man and Cap having valid arguments for being on both sides of the Sarcovia accord, given the death and destruction, Iron Man's is the correct end of the argument. There has to be oversight. Even in imperfect systems you can't have vigilantism. It's not perfect and the people making the decisions won't always get it wrong, but as is established, it's not about the superbeings becoming America's police force but the UN's. Which isn't to say there isn't nuance but what's interesting about the script is that it doesn't take sides on the issue so it's entirely possible that someone else would come away from the film with Cap's freedom argument. In the end I'm siding with Romanov.

Notice how the discussion is roughly similar to that in Bus Dodge.  But whereas Batman's solution was to annihilate Superman, here it's about control.  Superheroes begat death and destruction and arguably more supervillains so something has to happen.  The SHIELD comic had a pretty good solution for this, making Coulson an expert in superheroes and having him decide who to deploy and where to the best of their abilities.  Perhaps in the first Infinity War film we'll see a version of this as Tony deploys whatever team he's managed to construct from people willing to sign the accord (whilst simultaneously demonstrating there's life in the mega team idea once he and the rest of this lot have retired).

Agent Carter.

"Oh Peg." I said quietly as Cap received the news. Arguably having Agent Carter die off camera is a bit undignified, but despite what the Russos say about the television sections of the franchise, there has to have been a certain element of not wanting to dampen whatever might be happening with the television series. But historical dramas are often about dead people and Howard Stark was already established as having gone even before he wandered into that series. My next thought was whether Jarvis was still about and of course he is in spirit. Meanwhile are we suppose to assume Bucky dated or at least tried to date Dottie Underwood? Is that one of the reasons he ended up in the Winter Soldier programme. It's all connect isn't it?

Iron Man 4

One of the key threads of the Iron Man films was Tony's relationship with his father and his unresolved issues with people an arms manufacturer who flies around in a humanoid tank. The darkness of Iron Man 3 is finding further fruition here. Some might question why Pepper is kept off screen again, but the producers have realised that their relationship breeds light screwball comedy and tonally the Captain America films, at least the latter two, don't lend themselves to that. We need to see darkly brooding Tony, grey Tony, morally certain Tony and having him spar with Miss Potts would not have felt right. Plus it's difficult to hire Paltrow and then not give her a story to service especially in the film where one of the rules seems to be "no cameos".


Just right. Unless Homecoming is a complete mess, I think this is probably going to be the big screen portrayal of Spider-man which will finally nail it. The Raimi films did the spectacle whilst getting Peter completely wrong and fucking up the structure of the first film. Andrew Garfield was near perfect in the role but was ill served by the films his performance was housed in as Sony misguidedly attempted to spin their own cinematic universe around him. Spidey has always been at his best when he's had other superhumans to but up against, trade notes and so it proves here. Say what you like about producing yet another screen version of the character when TAS2 hasn't even finished its initial streaming cycle, but his appearance in CA:CW more than justifies it.

Notice the economy with which he's introduced, in a long conversation with Tony which hints towards his origin story, Peter keeping something back, the radio active spider bite (we assume) having occurred six months before. But the details which hint towards the future, the retro technology in his room fished out of dumpsters expressing his poverty, no parents, May bringing him up (isn't Marissa Tomei fabulous?) alone having also lost her husband. Part of that is an adaptation from the comics, but Feige has said that John Hughes will be a key influence on the Spider-Man films and they're already laying the ground work here, as we find a set up not too dissimilar in mood to Pretty in Pink or Some Kind of Wonderful.

There's also his personality which is arguably "young Deadpool" but that just shows how closely they're following what can be found in the comics and in the television cartoons. Plus it's not just he's cracking jokes, he's funny and overawed about meeting all of these heroes and even getting to fight them. This is just how such encounters were portrayed in the comics. We'll see how much of the rest of the comics will be transferred to the screen. As the Garfield films found and Bus Dodge, having had a different adaptation pilfer all the good bits, it's a big ask for the audience to so quickly sit through an alternative version. I'd be quite happy for the Daily Bugle to not even appear in his films, although they will come up against the problem of natural aging. He can't stay in school for the next ten years (or however long his trilogy takes).

Agents of SHIELD.

The Russos have made it perfectly clear they don't give a toss about SHIELD and yet SHIELD does have to give a toss about Civil War.  Channel 4 are a bit behind the US in screenings so lord knows what effect all of this business will have on their affairs though it'll probably be less than The Winter Soldier which arguably changed the premise of the series.  Presumably the expectation for the Secret Warriors to register will intensify so it's possibly that Daisy et al will decide to break away from SHIELD and go their own way.  But the walled gardens between the various bits of the franchise are interesting.  How does this registration business effect Daredevil?  Or Jessica Jones?  Or the rest of The Defenders?  One of the ambiguities of the film is the extent to which the accord affects just The Avengers or all superpowered beings as per the comics.

Where do we go from here?

Unlike Age of Ultron, this was mostly about closing off Cap's story for the most part and setting up Spider-Man and Black Panther (and notice how his film doesn't have to be an origin story either now).  Vision mentions his jewel so that's still bubbling under but unlike AoU with Thor's bath et al, there's nothing especially new added to those storylines.  Looking at the slate it looks like stand alone films will alternate with films setting up the Infinity War, notably Guardians and Thor (although not really since Strange, Spidey and Panther are sure to participate).  It's interesting that The Inhumans has been postponed.  My guess is there's some hedge betting going on for post Avengers 3.2.  Any of these projects could be failures and the backlash could start against these films.  The box office on Civil War is going to be very interesting to watch.

"If you read me, we're going to attempt time travel."

Art The biannual press conference announcing the content of the Liverpool Biennial was held yesterday but I couldn't attend due to a work commitment in Manchester and a talk at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art about contemporary Hong Kong artwork inspired by the umbrella revolution.

They were good enough to send me a length press release which I've skimmed so as not to have too much of an idea of what to expect until it begins in July so here's the brilliant Vanessa Wheeler at The Double Negative with an excellent survey of what's to come:
"This Biennial will be based on the theme of Time Travel and be split into six episodes: Ancient Greece, Chinatown, Children, Monuments of the Future, Flashback, and Software. Each episode, said festival director Sally Tallant at press conferences in Liverpool and London, is a like a fictional genre: confined within itself, but still overlapping with other works to create a mesh of cross-disciplinary art in locations throughout the city. Visitors to the biannual 14-week festival can look forward to a wide-ranging and sometimes bizarre mix of ancient and futuristic sculpture, performance art inspired by medical marvels, a look into the art of smuggling, and an abundance of fantastic fringe events."
Which all sounds a bit more coherent and interesting than the last Biennial which I think you probably detected at the time I was rather disappointed with.  This edition feels more spread out and within the city in a similar way to Biennials of old when there was an excitement to discovering exhibitions and public art works in unusual spaces.

Soup Safari #64:
Thai Chicken Soup at British Home Stores.

Late Lunch. £3.95. British Home Stores, Manchester Arndale Shopping Centre, 57 Market St, Manchester M1 1WN. Phone: 0161 834 1151. Website.

The Truth.

Life Usually the route of my walk to work just bypasses St George's Hall, but I made a special detour so that I could walk across the plateau on this historic day for the city. As you will have seen from the television pictures, ninety-six lanterns have been placed at the bottom of the steps, each representing someone who died at the Hillsborough disaster. As passed by, a cherry picker was replacing banners hung from the top of the columns at the front of the building, which this morning simply listed the names of the victims, yes, the victims, and now have those important words, "truth" and "justice".

A big screen has also been erected, tuned to the BBC, because the rival news channel covering the event would beyond the pale in a moment like this.  Ben Brown, outside the court in Warrington read the names of those victims with their revised times of death, far longer than the 3:15 cut-off arbitrarily applied at the first inquest.  I noticed someone weeping, but otherwise an eerie calm, except for the traffic on St John's Lane and the tramping shoes of the media rushing to the scene, perhaps to ready correspondents for the lunchtime news.

But this isn't the end, these things don't end.  Those people will never return.  Their families who've suffered further through media and political smears, the cover-ups of officials, the fight to be heard, to have this inquest and its verdict will have taken its toll.  It arguably killed someone of them, the tragedy compounded by those who've died since, because it's taken so long, no knowing that the battle wasn't in vain, that vindication would come.  Now it has.

* * * * *

Back in 2012 when the Hillsborough report was published I wrote the following and since it covers most of my other feelings it seems appropriate to repeat it here. I hope you don't mind:

Originally posted: Wednesday, September 12, 2012

I wasn’t at Hillsborough. I was still something of a football fan so was watching on television. Even though I was in my early teens, my memory of the day is sketchy. I remember watching the disaster unfold in the famous footage which has reappeared on news reports in the intervening years including those related to today’s release of documents. I remember listening to the local radio stations which were the main source of news as the day went on, their schedules dumped in favour of poignant music and public service statements. I remember crying through the memorial service at the cathedral which was also broadcast live.

It wasn’t until I reached university that I realised the inaccurate perception of the disaster held amongst some people outside of Liverpool. It was in my first year, in halls, 1994. A group of us were in the room of a friend from the Birmingham area at around the time of that year’s fifth anniversary in April. I think I’d noticed that he’d bought The Sun and commented on Liverpool’s decade long boycott of the paper, how some newsagents refused to stock it or at least put it on display because of that notorious headline and the lies ironically hidden beneath. There were few chairs in the room, I remember. I was sitting on the floor, him on a computer chair.

“The Sun’s report was accurate,” he said to just the wrong person to say it to on just the wrong day. “I know it was because I know people who were there and they saw it happen.” I was too shocked to be angry, but a couple of decades later I can still remember the feeling of not knowing quite what to say. It’s worth noting this wasn’t some friendship breaking conversation. I knew he was an ignorant person from other things he’d said previously, things he’d done. But he was part of the group and so he was a friend. Sometimes “friend” can have many meanings. Nevertheless, I was surprised that he could be of this opinion.

Of course I tried to give the opposing argument, of course I did. Under questioning, I think it was the case the people he knew who were there turned out to be friends of friends of friends, not a direct conversation so indeed he had no proof in what he said. But he was vociferous in that way he could be, parroting out the allegations from The Sun’s original story to the point that it could only be that the source of his belief was the paper’s report passed along from ear to ear until it became “The Truth” in the minds of the people hearing and speaking about it. I understood then just how widely this version of “The Truth” was believed.

Watching the Prime Minister’s statement on the report and subsequent apology in parliament about an hour ago, I wondered if my friend was also watching. As David Cameron offered the shocking synopsis of the report’s findings and how little truth there was in The Sun’s story I wondered if my friend and all of the people like him would finally face up to the fact that everything they thought was wrong. I wondered if they understood the hurt those beliefs caused and that in perpetuating them, they increased the hurt of the families and the people of Liverpool. I’m also pleased that the actual truth can now be understood.

My Favourite Film of 1949.

Film James Cooray Smith has been kind enough to write a guest post about my favourite film of 1949:

The Third Viewing

The first time I saw The Third Man was on television, and the very ending shocked me. When she walks past him on the path out of the graveyard. Because films didn’t end like that. Or at least the films seen by my pre-teen self on weekend afternoons didn’t.

The second time I saw The Third Man was at the cinema, and the very beginning shocked me. When a voice gives you an idea of what to expect. Because the BFI, bless them, showed both versions of the opening narration, both the one for the US market, voiced by Joseph Cotten in character as Holly Martins, and the odder, more omniscient one read by director Carol Reed, that played in the rest of the world.

I had never quite realised, despite attempts by Alex Cox in his Moviedrome introductions to educate me as to this point, that films, even big films, can and usually do have a textual history, like editions of a book do and that in film as in print, no text is purely correct, or indeed correct or pure.

The third time I saw The Third Man, I wrote an undergraduate essay about it. I don’t remember what I wrote. I remember I got what we’d all then self-flatteringly call a ‘High 2:1’. I no longer have a copy, and no one to ask for one, or about it’s content, because the tutor for whom I wrote it, the wonderful Michael Mason, has sadly gone on to the large SCR in the sky.

What might I have written about? The manufactured controversy over whether Welles’ directed any of it? (He didn’t.) Or the more interesting one over whether Graham Greene’s prose narrative of his script, written in preparation for writing the latter, but revised after the film was made, counts as a novelisation or not? (I think it does.) It might have been about whether it’s a British or American film. (It’s the former, by any sensible criteria, despite the AFI’s claims to contrary.) I may have dealt with its status as perhaps the first big feature film to be able to treat the Cold War as ongoing and contemporary.

I could have written about Welles’ dialogue on the wheel, and whether the inaccuracy of its claims (the Swiss did not invent the Cookoo clock, which is German and at the time of the Borgias had a vast and feared European army) are the unintended results of improvisation or a deliberate characterisation. Lime is, after all, a con man, and like his name, corrosive or preservative, depending on how you treat him.

Perhaps I bound them all together and wondered whether Greene or Welles or Carol Reed was the film’s “author”. Probably not. I’ve never had much time for auteur theory, but I honestly can’t remember.

But that’s the thing, isn’t it? There are so many things to say about The Third Man, on a third or a thirtieth viewing. A magnificent, haunting work of art achieved, like all truly great cinema, through collaboration and accident, improvisation and alchemy rather than a single concrete ‘vision’. It’s also a film that casts a long shadow (yes, I know what I did there), with its radio adaptations and spin offs (with Orson Welles!) and television series sequel (without Orson Welles) and how it is endlessly parodied, borrowed from and copied.

Forty years after The Third Man was shot, its sound editor, John Glen, went back to that square, with its wheel still in situ, to shoot a peculiarly straight sort of homage to that scene, in his capacity as the director of The Living Daylights, the last James Bond film to be set in the Cold War, and perhaps the last big feature film to be able to treat that war as ongoing and contemporary.

I never got to know Vienna, the old Vienna of the Cold War, I didn’t go there until this century, to visit my sister who was working as a translator. It was the 22nd of March 2004 and I was walking back to her flat, I think I’d been sent out to buy food, and I was mostly looking down at my phone as I walked. It had been announced that Christopher Eccleston was to play the new Doctor Who, and I was mostly exchanging texts with friends about what an extraordinary piece of casting this was. I was going down some steps, and I slightly stumbled. I looked up to correct my course and there it was. The square. The one in which Welles disappears down a manhole during the film’s. The circular advertising hoarding was still there. It was absolutely unmistakeable, at least partially because I’d accidentally more or less created Reed’s camera angle on that moment with my stumbling entrance to the square. I gasped.

Alchemy, chemistry, accident. Perfect moment. Life imitating art.