'Rules Don't Apply' to the long-rumored Howard Hughes film by Warren Beatty
Credit: 20th Century Fox

'Rules Don't Apply' to the long-rumored Howard Hughes film by Warren Beatty

And you can see it for yourself in November

Warren Beatty’s been talking about Howard Hughes as long as I’ve lived in Los Angeles.

When I was in high school, one of the things I did was devour entire careers on home video as a way of educating myself about various filmmakers and eras. I was aware of Warren Beatty before that, certainly, and remember Heaven Can Wait in particular as a big commercial moment for Beatty. I loved that movie and the weird goofball guy who starred in it, but it was almost a decade later when I finally plunged headlong into his filmography and suddenly realized that I kind of adore Beatty.

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How Shane Black went from 'Lethal' to 'Nice' in only 30 years
Credit: HitFix

How Shane Black went from 'Lethal' to 'Nice' in only 30 years

We cover everything from 'Lethal Weapon' to his latest

This was a long time coming.

I’m not sure how it happens that I never ended up speaking with Shane Black until I visited the set of The Nice Guys, but that’s how it worked out. When Warner told me that Black would be doing interviews for the release of the film, I invited him to the HitFix studio for a longer sit-down conversation, and was thrilled when they scheduled it to happen.

One of the signature lines from Lethal Weapon, the film that put Shane Black on the map as a screenwriter, involves Murtaugh (Danny Glover) wearily opining, “I’m too old for this shit.” It’s become one of the great action movie cliches now, and Black can take all the credit for that. When we sat down, I was curious if he’s reaching that place now himself, and looking at The Nice Guys and watching this conversation a second time, I don’t think we have to worry about Black losing his fastball any time soon. If anything, I think he’s becoming a more Shane Blacky version of Shane Black as time passes. If you trace a line from Lethal Weapon to The Last Boy Scout to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang to The Nice Guys, I think you can see a clear evolution of a voice and a style, and I think he’s more in control now than he’s ever been.

Our conversation covered a fair amount of ground, and he seemed to have no problem discussing anything I brought up. That’s good if you’re curious about his upcoming reboot of The Predator or his Doc Savage movie. He seems to have realistic expectations for The Nice Guys, but I hope you guys make it a bigger hit than he believes it will be. I would love to see him put Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling together again for another case, and I think he’s more than proven that he has this kind of material down cold. He was born to make this type of film, and considering how few people even try, we should be celebrating the fact that we’ve got someone who is so naturally gifted at it. I love Los Angeles detective stories, especially ones set in another era, and Black understands exactly why that’s such a valuable story type.

Don’t support something diluted and thinned out like that awful-looking Lethal Weapon television series coming in the fall. Instead, go right to the tap and support the guy whose voice has been setting the standard for tough guy wise-assery for thirty years now.

The Nice Guys is in theaters on Friday.

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A soft reboot of the Motion/Captured blog is afoot, but what does that mean?
Credit: Universal Home Video

A soft reboot of the Motion/Captured blog is afoot, but what does that mean?

Change can be a good thing... right?

What do you want from me?

Typically, if a movie character says that, it's petulant, exasperated, the end of the line, emotionally-speaking. Michael Fassbender bellows a variation of that line in one of the big emotional beats of X-Men: Apocalypse, and it's a cry of existential horror.

It's not remotely that urgent for me, but it is a question that's on my mind right now because we're at one of those crossroads moments for HitFix. You may not be aware of it, but we were recently sold to Woven Media, the parent company of the Uproxx Media family. We moved into our new offices this week, and we're going to be doing even more video in the near future. We've suddenly got access to all-new resources, and it'll take us a little bit of time to figure out exactly what that means. Last week, we shot our first piece on the new set, and it was interesting to see just how big the studio actually is and how different it's going to be as an environment.

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Review: 'Money Monster' is old-fashioned issue-driven entertainment done well
Credit: Sony Pictures
B-

Review: 'Money Monster' is old-fashioned issue-driven entertainment done well

Jodie Foster gets her Sidney Lumet on with this one

Sidney Lumet would like Money Monster quite a bit.

There was a tradition of filmmaking that seems to be on the wane these days that involved wrapping a social issue or a social injustice and wrapping it in a nice juicy dramatic situation. When done perfectly, you get 12 Angry Men or Dog Day Afternoon or Network. Lumet was so good at both understanding exactly how to frame the moral argument and knowing how to play the entertainment, and it’s a bit of a lost art now. I’ve always felt like the inelegant version of this particular type of storytelling was embodied by Stanley Kramer, who tilted more towards the message end of the equation. It’s a tough thing to get right, and Jodie Foster deserves credit for orchestrating things with a nimble wit and a relentless energy.

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Harley Quinn's hotpants may pave the way to DC's most feminist comic book movie yet
Credit: Warner Bros

Harley Quinn's hotpants may pave the way to DC's most feminist comic book movie yet

Margot Robbie's taking the controls of what sounds like a great idea

Borys Kit must have known it’s almost my birthday, because he got me an early present when he broke the news today that Warner Bros. is developing a Harley Quinn movie for Margot Robbie.

It does not surprise me that they are moving quickly to nail down an ongoing relationship with Robbie, because everything I’ve heard about Suicide Squad from people working on and around the movie is that she absolutely owns the movie. I’ve been asked about the differences between my reporting on the reshoots for the film and Devin Faraci’s reporting, and I think we’re not really reporting different things. He said he heard the reshoots were to make the film funnier, saying every joke in the original cut had already been used in the trailer. What I heard was that the additional photography was a result of Warner telling director David Ayer “we want more of what’s working,” and that meant, in large part, more Harley Quinn.

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Review: 'Alice Through The Looking Glass' is a dazzling but hollow nightmare
Credit: Walt Disney Pictures
D+

Review: 'Alice Through The Looking Glass' is a dazzling but hollow nightmare

Boy, these movies are not for me

Well, it’s better than the first one.

That is by no means an endorsement. Instead, it’s an acknowledgment that when it comes to mainstream Hollywood trauma, few scars run as deep as Alice In Wonderland. When Tim Burton gets to Hell, this is the film that will kick off the highlights reel they screen. A near-total refutation of what makes Lewis Carroll’s enduring classic endure, that first film tested my patience in a way few Hollywood films do. I’ve said it before… to be a film critic, you need to generally love movies. You need to love the very act of walking into a theater, sitting down among a crowd of strangers, and then taking that ride when the lights go out. I’ve written before about how it’s my church, and of course, I root for that experience to be great every time it happens. That is not the case, though, and I try to be honest and clear about what happens when that experience turns out to be a bust. It’s not enough to say, “I didn’t like this.”

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If nerds won the war for pop culture, why are they so angry all the time?
Credit: Warner Bros/DC Films/Marvel Studios

If nerds won the war for pop culture, why are they so angry all the time?

It's okay to celebrate, guys

I was new to the school, and I didn’t know anyone.

When you’re a kid, moving is hard. But moving when you have the last name “McWeeny” was next-level difficult, and it taught me to live by prison rules early. The first person to come at me with jokes about the last name had to be destroyed, and then I could settle into my new life. When I showed up for my first day in the fourth grade at my new elementary school, I was coming from a fairly disastrous stay in Texas that came to a Biblical conclusion, the flooding of our neighborhood complete with an entire bridge being washed away. I had a chip on my shoulder about the entire time in Texas, and I wasn’t sure what to make of Chattanooga yet. I didn’t feel like I fit into the South, and I knew I had to protect my secret identity as a giant nerd.

After all, when I was a kid, being a nerd was basically hanging a target on yourself for idiot bullies, and that was a big part of the message sent by media. Nerds were meant to be picked on, and the things they loved were absurd. While I find the film problematic to revisit now, there was something genuinely thrilling about the release of Revenge Of The Nerds, and it was part of a slow cultural swing where the nerds went from the fringe of culture to the center of it. When I first started submitting material to Ain’t It Cool News back in 1996, we were watching aghast as Hollywood turned out Batman & Robin and Lost In Space, and it felt like the people who were adapting our favorite properties hated those properties. One of the things I enjoyed about being a contributor to the site in those days was the sense that we could yell at Hollywood that we just wanted them to treat our favorite things with a little bit of goddamn respect.

Here’s the good news: we won.

When I look at the landscape of pop culture right now, there is no argument anyone can reasonably muster that positions nerd culture as outsider culture. We are not the underdogs, and we have not been the underdogs in a long time. There was a moment in Captain America: Civil War where I had a sort of out-of-body epiphany as I was watching the film. Spider-Man crawls across the front of Giant-Man’s helmet, right across the goggles, and part of me thought, “Well, that’s just crazy that we just saw that image in a giant $200 million summer movie.” The idea that multiplexes are packed with audiences of all ages and genders who are concerned with the fine details of what happened in Iron Man 3 or Thor: The Dark World is mind-blowing to me. We won. We should be celebrating in the streets en masse, one big joyous nerd hive mind in triumphant ecstatic exclamation of victory, and instead, Batman fans are sending rape threats to movie critics they dislike and people are starting petitions to prove shadowy conspiracy theories. Fandom eats itself with gleeful abandon at the exact moment it should be enjoying its status as conqueror.

Why? Why are we at our worst now that we’ve made the mainstream nerdier than it’s ever been at any point in pop culture history?

Let’s go back to that first day of school in the fourth grade. There was only one kid who spoke to me all day long, and it was because his nerd radar was keenly honed. Pete Nelson was a nerd who flew his flag as high as possible. From his Dukes Of Hazard Trapper Keeper to his Grover lunchbox to his Yoda socks, he was unafraid to wear his loves literally on his sleeve in some cases. I was a stealth nerd at that point. I had learned to try to keep things on the DL, and while I might carry a Starlog or a Mad or a Famous Monsters with me in my backpack, I made sure I was clandestine about actually enjoying them. Pete sniffed me out, though, and he immediately offered up his unconditional friendship. He knew the truth about geek life in those days; there was safety in numbers. If you could find enough people to play Dungeons & Dragons, then you probably didn’t have to worry about being bullied at all. You had someone who had your back. You had your tribe. Pete had no one, and he looked at me and decided, “That guy probably has a Star Wars figure collection and I’ll bet he makes big cardboard sets for those figures so he can stage his own original stories.” And, amazingly enough, he was right. I was indeed a nerd, and Pete did indeed speak my language.

He was my first friend in Chattanooga, and he went out of his way to try to seal the deal. I think it was the third day of school when he started asking me over to play after school, and my mom was happy to make it happen. She knew that I was anxious about settling in, and she drove me over to Pete's several times over the next two weeks. When I was at his place, he went overboard. He was an only child, and his parents were more like grandparents, older and seemingly laser-focused on making sure every moment of Pete's life was sunshine and lollipops. We had extravagantly prepared snacks, we watched whatever we wanted on afternoon TV, and we played with Pete's outrageous Star Wars figure collection. At school, though, I found myself almost always anxious about anyone seeing me talk to Pete. He wasn’t cool, and he certainly wasn’t well-liked. The more I spent time with him, the  more I worried about his uncool rubbing off on me. He was that kid who always got picked last for everything, and I was in danger of joining him at the bottom of the social ladder.

Pete was a flaming wagon, and hitching my social hopes and dreams to him was a bad idea, which put fourth-grade-Drew into an untenable position. And here’s where I tell you that this is a very ugly story, and I did a very ugly thing, and I don’t feel good about it even now. But if I’m being honest, then I have to admit that I made the choice that Pete would be the sacrifice I made to get everyone else onboard. I tell this story to make it clear that there was a point in my lifetime when being a nerd was social death, and I wasn’t strong enough or secure enough to be honest about my own unabashed nerdhood at that point. Pete was. Pete simply was what he was, unconcerned with how other people saw things. He loved what he loved, and he was happy it existed. If he could find anyone to talk to about the things he loved, even better. That’s what he saw in me. That’s what he was desperate to cultivate in our friendship. And for his efforts, I got a terrible, terrible idea, and I put it into action. It was very simple. I picked the three or four most popular boys in my class, and I waited until they were together at recess. I took a single sheet of paper and wrote across the top: MEMBERSHIP.

Then I approached them to explain that I’d been talking to Pete and I had realized that he was, without a doubt, the biggest nerd I’d ever met. I told them that he was such a big nerd that it was a threat to the very fabric of society. I told them that I wanted to be very clear about my position on the Pete Nelson subject, and that they’d be welcome to join my new organization, The Pete Nelson Haters Club. I can’t tell you where I got the idea, or what genuinely rotten corner of my soul that came from, but that’s the truth. I got the entire class to join the club, and in doing so, I opened the door to conversation with every kid in my class. Overnight, I had made everyone laugh, I had made them notice me, and I had made it abundantly clear that I wasn’t a nerd like Pete. To join the club, you just had to do one thing like sneeze on Pete or step on his foot or accidentally knock something off his desk. Teeny tiny things, but all crystal clear as acts of malice.

There was no actual club. It was meant to be a one-and-done joke, and it did what I wanted in terms of getting the kids in my class to talk to me and include me. But I’d done it in the worst way possible, throwing this poor kid under the bus. I stopped going to his house and I told my mom I just wanted to do other things. But two weeks after that, Pete didn’t show up for school for three days in a row, and on the third day, I got called out of class. Pete’s mother was there, with the teacher, and they asked me if it was true that I’d started the Pete Nelson Haters Club. Even now, at the age of 45, I can remember the hot shame that spread from my roiling gut to my entire body, and the horrible sensation that ran through me as she explained just what a toll it had taken on Pete. He wasn’t sleeping. He wasn’t eating. He had thrown away many of his favorite things. My own secret shame about who I was and what I loved had led this kid to his own attack of self-loathing. They pulled him from that school and sent him somewhere else rather than have him come back into a classroom that he now feared and dreaded, all because of the person who he had reached out to befriend when no one else bothered. It is, by far, the shittiest thing I ever did to another person, and I did it because mainstream culture had already effectively drilled into my head the idea that nerds were bad and that being a nerd made you a loser. I would watch Harryhausen and Dr. Paul Bearer on Creature Features and Ultraman and I’d go to the theater for Godzilla double-features and I’d convert almost every penny of my lawn-mowing money into Star Wars toys, but when it came to school, I left all that other stuff at the door, and I did my best to blend in.

My kids will never know what that was like. The mainstream now is the geek culture of my youth, and it’s so completely and utterly taken over that it almost doesn’t feel real. Nerd culture has taken over, which means that we are no longer underdogs, and there is some part of being a nerd that almost requires that element. It’s where so much of our art has come from. Letting go of that part of the identity is hard, and it appears to have curdled in a certain percentage of the people who love the same things we love. It’s not enough for them to love something; they have to love it more than you do, and they have to feel like you don’t get it. They have to have some dividing line that separates them from everyone else, and they have to be able to defend that line with a rabid intensity. Without that, they don’t feel complete. When I see people starting petitions like this and I read the comments and I see what a weird and absurd idea some people have about film critics, what I really see is different subsections of geekdom deciding to fight with each other since they no longer have to protect the things they love from being ridiculed. They pick fights where no one else would, and they invent reasons to be insulted or to feel persecuted. If you thought Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice was a great movie, I’m genuinely happy for you. I’m glad you got something out of it that I couldn’t. I’m glad you were satisfied with that version of those characters. Anything I say about that film or write about it or compare it to is not meant to tear down your response to the movie. It’s simply because of my own reaction to it. Even if I don’t like something, that doesn’t mean it is beyond discussion or not worth serious consideration. I like being able to have one of those long rambling nerd debates about something super nerdy. That’s not what online discourse seems to be, though. Instead, there is an ugly aggression that feels like it is not about anybody’s individual reaction to the film. I don’t think it’s inherent to Batman fans, either. I think any nerd subculture has the potential to turn rancid and terrible when “attack” becomes their default. Why do we have to fight at all? Can’t we all just celebrate the fact that we live in a time when the mainstream has caught up to our interests and we’ll like some of what happens, and we won’t like some of what happens, but the point is this is what we asked for, and now that it’s here, we seem to be, by and large, unhappier than we’ve ever been.

There’s a scene at the very end of the new X-Men movie that feels like director Bryan Singer flipping the double-bird to Tom Rothman, packing in all the things that Fox refused to give him on the first film because Rothman was afraid of the comic book nature of the source material. That one shot is emblematic of how far we’ve come since just the start of that series. More and more often now, it’s been proven that it helps if you actually embrace the thing you’re adapting instead of just reflexively changing it because you don’t get it. That approach was what we were advocating way back in those early days of Ain’t It Cool, and when I look at something like Deadpool or the Spider-Man stuff in Civil War, it’s clear that the model works. Respect what you’re adapting, and you’re at least on the right track. It’s hard to respect a fandom that behaves the way people have been behaving lately, though, and all that happens when you become bullies and you use threats to shut people up because you don’t like what they’re saying is you become the thing that used to keep us from being able to openly share all this amazing stuff with each other. Nerd culture went mainstream and curdled into bullying, and that is unacceptable.

We may not always see eye to eye, but the first step to any kind of meaningful discourse is accepting that my love of nerd iconography is no better or more profound than your love of nerd iconography. We each have our own reasons and our own interests, but that common ground and a constant acknowledgment of that common ground should be the foundation of a happier, healthier fandom. I’m tired of the fighting and the name-calling and the general bad behavior. I’m tired of seeing women writers take a disproportionate amount of the abuse. And I am tired of disliking the people who like the things I like. That’s not the fandom that eventually saved me from being the self-loathing piece of garbage who made poor Pete Nelson's life so awful for one month over thirty years ago. When I finally found a community that was tied together by these books and these TV shows and these movies and this shared love of certain genres and archetypes, I was struck anew by just how poorly I treated Pete Nelson, and it made me aware of just how important those shared connections can be. I hope he eventually found his tribe, because I have certainly been lucky enough to find mine, and it has meant everything to me.

Nerd culture won. So now we can stop fighting, and simply get busy enjoying? Passion is part of fandom, but anger doesn’t have to be. No more battles, because there’s celebrating to be done. Let’s not burn the Golden Age down when we worked so hard to get here in the first place. Next time you see another nerd say something that enrages you, ask yourself why instead of jumping into the comments section. Shrug it off. Go find a positive comment somewhere else, one that raises a point you want to discuss, and turn that passion into joy instead of fury.

It’s a big Internet. Let’s stop being small.

Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice and Captain America: Civil War are in theaters now.
That is insane.

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Warner sets a new date for 'Godzilla vs. Kong' main event of their new monster franchise
Credit: Warner/Legendary

Warner sets a new date for 'Godzilla vs. Kong' main event of their new monster franchise

I just hope I'm still alive when the movie finally arrives

I will be 50 years old three days before Godzilla vs Kong arrives in theaters.

Or at least, that’s how it appears things will shake out according to the new release dates that were set by Warner Bros. as they shift their schedule around again. Gareth Edwards, still hard at work on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, is still set as the director of Godzilla 2. He must be relieved to see that they’re moving Godzilla 2 to a new date on March 22, 2019, giving him a little bit of breathing room before these two giant films.

Meanwhile, Jordan Vogt-Roberts is working hard right now on Kong: Skull Island, which is set in the same film universe, and which will give us some idea about how we’re ever going to see the big ape go head to head with the traditionally-much-larger fire-breathing lizard. After all, they’ve already set up how Godzilla looks and how big he is, and if they’re going to end up creating a satisfying showdown between two of the most iconic creations in all of fantasy cinema, they’ve got to make us believe that there’s a chance that fight lasts more than two minutes, the same problem that was faced by the makers of Batman v Superman.

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Review: Lots of energy and some strong performances elevate familiar 'X-Men: Apocalypse'
Credit: 20th Century Fox
B-

Review: Lots of energy and some strong performances elevate familiar 'X-Men: Apocalypse'

Is it okay if this franchise is all turning into one big blur?

Bryan Singer’s getting downright playful these days.

Continuity is a very weird thing in the X-Men universe. Since the year 2000, when Singer’s first X-Men was released, we’ve seen them flash forward and backward in time, recasting key roles, while also keeping some of the same cast intact, leading to a series that led my eight-year-old to tell me as we were walking across the 20th Century Fox lot on Friday night, “Daddy, the X-Men movies make my brain go crazy.” You could describe X-Men: First Class, X-Men: Days Of Future Past, and X-Men: Apocalypse as a trilogy, but I don’t think these film really work like that. At this point, each movie exists as its own thing, free to either embrace or discard everything that’s come before it depending on the story they’re telling. Each of the films feels like it’s resetting the entire series, which is business-smart and narratively frustrating, and with this latest entry, it feels to me like Singer has finally settled into his role as the orchestrator of all of this chaos and he’s having fun with it now.

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Captain America is the best movie superhero, and here's why
Credit: Marvel Studios

Captain America is the best movie superhero, and here's why

Seriously, there's no room to argue on this one

Typically, I’m in favor of articles that emphasize the world “favorite” over the word “best.” If you want to have a conversation about who your favorite superhero in any modern superhero movie is, there are dozens of candidates, and I’m sure every single character is someone’s favorite.

However, I’m here today to make a case for one character as standing above every other superhero in modern movies as the best, the ideal, the person who is simply better than anyone else. After all, he’s got his third movie opening this Friday, the fifth he’s appeared in overall, and it’s time we all acknowledge what is abundantly clear by now: Captain America is the best.

All three of the Captain America films are credited to the same screenwriters. Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus managed to do something that no one else has done so far at Marvel, crafting a trilogy of films that tell a complete story of someone’s evolution from normal human into genuine legend. Watching all three of the films in the Captain America trilogy again, I am struck by just how beautifully each of the films plays into the bigger picture, while all having totally different identities as films. Joe Johnston has never done a more complete job as a filmmaker than he did with Captain America: The First Avenger, and Joe and Anthony Russo made a splendid debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with The Winter Soldier before moving on to Civil War. Somehow, though, the films manage to perfectly balance the dual needs of serving as sequels while standing alone, and in each one, Steve Rogers takes a few more steps towards becoming the icon that I feel he has truly become now, and looking at his journey should make it clear why I feel he is the best-realized hero out of any of the comic book heroes currently roadblocking our movie theaters.

First, let’s define some terms here so we’re all on the same page. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to be talking about the film versions of these characters. After all, when you’re talking about the comic book characters, you’re talking about something that has been through dozens of interpretations from different writers and artists, with complicated continuities that have changed often over the years. When I wrote about The New Mutants this week, I mentioned how excited I am to see that Josh Boone is taking his cues from the early run of the series, which happens to be my favorite version of the series. It’s clear from responses all over the Internet that not everyone shares that opinion, and many fans are already upset because they’re not going to see the version they want to see. What we’re going to discuss today is simply the film incarnations of these characters, and when judging them based solely on the films, I don’t think there’s even room to debate.

Captain America is the best superhero in modern movies. Bar none.

That surprises me. Before the first film was released, I was skeptical that they’d be able to even make a movie that would get released internationally, much less be a worldwide blockbuster that would make the character beloved. I wouldn’t have called it, and I would have been wrong for many different reasons. I thought Captain America’s time had passed, that he was too blatantly jingoistic, and that any film about him would end up feeling corny or even ridiculous. And when they hired Joe Johnston, who I think is a solid but uninspired filmmaker for the most part, I wasn’t filled with hope that he would break the mold.

However, I’ve gone through a complete reversal on my feelings about the character, and it’s entirely because of the films. The first act of Captain America: The First Avenger does such a terrific job of turning Steve Rogers into a compelling lead that they manage to actually make you stop paying attention to the truly creepy and weird special effect that was used to make graft the head of Chris Evans onto a little skinny body. Instead, I find when I watch that first act that they make it very clear that this is a guy who is outraged by injustice, and who genuinely wants to help people. He is innately good, which is what Professor Erskine (Stanley Tucci) responds to when he first sees Steve in action. The simple decency and the passion to succeed despite his own limitations are what make Steve heroic, not the science experiment they conduct on him. One of the craziest things about that first film is how long they keep the skinny Steve in play. By the time they actually put him in the chamber and run the experiment, we’re more than used to the skinny Steve. That makes it all the more delightful when they open the chamber and we get our first look at the pumped-up reality of Chris Evans, who bulked up massively from earlier film appearances. He is absurd in comparison with the character we’ve just gotten to know over that previous forty minutes or so, and there’s something great about the way they accomplish the transformation by turning the visual effect off. It makes him all that much more real.

With both Iron Man and Thor, Marvel created reluctant heroes, men who needed to be humbled to some degree to become heroic, and looking at both of those first films, they follow similar arcs. Tony Stark and Thor both think themselves infallible, amazing, and they don’t recognize their own lack of humility as a problem. Steve Rogers, on the other hand, remains humble even once they turn him into a super soldier, and that defining part of his nature makes him enormously appealing. As my buddy Scott pointed out as we were talking yesterday, not since Christopher Reeve played Superman and Clark Kent in 1978’s Superman: The Movie have we seen a movie hero as effortlessly noble as this, and it really drives home that Cap is a man out of time. Steve Rogers doesn’t just accept the mantle of Captain America; he actively chases it, desperate to be able to make a difference. The moment that defines him comes during the boot camp sequence of the film, before he’s been transformed. When Col. Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) throws a fake grenade out onto the course with the recruits, everyone ducks for cover except for Steve, who throws himself onto the grenade without hesitation. No matter what else he does in the film, that’s the moment I come back to, because it’s utterly selfless. Not only does he do it without thinking, but in doing so, since he believes he'll be blown up, he guarantees that he won’t be the candidate for the super-soldier program, which is everything he’s been chasing.

One of the reasons I was never a huge fan of the Captain America comics is because I’ve always found his rogue’s gallery sort of silly. In The First Avenger, the Red Skull is a no-joke comic book villain, complete with a weird head and a plan to rule the world. In The Winter Soldier, we’re still dealing with an unstoppable assassin with a metal arm and a shadowy AI living inside an abandoned Nazi mainframe, but we’re also dealing with a more human face of evil in the film, thanks to the work by Robert Redford. In this film, while there are plenty of great big comic book images, they’ve taken Helmut Zemo and transformed him into a grieving former soldier whose family was killed in Sokovia. He does what he does to punish the Avengers for the collateral damage they caused, which is as small-scale and human a motivation as possible. That’s a long way from being a hooded Nazi who was injured in a tragic adhesive accident, and the movie’s infinitely better for it. In addition to gradually moving things away from big silly comic book bad guys, the changes to canon have helped underline the way Steve Rogers is motivated by his own personal compass of right and wrong. He is no mere tool of America, no matter what his name is.

Going back to watch both The First Avenger and The Winter Soldier and then seeing Civil War a second time makes it clear that this is the best overall trilogy of the modern superhero age because it works as a whole, and because each of the films manages to add another layer to who Steve Rogers is as a hero. By the end of this latest film, when Steve manages to climb to his feet, beaten and bloodied, just barely able to say, “I can do this all day,” it is clear that he has always been a superhero, from the moment he was born as a skinny little sick kid in Brooklyn. His superpower is his decency and his unwillingness to back down from what he believes is right. When I talk about these films with my kids, one of the things I like to do is talk through why the people are fighting and how those conflicts define heroism. Nine times out of ten, I find that you have to also discuss the idea of compromise and moral relativism if you’re going to try to call these characters heroic.

But with Captain America? It’s easy. And when we’re done with this era of filmmaking, I suspect we will look back and recognize that Steve Rogers is the one character who remains uncompromised, untarnished, and unfailingly good.

Captain America: Civil War is in theaters today.
You can read my review here.
And you can watch a spoiler-filled review of the film embedded at the top of this story.

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