The early Marvel movies, such as "Iron Man" and "The Incredible Hulk" were these awkward early dates, trying just a little too hard to impress. Clearly Marvel had been off the dating scene for about a decade, and it came off more than a little desperate. But then America decided this strange movie studio with its goofy superheroes was cute, and the courtship continued. Marvel then moved for the grand romantic gesture - the big move to cement the relationship: "The Avengers". But you can't just pop the question like that, you have to get the moment exactly right. So Marvel had to spend years setting up the universe, building these half-complete two-hour-long advertisements that barely counted as movies. "Thor", "Captain America 1", "Iron Man 2", each one sadder than the last. But now finally "The Avengers" came and passed, America said yes, we looked absolutely beautiful in our white dress, and now we will have to live with Marvel and superhero films till death do us part.
Luckily now that "The Avengers" has come and gone, the Marvel film universe seems to have finally reached a higher level of maturity and confidence. "Iron Man 3" was not a soulless mid-chapter simply around to set up characters, it was a fully-fledged action comedy. And here, with "Captain America: The Winter Soldier", Marvel continues to use its established characters to create huge involving stories which stand up entirely on their own. They know by now that America will be hugely impressed by just about anything they do, so now they've taken to breaking into other genres. "Captain America 2" takes the patriotic shieldbearer and uses him not to punch Hitler in the face, but rather solve a complicated spy thriller conspiracy. Its a huge movie with impressive action scenes and some interesting twists and turns, a perfectly fine blockbuster. The honeymoon period between America and Marvel shall continue, as superhero movies continue to rise in average quality every year.
Following the events of "The Avengers", Captain America has been living a quiet lonely life serving as a thug for S.H.I.E.L.D., the high tech intelligence agency of Marvel fame*. S.H.I.E.L.D. itself has grown into a massive anti-terrorist taskforce, complete with its own building in just outside of Washington D.C., a secret underground hanger filled with flying aircraft carriers, and most impressively, veteran actor Robert Redford. Redford is playing Alexander Pierce, a white collar Washington insider who is very obviously going to double-cross the heroes. Captain America's not-so-secret civilian identity, Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans) has a difficult time adjusting to modern life, and keeps brushing off Black Widow (Scarlett Johanson)'s attempts to hook him up with various cute blonds in the S.H.I.E.L.D. bureaucracy. He also likes to visit his own exhibits in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum** to relive the past and cleverly give the audience exposition. Not much is happening besides a brief fight with French pirates until...
|Only two of the Avengers were able to make it. The other supeheroes were on vacation.|
This leads Rodgers on what the producers think is a thrilling spy adventure where Captain America must fight his own allies and cannot tell which way is up. Turns out actually its a very straightforward journey. If they're a superhero, trust them. If they're an elderly movie star who have suspiciously taken over S.H.I.E.L.D. while Nick Fury is down, then they're probably evil. Along the way Captain America grabs Black Widow for a team-up that - to "The Winter Soldier"'s credit - does not end in a cheesy romance. He also grabs Anthony Mackie who is a brand new superhero whose powers basically are just that he has mechanical wings. (Captain America presumably does not call up the Hulk or Iron Man or whatever superhero Jeremy Renner was playing because he doesn't understand the modern technology of cell phones.) S.H.I.E.L.D. is torn insideout, the Winter Soldier kicks a lot of ass, airships crash into Washington D.C. its a decent action movie, but not a very great spy thriller.
Oh well, one out of two isn't bad.
|The Winter Soldier bringing terror to the streets of |
Actually, for a superhero film, this is pretty surprisingly violent. Obviously nobody's heads are going to get blown off like "The Raid 2", but over the course of the film, every single character gets shot, sometimes more than once. The directorial team of the Russo Brothers have a great eye for action choreography, making for the best fight scenes you could see in theaters right now... you know, aside from that much better action film from Indonesia. But the action is crude and gritty, rather than off-the-walls and fantastic. I always thought Marvel could be counted upon to remain the happy-go-lucky brand of superheroes, where everybody was grinning, the jokes never stopped flying, and the stories remained nicely un-serious. Now all of a sudden with "Captain America 2", everybody is walking around like a World War just started - ironically there was a much more joyous mood during the actual World War of "Captain America 1". It's odd because there's really nothing all that much more serious in this film than any of the others, only perhaps that the threats this time are entirely human conspiracies within our own government and a mighty dude with a robot arm.
Though the action beats might be on the level, the plot might have great twists which sees the return of Captain America's old enemies
"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is a slick modern blockbuster. It could have very easily descended into mediocre by-the-numbers committee crap, but it turned out to be well-directed, solidly acted, and shockingly, had a great collection of practical effects in beautiful action sequences. (You know, until the flying aircraft carriers which were fully CG, but even then the climax is more of a fist fight than a Star Wars laser brawl.) Ignoring the rest of the silly Marvel expanded universe bullshit, "The Winter Soldier" stands well on its own as an action film. I had my problems here and there, it was a little too dark for a film about a character as simplistic as Captain America, there is a very blatant and completely shameless fake-out death that should fool exactly nobody*****, but it was well-made and competent. You cannot fault that.
So Marvel took America out for a good time, it tried something new in bed, and it worked. We howled and screamed in pleasure. America had a great night. I don't know if every night is going to work, there's a good chance this marriage is going to become routine and dull after a few years. Marvel is definitely trying its hardest to be as creative and difficult as possible, what with "The Guardians of the Galaxy" coming out later this summer to push the boundaries of just how nerdy and weird a major blockbuster can be. Maybe it will work, maybe it won't. Until then, Marvel and Disney are going to grow richer and America is going to grow fatter, and everybody is happy.
* I was extremely worried that Marvel or Joss Whedon was going to force me to watch their ABC network show, "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." in order to keep up with the various twists and turns of its ridiculous film universe. Sorry, comic book geeks, nerds, and dorks, but I cannot bring myself to watch that show. Agent Coulson coming back to life is the kind of nonsense superhero writing that makes the entire genre cheap and disposable. YEAH, YOU HEARD ME, SUPERHERO FANS! CHEAP AND DISPOSABLE. Suck it.
** By far the coolest Washington, D.C. area museum. Take your kids.
*** You might remember Garry Shandling from "Iron Man 2" when he played a Senator who grilled Tony Stark for his robot suit. Actually odds are you forget everything about that movie, but let me remind you: Garry Shandling was there and he grilled Tony Stark. Weird little bit of minor continuity there, Marvel, I respect that.
**** Replacing the Nazis with HYDRA is still pussying out no matter what justification you use. I only recently found out why they do this: toys. You cannot sell Nazi war tanks or Nazi action figures to children. But its still just as despicable either way, HYDRA is entirely the same as Nazis only with a different name. So it is not that Disney and Marvel has a problem selling toys modeled after horrible fascists out to conquer the world and butcher millions, its that they cannot sell one particular brand of horrible fascists out to conquer the world and butcher millions. Marvel, fuck you. At least be true to history, instead of this nonsense.
***** Remember what I said before about characters coming back to life too easily? CHEAP AND DISPOSABLE.