Sunday, June 29, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier - 2014

"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" - 2014
Dir. by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo - 2 hrs. 16 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

I guess Marvel's "Avengers" line of movies is kind of like my version of a soap opera.  I can't be bothered to keep up with TV shows, even ones I like (I'm near the end of the 5th season of "Psych"; it wrapped up it's 8th and final season this year).  And I sure as hell can't be bothered with those shows that you have to watch every episode the exact second it's released (like "Game of Thrones" or "The Walking Dead"); you can go to hell with your appointment television.  But if you ask me to turn up at the theatre every few months, deliver good action and decent stories that advance a larger story, and throw in Scarlett Johansson every so often for good measure, well, that's a commitment I can keep.  And, at least with the Avengers series of films, Marvel's made good on their end of things, frequently making better movies with these characters that have ever been done in the comics.

In the second Captain America film, Cap (Chris Evans) has spent a little time adjusting to having been thawed out and thrust into modern times, but finds S.H.I.E.L.D.'s methods of fighting their enemies a tad distasteful (summation: Cap asks Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) didn't they used to have to commit crimes first before being punished?).  The impetus for this is the recovery of a S.H.I.E.L.D. boat from pirates, which goes a little sideways.  Plus, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) was given a side mission, involving recovering data, unbeknownst to Cap.  When Nick Fury is assassinated after learning that there's something hinky going on within S.H.I.E.L.D., Cap is tasked with getting to the bottom of it by a dying Fury, as well as being grilled on what happened by Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), who controls S.H.I.E.L.D. in Fury's absence.  And during the action-filled assassination attempt (Fury's a tough one to stamp out), we're introduced to a super-assassin, called the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).

So yes, there definitely is a Marvel movie formula by now, and that requires at least a couple of giant battle scenes, a journey of personal discovery, and fighting against impossible odds (that's what makes these characters heroes, after all).  "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" delivers all of that.  There are big action scenes, all of which are pretty good.  There's fun car stuff in the assassination of Nick Fury, the recovery of the S.H.I.E.L.D. boat has good hand-to-hand combat action, the first battle between the Winter Soldier and Cap is fast and furious (and provides some intrigue for the rest of the movie), and the GIANT BATTLE at the end is spectacular.  But aside from these now-expected sections of the films, the real hallmark of this run of films is the relationships and dialogue between the characters.

The only thing I knew about "Cap 2" going in was from the trailer that I had seen, which was basically just an elevator fight scene (and a cool one at that).  So the inclusion of Black Widow as a main supporting character was a welcome surprise, and they share a different chemistry than one might expect.  They become protective of one another over the course of the film, and it feels like Black Widow eventually lets down her guard a bit around Cap (although her shifting personality traits according to situational need is a basic tenet of her character).  There's also a new addition, that of Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), who is a former soldier himself who bonds with Cap over their shared experiences, and ends up being a very valued friend to Cap.  Even Fury and Cap have some good back and forths, debating different sides of their own shared goals.

One of the things that I did appreciate about "Cap 2" is that it was a movie that was about more than just blowing stuff up and punching things.  That sort of story is very easy to tell with these sorts of characters, but the crux of the story is whether or not it's right to use every available means to maintain one's safety, especially when that means encroaching on everyone's freedom.  The stakes are literal here: would you kill twenty million people to make the other seven billion safe?  And more to the point, who would you trust to make that choice?  If power corrupts, having the means to kill people before they've even committed a crime because they might prove inconvenient down the road is a lot of power.  The Captain America character might be a Boy Scout, but that's a necessary counterbalance to those who fancy themselves "realists," who seem to be just itching for an excuse to get their hands dirty (with no personal consequence, of course).

"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" was another really good installment in this series of films.  There were some unexpected twists, ScarJo making a "WarGames" joke, good action, good characters that I've come to really enjoy, and enough of a tease for forthcoming material to make me want to come back whenever the next installment comes out.  In other words, really good serial storytelling.  "Cap 2" doesn't benefit from the freshness of the first "Iron Man" movie, and it's not really a surprise that one of the Marvel movies is going to be a good time.  And this isn't sheer awesomeness, like "The Avengers," that had the benefit of a multi-year, multi-film build AND Joss Whedon.  No, this is just another good installment in a good run of movies, and when your seventh or eighth installment is still pretty darned good (beyond just another return to characters you enjoy watching), that's a success.

3.5 / 5 - Theatre

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