I’m a little late to the party on this one as I have officially realized how much I hate going to the movie theater. Really, people seem to believe the theater exists to allow them to pay to replicate their living room with a group of strangers. I ma usually part of the small minority of movie goers who are actually there to experience the film, and find that difficult when your three year old is kicking the back of my seat and asking “is it over?” every ten minutes starting ten minutes in.
But I digress. I went to see “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and waited for it to get to the cheap theater so other people only ruined my $3 experience rather then my $12 experience. I am happy to say that Cap2 is a good enough film to allow me to (mostly) ignore that three-year-old as it unfolded. Spoiler free, I can tell you that Cap2 is a mix of superhero, action, message, and espionage thriller that evokes “Three Days of the Condor” or “The Marathon Man” as much as it does the first Cap movie or “Avengers.” Everyone gives a solid performance, there are some great new (if you don’t read the comics) characters, and unlike “Man of Steel,” Cap isn’t seen as inspirational because the script has other characters say he’s inspirational; it is because the character acts in an inspirational way and is again brought perfectly to life by Chris Evans. Additionally, though there is enough action to keep the movie trucking along smartly and keep the kids enthralled (unless they are three and it is obviously past their bed time) this is the most mature story I have seen in any superhero film. Cap2 asks some legitimate questions about the price of freedom, makes commentary on the effects of war on those who fight it, and examines (like a certain red ‘S’ wearing hero movie should have) whether or not there is a place for strong moral values in our modern world. I really would like to see someone take Zack Snyder, Chris Nolan, and David Goyer and tie them down “A Clockwork Orange” style to watch this film repeatedly until they understand certain heroes are meant to inspire and provide hope, and not just be Batman in a red cape.
I am not going to run down the whole story, as I wouldn’t do it justice, so I’ll give you the Good, the OK, and the Bad.
The Good: Steve Rogers is first and foremost in this film a Soldier. He leads as a Soldier, he has friends who are Soldiers, he gives and takes orders, and fights to defend the same principles he fought to defend in WWII. Indeed, one of my favorite elements of this film are moments when Steve and new friend Sam Wilson (later to be Falcon) compare their experiences and realize that despite 70 years and a continent’s difference, war is still Hell and leaves a mark on anyone who fights in one. This of course plays out in the larger examination of what has happened to Bucky Barnes and how he has become The Winter Soldier. We also see it in a startlingly good performance from Scarlett Johannson who has to confront some past sins as she considers the public outing of things she has done in the name of her country, then and now, and whether her secrecy should be sacrificed for the greater good. The fact there is not one single moment of damsel in distress for her character is a plus, and the banter between Natasha and Steve Rogers is quite a bit of fun.
We also get a heartbreaking moment where Steve is visiting Peggy from the first film. She had gone on in his absence to found SHIELD (wonder why “someone really wanted to letter to spell out ‘Shield’”? Now we know who it was) but now is old, and a harsh reminder to Steve of all he has lost in his service. Again, the price of Freedom on the individual Soldier plays dramatically and to great emotional effect.
Samuel Jackson gives us the Nick Fury we expect and love, and in particular we get a nice nod when he’s standing over his own gravestone and the biblical quote is from Ezekiel 25:17. For a 65 year old man, Sam J. is still one hell of an action star.
Speaking of star power, let’s hear it for Robert Redford. His quiet but firm Alexander Pierce feels like a direct tie to those 70s espionage films I cited before, and I love a bad guy with an interesting motive. He was well cast and delivers.
|Note also: Jenny Agutter. And Chin Han who has become the go to Asian man in suit in comic-based material.|
As does Anthony Mackey as Sam Wilson. The easy camaraderie that Soldiers fall into is well portrayed in his interaction with Chris Evans, and as the action escalates Sam Wilson’s transformation into Falcon is done nicely and a welcome addition to the Marvel movie universe. So it Sharon Carter, though I hope she gets to do more in the future.
The OK: Understanding how well integrated the Marvel film universe was, some references felt a little strained. It was nice to hear the name “Steven Strange” mentioned, but the appearance of Gary Shandling’s senator from Iron Man 2 seemed wedged in; I would like to have seen the quiet “Hail Hydra” uttered by someone with a little more relevance to me as a viewer.
|Changed my life.|
I was also slightly disappointed when they revealed it wasn’t Jenny Agutter’s Councilwoman Hawley who was kicking so much ass, but Natasha in disguise. Since her introduction in ‘Avengers’ I have been waiting for Jenny to shine and I thought I was getting that only to have it cruelly ripped away. If you have not had a deep-seated crush on Jenny Agutter since you were eight and first saw “Logan’s Run” this may not be as big a problem for you.
I felt they telegraphed the identity of The Winter Soldier a little much, but it is possible I was just picking up clues because I knew the original story.
The after credits scene seems to indicate there will be mutant characters who are not actually mutants in this universe but rather created with Asgaardian/Hydra tech. Marvel and Fox need to come off their high horses and collaborate for the good of both series of film.
The Bad: OK, the bad isn’t really from this movie, but this movie shows just how much WB is wrong in their belief that you have to gritty up Superman to make him relevant. Steve isn’t gritty here, he is the stalwart in the midst of gritty and his very presence makes the people around him want to be better people. When the Hydra plot initiates and Cap with a single speech separates the wheat from the chaff in SHIELD HQ, I found myself wishing THESE screenwriters had written the third act of “Man of Steel.” These people understood the inherent strength in an Old Fashioned hero and managed to tell a grown up story that neither compromised the character nor abandoned any progress they had made with plot or character development just so they could disaster-porn-up the end of the film. This is the truest portrayal of a comic character on screen since Christopher Reeve wore the S*. I only wish the Nolans and Snyders of the world understood that.
So, in short, Cap 2 is a solid, entertaining, and intelligent film with a real heart. Well worth your time, and certainly one of the strongest offerings from the Marvel studios.
*On another note, Zack Snyder—whom I admit I used to defend as a film maker—commented that he was surprised that so many people defaulted to Christopher Reeve as the definitive Superman rather than the comic book. He obviously has no understanding that Reeve brought the comic book to life perfectly and THAT is why he was so universally accepted, not vice-versa. The only hope I have for the continued Man of Steel universe is in fact Ben Affleck. He’s the only one working on the project that knows a damn thing about comic books.