Marvel’s Agent Carter

HAYLEY ATWELL

The two seasons of the series and the one shot film constitute the latest footage of the MCU phase 1. The series was released in 2015-16 and the short film in 2013, while the last feature film of the phase was released in 2012. However, they are closely related to the Captain America origin story and thus early on in my MCU watching list.

I watched these in a spree over three days and I’m a bit undecided on whether I should’ve watched them at all. The season 1 is pretty closely tied in with the Captain America story and quite interesting at times. Season 2 on the other hand descends complete irrelevance quite quickly. Not really sure, what happened between season 1 and 2, since the first one ends a bit abruptly, but they don’t continue that in any manner during season 2. There’s a quick line in season 2 about the events of season 1 and nothing else. Not sure, if they had grander plans, but had budget cuts or what, but it just seems that they had to change direction pretty quickly. For much of season 2 I found myself grabbing the nearest magazine to read a quick article or checking my blog feed, while I waited for something interesting to happen.

The short film, it turns out, was actually all that was needed. Basically the series and the short film tell the same story – Agent Carter stuck in a soon to be obsolete war time agency, where her colleagues treat her as a secretary, and her proving to be superior to the men and moving onward. The thing is, the short film does this in 15 minutes as opposed to 18 episodes of 40+ minutes of the series.

Haley Atwell is wonderful as Agent Carter, but that’s about it. The series starts right where Captain America ended and there’s a few nods towards the rest of the MCU – Howard Stark, the father of Iron Man plays a major role, and S.H.I.E.L.D. appears shortly, but not much else. In the end, there’s very little to justify the hours spent on this. I probably would be happier, if I hadn’t watched season 2 – maybe happiest, if I’d just went with the short film and skipped the series altogether.

 

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Captain America: The First Avenger [2011]

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This is not a good place to start exploring the MCU. No matter how intensely I’m looking through my fanboy glasses, I can’t find much good in this film.

Captain America, the character concept, is Marvel universe’s Superman – the clean shaven, all American boy scout, who has no faults. The Cap even wears the stars and stripes. The concept is horrid.

As a part of the MCU, the intention of the film is to show the origin story of Captain America. The thing is, the origin story happens at a time that is far removed from everything else that will happen in the MCU. As such, I assume that Captain America is pretty much the only thing that will be reused later. All the other characters are regular mortals, who will be dead or very old during the events of the rest of the MCU. Well, there’s of course Howard Stark, the father of Iron Man, so that’s one connection. Other than that, it looks to be very thin.

As part of Captain America’s character arc in the MCU, I think this is intended as a film that takes a completely ridiculous character concept and attempts to build some rough edges to it. The problem is, the rough edges are built through footage that looks like it has been cleaned up from everything that might make the home front lose heart and not buy war bonds. That is, they take a ridiculous concept and try to add some edges to it by taking an edgy situation, but sanding it down to the shape of the original ridiculous concept.

I’m trying to find words to describe, how I would improve the film, but it’s difficult, since there’s so many conflicting dichotomies at play. There’s Captain America, who’ll look ridiculous in pretty much any setting, and you are supposed to put him into WWII and try to make it fit. There’s MCU Nazi occult scientist super villain with an army of augmented soldiers equipped with pseudo-scientific super weapons, and you are supposed to put that into WWII and try to make it fit. There’s WWII that is pretty much humanity at its worst, and you are supposed to make it fit with the MCU that is brightly colored, clean, and lighthearted even, when the planet is being destroyed.

The one idea that I get, is that it probably could’ve functioned as proper pulp. As it stands, it borrows a lot of imagery from it, but doesn’t want to go all in.

The story itself tells of Steve Rogers, a man bullied all his life for his small stature, but possessing of impeccable character. He wants to enlist to serve his country in WWII, but is refused, again, due to his stature. Dr. Erskine sees beyond the stature into the character and hand picks Steve into a secret army program intent on building super soldiers. Obviously the Nazis sabotage the program and kill Dr. Erskine. Only Steve gets the treatment becoming Captain America. With the program gone, Captain America is assigned to entertainment duty in the war bonds effort at home and in front of troops in the front lines. On a trip to the front lines, he encounters the remains of a company that had some of his friends in it, and goes on a rogue mission to rescue them. The captors were Nazi super soldiers, so now the Cap has a mission to eradicate the super soldier unit, which puts him on a collision course with their leader, Red Skull, the super villain of this film. The confrontation ends up badly for Red Skull, but not before he has launched super weapons towards the US eastern seaboard. The Cap sacrifices himself to save millions of Americans. There’s side plot into a slowly developing love between Steve and Peggy Carter, who is first a part of the super soldier program and later helps the Cap on his rogue mission. Some tears obviously flow, when the Cap finally dies.

There’s nothing inherently bad in the storyline, but nothing too good either. As a whole, the good things in the film form a very short list. It has Marvel vibes, which is obviously nice, if the film is going to sit in with the rest of the MCU works. There’s even some chemistry between Steve and Peggy. For a short while, before everything is exposed, the Nazi super soldiers seem intriguing. But that’s it.

All in all, this seems like fan service for people, who see no problems with Captain America’s character in the first place. If I was building the MCU, I would’ve made this into a 30-45min pulp film. In reality, that couldn’t have been done, since it would’ve been leaving money on the table, and it would not be proper to tell the origin story of a major MCU character in a format that is going to be missed by most of the fans.

Trying my hardest to squint through the fanboy glasses, I’m going to give this the lowest grade that in my grading semantics indicates that the film was not a waste of time.

  • Director: Joe Johnston
  • Watched on: 29th Apr 2017
  • Watched at: Home (Nelonen)
  • Fanboy grade: 2.5/5
  • 1/5

Liza, the Fox-Fairy [2015]

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Also known as Liza, a rókatündér by Károly Ujj Mészáros – a director completely unknown to me before this. Saw this at Orion, the theater of the National Audiovisual Institute which primarily manages the Finnish Film Archives.

So we have Liza, who’s been alone for all her life. She has this idea that, when she turns 30, she’ll meet the love of her life at her favorite restaurant – slightly desperate dreamer that she is… Unfortunately that makes her (not really) imaginary friend angry. Instead of love, Liza finds potential lovers dropping dead like flies. The police get involved thinking that Liza must be behind the deaths. The sergeant assigned to the case does his job, but following Liza around predictably makes him fall in love with her. It takes a while, but finally Liza reciprocates and they break the curse. Nobody dies anymore.

Romantic comedy is a genre that I usually avoid with a passion. I don’t think I really realized that Liza, the Fox-Fairy is one, when I decided to watch it. When I found myself with an unexpected few extra hours at hand and noticed that it was playing at Orion, I headed there without second thought. I originally considered this for my program during last year’s Love & Anarchy Film Festival, but in the end it barely missed the cut, so I didn’t give it a second thought, although I’ve forgotten why I was originally intrigued by the film.

Comedies are difficult to start with. Add romance and usually these films start with a few laughs, then run out of jokes, and introduce something that should engage the average viewer – romance. Unfortunately, the romance is usually half-assed at best. There’s no charisma, no chemistry, no ideas. It’s just something to carry the film to full feature length. Once the romance is done (yes, they do get each other), they end with a few more jokes and hope that the audience remembers the jokes… The pattern is so prevalent, that I can’t really figure out, who wants to see more than two of these.

Appears that this style of film can be given a better treatment. After seeing the film my first thought about why this one got romantic comedy right, was that this is a comedy, so it manages the non-comedic bits by doing them over the top. That’s getting it backwards though. The integrity of the characters or the story is never compromised for comedic reasons. Instead the comedy is in seeing the events from the outside. Ok, there’s some scenes that are there purely for the comedy, but they are handled delicately in order to keep everything intact. You get a story that is by itself very touching, the characters have chemistry and the romance is built with time, care and loving – but it’s presented in a quirky manner reminiscent of the likes of Wes Anderson, and Takashi Miike’s earlier pieces that were still infused with mind boggling associations and lacking polish. Despite being quirky, this avoids the traps of the American indie films – it’s more than its quirks.

  • Director: Károly Ujj Mészáros
  • Original Title: Liza, a rókatündér
  • Watched on: August or Septempber 2016
  • Watched at: Orion
  • 5/5