Tag Archives: children’s movies

Sing: Of Hope and Optimism

Related image

Borg.com is a really good blog to follow, readers. They keep track of all the latest news on comics, films, and television shows on this site. It was through them that I found The Librarians and Star Wars Rebels. They post trailers for upcoming movies and can be relied upon for detailed information on most of the big franchises we see everywhere today. It was through them that I learned about Sing, the animated film from the same company which gave us Despicable Me one through three.

Illumination Entertainment hit the big time with Despicable Me for most people. They followed it up with The Secret Life of Pets and Sing, as well as some other films I probably do not know about.

I have seen The Secret Life of Pets. It is long on laughs and short on story. However, Sing had a totally different effect on me. There are plenty of laughs in this film, but there is also a story to chew on here. Secret Life of Pets really was not anything to write home about, unfortunately; it was cute, but not great.

Sing was good. It is not up there with Despicable Me and its sequels, but it is above Secret Life of Pets and leagues above Disney’s Zootopia, a film that was long on amazing animation and had just a drop of story in it. That film was a flash in the pan, sadly.

Image result for zootopia

Anyway, Sing takes place in a world full of anthropomorphic, talking animals, much like Zootopia. Specifically, it takes place somewhere in California, in a city that is like a mash-up of L.A. and San Fran, according to the movie’s creators. The lead character is a koala named Buster Moon, who owns a dilapidated stage theater. Buster fell in love with the stage and the showmanship required to run it when he was six. His father worked for thirty years to earn the money for Buster to buy the theater after this.

But things have not been going so well for Buster. None of the shows he has tried to produce have been a hit with the general populace, tickets have not been selling, and the bank is calling to tell him to settle his accounts or they will take the theater.

Desperate to save his theater, Buster hits upon the idea of holding a singing competition. He barely has enough money and “goods” for a prize for the winner, but he goes ahead with this plan anyway. The one kink in the arrangement is that his secretary has an accident and the flyers advertising his competition subsequently say the grand prize is $100,000 dollars, not $1,000.

Well, this brings everybody and his brother to audition for the competition. Buster picks out a motley crew from this crowd: Johnny, the son of a thief; Rosita, a stay-at-home mom of twenty-five piglets; Gunter, a European pig who is an enthusiastic singer and dancer; Mike, a street musician with slick paws; Ash, a porcupine rock star wannabe, and Meena, an elephant with a great voice who is too shy to sing in public.

Well, by and by, Buster finds out about his secretary’s mistake. But he still moves ahead with the competition, asking a famous former star of his theater’s golden days to sponsor the concert’s prize. But things go down the drain when Mike’s attempt to cheat mobster bears backfires in his face. The theater is destroyed and Buster briefly goes into an emotional tailspin as a result.

Now I will not spoil the ending for you, readers. But one of the things that I keep running across is a description of Buster by those who have seen Sing. They keep calling him “optimistic.”

Image result for sing film

Normally, I do not take issue with this word. Optimistic, to me, generally just means looking for the silver lining in a situation you really wish you were not in. Nothing wrong with that; with very few exceptions, we can all find a little grace in undesirable circumstances. It could be in a ray of sunshine that slips across our faces at the right moment, a call from an old friend we have not heard from in a while, or good entertainment that lifts our spirits. There is nothing wrong with that at all.

No, my problem is when people use false optimism in place of the genuine theological – and therefore real – virtue of hope. This is actually Buster’s problem throughout most of the film. He is an optimistic little fella, sure. But he relies on an optimism founded on his self-belief as though it is hope. These two things are miles apart.

Optimism will give you a reason to smile when life hits you hard, and if it is founded in hope, then you are in good straits. But optimism founded on a belief in yourself and your own powers will not – cannot – keep you going. Buster is ready to quit after his theater is destroyed. His optimism, his belief in his ability to save his property, fails after the theater’s collapse. The negative press he receives after this only deepens his depression. He has no more hope after he loses what he was trying to save.

In contrast, none of Buster’s singing competitors are truly hopeful or even optimistic. They all have very good reasons not to be. Johnny’s father is a criminal who lands up in jail when his son does not show up with the getaway car in time. His dad practically disowns him after this. Rosita is a mom of twenty-five who thinks she has lost her ability to perform, if not her ability to sing, while Ash’s boyfriend dumps her and invites another girl into their shared apartment. That is one surefire way to kill optimism, I can tell you!

Mike is a con artist who wants a big score which will get him off the streets. He is in the competition, as he is in life, to win what he thinks is ultimate happiness – the perfect materialistic life. He repeatedly mocks the others, especially Rosita and Meena, who has no optimism because she believes her stage fright will make her look foolish in front of everyone. After the theater is destroyed and their dreams appear to disintegrate with it, none of the competition’s cast is optimistic.

Related image

Even Gunter does not have optimism. You might think that is silly for me to say, once you see him; the guy almost never has a frown on his face. He is harder to put down than Buster.

And that, readers, is the point of the matter. Gunter does not have a misplaced optimism founded on himself and his abilities. What he has is hope. Hope is a fragile little virtue we treat like a penny. It is an easy word to bandy about but it has a meaning far deeper and richer than its four letters, just as a penny is worth more than its size would suggest. Hope is anticipation of something; the longing for some good and the trust that you will receive what you desire as long as you stay the course.

Buster goes through the movie thinking that he alone can save his theater. And when his last ditch scheme unravels, destroying his prized theater in the process, his optimism is shattered. He put his faith not in Someone else, not in his friends, not in the performers he gave hope to, but in himself. And let’s face it, readers; we disappoint ourselves more often than not. We are not all-perfect or all-powerful. Too many of us think we are, alas, but the fact is that none of us are God.

Now, this trust in his own powers does not make Buster a bad guy. The proof of this is that, although he sets up the competition and competitors in order to serve his own purposes, Buster gives most of his singers what they have lacked up to this point. He has given them hope by recognizing their talents and giving them a chance to show them off.

This is proved when his cast of performers – minus Mike – comes knocking on Buster’s door to try and encourage him to put the show on somewhere else. To Buster, the competition was meant to save his theater. It was not about his reputation or the money; he just wanted to keep that old theater alive in a world that had lost its taste for the art of the stage.

Image result for sing film characters

To Johnny, however, the competition meant a chance to do what he has always enjoyed. It was a chance to be who he wanted to be, not who his father and the other members of his gang assumed he wanted to be. For Rosita, the competition was a chance to prove that she had not lost her touch; that she could still dance and sing, and thereby impress the people who took her for granted.

For Ash, the competition meant achieving her dream of becoming a rock star. Gunter’s dream of performing live and hamming up his enjoyment of singing and dancing could finally come true on this stage. And all Meena wanted was to get over her shyness so she could finally sing without fear.

Buster did not see any of that because he was too focused on what he wanted. That was not an evil thing, just a selfish mistake he made out of pure stubbornness. It is only when he happens to overhear Meena singing where no one can see her that Buster gains perspective. Hearing Meena sing, he realizes that she really does have talent. He remembers all the other singers and realizes that they do, in fact, have talent as well. He comes to understand that they deserve a chance to perform, and that he has a duty as a showman to see to it that they get that chance.

Meena’s singing is what gives Buster hope. His optimism is replaced with genuine hope as he remembers that he did not want the theater simply for the theater. He wanted it because of his desire to be a showman; to be the talent scout who would bring scenes of “wonder and magic” to an audience, just as he had been given a sense of “wonder and magic” by the performances at the theater when he was a child.

And let me tell you, Buster delivers on this by the end of the film. Not only does he deliver, but he even gets what he wanted in the end; to be the manager of the theater his father helped him buy. By helping his friends achieve their dreams, Buster regains his theater along with his love of showmanship.

Sing is a good story for this reason. It is a story about real hope, not false optimism. It also reminds us that “wonder and magic” are important to daily life; Sing urges the audience to keep practicing the arts we love that brighten the world and give people hope. For without a sense of the “wonder and magic” of the world, we quickly come to see everything through either Buster’s or Mike’s filtered lens. We either fall for false hope masked as “optimism,” which claims we can get whatever we want through our own power, or we chase after a phantom “perfect happiness” in this world. The latter will never be found in this universe of space and time, and the former only leads to misery.   I will take hope and wonder over these two things any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Well, readers, this is my opinion of Illumination Entertainment’s Sing. But you do not need to take my word on how good this film is. Borrow or buy it and watch it yourself. And do not forget to Sing whenever you feel like it!

Advertisements

Book Review: The Rescuers by Margery Sharp

Hello again, readers! This post is about a book by Miss Margery Sharp called The Rescuers. Now, any of you who are remotely familiar with Disney films will probably recognize the title. Disney made two movies featuring the famous Rescuing mice Miss Bianca and Bernard: The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under. (The latter was my favorite of the two.)

These animated features were based on Margery Sharp’s books. But beyond the Prisoners’ Aid Society, Bernard, and Miss Bianca, there is not much that the books and the films have in common.

In the films, Miss Bianca and Bernard both work for the Prisoners’ Aid Society from the get-go. In the books, this is not so. Bernard certainly is part of the Prisoners’ Aid Society at the start of the novel. He even has a medal for “Gallantry in the Face of Cats”!

But in the books, Miss Bianca is the pet of the Ambassador’s son. She lives in a cage, inside a Porcelain Pagoda, and is waited on hand and paw. And she has no fear of cats!!!

Now, the premise of the book The Rescuers is this: the Madam Chairwoman of the Prisoners’ Aid Society branch in (presumably) England has heard about a certain political prisoner being held in a terrible, horrible place called the Black Castle. This particular prison is infamous even among mice. The assembled mice all shiver and shudder at the very name of it. Only one mouse ever got in and out of the Black Castle, and he is now a very old fellow well out of his prime.

This particular political prisoner is Norwegian, and he is a poet. All this sounds very sad to the mice, until Madam Chairwoman drops a bombshell on them. She does not want to send someone to the Black Castle to be the Norwegian poet’s companion and comfort in his suffering. No, she wants to send at least two mice to the Castle to rescue him!! And what is more, she wants the help of the pampered Miss Bianca in this venture!

This leaves many heads awhirl with confusion, anger, resentment, and astonishment. No one has ever escaped the Black Castle. It is a bare, black building built into a bare, black mountain. It is seated on bare, desert moor country, and the track leading to the front gate is littered with the bones of prisoners who died on their forced march to the Castle.

But the most startling thing is the Madam Chairwoman’s choice of Miss Bianca to help accomplish the rescue. Miss Bianca is rumored to be an idle mouse, having lived her whole life in luxury. Does she have the courage to do something so daring?

Madam Chairwoman only wants Miss Bianca’s help in finding and securing the aid of a Norwegian mouse for the rescue. After all, the prisoner she wants to free is Norwegian, and it is not likely that he will understand English. They need someone who will be able to speak to him in his native language. (Mice have a universal tongue which they all understand, and naturally speak the language of whichever country they were born and raised in, so they have no problem communicating with each other.)

Well, Madam Chairwoman selects Bernard to ask or even bully Miss Bianca into helping them. Since the Ambassador is headed to Norway with his family, and since Miss Bianca goes wherever the Boy goes, she will be perfectly capable of finding a Norwegian mouse to assist in the rescue.

Well, Bernard makes his way up to the Boy’s room and finds that the rumors are at least partly true: Miss Bianca has been raised in the lap of luxury and therefore has no practical experience in the outside world. But the rumors never mentioned her beauty, which strikes Bernard to the heart. From the moment he sees her, he is madly in love with her. His love and courage are what inspire Miss Bianca to agree, hesitantly, to the plan. And from there the adventure really begins!

This is all that I am going to spoil of The Rescuers, readers. It is a very good little adventure story, and I was glad to read it. I do not think it will usurp the place in my heart where The Rescuers Down Under resides, though. But I am glad to know where Disney’s Miss Bianca and Bernard came from. After all, without Margery Sharp’s stories, there would be no movies!

If you can grab a copy of this book, I highly recommend it. It is well written and fun, especially for children, its target audience. It is certainly worth checking out of the library, anyway!

Adieu!

The Mithril Guardian

Captain America: Civil War – Clint Barton/Hawkeye

As anyone who has followed this blog knows, I am a huge Hawkeye fan. In the comics, the cartoons, and the movies, I always look forward to seeing him. Captain America/Steve Rogers is also one of my favorite characters, something I have said before as well.

So to FINALLY have my two favorite characters in a Captain America film is UNBELIEVABLY GREAT!!!!!!!!!! 😀 What makes it even better is that Renner and the Russos at last deliver a truly vintage Hawkeye performance. Clint’s snappy patter, skills, and determination are all taken directly from the comics in this movie.

Clint’s part in Civil War is far more limited than I was hoping for. Now, I am not looking a gift horse in the mouth here, people! I am thrilled he got to show up in the movie at all! It is just that my enjoyment factor would have been higher if he had been in the movie longer.

But, yeah, you probably noticed that by now.

Anyway, on to the film! Some people are saying that Clint’s main reason for joining Team Cap was the debt he owes Wanda. Because her brother saved his life, he feels he is indebted to her. He also basically inaugurated her Avenging career in Sokovia, and so he is at least partly responsible for her growth into her role on the team.

True, true, and true…except for the part where these people say these are Clint’s only reasons for siding with Cap. Renner did not help much, saying before the film came out that, “Cap was the first guy who called.”

(*Author slaps forehead and growls in irritation at the general population’s inability to speak or write well.*)

No, Cap did not call Clint first. Tony did – through Natasha. She asked Hawkeye if he would sign the Accords and Clint said, essentially, “No.” Then Cap phoned a couple of days later, whereupon Clint left home, busted Wanda out of the Compound, picked up Ant-Man, and arrived in Germany within hours of the phone ringing.

What was that about Cap calling first again…? I think I missed it.

For those who say that Hawkeye was truly retired at the start of this movie, I have this to answer in response: Clint Barton, Hawkeye, hang up his bow for good? Don’t make me laugh! Being a hero is his job. And when his job needs doing, he will do it.

This is why he refuses to sign the Accords. Steve and Clint are both cut from the same cloth. Did you notice that, in Age of Ultron, Clint has two very large American flags on his property? One is hanging from the side of his house; the other is tacked up in the barn. And oh, yeah, there is a third, somewhat smaller U.S. flag pinned up over the tractor in the barn, too.

Clint seems awfully patriotic. Steve Rogers is, too, or he would not be Captain America. They both recognize the danger in the Accords, which the U.N. wants to force on them and the U.S. They both know that a government or governing body of any type is almost always run by people with agendas. And agendas are dangerous, because the people who have them often place more value on their schemes than on doing what is right.

Clint had to know that to decline signing the Accords while claiming retirement was a holding action at best. He also had to know that the location of his family’s house is now blown. Sooner or later, it will be discovered. If the writers have not had him move, he could be in serious trouble. (Which means that the writers will be in serious trouble with ME!)

If he is half as smart as I know he is, then Clint should have moved his family not long after returning to the farm at the end of Age of Ultron. He would not tell any of the other Avengers about doing this – Tony, Rhodey, Natasha, and Vision have signed the Accords. And Tony has now blabbed about the Barton family on film and video tape. What a typical, unfiltered, big mouth reaction. (*Author rolls eyes.*)

The one Avenger he might tell, if he has moved his family, is Cap. But he would only do that in private, when they were sure no one was listening. Natasha would be able to figure it out, eventually. They have worked together for years and therefore think alike on such matters. Heck, they have probably helped each other come up with contingency plans for this sort of problem!

The point here is that Hawkeye joined Cap’s team because, to borrow and paraphrase Emily VanCamp’s description of her character and Evans’, “They have similar moral compasses.” Clint and Steve both know the difference between right and wrong. When told to move by the world, they will both “plant [themselves] like a tree, look them [those who are telling them what is wrong is right] in the eye, and say, ‘No, YOU move.’”

Natasha knows this. It is why she is alive, as well as Cooper, Lila, and Nathaniel Barton’s “aunt.” She knows Clint’s claim of retirement is baloney and code for, “The U.N. can go bark at the moon. I am not signing away my freedom.” It is this certainty on the part of her two friends which leads her to question the Accords and her own decision to sign them.

This is going to sound like a fan rant, but follow me through please, readers. I loved it when Clint fired three arrows at Iron Man, only for them to get shot down. The basis for this scene is taken straight from the comics. Like many villains, Tony mistakenly believes Clint has finally missed his target…

Clint just smiles smugly and retorts, “Made you look.”

When Hawkeye shoots at you but does not hit you, then he was not aiming for you in the first place. Tony does not know him as well as he thinks he does if he had to learn that fact the hard way. Anyone who has known Clint for any period of time knows that this archer does not miss, whether he is using arrows, bullets, assorted bits of junk, or his own fists. Whatever the tool, Hawkeye’s aim is always true.

Speaking of the internecine fight at the airport, Wanda was right – Clint was pulling his punches with Natasha. He is physically bigger and stronger than she is. Their dance should not have gone the way it was heading. We all remember their duel on the Helicarrier in The Avengers. While I am sure Hawkeye was pulling his punches as best he could in that fight, the thing is that he was holding back even more in Civil War.

Black Widow was not.

It is understandable that Clint would hold back in a fight with Natasha. They are very close friends, almost as close as Steve and Bucky still are. On some level, I think Hawkeye never stopped believing in Natasha after she signed the Accords. He knew she doubted the rightness of what she had done, that she was worried she had made a mistake. He had faith that she would realize she had made the wrong choice and would reverse that decision sooner or later. In the end, he was right. And so he is glad he pulled his punches.

And that Wanda pulled Natasha’s.

Nevertheless, Clint takes Wanda’s admonition on not pulling his punches to heart for the rest of the battle. For Exhibit B to prove that he joined Team Red, White, and Blue out of loyalty to Steve and the belief that Cap was in the right, who held Panther off while Steve and Bucky ran for the quinjet?

Clint did. And while he is not as strong as Panther, Hawkeye put up a great fight. He knew he would not be able to beat T’Challa, or even stalemate him. Not for long, at least. But he was going to go down fighting – hence: “I don’t think we’ve been introduced. I’m Clint.”

The new King of Wakanda is not in the mood for witty banter, let alone name-trading, as he demonstrates with his pithy, angry, “I don’t care!” Clint knows that. But if he cannot get his digs in one way, he will do so by other means. T’Challa can be stronger than Clint all he wants, but he will never outdo the archer in the gallows humor department. Hawkeye will see to that!

To backtrack a bit, our first look at Hawkeye in the film is when he goes to pick up Wanda from the Avengers’ Compound. Wanda senses someone enter the room and, preparing for the possibility that the intruder means her harm, uses her power to grab a butcher knife from the kitchen counter and throw it at the potential cat-burglar.

She must have figured out who her “intruder” was before she hit him, because she stops the blade in the nick of time. Hawkeye stares at the knife as it hovers just in front of his forehead, briefly surprised. Then he smiles faintly. “Guess I should’ve knocked,” he says, calmly pushing the knife away with two fingers.

Wanda lets it drop to the floor and races over to him with a gasp. “Oh, my gosh, what are you doing here?” she asks, horrified. She came that close to killing a friend, and after her inability to fully contain Crossbones’ funeral pyre/revenge plot in Lagos, this near miss is no laughing matter to her.

But Clint brushes it off, apparently unconcerned. It was his fault, as he admitted. Someone sneaking into the room after an explosion draws out the Vision – what was Wanda supposed to think? She was prepared, which was a good thing. If it had not been him, she would have needed to defend herself. As it is, he is still breathing and in one piece, so no harm, no foul. Leaving a temporary Vision-catcher set up to keep the android out of their hair, he grabs Wanda and tries to bolt.

That is when Vision returns. Using his wit and fast mouth, Hawkeye waits until Vision is stuck in the electrical field generated by the arrows he planted for the purpose of holding the android in place. Satisfied that the field will keep Vision trapped for the necessary time to initiate an escape, he goes to leave.

Wanda does not follow him.

This scene was fantastic because it shows Clint’s teacher side. He understood how overwhelmed Wanda was when Novi Grad began to fly, and he understands her hesitation now. Like everyone else, she does not wish to make the same mistake twice – or a worse error. But her fear is crippling her. Never one to lose confidence in himself for more than five seconds, Clint once again restores Wanda’s self-assurance in two or three sentences.

Enough time for Vision to break free of his trap and make a fight out of what otherwise would have been a relatively easy extraction.

This following scene probably harkens back to the original comics from the early sixties, where Hawkeye and Vision had a “debate” over who held Wanda’s affections. However, in Civil War, though the fight is again over the Scarlet Witch, Clint has no romantic inclinations toward her at all. His attachment to her here is entirely different.

She is a kid he convinced to be a heroine, and she is being held under house arrest because she did her best and people died anyway. She did what she could to save as many people as she could, and the media have been tearing her to pieces ever since. She does not deserve that treatment, but the political hacks and media harpies are quite happy to ignore her youth and inexperience so they can further their agendas.

Clint, however, will not ignore these factors. He knows her. He cares about her. In some way, she has to make him think of his own daughter. If it was Lila in Wanda’s situation, Clint would want someone to watch out for her and take care of her. Wanda has no family anymore, and since the rest of the Avengers have either acquiesced to her imprisonment or are not able to get her out themselves, he will stand up for her because they cannot or will not.

Vision, who seems to be as smitten with Wanda in the films as he was in the comics, wants to protect her. Lulled by false rationalism and logic, Vision has decided that he and Wanda are too dangerous to be liked or understood by the public. But in keeping her “housebound,” Vision is not helping Wanda. He is only aiding in the crippling of her belief in herself. He cannot, however, see that…

But Clint can. When Vision breaks out of the trap, Hawkeye knows the android will not let Wanda go without a fight. And while he is not a super genius, it does not take a 190 point IQ (or whatever Tony has), to know that Vision far surpasses him in strength and power. There is no way any of the Avengers, other than Wanda and perhaps Thor or the Hulk, could hope to at least hold their own with the Vision.

So Hawkeye does not put all his chips on beating Vision. He knows he cannot do that. He also knows that Wanda is aware she is being imprisoned, does not like it in the least, and that she wants to help Cap as much as he does. So he fights and, as he knew, is put out of action by Vision. But so what if he cannot beat Vision?

Wanda can.

And she does, showing that Clint’s faith in her is not misplaced. Though they both like Vision and consider him a friend, the stakes are too high to waste time talking. Even if they had the time, Vision will not be swayed easily. So Wanda throws him down a hole to cool off…

Clint takes a moment to look down it, too, probably thinking, Boy, am I glad that’s not ME down there. But if Wanda wanted to defeat or incapacitate him, this is not the way she would do it. (The butcher knife would be more effective and less tiring.) And he knows it. Wanda’s demonstration of her abilities in that moment would have scared most people out of their skins –

It did not scare Clint because he does not see just her powers. He sees Wanda Maximoff, a sweet young girl working at learning how, when, and where to do the right thing with her amazing abilities. She will make mistakes as she learns, just like everybody else, but he has nothing to fear from her. He knows that.

And now, she knows it, too. This crisis of self-assurance over with, wrapped up, and taken care of, Clint tells her they need to make a pick up on the way to meet Steve. This leads us to the meeting in the parking garage outside the German airport, where Clint tells Cap he is “doing [him] a favor” and that he “owe[s] a debt.”

This is where people – including me – got a little confused. Remember when I said there was no way Hawkeye would hang up his bow for good? He loves his family more than words can say, but he still has a job to do out there. As he said when Vision returned from investigating his distraction, he “retired” for “like, five minutes” and the world went to hell in a hand basket. Message received: retirement is not going to work for him.

Some will say this is overconfidence or hubris, and while it carries a bit of the former, Clint told Wanda in Sokovia that saving the world was his job. Hawkeye is a fighter; he always has been. Like Steve, he has been standing up to bullies his whole life. In the original comics, those bullies usually held an authority position over him while he was growing up.

We do not know as much of his MCU back story as I wish we did, but it would not surprise this author if it was very similar to his “mainstream” universe history. Because, in the MCU, as in the original Marvel “mainstream” universe, Clint has no more patience for tyrants – big or small – than Steve Rogers does.

So even when he is happily married and playing with his children, Clint’s hands will occasionally itch to be holding a bow and an arrow, sighting an enemy and taking him down. Targets are great, but they are for practice. Hawkeye’s skills are not meant for the target range alone. He has to be out, just like Steve, actively making a difference. He is not made to sit on his hands. He has to be doing his job, at least some of the time.

He is lucky Laura understands that and supports him when he does it; Pepper should spend some time with her. Maybe then she will stay with Tony instead of marching off in a huff because he is still making suits and Avenging.

This is why Clint says Cap is doing him a favor. A year out of action is long enough for his hands to start getting very itchy for a good fight.

As for the debt, that goes without saying. Hawkeye is indebted to the Scarlet Witch for her brother’s sacrifice, and he is a man who pays his debts. The weight of that obligation is equally balanced, however, by his respect for Wanda and Steve, as well as the knowledge that tyranny is rearing its ugly head again. Despotism casts a long shadow, and Clint does not want that touching the lives of his wife and children. If he was unworried about it, he would not be living off the grid as he is.

Now we go to the last time we see the World’s Greatest Marksman in Civil War. When Tony goes to get information from Falcon in the Raft, Clint is the first one to “greet” the great “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.” Hawkeye is one of those “guys with none of that” who Steve once said were “worth ten of [Tony].”

Clint did not receive the codename Hawkeye simply for his keen eyesight and unerring accuracy. The man sees with his head and his heart as well as with his eyes. Although he may not always possess the vocabulary to express what he knows, the fact is that he knows this: “There’s right and there’s wrong. You gotta do one or the other. You do the one, and you’re living. You do the other, and you may be walking around, but you’re as dead as a beaver hat.” (John Wayne in The Alamo.)

One can accuse Hawkeye of many things, but being “dead as a beaver hat” is not one of them.

Tony tries to wriggle out of the lecture, but Clint will not let him. His own imprisonment, and that of Scott and Sam, is bad enough. They are fighting the good fight and the government, angry that they have remained out of their control for so long, has thrown them in jail ‘til they either sing “Kumbaya” or rot. Fine. That bites, but it was to be expected, and Clint can take a beating when he has to without giving in to his captors.

No, the worst thing about his imprisonment, the part which stings most, is that Wanda is not imprisoned with the men. His family is safe. He made sure of that before he left, I would think, probably guessing that Tony would open his big mouth and mention them when they met face-to-face at last.

But since the fracas at the airport, Clint and the others have no idea where Wanda is or what has happened to her. She is not imprisoned on their level; she is a girl and they are all guys.

That, however, is only half of the equation. The other half is that Wanda is the single enhanced member of Steve’s team besides Cap and Bucky. Ross, the guards at the Raft, and their collective bosses in the U.N., are all terrified of her power. They see her abilities. They do not see the person who uses them.

Steve does, Clint does, and Sam does. Doubtless, Bucky can see past her powers to the girl wielding them. Even Scott Lang sees her as a person. Remember when he is geeking out over meeting Cap? He turns to Wanda after a few seconds, points at Steve, and says, “Wow, Captain America… I know you, too. You’re great!”

No one on Team Cap sees a dangerous weapon when they look at Wanda. Tony, however, needs his eyes checked.

If you add this fear of Clint’s to Tony’s betrayal of the Avengers’ agreed upon leader (Cap), and the fact that he has been incarcerated as a criminal for doing his job, you have a recipe for a big bowl of righteous fury. Clint is quite happy to throw the whole soup of his displeasure in Tony’s face. Cap was right: Tony tore the Avengers apart when he signed the Accords. He has betrayed himself, Steve, Clint, Sam, Vision, Rhodey, Natasha, and – worst of all – Wanda.

The betrayal of Wanda is the worst because, of the Avengers, she is the weakest. Not physically or in terms of power quotients. No, Wanda is weak because she is inexperienced and needs guidance from people she can trust, people who care about her and will protect her. She is a child who needs teaching and attention – not house-arrest, fear, and jeers.

Tony called her a “Walking Weapon of Mass Destruction.” He held her under house arrest in the Compound. Now, the government has taken her and locked her up, adding a straight jacket for extra insurance. (I hear it is not impossible for people to get out of those things. The fact that Wanda did not free herself says a lot about her – and a lot about the people who put it on her in the first place.)

Tony has the good sense to be ashamed for the first half of Clint’s reprimand. Clint knows it will not last, and he makes sure to give Tony both barrels as fast as possible, reloading just as quickly. Tony does not like it, further endangering his friendship with Clint by throwing the matter of his family in the other man’s face and asking why he did not sign the Accords for their sake. The mention of his family in a bugged and camera-filled cell, when they are a secret he revealed to Tony with the utmost confidence as a close friend, makes Clint really mad.

Still, despite it all, there is evidence to support the fact that Clint is not willing to abandon Tony to his mistakes. He warns Tony to “watch his back” with Ross, since the Secretary of State, “might just break it!”

Clint’s warning, following on the heels of Natasha’s similar angry remonstrance at the Avengers’ Compound, has some effect on Tony. He does not tell Ross what Sam confides in him. Later, when Steve goes to break their mutual friends out of the Raft, Tony does nothing to help Ross. He puts the other man on hold, as he had promised.

So Clint is mad at Tony – and he is right to be angry at him. But he has not given up on him, just as Cap has not. That says volumes right there.

While the final scene where we see Steve stepping out of the shadows as Sam smiles at him is charming and applause-worthy, I kind of wish we could have seen Clint and the others’ reactions to Steve’s arrival as well. I love picturing the four trading quips as Steve unlocks the cell doors, then going down (or up) to the level where Wanda is being held so they can break her out. Alas, it can only be imagined. Unless Marvel makes a comic book about their escape, we have no other recourse.

Most likely, Clint will not stay in Wakanda as an ex-patriot. Neither, I think, will Steve. The two will perhaps make trips to visit the country so that they can keep tabs on Bucky’s progress or walk about more freely, but neither of them could stand to be away from the U.S. for very long. And Clint still has a family to take care of, so he would have more reason to go back than anyone else but Scott Lang.

No, I think Clint will return to his family, as Scott will go back to San Francisco to be with Cassie. Steve, Sam, and Wanda may stay in Wakanda for a little while longer, but they will return to U.S. soil as well. Wakanda is a nice country, but America – that is home. And there is no place like home.

The three can easily go off the grid together and visit Clint from time to time when they come back. Because Natasha disobeyed the Accords, there is a chance that she will hook up with them, or that they will find and “recruit” her. From now on, Team Cap will be the “Secret Avengers.” They will do their job without the “oversight” which Tony, Rhodey, and Vision must put up with. This will give them ample time to get stronger and more prepared for Infinity War, Part 1 & 2.

It will also give Tony time to reevaluate his choices, allow Vision a chance to do more calculations, and who knows? Perhaps Rhodey will wake up to reality by the next Avengers’ film.

We can but hope. Until then –

Let’s do this, Secret Avengers!

The Mithril Guardian

Captain America: Civil War – Tony Stark/Iron Man

Iron Man

I once said that Tony Stark/Iron Man was one of the most beaten and maltreated comic book characters of the current era. It does not appear to be a wrong assessment. Captain America: Civil War showed just how far the mighty had fallen, though the comics blazed the trail long ago.

Once, Tony Stark was a self-contained, reasonable, calm character. Even when he was angry, he did not fly off the handle for more than five minutes – at most. Debonair, dashing, and as chivalrous as any knight of the Round Table, you could not catch Tony Stark or Iron Man being rude just for the sake of doing it. In fact, even when someone deserved an impolite comment, he did not deliver it. He possessed a sense of humor, certainly; the difference is that it was not nasty and/or derogatory.

But that was another era, a period when the people of United States were at least trying to maintain a just society. Once, it was understood here that using foul language in public was serious business. Now, it is the current parlance. Once, it was understood that all women were to be treated as though they were worth a million dollars. Now, they are sized up like mares at a stock fair.

Tell me again how much we have improved.

All these gadgets, computers, cures, and medical techniques are mostly useful. But does that mean we have to treat each other like trash and call it affection?

It is no such thing. But the new Tony, the modern Tony, the oh-so-up-to-date Stark, would not believe that if you showed him a thousand statistics to prove the truth of it. He would go right on as he has always done.

The thing is… he was getting there. He was improving. Then, after the Battle of New York and the Battle of Sokovia, he got scared out of years of growth. He was reduced once again to a narcissistic, petulant child. How do I know this?

He kicked Bucky Barnes when the other was already down.

You do not do that. Not even to your worst enemies, not even to the people who are the slime of the Earth, or the trash in the gutter. You never, EVER kick a man when he is down, unless he is on his way up to kill you. Bucky was not doing that.

But Tony kicked him anyway.

How the mighty have fallen. How the invincible have become so weak. Bucky had just lost his robotic arm and was down for the count. There was no reason – none whatsoever – for what Tony did. Other than that he wanted to do it. Other than the fact that he wanted to treat an abused man living with a guilt greater than he could ever bear like slime. The only reason to beat a fallen man is to feel superior to him – when, in fact, it is the other way around.

From Iron Man to Marvel’s The Avengers, Tony Stark was a changed man. His sense of humor was still nasty and derogatory, he still had issues with authority, and he still had no filter between that “big brain” and his mouth. But he was not the selfish playboy we saw at the beginning of Iron Man.

Then, in Iron Man 3, he slid back again. Oh, he did not go back to his philandering ways. Pepper had no need to “[take] out the trash” anymore. He was hardly drunk, and he did a bang up job rescuing his girlfriend. Literally, there were, like, a lot of bangs when he fought to get her back. (Yes, I am using Tony’s phraseology to make a point.)

And then he threw it all out the window in Age of Ultron. He abandoned his responsibilities because he was afraid he could not handle them anymore. And instead of being sensible about it, instead of telling his friends and seeking their collective guidance, he tried to put a Band-Aid over his fears.

The result was a digital revolutionary bent on “global extinction.” People died because of Ultron, who was Tony’s mistake. The PR war on him, which for the most part had changed to adulation over the last few years, returned in full force. Grieving people blamed him for the deaths of their loved ones, and he was seen as a monster again. Maybe, if Pepper had not gotten mad at him, he would have kept his footing better.

But he did not stop jetting off in the Iron Man armor to save the world, and so she did get mad at him. (*Author pinches the bridge of nose and sighs deeply.*) You know, Gwyneth Paltrow and Natalie Portman both lack the sense God gave to dead plants. They landed parts in a veritable gravy train, and then they decided they only wanted to ride it halfway. The others are all either signed up for several movies or are extending their contracts so they will have billions by the time they absolutely have to hang up their superhero costumes. But these ladies do not want to stick around because the films are based on comic books, and they are for kids, so how can they be art?

Did no one ever tell these women you do not, under ANY circumstances, look a gift horse in the mouth? They had the easiest gigs on the planet, which paid some of the biggest bucks in the world – and they threw it away. Not even Robert Downey Jr., who says he is getting on in years and may soon hang up his armor, has done that.

The fact is, by the time we see Tony in Civil War, he is on tenterhooks. He is carrying guilt over the fact that Ultron was his bright idea, which got 177 civilians killed, plus one Avenger. Every time he gets into a fight innocent people die, and their relations or activists of one stripe or another all want to hang him for it. They wait for him in hallways, throw pictures and stories at him, and how can he protest that he did not want their relatives to die? What he wants and what he has are two very different things.

There is a true life parallel to this. If there is a battle which involves U.S. troops and there are civilian casualties, the U.S. soldiers are almost always the ones who receive the blame. It does not matter that the guys who were shooting at them held women or children in front of their bodies as human shields; it does not matter that the enemy holed up in a hospital run by international doctors who voluntarily went into a war zone. The only thing that matters is the U.S. soldiers were there, and civilians died.

Wars are hell. People die in wars – soldiers, civilians, men, women, and children. If bullets, bombs, close combat, shells, or knives do not get them, then disease or starvation will; or bad water, or accidents. But will those within and without America who hate the U.S. ever face the fact that wars have always been like this? That it is “well war is so terrible, else we would grow too fond of it”?

No. It does not matter to the academic/journalistic crowd in the slightest because it is not part of their agenda. They hate the U.S. military, all branches of it, and they want it utterly destroyed. The truth and The Truth have no hold on them whatsoever because they have forsaken both for their insular and personal agendas. (Now you know why Cap would not sign the Accords.)

Throughout history, people living or working in war zones have risked death. In the West, nations have done their utmost, in recent years, to limit civilian casualties. Then America clashed with the Soviet Union’s proxies in Vietnam, and found that their new enemies had no such scruples. Viet Cong soldiers routinely used nearby civilians as human shields, suicide bombers, or they threw them into other monstrous war services which Americans found horrific and barbaric. But the Viet Cong, the real culprits, were never to be held liable for what they did. Instead it was the American soldiers trying to fight them, forced to shoot through innocent people by an immoral enemy, who were held responsible.

That is going on again in Iraq and Afghanistan, as merciless enemies with no regard for life use women and children to do their killing work. Or they abuse them in other ways. But once again it is the big, bad Americans who are the enemy. It is their fault all this is happening; they should never have gotten involved. Not even to save the lives of those the enemy is using as expendable tools.

In Civil War, this is what Tony is dealing with. He is dealing with the hatred of people who have either been taught to accuse him and the Avengers for their losses, or who simply want to blame someone other than the real culprits for the death of their loved ones.

Neither attitude is right. Both are lies fabricated for various reasons. The one that will be trotted out is that grieving people always want someone to blame for the death of a loved one. That is true, but only up to a point. Once rational thinking takes over, grieving people realize they are holding grudges against a person or persons who were not responsible for their loss. Wanda and Pietro learned this in Age of Ultron when they fought alongside the Avengers; Tony did not kill their parents. The person who stole and fired his missiles into their apartment did.

It is a lesson Tony forgot. Or, perhaps, he never really learned.

Yes, Tony built Ultron. But Ultron chose to do what he did. Last time I checked, Tony was two for three; JARVIS and FRIDAY both turned out to be competent and sane AIs. This means that Tony’s responsibility for Ultron’s actions only goes as far as his creation. After that, the lives lost are on Ultron’s head.

And Tony certainly had nothing to do with Loki’s invasion of New York. But do you want to bet he has been held responsible for those killed in that battle, too?

As Cap said, saving as many people as one can does not mean that everybody gets saved. This is what the talking heads will not accept. They will not accept that sometimes you do all that you can, all that is humanly possible to do, and still innocents die. Some give their all to the fight, as Quicksilver did, but that does not mean no one else dies. It does not mean there are no more injuries, that there is no more pain. “Life is pain, Highness,” Westly said in The Princess Bride, “Anyone who says otherwise is selling something.”

Yes, they are. They are selling a recipe for control, for power.

Few people these days are willing to recognize that. Some simply do not know enough to recognize it.   The heroes do the best they can, and sometimes, their best is not enough to protect everyone. Yet these people still have to blame someone else for what the real bad guy(s) did. It has to be the rescuer’s fault; it has to be the soldier’s fault. It can never be the actual culprit who is responsible.

Yikes!!

The thing is that Tony is just as infected by this philosophy as most other people are today. He blames Bucky and Bucky alone for the deaths of his parents. Under the grip of strong emotion, anyone could succumb to that temptation. If that was the only reason for Tony flying off the handle at the end of Civil War, it would be more forgivable.

But it was not. Tony never stopped thinking during that fight. I believe it is literally impossible for him to stop thinking, and in most circumstances, that is not a bad thing.

In this case, however, it was.

Bucky was a man abused until he could be programmed and controlled. The kernel of his soul which he could still call his own was banked and hidden; else the cold wind of the Russian arm of HYDRA would blow it out. He fought a war for the survival of his soul for seventy-five years. It was a war which consumed all his time; he could not fight to stop HYDRA’s programming or commands. He was one against an underground army. Those are lousy odds, physically speaking. Spiritually speaking, Bucky fought and managed to remain in control of at least part of his soul.

But it was a war which took all his time – allowing HYDRA to kill hundreds by using his hands.

As a side note, in the comics, it was hinted that Bucky did not like killing women. Just before Cap found out he was alive in the books, Bucky took Sharon Carter captive and agreed – hesitantly – when his handler told him to kill her if he had to. He did not kill her, thankfully, but he would have if she had been a danger to his mission.

This is HYDRA’s legacy. They forced Bucky to do their killing for them. A man who robs a bank commits a crime. A man who robs a bank because some coward is holding a gun to his wife’s head a mile away commits a crime on behalf of someone else. And that is worse than if the man with the gun had gone in and robbed the bank himself; he has forced another man to do what he is too afraid to do. There is no audacity in stealing from a bank, but there is even less valor when a man threatens someone else’s life unless a different man commits the crime.

Bucky was not threatened with death. He was mentally and emotionally torn apart, turned into a cold, calculating hunting dog which would obey orders – whether he liked them or not.

Tony would not admit that. I do not know why. It is understandable for him to lose himself to fury for at least half of the fight. But by a certain point he could have ended it. He could have shut down the suit and agreed to the fact that the real killer of his parents was HYDRA. He did not.

Why?

Because someone had to pay? Because Bucky did the deed? So did Natasha. The one Avenger who knows precisely what Bucky is going through, Natasha was subjected to the same programming that Bucky was. And she had it beaten into her from childhood. She had even less defense against it than Bucky did.

And what about Clint? Loki invaded his mind, turned him into an automaton, and had him kill several dozen people over the course of three days. Some of those people were fellow SHIELD agents. It is conceivable a few of them were his friends. Loki did to Hawkeye in minutes what it took HYDRA and the Red Room years to do to Bucky and Natasha.

Yes, in Tony’s case, the deaths were far more personal. And that explains his leaping anger and initial assaults. But that was no reason to continue the fight.

It was no reason to kick Barnes when he was down.

Just like Clint, the faces of those he killed while on HYDRA’s chain will always haunt him. Like Natasha, he will be doing penance for committing other people’s crimes for the rest of his life.

Yet somehow this is not good enough for Tony?

It was personal and understandable – until Tony kicked a downed man. That was not the action of a man infuriated beyond reason. That was the act of a man determined to kill.

This is why Cap attacked and would not let up on Tony. This is why he tells his friend, “I can do this all day.” He does not want to do it all day. But he will if that is the only way he can save Bucky’s life and Tony’s soul. Because of all the things Tony has flushed down the toilet, the most valuable thing he almost threw away was his soul at the end of Civil War.

Cap stopped him. He stood between Tony and the abyss, then he carried his friend back from it. He jumped into the breach, not for thanks or for a reward. He did it because Tony is his friend, a friend so determined to blame the man HYDRA made into a weapon that he was unwilling to show him the same mercy and understanding he had previously shown two others with similar histories.

Tony repaid Cap’s selfless act with bitterness and bile, babyishly claiming he did not deserve the shield which Howard Stark had made for him. So Cap left it behind, because it was not worth his friend’s soul to keep it. Tony stopped growing up in Iron Man 3, but it was in Civil War where he made his greatest regression. He humiliated himself by acting like a spoiled, angry child, averse to admit that he was wrong, and Cap was right.

He played right into Zemo’s hands, all the way around. Tony played right into Ross’ hands as well. Ross knew Tony was unprepared for the ire of brainwashed, self-absorbed, grieving people bent on blaming a hero for a criminal’s work. He banked on the belief that Tony would be willing to roll over to registration to make the pain “go away.” Zemo bet Tony would take out his vengeance on Bucky, infuriating Cap and making the super soldier determined to get revenge for his childhood friend’s injury or death.

What Zemo never could understand, however, was Captain America himself. “How nice to find a flaw,” he said when he noticed that there was green in Steve’s blue eyes. (*Author scoffs.*) As if Steve thought of himself as an angel! Cap has never thought of himself as anything but a simple kid from Brooklyn. He never said he was perfect. Others say it about him, but he knows he is not. He is a man. And men in this world are not perfect – though some of them may come awfully close.

Cap battered and fought Tony not out of anger but in an attempt to knock some sense into his friend. He had no intention whatsoever of killing the son of Howard Stark. He had every intention of protecting him from himself. So when the beatings on Tony’s helmet did not work, Cap pulled the plug on his suit. His goal was to make sure his friend did not become a murderer. He had already lost Bucky to HYDRA. He was not going to lose Tony to them, or to that demon others named Helmut Zemo.

By the end of the film, when Stan Lee arrives with a package for ‘Tony Stank,’ he seems to be working that out. Tony may lack the vocabulary to express what he is thinking about, but he is thinking. Otherwise, he would not have put Ross on hold. He would also have torn up the letter after reading it and trashed the phone.

Where Cap’s shield is, we do not know as of Civil War’s end. But without Steve Rogers to wield it, the shield is just a shiny discus hanging on a wall or lying in a box. One of these days, Tony will look at it and realize that. If he thinks deeply enough (a rare feat for him in the films), he may just figure out how close he came to throwing away his immortal soul.

And when he remembers that, when he discovers what exactly he did wrong, he will realize that there was someone “standing in the gap” for him. Not to hurt him, and certainly not to kill him. To save him, Steve fought the hardest, most grueling, worst battle of his life. He threw his soul into the rift to protect Tony’s. And he held, even when his friend churlishly berated and belittled him for it.

Everyone misreads the kid from Brooklyn. Even the stupendously brilliant Tony Stark does not ‘get’ him. Not yet, at any rate. Maybe, just maybe, he will learn what type of friend he has in Steve Rogers.

Only time – and more movies – will tell us that, though.

Excelsior!

The Mithril Guardian

Captain America: Civil War – Steve Rogers/Captain America

Kitchen

Captain America: Civil War smashed its way onto theater screens May 6, 2016, readers. A resounding first punch for Marvel’s “Phase Three” films, Civil War is a great movie, one of their best.

But people – even those who worked on the movie – seem to have a hard time understanding the character arc of the lead protagonist in this film: Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America.

This is due to the inordinate attention paid to the comic book event which was the basis, at least in part, for the film. People cannot help confusing that story with the one found in the movie. In the comic book event, all superheroes (excluding the continually persecuted X-Men) were required to reveal their secret identities to the world and register with the government – the way that gun owners in Australia were forced to register their names and their firearms in the 1990s, prior to the Australian government confiscating the guns. (How is that working out for them these days, huh?)

At the beginning of the civil war in the comics, Cap refused to register. Iron Man was initially against registration as well. But after an incident where teen heroes starring in a reality TV show engaged a villain who subsequently obliterated half a town and killed sixty school children, Iron Man did a one-eighty degree turn and chose to support registration. (One would think the incident would say more for the stupidity of most reality TV shows than it did for superhero registration, but…. *Author shrugs.*)

Subsequent to these events, a number of superheroes – mostly Avengers and other, solo heroes – refused to register, rallying under Cap’s leadership. Meanwhile, the heroes who supported Registration chose Iron Man as their leader.

This led to a brutal superhero war wherein Captain America and Iron Man’s forces clashed several times. When caught, unregistered heroes were sent to prison with the criminals they had once incarcerated, while Tony Stark actually began recruiting villains to help him bring in Cap and his forces. (This was the start of Tony’s slide into becoming a loathsome villain, completing the Marvel writers’ intent to murder his valiant character.)

The final battle which ended the comic book civil war saw Steve and Tony beat each other bloody, nigh senseless, and almost to death. Concerned EMTs – civilians – finally leapt forward and pulled an irate Captain America off of Tony, since he was about to kill him…

And this is where the movie soars in comparison to the dismal comics. I cannot see Cap becoming so bent and twisted that he would be willing to kill Tony. Cap is too good, too pure of heart, too great a guy to fall into that trap. The ending in the movie, where he instead damages Tony’s suit so the billionaire genius cannot continue to fight, is much more like him than his actions in the comic book civil war.

It was this “fighting for the sake of fighting” that made me abhor the entire Civil War event in the comics. The Marvel writers, in their desire to “update” their heroes to please the academy’s Hegelian/Nietzschean complex, mauled the characters to the point where they were unworthy to be called heroes anymore. If Marvel had wanted to end the “mainstream” universe at any point, that was probably the time to have done it and gotten away with it.

The Captain America: Civil War film does greater credit to Marvel’s characters than the comic book conflict ever did. This is most true in regard to Steve Rogers. Though the directors and the president of Marvel Studios want us to think of Steve now as an “insurgent” who is no longer a “rah-rah company man,” the thing is that, after all these years, they still do not understand how to describe him. Cap was never a “company man.” But he was, is, and always will be “rah-rah America” for as long as he and the nation exist.

You cannot get anymore “rah-rah U.S.A.” than by calling yourself Captain America while dressing in a suit that bears the colors and symbols of the United States’ flag. So, Disbelievers, remember this: Steve Rogers is still “rah-rah America” – and long may he remain so!

Steve is not responsible for the civil war between the heroes in this movie. That inglorious liability can be laid right at Tony Stark’s iron shod feet – again. What happens in Civil War is that the politicians of the world have decided they can no longer tolerate having zero control over the Avengers. Thanks to the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, they think they finally have the ammunition they need to slap leashes and handcuffs on the heroes.

Make no mistake, readers; most politicians want only one thing – power/control, and lots of it. The way to get the most power is to control one’s fellow men. There are two kinds of “absolute” power which humans can exert over each other when they are in the government: the immediate power of life and death, and the power of slavery. The immediate power of life and death I am speaking of here refers to the actions and attitudes of characters such as Thanos, the Red Skull, and Ultron. Their power is the fact that they can kill anyone and everyone who gets in their way as soon as they arrive in these monsters’ paths.

This type of “will to power” is obvious, and so people can recognize it fairly quickly and easily. This makes these villains’ attempts at world domination/destruction hard to fulfill. If it is a choice between rolling over to die and fighting ‘til one’s last breath, most people will fight until they defeat the enemy or die in their tracks. “Give me liberty, or give me death!” as Patrick Henry so rightly said.

The power of slavery, no matter the quality of the velvet glove concealing it, is also the power of life and death. But this power is implemented more subtly than the first; it “looks fair and feels foul.” (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) By using this power – Saruman’s power – the political slave masters get to decide who lives and who dies; as well as when, where, and how these people die. So long as you are useful to those who run the State, you may live, to most appearances happily and freely. But once you are no longer useful due to age or health, no matter how bright or talented, the laws and the agencies that have enacted those laws will inexorably push you to their chosen exit.

Just ask the babies aborted every year around the world, or the elderly who are starved to death when their doctors (like Mengele) deny them the basic nutrition they need, thus dying horribly. They know what slavery is. Or ask those who are said to be “brain dead,” in a coma, or a so called persistent vegetative state, “unable” to recover. In spite of the many verified accounts we have of those who have recovered from these conditions, there are still those who will “pull their plugs,” for no other reason than despots of one stripe or another do not want to be inconvenienced with their care!

J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, Orwell’s 1984, the film Soldier, and thousands of other stories repeat this warning to their audiences. You will even find this admonition in The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood if you are paying enough attention, readers!

And you cannot miss it in Captain America: Civil War.

Both these “absolute” powers I just described are faces of totalitarianism. At the head of every tyranny, you will find a small, cowardly bully. And as Cap said in The First Avenger: “I don’t like bullies. I don’t care where they’re from.”

So, in Civil War, when Ross and the U.N. try to hold the proverbial gun to Steve’s head and that of the rest of his team, telling them to get on their knees, Cap responds as he has always responded: “Not today.”

Tony, blinded by his remorse over the events in Sokovia during Age of Ultron, does not see the steel fist hidden under the velvet glove. Instead, he sees a way to assuage his guilt. He thinks it is a preventative measure when it is a dog collar synced to an electric fence. I hate to break his soap bubble, but here’s a newsflash, Tony: you are not a dog. Neither are the rest of the Avengers, nor are any other humans on the planet. A dog is a dog. A human is a human. There is no likeness whatsoever between the two species and anyone who says otherwise is selling something – typically poison.

Cap tries to explain this to him, but Tony will not listen. Why? Pain, fear, and guilt. Tony does not like carrying these around in his “man purse” (glare at Sam Wilson, not me!) on a daily basis. Remember what he told Pepper in The Avengers when Coulson showed up in their elevator? “Security breach. That’s on you [Pepper].”

Tony is used to shifting the blame. He is not accustomed to having a conscience, to having a moral sense which pricks him and reminds him of what is right and what is wrong. Up until the first Iron Man film, Tony was a playboy. That is, he was a grown man acting like an irresponsible college kid. He was playing around, living in his own little bubble, and as long as he was happy, the world was a beautiful place filled with rainbows and sunshine.

Cap does not have that problem because he grew up and “put away childish things” a long time ago. Even before his parents died, he was taking care of himself on the streets of Brooklyn. Despite being a short, scrawny, asthmatic, ninety-seven pound weakling, he essentially adhered to this motto: Sic semper tyrannis. That is the State of Virginia’s maxim, and in English it reads: “Thus always (or ever) to tyrants.”

Bullies in the schoolyard, the workplace, or in the home are all minor tyrants. Once they get into the government, they become Major Tyrants. But when these mini dictators tried to oppress Steve in order to bend him to their will, he told them to go shove it up their nose – even if they threw him in a trashcan, or beat him senseless and left him in a doorway afterward. He took care of himself the whole time he was growing up. And once he was on his own, he continued to take care of himself.

Now when I say Cap “took care of himself,” I mean that he behaved like the adult he was. He took responsibility for his actions; he lived with what he did right and with his mistakes. He made his choices and accepted their consequences, whether they were good or bad.

Tony is not used to doing that, and somewhere after The Avengers, he became even more afraid of growing up. That made him ripe pickings for Ross and the tyrants in the U.N. (Discounting King T’Chaka, who believed in the Sokovian Accords wholeheartedly. Poor guy must never have heard that, “When seconds count; the police are only minutes away.” The Avengers always beat the police to the problem – even in Nigeria.)

This is where Cap and Tony are so remarkably different. Steve still has no tolerance for bullies, wherever they come from, whatever suit they wear. Tony, on the other hand, had never been bullied because his father, his company, or he had always been the wealthiest and smartest – either with his tech or with his caustic, running mouth – man in the room. He did not know what a bully looked like until that cave in Afghanistan because he has never met one to which he was not a superior.

He never saw Loki as a bully, just as someone who was intellectually too big for his britches. He did not see Ultron as a bully; he saw him as a mistake he created and did not fix in an efficient and timely manner. And he does not see Ross, initially, as the loudmouthed bully the current Secretary of State is.

This explanation of the separate understandings of the two men who make the heart and brain of the Avengers’ team clears up everything prior to their last battle in the HYDRA base. In the case of that battle, it is started after Tony is shown footage of the Winter Soldier – a brainwashed and controlled Bucky Barnes – killing his parents.

We know from previous films that, to his masters, the Winter Soldier – whose modus operandi was “no witnesses” – was a lone wolf “fire and forget” tool that would accomplish any mission given him by the most direct and expeditious means, with the evidence of his work to be found on the world’s various obituary pages. The crash alone should have killed the Starks and allowed Bucky to retrieve HYRDA’s prize. Why, then, would HYDRA have placed cameras at the precise site on the exact deserted road to film this particular event – thus negating all the logistics reliable assassins and snipers are usually left to figure out themselves?

To do this would have meant that HYDRA knew precisely which road the Starks would choose, exactly when the Winter Soldier would strike, all the while employing a team of photographers to film this one operation.

Even for a whacked-out organization like HYDRA, that is too much disbelief to suspend. While I suppose it is plausible that HYDRA filmed all of Bucky’s missions for their records, thus initially explaining the footage, is it not more reasonable to think that Zemo manufactured the film (ala CGI) to achieve his desired effect of Tony’s rage?

This would explain the many different angles and particularly the close-ups we have of the Starks’ deaths. Those would have been added for “dramatic effect” by Zemo. It would not have been possible to get a good look at these “details” from any film if it were real – unless HYDRA dispatched an entire team of people to film the event. (While we are on this subject just where, EXACTLY, did Howard Stark get FIVE packs of a working Super Soldier Serum?!?! I thought they got rid of all the samples of Steve’s blood, the only possible source of a functioning serum!!!)

Seeing their deaths – especially the murder of his mother – presented to him in such a way sends Tony over the top. Watching them die understandably sends him into “rage mode,” closing off his reasoning and logic “circuits.” Because of this, he does not stop to calculate if HYDRA would go to such an extent to film their “ghost warrior” doing his job, and come up with the more plausible notion that Zemo manufactured the film to make him angry. Instead, he goes wild, attacking and trying to kill Bucky for a crime the other was forced to commit.

Cap prevents him from following through. In doing so, he is not just saving Bucky’s life. He is saving Tony’s soul. Whether he would ever admit it or not (and we can be fairly sure he would not), Tony went into full-on revenge mode. He was going to kill Bucky, for no other reason than to vent his feelings. Afterward, he could explain to Steve how he “had” to do it; how he “had” to get “payback” for the loss of his parents, and everything would be all hunky-dory.

That would have gone over like a lead balloon because it would have been a lie. Killing Bucky would not bring back Tony’s parents. It would not erase the evil HYDRA did to Tony through Bucky, or the wrong HYDRA did to Barnes. To be one hundred percent plain:

Killing Bucky Barnes would be murder. It would make Tony a murderer and no better than Zemo – and thus an easier pawn for Ross to manipulate as he pleased.

And Cap knew it. He also knew that Tony, carried off by his blind rage and pain, would not quit. He had to stop Tony to protect both his friends.

This is the reason why he disabled Tony’s arc reactor. Tony thought Steve was actually going to kill him, when the idea never even crossed his friend’s mind. Steve did not want to kill either of his friends, he wanted to save them both from the evil HYDRA and Zemo had done to them.

The only way to save them was to cut off the power to Tony’s suit and end the fight. So Cap did it. The suit still had enough power to allow Tony to move and walk around, but not the power to carry on a battle.

Then Tony acted truly immature, saying Steve was not worthy to carry and use the shield the senior Stark had made for him. That is a child’s behavior, which is unworthy of any adult. And some part of Tony recognized that.

If he recognized it, then Steve knew it ahead of him. That is why he left the shield behind, essentially saying with the gesture, “You want it? Here, take it. When you grow up, you can give it back. I can get along just fine without it. Because the shield doesn’t make me who I am; I make the shield what it is. When you figure that out, let me know.”

Steve is NOT renouncing the Avengers, his nation, his patriotism, his nature, his honor, or his friendship with Tony. He IS Captain America, with or without that shield. Tony – and a lot of other people, including the Russos and some of the actors in the film – have not figured that out yet. Or if they have, they have not said it for fear of losing future work in Hollywood. This is very sensible of them, considering the fact that they live and work within the confines of Looneyville, Left Coast, U.S.A.

This ending is why Captain America: Civil War is so superior to the comic book conflict of the same name, in my opinion. Cap remains Cap in this film; he never loses his moral center or compromises with the bad guys. He fights for his freedom and the freedom of his friends. Not just their physical, or bodily, freedom. He fought to save Tony’s soul, and he fought to save Bucky’s mind. And he won. Cap is the quintessential best friend. He will never abandon a buddy, even when that pal thinks he has been forsaken.

Only time and the films will show us if Tony will ever grow up to understand what Cap did for him. By the end of Civil War, it seems he is headed in that direction. After all, he did not tear up Cap’s letter. He did not break the phone. He did put Ross on hold. If Tony could see through Loki’s murderous control of Hawkeye’s arrows, as well as overlook the hundreds of people Black Widow killed while she was a Soviet agent, then he should be able to realize that Bucky was in the same boat. Barnes was just used for a longer time and to kill more people – including Tony’s parents. All three were victims that night, and the sooner Tony figures that out, the better.

Until then, Cap is going to keep doing what he has always done. Whether T’Challa gives him a new shield to use until Tony returns the original or not, Steve Rogers is going to remain Cap. And every time the forces of evil move forward to claim territory, they will find Steve standing in the way, saying, “Now just where do you think you’re going?”

And when Tony finally calls, he will barely get past the words, “Cap, I need you…” before Steve is at the door asking, “What’s the situation?”

Captain America: Civil War is NOT the end of their friendship. Their friendship is NOT broken. It is strained, but the strain is on Tony’s end, not Steve’s. The minute Tony needs him, Steve will be there, and it will be business as usual again. Because Steve has already started the process of healing the rift Tony opened in their team by sending him the letter and the phone. When it is time for the Avengers to “reassemble” for Infinity War, the team will have fewer bugs to work out with each other – all thanks to Steve Rogers.

Can the comic book Civil War claim THAT, readers?

Frankly, I do not think it can. And neither can the writers at Marvel Comics. So, Marvel writers, you had better get up off your fannies and pay attention to the guys writing the film scripts. They actually know what they are doing!

Sic semper tyrannis!

The Mithril Guardian

Spotlight: Lilo and Stitch – “I’m lost!”

Lilo and Stitch is the last Disney film that was animated in the traditional, hand-drawn manner. I saw it not long after it came out on VHS. It is one of my favorite movies, with great music and wonderful scenes of the ocean, for which I have always had a particular love.

By far, the film is most enjoyable for its protagonists. These are a human girl named Lilo, and an alien experiment she mistakenly believes is a dog. Called 626 by his maker, the experiment is given the creative name Stitch by Lilo. I sometimes wonder if the writers for the film decided to name him Stitch because he was “stitched together,” like Frankenstein’s monster. Just a thought.

In essence, Stitch is Frankenstein’s monster – just shorter and “cute and fluffy!” instead of physically intimidating. Jumba, Stitch’s alien creator, built him to destroy anything and everything he can lay his paws on. In the process, he made 626 too heavy to swim, so Stitch sinks like a rock in water of any kind.

The irony is thick when, after escaping the custody of the Galactic Alliance, Stitch crash lands on one of the Hawaiian Islands. He is surrounded by water here. And worse, his programming drives him to seek out large cities where he can wreak the most destruction. But Lilo’s island has no large cities, just a relatively large town!

Throughout the three days she spends with him, Lilo’s unfailing love for Stitch leads him to realize that destruction is not the point of life. This is hard for him to understand at first, since Jumba gave him no “higher purpose” than to wreck everything he sees.

In learning about love and life from Lilo and her older sister, Nani, Stitch comes to wonder if there might be more to his own life than tearing things apart. He starts to wonder about himself. Does he have a family? He does not remember anything other than Jumba and the lab. But then, maybe something happened to him and he forgot his family. Or they lost him and Jumba picked him up to study him.

So, the second night after his adoption by the sisters, Stitch goes out into the woods alone to find his family. He takes Lilo’s copy of The Ugly Duckling along with him, reading the distraught duckling’s words and making them his own: “I’m lost!”

The next morning, Stitch wakes up – and is found by Jumba. The alien scientist explains to the hopeful Stitch he is his creation. He is Jumba’s six hundred twenty-sixth experiment – 626. He has no family, absolutely nothing to make him normal – even by alien standards! No, instead, Stitch is a thing. A monster cooked up in a mad scientist’s lab. (And yes, I know Jumba prefers “evil genius!”) Added to this heartbreaking news is the fact that Jumba wants him to come along so that he can take Stitch apart. No, thank you!

This would be enough to make anyone in Stitch’s position – a clone, for instance, or Frankenstein’s monster – go crazy. In fact, it is why they inevitably go crazy in the storylines where we see them. As someone I know likes to say, this is the problem with clones and monsters such as Frankenstein’s creation. They have no way of answering such questions as, “Where did I come from and why am I here?”

Being told that one was an experiment, nothing more than a series of lucky coincidences in a lab, and that one was made for a function of the scientist(s) choosing – that is a horrible, horrible thing to learn. It is mind-shattering, and it leaves most such experiments insane. The same friend who pointed out the problem with clones likes to say they are “born insane,” for the simple reason that they have no “higher purpose” than the desires of the scientists who made them from the moment they are “born.”

Put yourselves in Stitch’s place for a moment, readers. Can you imagine how crushing it was for Stitch to hear Jumba say he had no family? To learn that his creator was a scientist who programmed him to be a machine of destruction, meant for nothing but causing misery? That he had no “higher purpose” than to mindlessly destroy everything in sight? Even without seeing the love-filled life Lilo and Nani share with each other and their neighbors, despite the brokenness of their family, this is staggering news.

This is where Stitch could really have gotten lost, as most experiments like him do. He learns he has no mother, no father, no siblings, no history beyond the lab where Jumba made him. Stitch has nothing – he is nothing, in a sense. We are each something, someone, readers. We were each born of a mother and a father, parents who helped to bring us into the world. But we come from beyond it. We have souls and a shared destiny outside the “circles of the world,” (thanks, Professor Tolkien!).

Stitch, sewn together out of spare parts, has no soul to begin with. He is just a thing – a malevolent, makeshift creature cooked up in Jumba’s lab. For all the difference it makes, he might as well be a clone. He was made out of the stuff of this world, and has no higher purpose in the grand scheme of things…. at first.

However, Stitch escapes the dark fate of numerous fictional clones, sentient robots, and monsters like Frankenstein’s creature. Stitch does not escape because he is a character in a Disney film (which is a shallow answer to the question at best).  No, he escapes his fate because he is loved despite what he is and what he was made to do.

Think about it, readers. What is the first thing Stitch does after Jumba reveals his history to him? He doesn’t go ballistic, he doesn’t cower and whimper. He runs – straight back to the one person he knows cares about him. The one person in the whole universe who will forgive him practically anything, the one person who saw good in him when even he saw nothing there. The one person who has never given up on him, consistently and certainly stating that he is “ohana.”

Lilo.

Lilo’s love for Stitch is what saves him from his programming – and from the insanity that could have resulted from the revelation that he was made to be a tool for a certain “evil genius” who meddled where no man (or alien) should.

This is why I enjoy the scene in the film where Stitch says, “I’m lost!” He is lost. But he is also searching to be found, only to realize later that he already has been discovered: by a lonely Hawaiian girl and her sister, needing someone to love so that they can heal. This is because in finding and loving Stitch, the sisters heal, and become a family again.

This is the first Spotlight! post I have done about a scene in a film, readers. Hopefully, I will have another such post up at some point in the future. Until then –

Aloha!

The Mithril Guardian

Rise of the Guardians

I have wanted to write a post about Rise of the Guardians since a few hours after I saw it. But nothing would come to me in a distinct way, and so I have let it lie for a while. However, with Easter approaching, I thought it best to get down to “tacks of brass,” as one character in this film put it. The post you are now reading is the result.

First and foremost, I love Rise of the Guardians. It is a GREAT film and, sadly, it was panned by the “critics.” (Why do the critics always seem to get it wrong?!? *Aggravated sigh.*)

Rise of the Guardians centers on Jack Frost, a boy who the Man in the Moon made a powerful winter specter. This is after he ended up at the bottom of an icy lake. As a winter spirit, Jack has the ability to cause snowstorms, blizzards, frosts and – best of all – SNOW DAYS!!!

Jack loves to have fun. A spirit with a mischievous, sometimes nasty sense of humor, Jack spends lots of his time with children. But unlike Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman, and the Tooth Fairy, no one believes that Jack actually exists. Jack can have all the fun he wants, but because no children believe in him, they cannot see him. People walk right through him every day.

Jack does not understand his life as a spirit. The Man in the Moon put him here, but Jack has no idea why. It makes him angry, sad, and frustrated. (This may explain the nasty bent to his sense of humor.)

In the modern day, Jack is recruited to join the Guardians of childhood. These Guardians are: North (Santa Claus), Sandman (or Sandy), the Easter Bunny (or ‘Bunny’ for short), and the Tooth Fairy (also called ‘Tooth’). They explain that the Man in the Moon has decided Jack should become a Guardian as well, which startles him. Jack has tried talking to the Man in the Moon on his own for years and come up empty. Now he learns that the Guardians apparently have had a direct line of communication with the “big guy” since year dot.

But the Guardians do not let Jack leave. They have a problem. (Well, two, actually…) One problem is Pitch Black, a.k.a. the Boogey Man. A powerful spirit of fear, Pitch has had no one believe in him since the Dark Ages, when the Man in the Moon first appointed the Guardians to watch over the children of the Earth and protect them from Pitch’s influence.

Two: Jack does not want to be a Guardian. He likes children just fine. It is the “bribing” children with gifts and goodies he does not want to get in on. He would also really like to avoid the deadlines and hard work North, Bunny, and Tooth put into their jobs. For some reason, he never realizes that Sandman has no such duties attached to his job. Then again, maybe Jack knew that but did not want to land himself in an argument he could not win by mentioning it.

Jack is drawn into the fight with Pitch despite his initial reluctance, and in the process he learns why the Man in the Moon made him a winter sprite – and why he has been chosen to be one of the Guardians of childhood.

I will try to keep the spoilers to a minimum for those of you who have not seen the film. This is going to be hard because the inspiration for this post is a piece of dialogue within the movie. After Jack is told that the Man in the Moon thinks he should be a Guardian, North takes him to his personal workshop and demands to know what Jack’s “center” is. What is it that makes Jack Frost – well, Jack Frost?

In the process, North explains that his “center” is wonder. He sees only the “wonder” in life, like “lights in the trees and in the air.” “This wonder is what I put into the world,” he adds, “and what I protect in children.”

The important part of this piece of dialogue is how North points out that he “puts” wonder into the world. We are all born for a purpose, which Chris Pine points out in the behind-the-scenes for the story. One of the main questions every human asks is “why am I here?” That is the question Jack has to wrestle with in the movie, and which we all have to figure out ourselves.

But the thing I noticed was that North said he “puts” wonder into the world. It is not just that he reveals it and protects it; he “puts” it into the world. And that got me thinking: aren’t we all supposed to “put” something into the world? Not necessarily a new invention or a new discovery so much as what we ourselves can do and think. Aren’t we all called to put something good into the world, something(s) like wonder, hope, and happiness?

The fact is that we are called to put those things into the world, and more. But, of course, “many are called, few are chosen.” This is best exemplified by the film’s villain. Pitch Black may have been made a sprite by the Man in the Moon, too. We do not know this for sure, and the movie gives us no hints. However, if that is the case, then maybe Pitch was supposed to put something good into the world as well.

This is not how he uses his power, though. Pitch puts fear into the world not in order to help people but so that he can control them. He specifically mentions that he wielded a lot of power in the Dark Ages, prior to the arrival of the Guardians. Where he could use his ability to help people overcome or face their fears, if he wanted to, he instead uses his power to control them.

North, Tooth, Bunny, Sandman, and even Jack do not do this. They put things into the world to help other people, specifically children. North puts wonder into the world, while Bunny keeps hope alive for others. Tooth protects memories, the precious memories of childhood. Sandman protects dreams, the most powerful things in the world. Without dreams of aspiring to be better than we are, we will never get anywhere.

And Jack – well, explaining what he puts into the world would be telling. I am not going to do that. However, I am going to spoil a little something extra and explain why Jack is not seen by children until the end of the film. For all the time he has been a sprite, Jack Frost has used his powers to try and convince people that he exists. This does not work because Jack is using his power for his own gain.

At the end of the film, though, he uses his power to help the Guardians when they are at their weakest. That is when he becomes visible to children, for the first time since he was made a spirit. When Jack uses his power to help the other Guardians he becomes a Guardian as well. By using his powers for someone other than himself, Jack earns his heart’s desire: to be seen and loved by children. To no longer be alone.

Another great thing about the film is that it emphasizes the importance of children. This may be why the critics panned it. The Guardians are supposed to protect children because “they are all that we are, and all that we will ever be.” Too true.

If you have an opportunity to see Rise of the Guardians over Easter, I highly recommend it to you, readers! The film is actually set in the three days prior to and including Easter. It is definitely a good film for the season – even with all the snow in it! So, readers…

See ya around!

The Mithril Guardian