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Captain America: Civil War – Helmut Zemo

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I really struggled when writing this post, readers, not because I doubted my own convictions – I believed from the start that Zemo was evil. Marvel, while turning a great deal in its comic book universe(s) upside-down and inside-out at the moment, was not going to change that fact for Civil War. Zemo has been an antagonist for too long; we all knew he was going to be the villain. My problem is the excuse implicit in the storyline that people would use to defend Zemo’s actions in the film.

Zemo’s grudge against the Avengers in Captain America: Civil War is based on his family’s dying when, in the previous Avengers film, Ultron raised half of his small country into the sky before trying to smash it into the Earth to destroy mankind. Zemo was smart enough to put his family up in a house outside the city before this occurred. Naturally, he did not anticipate the city getting lifted off the ground and bits of rock falling from it to land on top of his home.

There are people who would defend Helmut Zemo’s hatred for the Avengers and his diabolical plan to destroy them. Their arguments, in effect, would say, “But his family was killed! He was mad with grief! What right do you have to call him evil?! All he wanted was retribution for the deaths of his family!”

Retribution is not ours to seek any more than revenge, for which retribution is often a synonym. It is wrong and only causes more pain for more people. It breeds an endless, vicious cycle of violence, death, and darkness for everyone in the world. As for Zemo’s being “mad,” the proper understanding of its meaning is someone who is a danger to himself because he cannot take care of himself. It is not someone who stalks a group of people for a year and then tries to kill them. Zemo does not clinically qualify as “mad” or “insane.” But he does clinically qualify as evil.

How do we know this? He tells us. Zemo condemns himself in his own words, basing his choice on hatred and jealousy. After telling T’Challa about the deaths of his family, he says, “And the Avengers? They went home.” He says this as though it makes everything he has done and all those he has killed worth the cost. While I hate to break his soap bubble, I must ask: just what is it that Zemo expected the Avengers to do after destroying Ultron, saving humanity, and preserving the lives of as many of the civilians still in the city as they could?

What more, in short, could they have done to make him their friend? They could have gone back to the city after the battle and helped with the clean up.  But would that have won them Zemo’s respect? Would he have felt better if Thor, Cap, and Iron Man had helped him dig his family’s bodies out of the rubble? Would Zemo have felt better if they had helped him to bury his family? Would their tears over his loss have made him feel avenged (pun intended)? Since Zemo was ready to commit suicide after accomplishing his “mission,” this seems highly unlikely.

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You are probably wondering why I am making such a fuss about this, readers.   I take issue in this case because the writers did so, in order, I believe, to show how empty Zemo’s philosophy is.  I am also making an issue of this because those who professionally review films – the docents of decency, the perpetually petulant masters of modernity, and other “reformers” of reality (a.k.a. the culture Nazis) – have made this a tenant of their belief system. This belief and their system are both solipsistic and false.

How do I know this? There are several ways. Why, for instance, did the writers have Zemo deliver the above lines in these specific words and in this tone?   What is the big deal about the Avengers going home when their job (save the world) is done? How is it a crime for the Avengers to swoop into a certain place, stop the bad guys, and then go home to recover, the way that policemen and soldiers do? Just what is wrong with that picture, readers? Enlighten me, please; what is wrong with this situation?

The fact is that there is nothing wrong with it – absolutely nothing. The Avengers went home after Age of Ultron because they did not come to Sokovia as conquerors. They came as defenders of both Sokovia and mankind. No one – Avenger, commando, politician, civilian – could have predicted Ultron’s plan to raise the city and make it a destroy-the-human-race meteor. It was a surprise to everybody.

Before the city lifted off it was swarming with drones trying to kill those left in the city. The Avengers were busy protecting these people, leaving them precious little time to discern Ultron’s mad scheme let alone to chase down every bit of flying rubble coming off of the metropolis.

The team’s main concern was to stop Ultron and thereby save mankind. This included protecting the residents of Sokovia from homicidal drones. Intercepting debris from the airborne city was not a consideration due to the necessities of combat against overwhelming foes. It was not due to indifference and it was most certainly not due to selfishness on the part of the Avengers.

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Yet Zemo is unconcerned with these very obvious facts. Why should he? It is clear to him what happened. The Avengers showed up, destroyed the maniacal machine, and went home to a heroes’ welcome.   They did not care about his people or his family. They cared about getting the glory for saving the world. That was their plan all along, as evidenced by the fact that they did not return to Sokovia to clean up the mess, nor did they prevent the disaster from occurring in the first place. In fact, they are responsible for the entire debacle; Tony Stark created Ultron. If he had not done this, then everyone who died in Sokovia would still be alive. The evident conclusion one must reach is that the Avengers do not care about anyone but themselves – right?

No, it is not. We know it is not, readers, because we have walked beside these characters through ten plus films. We have seen them selflessly put their lives on the line to protect the masses. We know that the Avengers truly care about saving as many lives as they can. They are as altruistic as one could wish of mortal man. Even Tony Stark, who is still too self-centered, remains willing to put his life on the line for strangers he will never meet. The Avengers are in the fight because it is the right thing to do, and most of them would be quite happy to skip out on the fame they have gained while doing their jobs. They cannot escape it and so they ignore it as best they can.

This is how we know that Zemo’s profile of the Avengers is mistaken and selfish, not to mention blatantly foolish. It is not because we like the characters or are attached to them that we believe they are heroes. We are certainly attached to them, and we definitely like them. But that is because they have proven time and again that they are willing to do heroic things to protect others. It is hard not to like someone for that.

Considering his background, you might think that Zemo might understand that combat is not a place where one feels “an overwhelming sense of control,” to quote Nick Fury. You might even think that Zemo could recall battles which had not gone according to plan, where people whom he and his team were supposed to protect were killed in spite of their best efforts. You might also think he would recognize that the Avengers were in that same boat in Sokovia and thus they could not be held accountable for the loss of his family.

Here we come to the important distinction between Zemo and the Avengers: Zemo led a “kill squad.” He and his men were not just commandos; they were government-sanctioned assassins. This makes it likely that Zemo and his men had little care for the lives of others. The exceptions would have been the lives of those closest to them, such as Zemo’s wife, son, and father. He may not have a problem murdering a family in another country but he would have a problem with whoever killed his family.

This is not the Way of the Avengers. When the Avengers kill, they do it to save lives. They do not do it lightly or enjoy it when the time comes to pull the trigger. They do not lose sleep over it, but if they can avoid dealing out justice on the battlefield they will spare their enemies – although they may later wish that they had not done so. They could have killed Loki in the Tower at the end of The Avengers, readers. Thor was not exactly feeling chummy with his adopted kid brother at the time and, in The Dark World, he threatened to kill Loki himself if he was betrayed.

The team had all the logic in the world to convince them to finish Loki then and there, but they chose not to do this. They instead sent him to Asgard to stand trial and receive Odin’s judgment. Despite their moniker, the Avengers are not prone to dealing out what most people would think of as revenge. They stop – or ‘Avenge’ – evil by defeating the bad guys, and by saving as many people as they can when the crisis blows up in an unforeseen manner.

One of the reasons why Zemo decides to destroy the Avengers is he is used to killing. As an assassin he became accustomed to the idea of being judge, jury, and executioner. What is more, he came to like playing these roles.

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There are four things he did which prove this. One, Zemo killed a former HYDRA operative and a psychiatrist without blinking an eye.   Two, he detonated a bomb outside the U.N. building in Vienna without any qualms about the innocents who would be caught in the blast. This was in spite of his claim to the HYDRA agent that he would not enjoy using “bloodier methods” to get what he wanted.

Three, after he had control of Bucky Barnes in the German base, Zemo ordered him to kill the soldiers who came to put the Winter Soldier back under restraint. Without orders Bucky might very well have just stood there until Cap and Sam arrived to calm the situation. But to further destroy Bucky’s already blackened record, Zemo ordered him to kill these men in cold blood. He stood by and watched these men die, then feigned a bad injury to lure Cap and Sam into the room so Bucky could attack them. I can just feel the remorse radiating from him in these scenes where he used “bloodier methods” to get what he wanted, can’t you, readers?

Four, Zemo expected Iron Man would kill Bucky and then Cap would kill Iron Man. Or he believed that Cap and Iron Man would kill each other after Bucky was dead. Why did he think this? He said he studied Cap and the rest of the Avengers, did he not? Enough to realize suddenly that there was a bit of green in Cap’s blue eyes, he said. So why did he not expect Cap to save Bucky, while at the same time avoiding killing or truly harming Tony Stark?

For a professional such as Zemo, this kind of miscalculation is astounding. He is a practiced killer; if he wants to take down a target or convince a target to kill himself and another person, he has to study his prey very carefully. He had a year to study the Avengers and plan how he would kill them, or convince them to kill each other. So why, when you come to the most crucial point, did he fail to suspect that Cap would prevent Tony from killing Bucky, while at the same time not murdering Stark himself?

The reason he failed to completely destroy the Avengers – to kill them all or convince them to kill each other – is that he does not understand them. He did not, does not, and will never comprehend them as long as he maintains his choice to do evil rather than good. This is shown most plainly by his underestimating Captain America, the Galahad of modern literature. He expected Cap to react to pain and loss as he would. But Cap is not like other men; he is different. Where most men can achieve only a “good” status in this world, Cap has achieved a “great” status. This is not perfection but it is very, very close to it.

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Now some of you are going to say, “But what about Steve’s vow to kill every HYDRA operative after Bucky fell off the train in the Alps? That was revenge!”

No, it was not. What Cap specifically said was that he would not stop fighting HYDRA “until every HYDRA agent is dead or captured.” (Emphasis mine.) This means that he would capture and imprison those members he could, and kill those who resisted. He said and did this for the same reason the British wiped out the Thuggees, murderers who worshipped the Hindu death-goddess Kali. HYDRA is no better than the Thuggees; they need to be exterminated so that innocent people intent on living peaceful, happy lives will be safe to live and work as they choose.

Nothing that Cap said or did after Bucky fell from the train in The First Avenger was vengeful. He was not motivated by a desire for payback. He wanted the world to be free of the evil that was HYDRA so that Bucky’s sacrifice – and the sacrifice of thousands of other men on both sides of the war – would not be in vain. So that the world would be free of HYDRA’s evil once and for all.

By his own admission, Zemo was not trying to free anyone in Civil War. He was trying to destroy a team of people who routinely put their lives on the line to protect mankind from the evil without and within it. He wanted revenge, not justice. He wanted payback, not freedom. He was and remains willing to let the entire world fall into death, destruction, and slavery so that he can feel he has revenged the deaths of his family.

Readers, what is so admirable about Zemo’s choice? Why should we, as viewers, sympathize with a character that is willing to condemn the whole human race to an evil fate just so he can feel vindicated on behalf of his dead loved ones? Should we sigh, wipe away a tear, and say, “Yes, we feel your pain,” or “We understand you,” to a character who would throw away every human life on the planet to satiate his lust for blood? No, we should not. But this is what some people want us to do for Zemo.

I will not do this. I will not commiserate or identify with a character that would gladly doom millions to death and millions more to slavery in order to get vengeance for his family, who were unfortunate casualties in a battle. As Rocket Raccoon pointed out in Guardians of the Galaxy, “Everybody’s got dead people. That’s no excuse to get everyone else dead along the way.”

Zemo has no excuses for his choice to destroy not only the Avengers but the people they protect. He wanted to throw the rest of the world under the bus to fulfill his desire for vengeance. No one has the right to do that. But that is what Zemo tried to do with the world population when he targeted the Avengers in Captain America: Civil War.

Later, at the end of the film, we watch Martin Freeman’s character, Everett Ross (no relation to the General turned Secretary of State), visit Zemo. He begins gloating to Zemo about how his master plan has failed.

Like Thunderbolt and the U.N., Everett Ross believes that Zemo’s master plan has gone down in flames whilst the United Nations’ own has succeeded. They have four of the six members of Team Cap incarcerated while Iron Man, War Machine, and Vision are leashed and awaiting orders. Black Widow, Captain America, and the Winter Soldier are wanted fugitives who will soon be found and locked up with their friends. The private police firm known as the Avengers is now legally under the direct control of the bureaucrats and politicians in the United Nations. Zemo, meanwhile, is locked up and out of the way. Yes, their plan has worked flawlessly whilst Zemo’s has not.

Slowly, Zemo smiles and says, “Did it?”

At these words we get to watch the smile gradually slide off of Everett Ross’ face. (It is such a satisfying thing to see!!!!) Zemo is correct to point out that his plan did not entirely fail. But the fact is that Zemo’s plans did not accomplish his true goals.

None of the Avengers are dead, as Zemo desired. Their strength is halved, but they are all alive, and this makes a future reconciliation possible. Zemo does not see this because, as stated above, he sees the Avengers through a glass darkly. He cannot comprehend the gulf between his mind and their souls. Part of his plan has been accomplished; the Avengers are no longer what they were. They are weakened, and severely so….

But they are all alive.

The Avengers’ advantage over Zemo is their heroism; it will defeat him every time. Like the phoenix of old, like the sun on a daily basis, the Avengers will rise again. And they will be whole and stronger than before when this happens.

Evil will never win the war, as Zemo believes he has. He has won a battle. But the war was won a long time ago, and the Avengers are on the winning side. Even the arrogant ones, such as Tony Stark, will be victorious in the end. Their strength is not their own. It comes from Another, and He is watching over them, as He watches over all those who serve Him. He is their strength. As long as Zemo stands against the Avengers, he stands alone against Him, the irresistible and unconquerable. He will win, and Zemo will lose.

‘Nuff said, readers. ‘Nuff said.

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Captain America: Civil War – Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow

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There is very little in the Black Widow’s life that is straightforward.  While competent and practical, Natasha has not always made the right decision in every situation.  This is normal enough; everyone makes mistakes.  It is part of being human.

The problem comes when a person refuses to admit and acknowledge that he has blundered.  Cap is quite willing to admit that he and his team have made mistakes.  It is impossible not to do so.  The idea that slip-ups can be eradicated from humanity is silly.  The sad thing is that some of the Avengers have been infected by this notion that accidents, errors, and mistakes can be “removed” from humanity.  These Avengers would be none other than Tony Stark, James Rhodes, Vision, and Natasha Romanoff.

Now Vision has an excuse, because he is a one-year-old who is still learning about the world from the position of an adult.  Tony, Rhodey, and especially Natasha, do not have any such shield.  They are older and they have far more experience.  They should know better; they should know how to close their ears to such siren calls.  Unfortunately, neither the guys nor Natasha appear to have learned their lessons.

Our first look at Natasha is in Lagos, Nigeria.  And one of the most obvious things about her appearance is that she has again let her hair grow out.  Changing hairstyles, however, are soon shown to be the least of the upgrades Natasha has made.  It is shown that she has also moved up to the full-bore “stingers” of the comics.  These neat little gizmos fire out miniature bolts or “stingers” which act as tazers, minus the strings.  They can deliver up to 30,000 volts into an opponent’s body and they hurt.

But apparently they do not bother Crossbones very much.  Perhaps he now has a far higher tolerance for pain than he did previously.  After Widow tries to zap him unconscious or at least dizzy, he simply rolls his neck and proclaims, “That don’t work on me no more!”  Rumlow then ungraciously beats her up and throws her into his own attack vehicle, tossing in a grenade for good measure.  Natasha downs the two goons sharing the improvised hearse with her, using one as a shield to block the worst of the explosion.  But she is still left gasping and groaning on the ground afterward.

Once she is able to get up and move around, her next act is to track down two of the four mercenaries helping Crossbones and possibly carrying the bio-weapon he has stolen.  Lucky her, the prey she is chasing happens to have the germ in hand.  And they are quite willing to drop the bug on the ground so that it will infect the city and spread out from there.  Only the timely arrival of Sam’s drone, Redwing, allows her to grab the bottled death and save everybody.

There follows a cute trading of quips as Sam tells her to thank Redwing instead of him, with Widow maintaining that she will not, under any circumstances, thank a machine.  Sam’s suggestion that she pet Redwing probably went over like a lead balloon, too.

The moment ends when three floors of a skyscraper are destroyed by Rumlow’s failsafe plan, twenty-six people are killed, and Wanda lands in the media hot seat for not paying as much attention to her surroundings as she could have.  Yay….

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With this big PR mess in the Avengers’ collective lap – the biggest since Age of Ultron – Secretary of State Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross swoops in for the kill.  Raised in the Soviet mold from childhood, Natasha has never quite shaken off its the residual influences.  No, she is not a Communist or a Soviet, the main proof of this being her respect for and her love of children.  Under the Communist regime, children were taught to spy on their parents and report them to the government for any number of “traitorous” activities, especially teaching or practicing Christianity.

Natasha has not forgotten that the government is bigger than her, stronger than her, and if it decides to hurt her it can do whatever it wants to her – and no one will be able to stop it.  This is the legacy of the Red Room in Natasha’s life.  They not only made her their weapon, forcing her to kill people in their place, they abused her in order to make her their “hand.”  Along with the other girls the Red Room operators did their best to “mold” her to their design, resulting in a finished product without soul and scant – if any – of her individual self remaining.

Recognizing that the U.N. wants to shut the Avengers down, Natasha becomes afraid.  Having escaped from the prison that was the Soviet Union, only to become chained to a SHIELD that had been corrupted by HYDRA, Natasha truly desires to fight for truth, justice, and the American Way.  She wants to make a difference, she wants to save lives.  The best way to do that is by maintaining her Avengers’ membership.

But remembering all the things she has done wrong in the past, Natasha decides that she may need oversight at this time in her career.  She says as much in the discussion in the Compound.  Then Tony points out that she has, for the first time in living memory, publicly agreed with him and she admits that she wants to take her words back.  Even while she is holding out her hands and waiting for the cuffs to be slapped on her wrists, Natasha admits that she really does not want to do this.

That is what she said about the Red Room’s “graduation ceremony,” too, though, and we know her protests did not stop that.

The next time we see Natasha, she is talking to Steve after Peggy Carter’s funeral.  He knows that there is more than mere friendliness in her visit.  Though the vote was split on whether or not to sign the Accords as a team, Ross’ deadline has come and gone.  Natasha and the others have agreed to put on the invisible shackles the U.N. wanted them to wear.  That was obvious in the meeting.

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Having lost the last, best link to his old life, dreams, and aspirations, this news is more than Steve feels that he can bear.  You can hear it in the way his voice creaks as he asks, “Then why are you here?”  The die is cast.  The Rubicon has been crossed.  War is looming, because Cap will not rescind his membership in the Avengers, and he will not bow to the tyrants in the U.N. who are demanding that he kneel before them.  But some of his teammates, his friends, have done this.  This can only mean one thing: war.

This is the first time Natasha has ever seen Steve on the brink of breaking down.  She has never known him to be anything less than rock solid, just like the planet she stands on.  But with his voice nearly cracking, it hits her just how much pain he is in.  The loss of Peggy is bad enough; her death on top of the Accords, the division of his team, is overwhelming for him.  He is dangerously close to an emotional collapse.

Natasha’s reply is a shaky one as she tries not only to keep her empathy from spilling over, but to hold herself together despite her fear and the premonition of impending disaster.  “I didn’t want you to be alone,” she answers.  Following this, for the first time in recorded Marvel Cinematic history, she throws down the emotional barricade she uses to protect herself and hugs Steve.

It has to be one of the most powerful scenes in the movie.  I was stunned, and not by Cap’s emotions; I sympathized with him keenly.  But Natasha’s response to him was astounding.  She has never been what one would call touchy-feely; she prefers to keep her emotional distance from most people.  Bruce was a notable exception – and a surprising one.

This makes her hugging Steve Rogers when he is so emotionally low an enormous event.  They are close friends, but the only one Natasha has ever let inside the “garden gate” of her emotional domain that we have seen is Clint.  And they never touched each other in that encounter, since the circumstances and time were not on their side.  Her decision to hug Steve when he is at his lowest ebb, to be an emotional support for him in such a painful moment – this is huge, readers.  It is out of the usual bounds of her character.  Black Widow is typically the epitome of the “suck it up and move on” mentality.  And so when she ends up in the emotional dumps, it is her friends who need to support her.

But here she is, hugging Steve Rogers when he really needs a friend.  She is the one giving moral support, and to a man we think would never need it.  Here Natasha disregards all of her customary caution in order to be an emotional life preserver for Captain America.  It is a momentous decision, and it colors a lot of what she does later in the movie….

…Starting with her attendance of the ratification of the Sokovia Accords.  Having spent most of her life out of the public eye, Widow looks completely ill at ease amidst the dignitaries, journalists, et al within in the U.N. building.  But when a polite young black man comes up and addresses her, she manages to relax a little.

At least, she relaxes until the King of Wakanda, her conversation partner’s father, walks up and greets her.  Then she realizes the young man she has been trading easy banter with is none other than the prince and heir apparent to the kingdom of Wakanda:  T’Challa.

When T’Chaka brings up the fact that Steve has not signed the Accords and is not even attending the ratification of the law, Widow swallows.  Their last meeting being what it was, and the knowledge that she is essentially breaking faith with a man who has never broken faith with her, means that T’Chaka’s words make Natasha very uncomfortable.  Hiding her feelings as best she can, she thanks T’Chaka and then quickly but politely goes to find her seat.

Listening attentively to the King of Wakanda’s speech not long afterward, Natasha is almost as startled by his son’s warning shout as everybody else.  Then her well-honed combat instincts kick in, allowing her to help the person seated next to her dive for cover –

And then there is an explosion, glass is flying, and smoke is clawing its way down her throat.  By the time she gets up – and as an Avenger, I would think it was a very short time – Natasha realizes that several people have died in the blast.  King T’Chaka is among them, but his son has somehow survived.  The scene following the explosion, which shows T’Challa trying to find his father’s pulse and then breaking down into tears as it becomes clear he is dead, is probably the first thing Natasha saw when she got out from under the table.

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While she barely knows T’Challa, Natasha finds herself once again in the position of offering what comfort she can to a wounded soul.  Where Steve knew he needed the supporting strength of a true friend, though, T’Challa’s pain pushes everything except the ache in his heart away from him.  Natasha is not pushed back as far as some.  She was there and saw what happened; she understands at least a little about T’Challa and his relationship with his father.  So he does not push her away completely.  He makes it clear, though, that she can no more dissuade him from his mission to hunt down his father’s murderer than anyone else could.

Natasha watches him go and sighs.  What a hell of a day it has been for her.  As if things were not bad enough, now Steve’s old friend has been thrown into the mix.  And the new king of Wakanda is determined to kill him.  Yippee….

Things go from bad to worse when Steve calls her and asks if she is okay.  Hearing the European sirens on the phone line, Natasha realizes Steve is not far away, possibly watching her.  And if he is this close, then he knows that Bucky has been accused of the bombing.

Knowing Steve as well as she does, Natasha rightly surmises that he intends to go after Bucky himself.  Since he did not agree to the Accords, which are now law, this will make him an international vigilante and criminal, along with whoever helps him in any way.  That earlier foreboding of impending disaster growing inside her soul, Natasha desperately tries to make Steve reconsider what he is going to do.  But having been in a similar situation when Loki bespelled Hawkeye, she knows she will not be able to discourage him.  When Steve makes it plain he will be going after Bucky, to hell with the Accords, Natasha blurts out, “Why?!

Steve points out the obvious: if Bucky has truly gone off the deep end, only he stands a chance of bringing him in without dying in the attempt.  The other unspoken point which Natasha knows is that, if Bucky is somehow innocent of the bombing, Cap will not leave his old friend to be murdered for a crime he did not commit.

Now she has two people hunting the same man, each with totally different objectives in mind.  Great.  Just great.

Later, after German Special Forces bring Cap, Falcon, T’Challa, and Bucky in, Natasha cannot help rubbing Steve’s face in it a little bit.  “See?” she says.  “This is what worse looks like.”

Translation: “Now everybody wants your star-spangled hide along with Barnes’.  And Sam’s jet pack would go well with both, in their opinion. You have just made everything so much harder for all of us with your blind sentiment for this guy.”

The translation of Steve’s response – “He’s alive” – is this:  “I’d have done it for any one of you, Natasha.  And this war was not my idea.  It wasn’t Bucky’s, either.  I’m not blind, I know he’s not who he used to be, but the fact is that something else is going on here which we don’t see yet.  Keep your eyes open.”

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Natasha does this, which means that she sees Sharon Carter turn on the intercom so Steve can hear Bucky’s “evaluation.”  Instead of tattling on them, or going in herself to shut off the intercom, Natasha simply turns away and acts as though she saw nothing.  Why?

It is hard to say.  Maybe she has been playing with the situation in her head for the last few minutes, too, and has noticed that something is not adding up.  Like the others, she still assumes that Steve is too blinded by sentiment to see what a danger Bucky can be.  Either way, something must have been niggling at her, though friendship alone would have demanded that she “see nothing” for a moment.

Not long after this, the lights go out and Bucky gets loose.  Natasha knows that Steve and Sam have nothing to do with knocking out the base’s power.  It is not their style.  Besides which, Steve does not want to use underhanded tactics to clear Bucky.  He wants the truth.

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With Tony and Sharon’s help, Natasha attempts to bring down the Winter Soldier.  But things go about as well this time as they did before, and the pre-programmed detachment which has overwritten his mind means that Bucky is quite willing to kill her – again.  What is different this time is that it is T’Challa who comes to her rescue, not Steve.  (Working his way up from the bottom of an elevator shaft, he had a good excuse.)

After this battle Steve, Sam, and Bucky fly the coop.  Then Ross barges into the building as Natasha and Tony are licking their wounds, telling them that things have gotten out of hand completely again and he is the one who has been deputized to clean up the mess.  Natasha, growing more and more uncomfortable with Ross’ threats, finally growls, “What happens when the shooting starts – are you going to kill Captain America?”

It is her only ace in the hole: the U.S. government would not kill their beloved national icon –

Right?

Ross crushes that hope faster than he would a cigarette.  “If we’re provoked,” is his flat retort.  Tony, as desperate to protect Steve as Natasha is, talks Ross into giving them time to track down and catch the three on their own.  After all, there is no way any unit of men and women – short of the whole U.S. military, Ross’ bludgeon of choice – could bring down two Avengers and a former Soviet killing machine.

Ross agrees to the bargain, but states that they only have thirty-six hours, not the requested seventy-two.  He stomps off and Tony leans back in his seat with a tired sigh.  This is again a case of the remedy being worse than the disease – if the freedom to be responsible and to do your duty can be deemed a “disease.”  The Accords have not saved or helped anyone.  They have only led to more injury and death.  And, even without Bucky’s presence in this kerfuffle, the U.N. and Ross would be using the bombing to tear the Avengers apart.  Ross admitting that they will kill Cap if he gets in their way has nothing to do with his affection for his old pal Bucky.  It has everything to do with the fact that he is operating outside of Ross’ and the U.N.’s control.

Natasha and Tony discuss their options, with Widow observing that the numerical odds are not in their favor.  Tony asks if she has any idea of where the Hulk may be, to which she asks, “Do you really think he would be on our side?”  Thus the Hulk remains “lost” for the rest of the film, prompting the two to go off to recruit new allies.

Tony zips away to Queens to pick up Spider-Man while Natasha goes downstairs to recruit T’Challa, almost fighting a member of the Dora Milaje in the process.  I agree with the Black Panther: it would be highly entertaining to see the Black Widow in a match with a member of the King of Wakanda’s bodyguard/ceremonial wives corps.  While my money is on Natasha winning the engagement, the thing is that it would be an amazing duel to watch.  Popcorn and a soft drink would be mandatory for the viewing.

Now we come to the battle which has been brewing since Ross proposed the Accords:  the Avengers, divided into two factions, fight each other in an evacuated German airport.  Natasha has been sensing it coming, like the buildup of a thunderstorm in the air.  She knew it was on the horizon.  She just hoped it could be avoided.

But it cannot be circumvented, not now.  Things have gone too far – Team Iron has gone too far.  This is shown most pointedly when Natasha nearly kicks her old partner in the head, only to be stopped by the Scarlet Witch.

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Wanda’s response to Natasha’s attack is actually very controlled and not nearly as hard as it could be.  Remember, the girl dropped something like ten cars onto Iron Man’s head.  T’Challa and Rhodey both get harder treatment from her as well; she threw Black Panther about a football field away from Bucky to save his life, and she had no problem banging Rhodey in the head with whatever big, heavy metallic objects were nearby.  So she has no qualms about playing rough.

In marked contrast, she threw Natasha a much shorter distance.  Though she threw her hard enough to keep her down, she could have done far worse.  Instead, she just whammed Natasha into a small trailer hard enough to put a decent dent in the metal and keep Widow out of the fight.

This is probably where that scene from the trailer, which I noted early last year in the post “Captain America: Civil War – Trailer 2 Break Down,” came from.  While it is cut from the theater version of the film, I bet that the scene of Natasha standing up in front of that trailer, tears forming in her eyes, fits into the fight not long after Wanda tells Clint that he was “pulling [his] punches.”

Black Widow

Why does Natasha begin to cry?  She begins to cry for the same reason that we flinched, whimpered, and bit back moans as we watched certain parts of the battle in the airport the first time.  She is watching her battle family as it is torn apart.  And she is realizing that this is not Steve’s fault; he is just doing his job.  Even if Bucky were not involved in this fiasco, Steve would be here.  He is, as Ultron pointed out, “God’s righteous man.”  He serves God, and when God’s laws are broken – as they were in Vienna – Cap is going to go after the perpetrator because it is the right and just thing to do.  The rest of the people on Team Cap are the same way.

But what about Team Iron?  Why are they here?  Spider-Man is along for the ride because he has stars in his eyes.  He is in awe of Tony; what is he going to do, turn down his idol’s request for help?  T’Challa is in the battle to pursue vengeance/justice for his father’s death.  Vision is here because – as the quintessential academic without real world experience – the Accords appear rational and therefore reasonable to him who is too “young” to consider the possible and probable secret agendas of those who have propagated this “law.”  Plus, they need numerical support to bring in the “rogue” Avengers.  Rhodey is here because orders are orders; he is a “perfect” soldier who follows orders to a T, whether he likes them or not.  Tony is here because he signed the Accords, thinking it would be a nice insurance policy for the team.

And Natasha is here….  Why is she here?

The question hits her like a bolt out of the blue.  Why is she here?  Why is she trying to hurt her friends?  She knows Steve, Clint, Sam, and Wanda very well.  She knows that they would never go against a law without a very good reason.  They would never drag a stranger (Ant-Man), into a fight without an extremely compelling motive.  They would never, ever fight their teammates without a damn good cause.  The fact that they are doing all of these things means that they have to have an earth-shatteringly good purpose for being here.

So who should she trust more – some empty suits in the U.N., or the people who have become her family?

The answer is obvious: she trusts and loves only the people who have proved that they trust and love her.  No matter her past sins and mistakes, no matter her foibles and flaws, these people care about her, who she is and who she can be.  The U.N. does not care about Natasha Romanoff.  They are using her, Tony, Rhodey, Vision – and through them T’Challa and Spider-Man – to gain control of the Avengers for their own purposes.  Not once have any of the Avengers ever used her.  They have given her nothing but their friendship and trust.

And right here, right now, she is breaking that trust, all in the name of protecting her friends and the human race.

This is why she leaves the main battlefield and retreats to the Aveng-jet, where Steve and Bucky meet her.  When Natasha says, “I can’t stop you,” to Steve, what is she really saying?  Is she saying, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”?  Is she saying, “You’re going to go on no matter what I say or do, so I may as well throw my lot in with you”?

Or is she really saying, “I can’t stop you because you’re right, your cause is just, and I have made one of the biggest mistakes of my life by getting in your way and signing the stupid Accords”?

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The latter seems to be the more probable answer.  Instead of shooting Cap or Bucky with her stingers, Natasha zaps T’Challa – several times.  Getting out of the duo’s way and her own path, she finds that fighting is suddenly a whole lot easier.  She likes T’Challa, of course, but the fact is that he is hunting the wrong man and planning to hurt her friend Steve to do it.  She cannot and will not let that happen.

So she holds T’Challa long enough for Steve to get the jet in the air.  Then the jet’s landing gear does the rest.

When we see Natasha next, she is trying to reach out to Tony to make him straighten up and fly right.  She points out that Steve is not going to stop.  He cannot stop.  He has to be out, fighting for an honorable cause, promoting God, truth, and justice because it is his nature.  Tony and the Accords cannot take that away from him.  It is impossible.

So the only way that the two of them, along with Rhodey, Vision, and the other Avengers can survive is to join with Steve, not fight him.  Fighting him is fighting a losing battle; as El Cid (played by Charlton Heston) pointed out in the movie of the same name, “It matters not how many are the foes, my cause is just.”  A man on a just mission is unstoppable, because justice is one of God’s attributes.  Whoever is on the side of true justice is on God’s side.

Tony is in no mood to hear this, least of all from Natasha.  Rhodey’s injury in this foolish battle has angered him, but so has Cap’s persistent refusal to come to his side.  Tony wants to be liked, confusing it for being right.  That is why he refuses to let Steve go and to let Natasha off the hook for allowing Cap to take the jet, accusing her of holding tight to her history as a spy and an assassin playing both sides of the argument in the process.

This was the wrong thing for him to say to her.  For a start, it was cruel and childish; he said what he knew would hurt her most.  Second, it showed that Tony was in this fight now not because he believed it was the right thing to do, but because his ego was damaged.

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That is what makes Natasha angry enough to say, “Are you incapable of letting go of your ego for one god-damn second?”  Then she extrapolates, telling him, “We played this wrong.”  She is not just referring to the airport battle.  She is talking about the whole fracas with the Accords.  From the moment Ross threw the booklet down at their feet, she, Tony, Rhodey, and Vision have “played this” whole thing the wrong way.  They have been in it only for themselves.

Steve, Clint, Sam, and Wanda have been fighting for the greater good.  Team Cap has been fighting the real fight, the true battle, the just war.  They are the ones who have actually been fighting for a higher cause: the protection of the human race.  Team Iron has been fighting simply to justify their collective mistake.

Tony proves he is unmoved by her argument when he warns her that “they’re comin’” for Natasha.  The manner of his speech, the way he turns to face her, the sad smirk he gives her – it is all so condescending.  His body language screams, “I am warning you just because we were friends, not because you earned it.  You cost me my battle and my friend’s back.  You are dead to me.”  Like a petty child, he is not willing to stand and fight to protect her.  He will warn her under the radar that she has to run, but as for helping her to avoid imprisonment, she is on her own.

This is betrayal.  And it infuriates Natasha for two reasons.  One, it implies that Tony only cares about her when she agrees with him.  Otherwise, he could give a fig for her.

And two, Rhodey’s injury is not her fault.  Neither is it Steve’s, Bucky’s, or Team Cap’s responsibility.  Vision is the one who shot Rhodey’s arc reactor.  And, as a friend pointed out during another viewing of the film, Vision missed Sam even before he moved to avoid his shot.  Vision’s aim was off from the start.  Even if Sam had not gotten out of the way, the laser would have missed him and hit Rhodey.  Rhodey’s lifting up slightly and banking left probably saved his life.  It put his arc reactor in the line of fire rather than his direct center of mass.

So if Rhodey’s injury is Vision’s fault, what does that mean? Let me answer that with another question:  who is responsible for Vision’s creation?

That is right, Tony is.  He made Ultron, who made Vision’s body, which the Avengers then stole and Tony reprogrammed (with Bruce’s help).  When you come right down to it, the reason Rhodey was shot was because of Tony.  Tony helped bring the android which fired the shot into the world.  And this “civil war” which tore apart the Avengers began when Tony signed the Accords.  The entire mess can be laid right at his iron-booted feet.  Again.

Are the Accords truly “splitting the difference”?  How is signing up to be the U.N.’s lapdog working out for Tony now, huh, readers?

It is not working out for Natasha.  Right after warning Tony to “watch [his] back”, Black Widow vanishes from the scene, abandoning Stark rather than following him into further error.  Where she is and what she is doing now is anybody’s guess; whether or not she has joined or will link up with the “Secret Avengers” remains to be seen.  We can certainly hope that she will join them, but it appears that she, Team Cap, and T’Challa will be officially “off the grid” until Infinity War and its sequel.

It is going to be quite the reunion during the next Avengers film, nyet, readers?

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Some Captain America: Civil War “Easter Eggs”

There were a lot of “Easter Eggs,” as they are called, in Captain America: Civil War. I did not see them ALL, but I noticed/thought of a few to share with you, readers.

For one, is it not interesting how much the Accords anger Sam Wilson/Falcon? This may hearken back to the original comics. In the “mainstream” Marvel universe, the government had tried to control the Avengers back in the 1970s (I think). They reduced the team’s active roster to seven individuals whom they selected.

One of their choices was Falcon, who loved being an Avenger. Already a long time partner of Cap’s in the other’s solo series, Sam was happy to finally be a part of his friend’s exclusive superhero club. What he did not love about the arrangement, though, was why the government put him on the team.

The government wanted the Avengers to be a “more diverse” team, and so they added Sam to the active roster simply because he was black. No other reason. Not his fighting skills, which he had honed at Cap’s side; not his empathetic link with his trained falcon Redwing – heck, not even his wing pack was the reason they chose him to be on the team!

No. They chose him because of his race, so they could make a political point/gain a political advantage from his life. Yeah, that is super flattering, isn’t it?

Sam’s attitude with his teammates was genial, fun-loving, and practically sunny during this time. His relationship with their government liaison, Henry Peter Gyrich, was stormy and antagonistic. He hated being a token player, and he was not afraid to say so in front of the public. Sam wanted to be an Avenger on his own merit – which he was, in the eyes of his teammates. But the government put him on the team just to make a statement.

And Sam hated that.

So his dislike of the Accords in Civil War could be seen as a nod to this, in a way. Sam fears he and his friends will be locked up in a dungeon somewhere to rot if they sign the Accords, and his fears are well founded. History has shown that when one signs one’s freedom away it is almost impossible to get it back. The only way Sam and the rest of Team Cap regained their liberty in the movie was through outside help from Steve. And even now that they can breathe the free air again, the law considers them criminals. Outlaws with no Sherwood Forest to inhabit, Team Cap is going to have to do some fancy flying until the Infinity War films.

I think they can pull it off, though.

Now, about that fight Clint and Vision had when the archer went to pick up Wanda at the Compound. In the original comics, Hawkeye is (or maybe now was) the same age as the Maximoff twins. He became enamored of Wanda and was always flirting with her. The Scarlet Witch never returned the favor; she did not hate Clint, but she certainly seemed to find his advances annoying.

When Vision came along, Wanda fell head over heels in love with the android. After a while, the Vision developed his own personality and reciprocated the Scarlet Witch’s feelings. The two announced that they wanted to get married, which caused a huge ruckus. Quicksilver, for one, did not want his sister marrying a synthetic man.

And Clint was not happy about this sudden competition for Wanda’s affections, though by this point the battle was already lost. Neither Wanda nor Vision would be swayed, and they finally tied the knot. After they did this, Hawkeye left the Avengers because he could not stand to see the Scarlet Witch married to someone else.

Thankfully, this romantic triangle is NOT part of the film! Hallelujah!!!!! I am soooo happy!!!!

Okay, fan victory lap complete. Next!

Right, I said I was going to give you a bit of trivia about Wanda. When Tony goes to the Raft, the first inmate he sees is the Scarlet Witch, who is wearing a straight jacket and shivering in her prison cell. The manner of the Maximoff girl’s incarceration here is probably a nod to X-Men: Evolution. In that television series Wanda’s father – Magneto – had her locked up in an insane asylum because she could not control her anger, which made her probability manipulation powers run wild. While she was there she ended up wearing – guess what? – a straight jacket. She did not enjoy it in that series, either.

The inhibitor collar we see Wanda wearing in her last scene during the movie was not part of her incarceration in Evolution. However, such collars are a fixture of X-Men lore. These devices are the only things the comic book authorities have which are capable of suppressing mutant powers. Heh, I guess Disney/Marvel got something mutant-related into their films under Fox’s nose after all!

As an interesting side note, while I do not know how likely it is, if the film writers want to keep pulling plot points and tidbits from the comics, we may see Wanda in a mid or end credits scene in Doctor Strange this November. In the original stories, Wanda’s probability manipulating powers were so hard for her to control that she went looking for help to get them totally under her command.

Her choice of tutor, however, was rather… unconventional. Agatha Harkness, a bona fide witch/sorceress from Salem, Massachusetts, taught Wanda enough magic for the younger woman to make her “hex” power more stable and reliable. In doing this, Harkness realized that Wanda had great potential in the realm of magic. This led to Strange calling on the Scarlet Witch from time to time for help fighting his occult enemies. Eventually, Wanda tapped into this magical potential, becoming the “mainstream” Marvel universe’s most powerful sorceress.

This led to her going loopy at least two, perhaps three, times in the “mainstream” comics. She destroyed the Avengers (and Hawkeye) the first time. The second time, she eradicated most of the mutant powers on the planet (along with Hawkeye, temporarily). The third time, everything else in the Marvel “mainstream” universe was also flying haywire, so Wanda’s mental instability in that event was almost negligible.

Wanda’s powers in the films have so far given no real sign of being out of her control. Still, the writers could pull anything out of their hats between Civil War and the Infinity War films. This is speculation, of course, but it bears mentioning.

Now, about the Raft itself. In the comics, the Raft is a high security super villain prison. Not that you could tell, since it has been subject to prison breaks in the past. Designed to be something of an East Coast equivalent to Alcatraz, the Raft is farther out in the Atlantic in Civil War than it is in the comics. In the books, the Raft is on an island. In the film, it is an island! (It is also, apparently, kept under water until the people running it are expecting visitors.)

During the comic book Civil War, Tony and the government enforcers for Superhero Registration working with him incarcerated captured anti-Registration heroes in an inter-dimensional super villain prison known as 42. 42 was really not a safe environment for the captured heroes. Of course, since Marvel was determined to make Tony a villain (they had succeeded last I looked), this hardly mattered to him or his bosses. The heroes under Cap’s leadership who were caught were bundled off to 42 without a trial, public or otherwise, and left to rot with the criminals they had spent their lives bringing to justice.

The film, of course, could not handle the intricacies of such a prison, so the Raft was substituted in its place. That is all right by me. I do not think I could have handled 42 being jammed into the movie! The Raft was a perfect substitute – especially since its only inhabitants were the guards and the imprisoned members of Team Cap. A picture is worth a thousand words, and the Raft said a million in fewer than ten minutes.

Now for Baron Zemo. Yes, in the movie, he is not a baron. (Whoop-dee-doo, so what?) In the comics, Baron Helmut Zemo is the last of a line of German nobles who have historically had an unhealthy habit of becoming evil. It practically seems to be bred into them, a trait passed from father to son as some sort of weird genetic inheritance. I do not know if there was ever a “good” Zemo in the whole family tree.

Baron Heinrich Zemo, in the comics, was one of Cap’s World War II enemies. A Nazi scientist, Heinrich Zemo had just managed to make a super glue so powerful nothing could break the adhesive. Cap showed up at about that moment and, during the ensuing battle, broke the container for the glue. The liquid spilled onto Heinrich Zemo’s head, which was covered by a hereditary hood/mask.

The mask was then permanently stuck to Heinrich’s face by his own super glue. It made eating and a few other things a bit of a problem. After he was awakened by the Avengers, Cap eventually faced Heinrich for the last time in Brazil. Light from Steve’s shield, reflected back in Zemo’s face, threw the Baron’s shot way off course. The misfired bolt started a rockslide, which killed Heinrich Zemo. Cap saw to the Nazi’s proper burial – which is more than Heinrich Zemo would have done for him – and went home.

A few years later, Zemo suddenly showed up again. Except this Zemo is not Heinrich; it is instead his son, Helmut. The guy has hung around ever since and been nothing but a plague. He can usually be seen leading his own team of anti-Avengers, which he calls the Masters of Evil.

This is one of the things from the “mainstream” comics to make it into the Civil War film. Helmut Zemo having a wife and son is new, but his father – that is old hat. In the comics, Helmut Zemo’s entire vendetta with Cap is based on the fact that he believes Steve killed his father in Brazil. The younger Baron is unwilling to distinguish between his father’s mistake and Cap’s lucky timing. Cap made his father miss, and it does not matter to Helmut that his father’s death was, basically, inadvertent. It happened, Cap was there, and so it is his fault.

Gee, that resembles Zemo’s grudge with the Avengers in the film, now doesn’t it?

In Civil War, Zemo holds all of the Avengers responsible for the deaths of his family, including the demise of his father. Though the inclusion of the senior Zemo is a seemingly throwaway bit of story, it is actually a nod by the writers to the original storytellers. Nifty little trick, I must say.

Attack 2

This is going to surprise some people, but the next thing to point out is that amazing internecine battle at the German airport. I do not know of any Avengers battles taking place in airports in the “mainstream” comics. They probably happened; I just do not know about them. But there is an X-Men battle from the original comics which took place in an airport that I know about. And unfortunately, this airport was not empty when the fighting started!

While seeing the Professor off on a well-earned vacation one day, the X-Men were confronted by a villain calling himself Eric the Red. He had taken control of Alex Summers/Havoc, the younger brother of Scott Summers/Cyclops. (Yes, I know this order has been reversed in the new X-Men films. Another reason I hate them.) Havoc knew he was being dominated, but he could not fight off the villain’s influence. Still, he was able to talk to his older brother and the other X-Men, proving that he was aware of what Eric the Red was doing to him.

Lorna Dane/Polaris, Havoc’s mind-controlled girlfriend … not so much. She was completely under the Red’s spell, and the fight spiraled out of control when she knocked Jean Grey a good one.

Storm retaliated in kind out of fury, since she and Jean were tight friends. This counterattack by Ororo in turn enraged Havoc. Mind control or no mind control, you did not want to go after his girlfriend. Not if you wanted to keep breathing!

It is a long shot to see a parallel between these two battles, I admit. But heck, the Marvel universe is full of long shots! They both took place in an airport. If nothing else, that is an odd coincidence!

Then there is Tony recruiting Spider-Man to Team Iron. When Spidey at last realizes he was used as an “ace in the hole” by Tony Stark for Civil War, there are going to be Whigs on the green. But for now, the important part is his new suit.

Uh-huh, I just said the important part of that scene was Peter Parker being given a new suit by Tony Stark. During the “mainstream” comic book civil war event, Spidey was convinced to join the pro-Registration side of the argument by Iron Man. He revealed his identity to the world, and Tony gave him an electromechanical suit which could sprout three extra legs and shoot repulsors from the hands, among other useful tricks.

In the film, this idea is presented in a slightly different manner. Parker cobbled his original suit out of old fabric in the movie, adding a set of secondhand goggles so he could better process information. The whole effect was far from intimidating. It was not even very appealing.

Tony states he needs an upgrade, which we get to see at the German airport. This suit, while it resembles the original outfit for Spider-Man in the comics, definitely has some Stark flair added to it. The fabric is high grade, almost like a suit of nanite skin, and there are camera lenses in his mask, enabling Parker to focus in on an object, person, or some such. (The lenses can also widen to show his shock when Ant-Man becomes Giant Man!) His webshooters are also more tricked-out than they were previously.

Although the results are different, the gift is essentially the same. Tony thought Spidey’s old suit in the comics needed a little more Iron in order to better protect him. In the movie, however, Parker really was in dire need of a new, better suit. Tony messed up a lot of things in Civil War, but we have to admit he did a very good thing for Spider-Man here!

Finally, there is King T’Challa. Many will already have put this together, but here it is again. In the “mainstream” comics, the mantle of Black Panther is passed down from one warrior in the royal family to another. King T’Chaka is not mentioned as ever having been a warrior or the previous wearer of the Black Panther mantle. More’s the pity.

Anyway, in the comics, T’Challa took the responsibility of being the Black Panther after his father was defeated and killed by one Ulysses Klaw. T’Challa, a child of maybe thirteen at the time, managed to scare Klaw off – destroying his right arm in the process – after the mercenary had betrayed and killed his father. T’Challa’s uncle ruled Wakanda as regent until the prince was old enough to undergo the trials he needed to pass to take up the mantle of the Black Panther. Once that was done, T’Challa suited up, kicked Klaw’s backside, threw him in prison, and became king of Wakanda. Following on that success, he joined the Avengers.

This is similar to the story we see in the film. T’Challa only dons the suit of the Black Panther after his father’s death, so that he may avenge him. In the film, Bucky is the one who takes the rap for killing King T’Chaka, which brings T’Challa into the fight on the side of Team Iron.

A last interesting note is that, in the “mainstream” comics, Panther at first declared neutrality in the comic book civil war event. But he and his wife, Ororo Munroe/Storm, eventually sided with Cap when it became clear Tony had completely gone off the deep end and was going to run everything into the ground, probably killing someone along the way. Unfortunately, the Marvel writers still managed to have him do that. Sorry, Panther.

Well, readers, I have delivered on my promise to discuss the hint I mentioned about Wanda’s incarceration – and then some! So as of now, I will sign off and give you all a chance to have fun elsewhere.

Avengers Assemble!

The Mithril Guardian