Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Movie Review: "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" by David Pretty

The Elevator Pitch 

After the events depicted in Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers, our titular hero starts running some shady operations for Nick Fury and the counter-intelligence agency S.H.I.E.L.D. Soon ol' wing-head discovers that the world isn't quite as black and white as it used to be and blindly following orders like a good little soldier might end up compromising your integrity.

In The Wheelhouse 

If you're a fan of the cinematic Marvel Universe this one's a must-see. The movie will also work for anyone who likes a light mystery, some intrigue and a metric shit-ton of creatively-ambitious action sequences.

The Upshots 
  • There's an actual storyline! Unlike, say, Thor: The Dark World the movie kicks off with some disturbing subtext and then segues into an incredibly-engaging conspiracy plot. Throw in plenty of connective tissue with the pre-existing Marvel movie pantheon as well as direct references to Cap's first film and you have a yarn that's on par if not superior to The Avengers.
  • There's actually something going on underneath the hood! What makes Winter Soldier not just good but great is the copious amounts of timely social commentary. Indeed, the script raises some pertinent and squirm-inducing questions about such hot-button topics as unwarranted surveillance, pre-cog anti-terrorism and cabals of secret power brokers who are trying to convince the rest of us that they have our collective best interests in mind. And while some superhero movies do a pretty decent job replicating the tone of a comic book, very few have captured the allegory of the original source material quite like The Winter Soldier.
  • The action sequences are, in technical terms, toadly amazeballz! This also illustrates why I prefer movies about the more moderately-powered Marvel characters compared to the exaggerated  flights of fancy depicted in the Thor films. The early clash between Cap and Batroc (Georges St-Pierre) is just the first in a series of well-plotted, creatively-vicious fight scenes. Then there's the faux-S.W.A.T. team assassination attempt on Nick Fury which features one of the most thrilling car chases I've ever seen on film, period. The Winter Soldier's highway ambush against our heroes is also impossibly thrilling. Bucking the popular trend of shooting in a green fabric insulated controlled studio set, directorial siblings Anthony and Joe Russo and their platoon of stunt and fight coordinators use plenty of practical, on-set choreography, real vehicles and creative camerawork to really amp up the illusion of peril.
  • It's not "epic"! Compared to the interstellar / inter-planar threats posed in Thor: The Dark World and The Avengers, things have mercifully been scaled back here a bit. Of course, "scaled back" still involves three giant rogue flying aircraft carriers and the potential death of millions of people, but, hey, it's a small victory.  
  • Some serious shit goes down! As it is with most licensed products, the writers really aren't at liberty to kill off characters or affect any major change in the milieu. Nevertheless, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have somehow manged to produce a consequential story that will end up altering the cinematic Marvel Universe forever.  
  • We get a central character that we can actually cheer for! Kudos to the producers for finally giving us a protagonist who is truly heroic and not yet another boring, flawed, conflicted anti-hero. By embodying the trepidations of most people right now, Cap becomes a crusader for the habitually-abused, but otherwise oblivious, 99%. At no time does our hero pontificate or come across as self-righteous. This, in turn, really raises the pedigree of the character who, up until recently, had been written off by many contemporary comic books fans as antiquated and pedestrian.
  • The cast is fantastic! It's a damned shame that the Fantastic Four films kinda sucked since Chris Evans was the perfect Johnny Storm / Human Torch. Although my own personal pick for Cap would have been more grizzled and world-weary, Chris Evans acquits himself rather well. His youth and fresh-faced good looks ensure that he'll always come across as a non-preachy and very earnest white knight. Scarlett Johansson also wouldn't have been first choice as Black Widow; I think Angelina Jolie rockin' an Eastern Bloc accent would have been perfect. But that's not to say that Scarlet isn't great; she's sexy, sassy and completely convincing when it comes to all of the ass-kickery. On the other hand, Samuel L. Jackson is Nick Fury in my Marvel Universe. He has full command over this role and also makes the best out of a minor character arc. Rounding out the main cast, Anthony Mackie is a spirited and noble addition to the Marvel roster as Sam Wilson a.k.a. the Falcon, Sebastian Stan is relentless and terrifying as the titular Winter Soldier and *YAY!* we get some greatly-appreciated time with Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill. *swoon*
The Down Side
  • As consistently-entertaining and spectacular as the film is, eventually I started to suffer from what I can only describe as "spectacle fatigue". For me, three or four original and inventive action set pieces are plenty enough. By the time the sixth dust-up / explosive CGI-fueled orgy of mayhem and destruction rolls around, my attention span starts to wane. Which is kind of a pity since Captain America: The Winter Soldier raises some truly interesting questions about who's really in charge of our own planet. After all, is there any difference between the comically-villainous secret forces featured at the heart of this film and the blatantly-corrupt profiteers that have clearly hijacked our own government? It's a bold, interesting idea but it's quickly shelved in favor or a new round of punchy / kicky / shooty / stabby / 'splodey. 
The Bottom Line
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is, without a doubt, one of the top-tier Marvel superhero movies. It's well-acted, expertly mounted, and, most-importantly, it's got a brain in it's head.         

               Tilt: up.

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