Saturday, 11 November 2017

“Stories are in our DNA” – local publisher, Charles Siboto, on South Africa’s reading culture

An article I wrote for BooksLive:

Local publisher, Charles Siboto, on our reading culture, competing with international titles and reading as tool to raise our standard of education

The South African publishing scene is a strange one, consisting of many peculiarities and oddities. The first thing that you notice is that it’s not representative of the country and its diverse range of cultures. There are many factors that lend to how lopsided our reading statistics are. The biggest factor is that as a nation we don’t read much and there are no books in most households, so a reading culture is never fostered. I have worked in publishing for four years and can testify that books are luxury items for most households because they are expensive, especially local books. Publishers would love to make books more affordable but the reality is that publishing books is expensive, with the highest cost being printing. In order for publishers to survive, they have to print enough books to cover the cost of producing the books when most of that print run sells. The more books publishers print the cheaper the cost of printing and thus the cheaper the book for buyers, but if those books don’t sell they sit with excessive stock and pay warehouse costs for that stock, which eventually will have to be pulped. The South African publishing scene, thus, is a fine balancing act of publishers trying to make books as accessible as possible while making enough money to continue existing so as to publish more books. Now, as both publisher and reader, I am thinking we can all do more to promote diverse South African literature, especially as readers.

South Africa already has a model of what a healthy, local reading culture looks like in the form of Afrikaans books. Afrikaans publishers are the biggest in the country and Afrikaans readers buy books. The Afrikaans community does have more buying power than most other language groups in the country but the other thing they have is pride in their language. Afrikaans speakers can still largely get by in our economy without having to learn English. Parents know that the country is constantly becoming more and more English but they still don’t stop placing an emphasis on children speaking and reading Afrikaans. In many cases, English is more the supplementary reading. With the other language and culture groups in the country the emphasis is more on English than on the mother tongue, and for the most part, we all know why and I will touch on this later.

Having spent some time reading books by local black writers in English, I know this is by no means a bad thing and it allows for more people being able to enjoy those books. There is an increase of the black middle-class and publishers realise that they have to tap into this market. Young, black and especially female writers are also on the rise and this makes for a great recipe to produce local books that are entertaining, informative, address social issues, expands minds and are just straight up ‘woke’. The problem with publishing in English is that people still buy more international titles than local ones in English. I am one of those people and I have made conscious decision to buy more local titles and readers who can afford to should do this. Afrikaans publishers usually do publish in English and to a smaller scale some of the other local languages but they have realised long ago that they cannot compete with the international market and have opted to focus on their strength, publishing Afrikaans books. Competing with international publishers is difficult because as a country we are not yet confident enough in the power of our own stories and this should not be so. South African publishers publish books of a high caliber that can compete with titles from the UK or the US but they get lost in the crowd. Publishers have had to be much more creative in their marketing a can continue to do so, but as readers, we should also come to the party.

We have great stories as a nation, our cultures are rich in stories that deserve to be shared with the world. I am in no way asking people to stop reading international titles but simply saying that you can read both local and international. It is refreshing to read stories where the heroes and villains are people you can relate to and people that you can imagine meeting when you walk down the street, stories where the lovers and their secrets are people like you. Local books are still expensive to produce but if we all do a little to support the local reading scene it goes a long way. We can do a lot simply by each person in a circle of friends buying one book and then swapping the books among themselves until everyone has had a chance to read every book in the circle. These are things that help to nurture our reading culture. The stronger our reading culture becomes the cheaper and more accessible books will be and publishers will be able to work with more new writers adding their voices to the tapestry of our stories.

The last thing I want to mention, especially having spent most of my publishing career working with children’s books, is that we have to promote our children reading in their mother tongues. This is way easier said than done because the resources are scarce. Resources aside, many black households are afraid to focus on children reading in their mother tongue because they might then miss out on learning English. This is not so, children who can read their own language well can better transition into a second language and excel at it. Being a multilingual society is complex but we gain more when we allow people to read in their own language and learn English in addition. This makes for more people who are truly bi- or multilingual, in the sense that they are equally proficient in multiple languages. This will take some time and resources to fully implement, though. Some publishers do prioritise publishing books for younger readers in multiple local languages and that is a great start and a process that we should support where we can. I come from a family that does not read but I was lucky to fall in love with books because we lived near a wonderful public library when I was a child so I understand that many families are too busy with the business of surviving from day to day to worry about books. But if we are to raise the standard of education and want to invest in a society of knowledgeable people we have to nurture our reading culture. Resources like public libraries help with making books accessible but all of us can add something to the culture. We can do things like buying local books if we can afford them, sharing books, giving away old books or just telling people about the magic of stories. Stories are in our DNA as a species and adding to that collective pool of knowledge only helps us to progress as a nation and as human beings.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

#Youthmonth: The kids do it themselves

22 June 2017

We've been through a lot lately, right? Madness seems to reign: numerous terrorist attacks, Trump withdrawing the US from the Paris climate accord and the Brexit sequel that is the recent UK snap election. At home things aren't any better with Zuma, Guptas email leaks, Zille getting herself into stupid situations, our public protector taking on the SA Reserve Bank out of the blue and stories of women who have been kidnapped, raped and murdered in the news every day. We are running out of hashtags for all the madness. As a world and as a country we still have a long way to go in terms of prejudices, access to education for more people and electing governments that work for everyone. Last year I wrote an article about how the colourful use of language was one of the instruments that young people use to make their voices heard, #YouthMonth: Like kids these days say.

The adults are breaking the world and this #YouthMonth I think it’s appropriate to share some good news of young people getting their #hustle on, improving their lives and that of their communities. This, then, is my eulogy of sorts to the young people of South Africa who have been through a lot and will be going through more to make their dreams come true. I write these words for you. I write them to thank you for your strength and determination. During a turbulent time, I write these words to remind you of how amazing each and every one of you are.

Making careers out of passions

Many of us are the children of miners, domestic workers, street sweepers, cashiers, construction workers, cleaners, waiters and waitresses. So many of us have had to be exceptional just to be considered normal but we always rise to the challenge. Whether we come from a township, suburb, rural village or were raised by one heroic parent or had the love of both we get up each morning and chase our dreams. I know of people who are the first in their village to go to university and then go back and help others fill in application forms for university and NSFAS forms to access funds to study. So many times, all that is needed is pointing someone in the right direction to change their lives. So many of us are embarking on or creating careers that our parents don’t understand because they didn’t exist in their time. At social gatherings, they aren’t even sure if they should be bragging or not when they tell their friends about us. That’s because the world is changing and we are making careers out of our passions. 

Walk Fresh

I know friends who wanted to write and draw comic books and they worked hard until they could do just that. This has resulted in growth in the South African comic books industry with cool ventures like Sector Comics coming into existence and Kwezi becoming one of our own homegrown superheroes. I’ve seen a dude from my university, Lethabo Mokoena, start his own funky sneaker cleaning and shoe-care service called Walk Fresh after he graduated and could not get a job. The dude loves dressing fresh, wearing a polished pair of shoes or a squeaky-clean pair of sneakers so he educated himself on how to bring the best out of people’s old and dirty footwear and at the same time created work opportunities for people in his community. 

Hanging out on YouTube, like one does, I came across a pioneer, Ludwig Marishane who grew up in rural Limpopo and at age 17 invented a solution that allows you to clean yourself without water because access to water in his village is sporadic. He called the product DryBath and went on to start his own company called Headboy Industries Inc. I also remember reading about the novel, Coconut by Kopano Matlwa that she got published when she was 21. She has since written two more novels, Spilt Milk and Period Pain. She has also gone on to become a public health physician, scholar and all-round super woman. This morning I read a story about a young woman struggling to get her law degree and how it took her much longer than the four years it should have. But after she failed because of family circumstances, not applying herself, falling pregnant and dropping out for some time to get a job so she can feed her baby she came back and eventually got it done.

Problem solvers

These are merely snapshots of the great things young people are doing to solve problems and make their dreams a reality. South Africa is a country of high youth unemployment and this mixed with many young people not growing up in stable families results in a high crime rate. But there are also so many remarkable young people doing the best that they can to rise above their circumstances. I see this in my daily interactions with people like a colleague and good friend who was telling me about her boyfriend who’s made his second movie and when I log onto Facebook and see posts by people I know getting recognition for being exceptional in some field like sport, music, literature or film. I meet people who are pushing boundaries in the sciences and it’s important that we celebrate these young people because they will all form part of the solution for the larger problems we face in our country and the world. This #YouthMonth I want all young people to know that the grand hustle continues with us at the head of it and that we will do some great things together.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Book Review: The Crippled God

“What's three and half million words between friends?”
-          Steven Erikson

Wow! What a journey it has been since I struggled to get into Gardens of the Moon over seven years ago. It's been the best literary journey I have undertaken in my life. This series is the benchmark of all literature I have been exposed to (and I have been exposed to more literature than most people). In this last chapter of the Malazan Book of the Fallen Steven Erikson broke my heart in the best way possible. Eucatastrophe Tolkien called it, the good ending that breaks your heart. Steven Erikson is a master storyteller and makes you fall in love with hundreds of characters across the series because he makes almost every character in the series a main character in some way. The series is a tapestry of thousands of lives 'converging' and making up this beautiful epic tale of the fallen.

Friday, 23 December 2016

My Magical Place: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review

23 Dec 2016

Last year Disney gave us JJ Abrams' love letter to the original Star Wars trilogy in the form of Episode VII: The Force Awakens for Christmas. It was frighteningly good. This Christmas they gave us the first stand-alone story in the Star Wars anthology in the form of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

It is frighteningly good. Rogue One is a proper Star Wars movie - it is a space opera and, mainly, it is a gritty war drama. It is a look at more everyday sort of people on the ground living under the imperial shadow, it is a look at normal soldiers fighting in the resistance. Rogue One is the story of people making good choices and bad choices at a time when things aren’t as black and white as they seem in the main movies. The Rebellion we see in Rogue One is not the one that we see in A New Hope and the means they use to get things done are questionable at times. This movie is the story of how hope is made possible for the story in A New Hope.

A different perspective

Rogue One is the story of how the Rebellion acquired the plans for the Death Star and you could watch it and almost seamlessly transition into A New Hope. We have always seen Star Wars from the perspective of the Skywalker family and the characters surrounding them and one forgets that both the Rebellion and the Empire are made up of more than just those characters and that both entities came about as a result of the intelligence, industry, courage and sacrifice of many people. The Erso family is at the heart of Rogue One’s story and it opens with Galen Erso, a brilliant scientist who once worked for the Empire, in hiding with his family. They are tracked down and he is forced back into working on the Death Star project as he is critical to its success. Our protagonist, Jyn Erso’s character is forged against this backdrop. She has grown up without her family and never really sure where she stands in the conflict between the Rebellion and the Empire. The rest of the characters are also quite amazing, even though you will not really remember anyone’s name the first time around, except for the droid, K-2SO. The other thing Rogue One does is a lot more exploring of a galaxy far, far away than any of the other movies. You visit more planets in the first few minutes of this movie than all of Force Awakens. It’s nice to be introduced to more parts of the galaxy.

Straightforward plot

The plot is quite straightforward in that this is the story of how the rebels acquire the plans to the Death Star. Our rag-tag team of heroes consists of conflicted Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), equally conflicted rebel intelligence officer, Cassian Andor (Diego Luna); the badass blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and his friend Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), former imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) and the lovably snarky droid, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk). Mads Mikkelsen and Forest Whitaker brilliantly portray Galen Erso and Saw Garrera respectively. Expect to see some other familiar faces as well. The immediate villain is Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), an ambitious officer in the Empire who heads up the Death Star project but working under immense pressure from his superiors to get the project complete on time. In the background you have the menace of the emperor being hinted at and Darth Vader making very memorable appearances.

Perfect tie-in with Star Wars universe

Even though this is a stand-alone story, it ties in perfectly with the Star Wars universe and if you are a fan, you will find Easter eggs for the prequels, the original trilogy and the expanded universe. I went to see Rogue One with a friend of mine who’s not seen the other Star Wars movies and he liked it but at the end he’s like, “Will they destroy the Death Star in the next movie?” I had to explain to him that they did that in 1977 already. So all-in-all, Rogue One is a brilliant addition to the Star Wars universe and director, Gareth Edwards and his crew delivered the goods in terms of story, visuals, pacing and the score. At times they try and force the connection to A New Hope too much but in a manner you can forgive. I will go as far as to say that Rogue One is right up there with Empire Strikes Back and that it is even slightly better than The Force Awakens.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

2017 at the Movies

I won't lie, you guys, I have let life capture my nerd flag for the last few months. I have not even seen Dr Strange or Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them yet. The year 2016 shall go down as just the worst - seriously, just the worst. But enough of that, take my hand and let's look ahead towards 2017 and see what good things will fill our movie loving hearts with gooey goodness.
Here are some of the movies that we can look forward to:

1. A Star Wars Christmas

This is still a 2016 feature, but since it will be on circuit quite a bit into 2017 it warrants a mention. As you all know, Disney does not mess around when they take over a franchise. We will have Star Wars for Christmas in one way or another for the rest of our lives. As long as there are Star Wars fans and Disney can make money from us there will be Star Wars. 

Last year gave us JJ Abrams’ beautiful love letter to the original trilogy, Episode VII: The Force Awakens. This year, we get the first of probably one million anthologies that are meant to tide us over in between the main movies, of which we’ll get one every two years. The first anthology feature that we will receive is titled Rogue One and it looks brilliant. You know how you have always wondered how the rebels got the plans for the first Death Star? Or exactly how many Bothans died to get information on the second Death Star? No, you never wondered? Well Rogue One will answer the former question for you anyway. Just take a look at the trailer and get excited about more Star Wars. 

The cast looks to be pretty impressive too with Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything, 2014) in the lead role and cool people like Mads Mikkelsen (Dr Strange, 2016), Alan Tudyk (Firefly) and Forest Whitaker (Arrival, 2016) lending their support.

2. Marvel v DC: Comic Book Movie War

This war is rather one-sided with Marvel pretty much still dominating. 2016 saw them release their first entries in Phase 3 with Captain America: Civil War and Dr Strange, both of which received favourable responses at the box office and with the fans. 2017 looks like it will up the ante with Guardians of the Galaxy 2 set to drop in May (hopefully with another killer soundtrack); our favourite neighbourhood Spider-Man gets his time in the sun with Homecoming in July; and things get apocalyptic in Thor: Ragnorok in November.

The DC Extended Universe (DCEU) has had a rocky start with Batman v Superman being a hit in some ways and quite a miss in many other ways. With Suicide Squad, their heart was certainly in the right place, but it also failed to hit the mark in many ways (and you thought Deadshot never misses). What DC does have is some strong characters to work with and a good foundation for their Justice League venture. Batman and Wonder Woman were amazing in Batman v Superman and Harley Quinn became an instant hit in Suicide Squad. 2017 will give us the much anticipated Wonder Woman movie in June and the first Justice League movie in November.

Superheroes seem still to be a thing for the foreseeable future. Who knew?

3. A little nostalgia

You are over superhero movies you say?

Say no more, Fam. Say no more. 2017 knows that you are all about reliving your childhood and will hook you up with that good stuff. Remember watching Power Rangers before school in the morning and then ending up being late? Well, now you get to see the movie in March 2017. 

Baywatch? Hot bodies and slow motion beach running. May 2017 will have that for you and there is no hotter body to do the slow beach running for you than The Rock himself. Speaking of The Rock, you liked Jumanji as a child, right? 2017 will hook you up with that too in December and throw The Rock in for good measure. The whole The Rock thing probably made you think of Vin Diesel and 2017 is like don’t worry we know you didn’t like the XXX 2 movie with Ice Cube, so we will hook you up with XXX: The Return of Xander Cage in January and Fast 8 in April just for fun. You know how it is, The Rock, Vin Diesel, fast cars, hot women, family and not really eight characters. It’s like 12 people who are somewhat fast. 2017 is lit. It even has the live action version of Beauty and the Beast up its sleeve for you in March. All I will say is Emma Watson. Hopefully that means something to you (#heforshe).

4. Dropping names and all that

You always have to end off with that name dropping session, just to show that you know who’s who in the biz. In 2017 you’ll also have Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Kong: Skull Island, Logan (that’s Wolverine by the way), Transformers: The Last Knight, Alien: Covenant, War for the Planet of the Apes, The Dark Tower, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Ghost in the Shell (we’ll have to talk about Hollywood whitewashing when this hits), John Wick: Chapter 2 and Fifty Shades Darker.

There are many more titles scheduled for good ol’ 2017, but those are the ones scheduled to make some waves.

Here’s to a happy 2017 at the movies.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Honest Trailers - Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

When BvS: Dawn of Justice came out I wrote a review for it over on and I had many mixed feelings about it. It seem the guys over at Honest Trailers agree with me.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Book Review: Affluenza

Wow, this is such a great read for anyone interested in satirical stories about all the crazy and weird things that make up South Africa. Niq Mhlongo tackles issues like racism, xenophobia, homophobia, crime, land redistribution and economic equality with a flair that is just magical. They stories really speak to me and I relate on so many levels with the South African (but especially Jozi) culture of continuous hussle to attain wealth and status to impress people you don't know. The stories are a lot like Herman Charles Bosman's Oom Schalk Lourens stories in their tone and satire.

"This is Johussleburg and everyone here is suffering from affluenza. Almost every black person pretends to be rich while staying in a rented room."

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

#YouthMonth: Like kids these days say

07 Jun 2016

Heita da! What's drugs my dealer? What's crack-a-lackin'? Umoja? Fo' shizzle my nizzle? It's all good in the hood. You'd best keep your urban dictionary close by for this one.
Language, it’s something special isn’t it? In his song, Sing for the Moment, Eminem says: “I guess words are a motherf*cker, they can be great / Or they can degrade, or even worse, they can teach hate”. Words move us and have a magic about them, especially when you use them in ways that defy the rules of grammar. Language is fluid and ever-changing and there is always a tug-of-war between the powers that be in university ivory towers and everyday people who use language as a tool to communicate as to what the rules of language are.

#YouthMonth: Like kids these days say

The beauty of slang

June sees us celebrating the school pupils who lost their lives during the 16 June 1976 uprising in Soweto. Those kids stood up for the right to be educated in a language that they could understand. The great thing about this is that once you understand your own language, you find appreciation for the beauty of other languages. 40 years after those kids stood up for their right to understand what they were being taught, we live in a multilingual South Africa that has become a unique place in the world in terms of the amount of languages that are used in our interactions on a daily basis. This is most evident in the slang we use. We have 11 official languages, and many others from other regions of the world, spoken in our streets and the slang that has emerged is just typically South African and a thing of beauty.

We all have this unique flavour of speaking to which the world at large cannot compare. Think of how we confuse foreigners when we tell them to turn left at the second robot. Where else are you in a taxi (like a proper South African taxi) and you shout “sho’t left” from the back and the driver knows what you want? Nowhere else, pappa! 


We have the kids from koKasi with their township flow whose levels of cool you cannot even hope to compete with. Libala tsotsi, just forget. The urban slang of my home, the dirty south of Jozi, with okes chasing binnets for days, my china. The language that only my goons and I use when we get together for some sips and my one friend always ends up being such a chop. I remember the days of 1337 (elite) speak when gamers thought replacing words with letters was the height of cool and n00bs would be pwnd (owned). Eish, and then Twitter came with its hashtags and no community took to it better than South Africans, especially our Minister of Sport and Recreation, Mr Fikzo Mbalula. The dude’s always #onfleek on Twitter. Even the way we discuss politics and serious matters like students protesting the increase of fees has changed since 1976. Think of movements like #feesmustfall, #zumamustfall or #blacklivesmatter. Only in Mzanzi do we have hunky politician referred to as ‘The People’s Bae’. That being the EFF’s Mbuyiseni Ndlozi.

Language is fun for days, you guys. Eish, mara it can be dangerous too, if we use it to break people down instead of building them up. Racism, sexism, homophobia and all kinds of other prejudice have their own slang. That’s the stuff we don’t need. As young people, we face many obstacles, but we are ambitious, we are hungry for success and we can always push to be better. Every day we are hustling, as the motto goes. There is a magic here, you guys, even when things get hectic. Slang is a way to cross language boundaries and unite South Africans... and the youth is way ahead of the curve in this movement. 

As the kids say these days, “we are just out here living our best life”.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Letters to Life: Convergence 2016

Dearest Life,

If ever you have taken some time off from handing out lemons on street corners and have ever read Steven Erikson’s epic fantasy series, The Malazan Book of the Fallen, you will know that one of the overarching themes in the books is convergence. If you have not read the books it’s fine because convergence seems to be one of your overarching themes. Like how you handed out so many lemons throughout your career that it eventually annoyed Beyoncé and she went and made Lemonade for all of us so you would stop. Those two events were just drawn to each other.

All the ups, all of the downs and all the madness have all led to this moment. This is where everything collides to form something new.

In the fourth book in the series, House of Chains, Mappo and Karsa have a chat about convergence. In their case they talk about convergences and their relationship to curses. I am here because of the good and the bad. Curses and blessings.

Mappo: “And I speak from long experience; curses are horrible things. Tell me, has Sha’ik ever spoken to you of convergence?”
Karsa: “No.”
Mappo: “When curses collide, you might say. Flaws and virtues, the many faces of fateful obsession, of singular purpose. Powers and wills are drawn together, as if one must by nature seek the annihilation of the other. Thus, you and Icarium are now here, and we are moments from a dreadful convergence, and it is my fate to witness. Helpless unto desperate madness. Fortunately for my own sake, I have known this feeling before.”

The road to here has felt so long and I am weary to the bone. Life, you are difficult but it is also filled with many unexpected blessings. I have been unluckier than some and luckier than most to get to where I am currently at. The forces that I have no control over have only minimally interfered with my existence and the areas I have control over I have manged okay. I could have done more and should do more. On many a Sunday evening I am struck by a deep anxiety that I am failing at you. This morning as I was walking to work I realised that I am failing by my standards, I am rather average by society’s standards and a superhero by my family’s standards. That gave me some perspective. I am okay. I can still do better. I can still do worse but the road to improvement is open for me as it has never been open for anyone in my family. All my failures and successes have led to this point where I can look around me and use all that information to make better choices. Not just that though, I could have done that yesterday too. It seems everything has converged in a way that allows me to bring every influence together to build something new and powerful. My problem has always been that I am never sure how to combine all my strengths and now I think I am ready to do it.

This is the time. This is the place to build anew from the old.

P.S. If this post makes no sense to you don’t worry because a thing is happening and when it all comes together you will be the first to know. Okay, maybe second, I will have to tell my mom first.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

My Magical Place: Captain America: Civil War Review

29 Apr 2016

I was sick for a week and on my return to the land of the living I found out that we were getting Civil War on 27 April (Freedom Day in South Africa). I just wasn't ready though, you guys. I was still working with that 7 May release date and I am still reeling from the first episode of Season 6 of Game of Thrones. Can the old gods and the new please give a nerd a break out here? But it's all good, I got my game face and Marvel fanboy underwear on and got ready for the biggest cinema spectacle of the year!

Civil War is the best Marvel movie to date

Captain America: Civil War is the third Captain America movie and the thirteenth entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After the huge success of the second Captain America movie, The Winter Soldier, the Russo brothers returned to the helm for Civil War and they made a movie that hits all the right notes. I am going into full fanboy mode here. This movie is perfect and it seems that every year I say this about a new Marvel movie, but it’s Odin’s honest truth every time. What especially makes Civil War great is that it taps into all of the history and lore of the universe it takes place in. This movie is not here to accommodate anyone by explaining too much. It is simply the culmination of all Marvel’s Earth-based movies to date.

Plot overview

Civil War is set in a universe where all the actions of every hero in the Avengers team have led to this point in time. The world owes the Avengers a great deal for the amount of times they have saved it, but at the same time, who watches the watchmen? Who takes the Avengers to task when innocent people die in the collateral damage of their battles? This is the overarching question that Civil War poses and it is a fair question and difficult to deal with.

Civil War takes a lot of beats from Winter Soldier in that it is a political spy type of thriller, but it borrows tonnes from other Marvel movies like Iron Man 3 that shows that superhero characters don’t have to be in their suits the whole time - they can deliver powerful, emotional performances just as themselves. After an incident gone wrong in Lagos, Nigeria the US Secretary of State, General Thunderbolt Ross, calls the Avengers in to inform them that the world cannot tolerate them operating unchecked and that the United Nations has come up with what they refer to as the "Sokovia Accords", which will establish an international governing body to monitor and regulate all enhanced individuals like the Avengers.

The battle lines are drawn in a response to this development. Captain America’s response is that he does not agree to having the team effectively being run by the UN, which is a political entity and has its own agenda. By signing the act, the Avengers would only be able to work according to the say-so of the UN. Since waking up in the modern world, Captain America has had to deal with quite a lot. The guy is Marvel’s ultimate boy scout and is usually the sort of team player who would never question orders. Unfortunately politics is a messy business and the Cap has been burned on many occasions dealing with organisations like SHIELD/HYDRA and he is loath to allow the team to become puppets of such agendas. Cap thus rallies the members of Team Cap to his side, because they share the same belief, or in Hawkeye’s case, because he called first.

Tony Stark is also carrying a huge load on his shoulders since the incident in New York and even more with the incident with Ultron, which he was directly responsible for. The man has been having panic attacks and sleepless nights, because he knows there are dangers outside of our planet that the Avengers might not be able to deal with (we know that Thanos is lurking out there, after all. Does that guy just sit in his space chair all day by the way? I digress though). Ultron rose from these fears and Scarlett Witch didn’t help by giving him visions of a bleak future where everyone dies either. Tony is almost on the opposite journey that Cap is on in the sense that he starts off as this carefree character who doesn’t adhere to rules and picks up a lot more responsibility on the way to the events in Civil War. It's difficult to decide whose stance is right.

This is just the simplistic view of the plot, because there are other forces at play and there is an actual villain in the movie. Batman v Superman takes itself very seriously and Civil War finds a sweet spot between the seriousness of everything that is happening with friends fighting each other, but there are many moments where you can just laugh and have fun. The movie is long at 147 minutes, but it never feels like it and it is cut in a beautifully economic way.

Enter new characters

All your favourite characters are back and are all running around punching, kicking and shooting each other and the bad guys in super cool ways. All of them are there ... well, except for Thor, because he is doing Asgardian things and Bruce Banner is doing hiding out things. The highlights in terms of characterisation are the new people though. Chadwick Boseman makes his debut as T'Challa / Black Panther, the prince of Wakanda, the technologically advanced African Nation that is known for living in isolation and being the place where vibranium comes from. Marvel is pretty much done with long and windy introductions, so they just throw Black Panther in there with a brief but powerful introduction and the character then hits the ground running. The character is intriguing and I can’t wait for his solo movie and to explore Wakanda where, interestingly enough, they seem to speak Xhosa. I died of laughter in the cinema when T’Challa shares a moment with his father, King T'Chaka (played by South African actor, John Kani) and they just kick it in Xhosa, but with an East African accent.

Our favourite neighbourhood Spidy also gets a quick and punchy intro. Peter Parker is played by Tom Holland and he is the witty, funny, awkward Peter Parker we love from the comics. The movie also makes fun of the fact that his aunt, May, is so attractive (played by Marisa Tomei) in response to people freaking out on social media last year, because Aunt May is “too hot”.

Marvel just keeps winning and Civil War is just great. I can find zero fault with this movie. It delivers solidly on everything and all the characters are given their due in terms of screen time and personality. The action sequences are a feast, but the times where there is no fighting are also intense and while you’re still reeling from an emotional reveal they offset it with humour that provides the comic relief you need while not taking away from the gravitas of the situation. The new characters fit in and their roles aren’t just as cameos. All the Earth-based stories in the Marvel universe have led to this movie and it draws from and builds on the history and lore from the previous titles beautifully. Just go out and watch this one a few times. Just do it.