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Out with the old, in with the new – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

April 4, 2014

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  1. It seems like so long ago that Chris Evans was Johnny Storm in atrocious Fantastic Four movies. It might not be temporally, but those days are well past us, and his third star turn as the hip-to-be-square Steve Rogers confirms that his was some of the best casting for Marvel’s coterie. He hits all the right notes, though you miss not seeing him interact with Stark, Thor and the rest of the big guns. But ScarJo’s Black Widow is his sort of partner here, and she does a fine job — kudos to her, because it seems that finding actresses who can fully embrace comic material has been somewhat of a slog over the years. The best of the new additions is Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson — Falcon to his friends, a soldier with a very special skillset. You like him the moment you — and CA — meet him, which is a good thing since it’s in the opening scene. As a longtime fan of our old newsprint heroes, it’s truly great to see one of the great, classic black heroes (mercifully without “black” in his codename) get a solid treatment on the big screen, and he’s such an appropriate addition to this cast since the character oh, you know, shared a book with the star back in the day. Another of the things that Marvel’s got right.
  2. As for (some of) the rest of the cast and characters: Nick Fury has his best action sequence to date, one taken straight out of the car attack in Clear and Present Danger — except that he’s on his own, but with one hell of an SUV. Robert Redford’s sole role in the movie is to be Robert Redford in a Captain America movie, and to have a hidden side that will surprise no one but brainless single-celled organisms. Cobie Smulders remains a charisma vacuum. Blink and you’ll miss Agent 13. Garry Shandling and his terrifying plastic surgery cameo. Arnim Zola! As close as the goofy television-chest Arnim Zola as you can get! Gary Sinise’s voice in the Smithsonian! (Okay, that last one’s not as exciting.)
  3. Hey, Marvel, enough with the fake deaths, all right? They’re stupid. They’re cloying ways of generating cheap drama. Yes, they’re part and parcel of comics lore, but they don’t work as well on film. You want real drama? Really kill someone. (Onscreen, not really really.) Take a page from your own playbook about how it’s done right. ENOUGH.
  4. Perhaps the film shouldn’t have been subtitled as it was, since the Winter Soldier isn’t in that much of it, nor is he really that critical to the overall plot, mainly just for the personal relationship he has with CA. Instead it could have been titled Captain America: Wrinkly Old White Secret Villain Famous Guy — just a suggestion. But Sebastian Stan’s return as a brainwashed, metal-armed, erstwhile Bucky Barnes provides the best action sequences in the picture. His street battle with our three core heroes is superb, as is the great reveal of his identity, which still works even if you know what’s coming. (It helped that at my screening I was sitting next to kids who had no idea who he was, and were all excited when it was Bucky. It’s not exactly my generation’s “No, Luke, I am your father,” but as they say, it’s close enough for government work. Oh to be young again with unjaded eyes and ears.)
  5. Stephen Strange name-drop alert. Get that movie made, Marvel. (And clear your schedule, Mr. Depp.)
  6. Ah yes, the de rigueur credits scene. This one sets up a new villain (with an actor who I think signed for like 40 movies, so get used to him) and a couple of characters we’ll see next year. Apparently since Marvel can’t legally use the word “mutant,” “miracles” is the m-word of the day.
  7. Who invented shaky-cam? Can we have that person tried and executed from crimes against cinema? Remember when fights had to be staged with actual choreography and camera work, before directors just simulated an earthquake and called it a day? The Russo brothers are new to directing a feature of this magnitude and therefore unlikely to buck a directorial trend, but that doesn’t make it any more pleasant to watch. Like the fake deaths, enough already with this. I can’t imagine how awful the close up tussles look in IMAX 3D.
  8. As a longtime denizen of Washington, DC and its environs, I thoroughly enjoyed that much of the movie was set here. It’s great fun when the climax of the film you’re watching literally takes place within sight of the theater you’re in. (Also, SHIELD apparently plowed under Roosevelt Island to build their giant HQ. Poor Teddy!)
  9. Alluded to above, the most interesting aspect of the film is the way it decapitates SHIELD and removes them as the cohesion nanny of the Avengers troupe. This is a very, very good thing, as it always felt a little odd to have disparate heroes brought together and overseen by a government agency. Indeed, with that agency down for the count, the universe can get a bit more nuts. Hallelujah.
  10. Batroc the Leaper. I just watched a movie that had Batroc the Leaper in it. Without mustache wax, but still. I can die now.

The plot is nothing to write home about, with political clichés galore, and the final action really has no dramatic heft to it — you know how things will turn out. But CA getting a blast from his past in the shape of a best friend thought long dead, well, that’s some good stuff. Captain America: The Winter Soldier might not redefine the genre, but it’s a sold spy/action adventure that opens up the throttle for Marvel’s screen heroes. Three and a half Winter Soldier facemasks out of five.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 17, 2014 9:44 am

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  2. almnop permalink
    May 25, 2014 8:21 pm

    Sorry, but CA:TWS is so much better, tighter storytelling and filmmaking than XM:DoFP, which I did enjoy nevertheless.
    Have seen CA:TWS 3 times in IMAX and it holds up, or even gets better. As good as Avengers.
    I might go see XM:DoFP again (not playing in IMAX many places because the unfortunate, overweight Godzilla is still filling those). I want to like XM:DoFP more but too much muddled time travel and too many characters we don’t get to care much about this time. Singer had a much better handle on that in the first 2 and Vaughn even did a better job in XM:FC. Vaughn even got me to enjoy Kevin Bacon, an actor I can’t stand to watch in anything else.
    Thanks for the in depth and if I do try XM:DoFP again it will be thanks to your thoughtful review.

    • May 26, 2014 12:52 pm

      While I liked the Captain America sequel, there was a bit too much deja vu to the underwhelming Star Trek follow-up — enhanced mysterious foe, old guy turncoat at the head of the good guy organization, big threatening ship(s), etc. Captain America Into Darkness. And bless ScarJo, but her Black Widow only speaks in wry quips. JLawr FTW.

      But to each their own as always.

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