Sunday, April 13, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America:  The Winter Soldier (2014) Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily Van Camp, Hayley Atwell, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson. Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo. Screenplay by Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely. Based on characters developed by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Produced by Kevin Feige. Run Time: 136 minutes. U.S. Color. Science Fiction, Fantasy, Adventure

The Ninth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Captain America: The Winter Soldier, like Thor and Iron Man before it, gets at least a second film. In Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) we’ve already learned Cap’s origin story and how he helped to save the U.S. and the world from the evil Red Skull/Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) and his Hydra force at the end of World War II. Frozen in time and in ice, Captain America wakes nearly 70 years later and is almost immediately introduced into the battle to save the world, which is the central plot of The Avengers (2012).

Black Widow (Scarlett Johansoon) and Captain America (Chris Evans)
are the only two returning Avengers for Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Now we are half way into a second cycle of films, which promises to culminate with Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). As part of this second cycle, we’ve already seen Iron Man 3 (2013) and Thor: The Dark World (2013), which continued our story forward, though the connection between the two isn’t quite clear, at least not yet.

Having read the more recent Captain America Winter Soldier comics, I’ve been chosen to write the review for Trophy Unlocked. (This review is coming a week after the film’s initial release, due to personal reasons.) If you’ve read the comics, but have not seen the films, know that the Winter Soldier character is pretty much the same, though his background has been altered to fit the more current Marvel Cinematic/Television Universe (including the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series). Rather than a Soviet trained assassin, the Winter Soldier is part of Hydra, the enemy from the first Captain America, which returns here with all of its evil intent still intact. (This make me think that the Soviets or Russians are pretty much non-existent in the MCU as they don’t seem to make an appearance in the WWII sequences from the first Captain America film nor do they appear to be participating in S.H.I.E.L.D.)

I will not go into details of the story, as there are many moments of suspense that giving away the plot would ruin. The fighting and other action sequences, of which the movie is full of, are staged very well. Many times in action films, the actually fighting sequences are cut in such a way that the viewer cannot always tell what’s going on and who is involved. This is certainly not the case here.

The acting is good, though no one is going to be nominated for any major acting awards. Making return engagements from Captain America and other Avenger franchise films are Chris Evans (Captain America), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes), Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury). New additions are Anthony Mackie (Falcon) and Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce. All are good, too, though for many there is less acting and more physicality involved. Johansson is turning into quite the action star, which was not something I would have predicted at the beginning of her career.

A very interesting addition to the cast is Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce.

There is sort of a continuity issue that’s been bugging me in the MCU since the Marvel One Shot, Agent Carter (2013), from the Iron Man 3 (2013) home video release. This One Shot focused on Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), the Cap’s handler and love interest from the first Captain America film. In the first film in the MCU, Iron Man (2008), the name S.H.I.E.L.D. is treated almost as an afterthought, though it is obvious what the long unwieldy name of the organization Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) represents, Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division, spells it out. However, in Agent Carter and in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we’re led to believe that this organization has been around since World War II. Originally presented as a sort of Homeland Security that was being put together on the fly, now it’s being presented as a worldwide espionage agency (not a division of the U.S. government or U.N.) that has been around for nearly 70 years. Nitpicky stuff, but it is important that a long running franchise keeps true to its own story points and doesn’t retcon for the sake of a new story angle.

As far as the movie goes, my biggest complaint is the overuse of deus ex machinas. Using it once in a movie is bad enough, like pulling a plot parachute cord, but there are at least two times in this film our heroes are in a bad situation with no way out, but manage to escape. Maybe there are deleted scenes that had to be cut to keep the run time down, but I really don't think so. I fear it is rather an example of the filmmakers feeling as long as they can keep the action going, no one's going to really know what happened, or care.

One more bitch, about the end credits. Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s credit for the original idea that the film is based on is smaller than the stunt extras’ names. Better than no credit at all or credit only to Stan Lee, it still is a disservice to the originators of the comic book from which this is taken. Also, you need to stay to end of the credits for this one. If you’re not a credit watcher then you will miss out; a lesson I would have thought Pixar and the other MCU films would have taught you.

Overall, I really liked Captain America: The Winter Soldier and would definitely recommend it to anyone who is following the MCU. If you haven’t seen any of the other films, you need to at least see Captain America: The First Avenger, as this will make more sense to you if you have. But really, you should see all of the films in the MCU as together they make for quite a ride. And there is more to come from the MCU, including a planned Captain America 3.

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