Saturday, April 05, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier raises the bar

We have tickets to go see this tomorrow with friends, but I couldn’t wait.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the movie I wanted to see the first time. The first Cap movie, as well the first Thor film (and to some extent the second Thor film, too), both felt inert to me. They were like amusement park rides with poorly concealed mechanisms—knowing how the trick works sucked some of the joy out of the user experience. They were fun and perfunctory at the same time.

I did not have to work hard, however, to be wow-ed by Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Like The Dark Knight—its most apropos cinematic antecedent—the new Captain America film is a grown-up movie disguised as a superhero flick. Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury) was on Letterman this week and when the host quizzed him about what made this movie’s plot different, Jackson guffawed and said, “This movie’s got one!”

Also like The Dark Knight, it nails the zeitgeist in a way you don’t see coming from a franchise popcorn genre flick. The fact that it is an airy fun ride at the same time is probably a reflection of the popular culture of 2014 as compared to that of 2008 when Dark Knight was released.

Whereas Heath Ledger’s Joker was the embodiment of our worst external fears at the time—the lone suicidal terrorist with delusions of grandeur—The Winter Soldier explores the worst internal, or at least domestic, fears we are dealing with today; an over-intrusive government that plays with human lives like they are pieces on a chess board, in the service of a purported greater purpose.

Lately I’ve seen a bunch of movies with this theme, but CA/TWS works it much less hamfistedly than other recent efforts. It is anti-government agitprop with a touch so light as to be almost imperceptible. Or maybe it’s just all the cool shit blowing up everywhere that makes the zeitgeisty elements seem almost subliminal. (This graf has four words spellcheck hates. Must. Fix. Spellcheck.)

Whatever the case, the filmmakers’—co-directors Joe and Anthony Russo, working from a script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely—political agenda doesn’t interfere with the storytelling, or the sheer thrill of the execution. The hand-to-hand type fisticuffs are convincing throughout, there’s some early martial arts mayhem featuring a little-used Marvel villain that only old farts like me will recognize from their comic book source material, and as previously mentioned, lots of shit gets blowed up real good.

More than ever, Chris Evans as Captain America looks like a life-size Ken doll, but brings real acting chops and charisma to what could easily have been a thankless, stolid Good Guy role like Henry Cavill’s Clark Kent in last year’s Man of Steel. The filmmakers probably did themselves a large favor by opening the movie with Evans as Steve Rogers, cracking wise.  It’s a cute scene, and it sets up the flavor of the film to follow.

Scarlett Johansson is back as the Black Widow, with a lot more to do than in previous appearances as the character. Sam Jackson shines as the beleaguered head of S.H.I.E.L.D., the super-secret spy agency he heads that originated in the wake of WWII, which provenance turns out to be a mixed bag. Cap’s sidekick The Falcon, as well as his titular adversary are played by newcomers—well, I didn’t recognize them—both of whom acquit themselves ably and with gravity appropriate to their roles.

Upon re-reading this notice, I realize I forgot to mention the plot, other than that Sam Jackson approves of it. I always forget to mention the plot in my first draft.

I didn’t care much for the Winter Soldier storyline in the comic books. Liked the idea, but at the time, the book was into this gritty, neo-noir style of storytelling that I’ve never been a big fan of. Which turns out to be cool, because for a change, there were whole chunks of the movie where I didn’t know what was going on until it was revealed, that I would have had spoiled for me if I had read the comics.

Additionally, in the interlocking ‘Marvel Universe’ movies, throwaway lines referencing random characters like Stephen Strange don’t just feel like name-checks for the fan-boy contingent, they carry the weight of at least the possibility of more Captain America/Avengers-caliber franchises yet to come.

At 2 hours-plus, Captain America: The Winter Soldier flies by like a short 90 minutes. This movie has been cut to a fare-thee-well and not a moment seems forced or unnecessary.

CA/TWS looks to give The Avengers a run for its money; I don’t know if it will do the same box office—you have to respect the contributions of Robert Downey Jr. and Joss Whedon to that previous Marvel megafilm, and its grosses—but like that film and The Dark Knight, it raises the bar for superhero movies to come.

Speaking of: The new trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is terrific. It took me straight from the “looks like fun” of the previous trailers to “I can’t wait!” If the feature plays as well as the preview, it should make a bazillion dollars.

Oh, and in one of the pair of teaser clips at the end of CA/TWS, two long-time comicbook siblings are introduced; characters I would have thought belonged to another studio, with their own Marvel franchise movie out this summer…

Have I mentioned I can’t wait??


Anonymous Shell said...

Sounds awesome! Can't wait to see it! :)

9:39 AM

Blogger Heather Clisby said...

You've got me seeing stars now - can't wait! I'm going to nab me the nearest fan boy and see it ASAP.

5:50 PM


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