Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Get out your indestructible shields and robot arms, we're reviewing Captain America: The Winter Soldier!

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is still getting acclimated to the world of today, and he's not too keen on what Nick Fury(Samuel L. Jackson) and SHIELD are doing in the name of peace and security. With the help of Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) they'll uncover a conspiracy that will rock the Marvel world!

Marvel Studios has come a long way from Iron Man 2. A lot of people disliked it because it sacrificed a coherent story for cameos and world-building. And now, here comes the sequel to the first Captain America movie (and also The Avengers), proving that you can have your world-building and eat your story, too! Well more like world-shattering, but, y'know.

Not to get into spoiler territory (though if you watched last week's Agents of SHIELD you're probably already spoiled) but this is a much darker film. In fact, Marvel's Phase 2 series of films (Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, and now the new Cap movie) are all much darker affairs than the Phase 1 films. And on the whole, it's working really well to shatter the bright, cheery, crazy world they created before The Avengers and get us super excited for Avengers: Age of Ultron.

But back to the actual movie, I cannot believe how much action, crazy set pieces, and references from comics and past movies they stuffed into this thing without it feeling bloated. It all works as a cohesive whole. This is already a movie where Nick Fury, Black Widow, and Captain America are main characters and get loads of screen time, but now Falcon, The Winter Soldier, and all these extra guys pop up that you'd never expect! SO much stuff you guys. It's crazy! And it all fits. I feel like everyone probably wishes THIS is what Agents of SHIELD was/is.

It all hangs on Chris Evans, who's come a long way from his stint as the juvenile dick that is the Human Torch. Who knew that he would be a PERFECT Captain America? (Good on you, Marvel) Obviously he's great in the first movie and The Avengers, but he continues to astound as he pulls the movie together with handling action scenes, being a sincerely good guy, and having some funny quipping with his superhero cast-mates. Speaking of whom, I like Black Widow's character much more here than I did in The Avengers. Something just didn't feel right there. I know everyone loves Joss Whedon's female characters (myself included, most of the time), but it felt like he was trying to show this girl who's constantly throwing up rough barriers but is really terrified inside. And that's not how I see Black Widow. Here, she's a badass willing to do anything to get the job done with an iron will, and her main struggle is sorting out which lies are hers and which are for the job. She feels like real a superspy instead of a girl struggling to be in a guy's club.

And then there's Mackie, just having a ton of fun in his role. He's so happy to be in a Marvel movie. He's up for anything! I can't wait to see more of him in the next Avengers movie. Jackson gets to do more with his character and even gets some badass scenes to show how much you don't mess with Nick Fury. He's a main character here, not just a one-shot cameo. And hey, Robert Redford! He's an actual actor person. What's he doing here? Everyone here is great actually, I can't say anyone didn't give it their all.

Also, lots of diversity I think. I'm not sure if it passes the Bechdel test, but you have at least 3 kick-ass female characters, one of which is a lead, and two black lead characters. And Black Widow gets to have a personality and character development! With the team of Cap, Black Widow, and Falcon, that's a pretty diverse team, and gets more diverse when you add Fury and Maria Hill. No majority of white dudes! That's great. More of that please.

I'm glad they ditched Cap's superhero-y costume from The Avengers with the dumb looking helmet. Here he's donning one that's reminiscent of his secret avenger/director of shield comic costume, and it's really working. I'm actually a huge fan of that costume so that's cake for me. We even get some of his classic costume from the first Cap movie! That one was on point, too. I like how Falcon's costume/wing suit works, but I'm hoping for the next Avengers movie, he's going to have something similar to his comic costume with splashes of red here and there. Winter Soldier looks really accurate to the comics, save for the domino mask. But I love that they kept the metal robot arm in, because why the hell not? Metal robot arms are cool now. How long before the movies get as truly crazy and colorful as the comics?

The Winter Soldier has a great espionage story. It's tense and thrilling and just a tad political. It's so weird that they can change genres almost completely from a war action movie to a political thriller and have it work so effortlessly. What other movie series can do that? It's pretty amazing. It's a thrilling story with a number of twists and turns that I don't want to spoil. I love how they were able to fit the 'too-good-for-his-own-good, boy scout" character of Steve Rogers into today's world and have it fit so perfectly. And I love how, even though Steve is a man out of time, he can find a lot in common with soldiers returning home and people who don't know who they are. It's a really compelling story that you'll find yourself enjoying even when nothing is exploding or someone isn't getting punched in the face.

But don't worry! There are plenty of explosions and people getting punched in the face. Tons of action! Lots of action on your plate here. And you'd think there'd be a cap to how much someone could watch the same hero beat the same kinds of dudes up, and in a lesser movie, I'm sure we would. But it's always entertaining. The fight choreography is incredibly entertaining, and it's just fascinating how they show how this guy is the perfect human specimen and how far he can push himself. Cap jumps out of planes without a parachute. And then there are all the action scenes with Black Widow, Falcon and the Winter Soldier – it is all icing on an already-sweet cake. 

I think technically this may be a better movie than The Avengers. It's a more interesting story with less trope-y bits (c'mon, how many movies have done that 'bad guy wants to get captured on purpose' deal?), better paced, there is less shoehorned-in exposition, and Black Widow's character is better. BUT. I'm not sure there are any shots as amazing as the ones in Avengers (little to no need to pick your jaw off the floor). Like that one continuous action shot at the end or Hulk beating up Loki, or the group shot, or literally the entire last half hour of the movie. And the 3D is not great, so don't waste your money. Avengers is still better overall for what it is and what it accomplished, but Cap 2 is technically the better movie. 

The cinematography is great, the score is nice, and it's really well paced. And the minimalist end credits are really cool to watch, too. I really enjoyed this movie, and I think you will too.

THE GOOD: Great action, great cast, great acting, cap's costume is better, lots of cool twists, funny, cool spy stuff, explosions, black widow is a better character, diverse cast, cool minimalist credits, great fun film.

THE BAD: ?????

THE VERDICT: $$$$$ This is such a great Marvel film and easily tops the last Captain America. It's one of the best ones they've come out with so far, I can't think of any problems, so go see it multiple times. But not in 3D. 

MOVIES LIKE IT: Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Mission Impossible 3, The Bourne Identity

ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: One of the film's first sequences is Cap going in with a team and taking out terrorists on a ship, one by one. It is incredibly cool to see him quickly and silently take out a bunch of guys with ease, but it's an even greater treat when you see that their leader is a minor league Marvel villain who has no right ever being on the big screen. I mean how did they even?! Who would think HE would be one of the villains of a major motion picture? And then they fight and it feels perfect.

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