Captain America: The Winter Soldier – A Change in the Status Quo

Grade: A

Grade: A

When Captain America throws his mighty shield… it looks really cool.  Captain America: The First Avenger was a necessary story to tell for Cap, it’s his origin story. It’s a good movie, that really captures the look of the 40s, and retells his creation rather faithfully – and, more importantly, with feeling. Winter Soldier, on the other hand, turns the superheroics up to 11. Captain America is now truly the character the fans of his comics know him as. He is not perpetually a man out of time, he can’t be. This movie has Cap acclimatize, at  least somewhat, to the current reality (even using the internet). Neither can he be a naive ultra-patriot in the modern day – this may have been not only commendable, but necessary during WWII, but that is certainly no longer the case as the world is no longer so black-and-white. Not even in the Marvel Universe.

The movie starts off with Rogers working for S.H.I.E.L.D. on covert missions. He is not fond of the nature of some of the work, but when there are hostages to be saved, he is fully on board, and throws himself into combat with energy we have not seen with the captain so far. There were jeers when The Avengers was coming out that he’ll be slightly useless in such a powerhouse team-up, but those complaints can now be put to rest, I think. Joss Whedon did a great job of giving everyone something to do in The Avengers, but he basically had Cap in the role of a regular action movie hero – fighting, jumping, running from explosions efficiently, to be sure, and against opponents most regular people could never withstand, but not really get into super-powered territory that often. Captain America: The Winter Soldier changed the character’s fighting style slightly and subtly, and pitted him against the right opponents to really show his skills off for the first time. here, he is blisteringly fast, devastatingly strong, and extraordinarily resiliant. In the very first action sequence he takes out multiple thugs with a single throw of his shield, stealthily infiltrate a ship, and take out Batroc the Leaper while barely breaking a sweat. This is, simply put, good action cinema – exciting, fast, and convincingly lethal.

Captain Rogers is, however, questioning the true motives of S.H.I.E.L.D., which seems to be using him as they would any other asset – aiming him at the enemy and releasing, telling him little aside from that. He pushes for Nick Fury to divulge exactly what is happening, and gets snippets about a project that is set to eliminate potential hostiles before they even manage to cause any harm – finally, Fury says, they will be ahead of the curve in their war for peace. Cap sticks to his ideals, but does seem to be leaving the scene questioning whether he should stay with the organization, leave, or potentially accept that he is in a dirty world, where dirty deeds may be necessary to save lives. Before he can do this, however, Fury is attacked, and assassinated in Steven Rogers’ own apartment, pitting him against S.H.I.E.L.D. and their head Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) who assume he must be hiding something. Cap goes on the run with Natasha Romanov, Black Widow, and start uncovering the truth behind the intelligence agency, HYDRA, and the mysterious Winter Soldier that keeps popping up.

The handling of the Black Widow in this movie is spot-on. She was definitely a player in The Avengers, but the character really comes into her own here. In a movie that is essentially about trust (both personal, and in government/authority), the themes would not have resonated as well at all without her presence. Black Widow is not only currently the best superheroine in cinema (never relegated to the role of a damsel in distress), she confident, and intelligent in a way that Captain America is NOT. He is certainly no dummy, but she is the super-spy, and when the pair go on the run, Captain America simply does not have the guile to do it on his own. It is refreshing to see such a strong female character in superhero movies (also flanked by Agent Hill, played by Cobie Smulders, and Agent 13, Emily VanCamp). I hope this sets a good example, and Marvel realizes what they have on their hands well enough to give Widow a solo feature. The Phase 3 movies are being announced soon, and it can’t be all white straight male superheroes again, come on!

The Winter Soldier is appropriately menacing to give Cap and his allies a challenge. Given that he is not the primary threat, but more of a henchman, I must question whether his appearance in the title is truly justified. I like what the Russo brothers did with the Brubaker source material a lot, but I can’t help but notice that the central plot is really not about Captain’s relationship with the Winter Soldier at all, but rather with S.H.I.E.L.D., the modern world, even the concept of who he is. This is one of my only criticisms of the movie, and it’s more of a criticism of the title, truly – the way he and Falcon decide to go after him in the final scene suggests that The Winter Soldier would be a better title for the third movie. This is, of course, a minor gripe. Sebastian Stan does a fine job  – better, in fact, than I expected, given how disarming and utterly non-threatening his Bucky was in the first movie. This is, of course, the nature of the twist, and it is entirely to his credit that Stan pulls it off.

Anthony Macky’s Falcon is a lot of fun – and while the word sidekick may be anathema for the current Marvel Cinematic Universe, their relationship certainly approaches it (Falcon says, about Cap “I do what he does, only slower”). He does not have a ton to do outside of the giant action scene in the final act in terms of action, but just as Captain’s counterpart – the modern soldier, who had left the military behind, he is a valuable addition to the Marvel Universe.

Speaking of additions, there are numerous ones on display here. Batroc the Leaper (Georges St-Pierre)  may easily return as a hired gun. Crossbones (Frank Grillo) is heavily burned and injured, but presumably both survives and has a major bone to pick with Captain America. Digitized brain Arnim Zola is seemingly destroyed, but could easily have been backed up in another fascility to return. His scene in the movie was probably my favorite, incredibly imaginative and injecting original details, while simultaneously extremely faithful to the comic version of the character. It only occured to me now that the Russo brothers brilliantly introduced a very recognizable and interesting character from the comics for a single scene to deliver the exposition. It’s brilliant, and I for one am filing the trick away for future use (though I can’t imagine where this could be used outside of the Marvel movies). Baron Strucker also makes an appearance, as do Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, in the mid-credits scene.

The biggest change by far, however, is that the movie does not return to the status quo! The storyline does not take the simple and boring route of “everything is well, something goes down , superhero fixes it, eveerything goes back to normal”. Captain America actually changes things! Marvel Universe will literally never be the same! I’m extremely curious to see how the universe proceeds, particularly with the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. tv show (name change?).

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is not my favorite Marvel movie of all time, that remains The Avengers, which is so close to the feeling of reading a superhero comic, it’s crazy. Cap 2 is very, very solid, however – an awesome political/espionage thriller with superheroes. Nearly every Marvel movie has been of a slightly different genre, or embraced different tropes, and this one is a very solid entry in the canon.

Trailer Tuesday: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Every Tuesday, I will post a trailer I saw in the past week that I felt was worth sharing.

Finally, a superhero trailer worth sharing. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is my currently most anticipated superhero film of the coming year, far more so than Thor: The Dark World. To be fair, though, this is just my bias. Marvel has so far done a good job of differentiating their different superhero franchises in terms of genre, and I simply tend to like the international thriller/spy genre better than fantasy films – not that Thor doesn’t look good, which it does, largely due to the presence of fan-favorite Tom Hiddleston’s Loki.

Getting back to Cap, however. Chris Evans returns to the role of Steve Rogers/Captain America, as is Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, and Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes (here returning under the guise of the titular Winter Soldier). The trailer showcases a possible rift within S.H.I.E.L.D., as Steve Rogers shows his disagreement with their policies.

We finally get a moving image of Anthony Mackie as the superhero and long partner to Cap, the Falcon, and we’re now able to get a better idea what his flight looks like. I have to say, it’s not the most believable looking – but then again, the concept isn’t very believable either. Falcon does not get much screen time in the trailer, and neither does the supposedly central villain, Winter Soldier, who despite that still gets to do cool bad-guy stuff as he antagonizes a freeway and catches the Captain’s shield.

The movie is directed Anthony and Joe Russo, previously known for their work on sitcoms, such as Community. Considering the fact that most of the action is typically to fully orchestrated by the directors in these films anyways, technical expertise in shooting action is probably not required, whereas the sitcom experience will help them capture the character and humor that the Marvel franchises have become known for.

Overall, all of the fandom aside, it’s just a cool trailer for an action movie that looks exciting, and worth seeing. Captain America: The Winter Soldier comes out in March of next year.

Casting Friday: Giamatti Rhino, Olsen Avengers

Each Friday, I will summarize the important casting news or rumors from the preceding week, giving you a preview of who’ll be playing who in the future!

Giamatti Rhino

While The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is yet to come out (it is scheduled for May 2nd, 2014), actor Paul Giamatti, who plays the villain Rhino in the film, already confirmed his appearance in The Amazing Spider-Man 3. The film is currently slated to be released on June 10th, 2016. Whatever else could be said about this news, it is definitely a spoiler for the second film.

In the same interview, Giamatti said he does not know whether he will be appearing in the 4th film of the franchise, also already greenlit. He did not reveal anything further about the rumors of a Sinister Six team-up in upcoming films.

Olsen Avengers

I’ve previously talked about the rumor of Olsen playing Scarlet Witch in Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, but there has been no confirmation of it until now. Granted, the quote does not specifically mention the role, but Samuel L. Jackson, who of course is playing Nick Fury in the film, confirmed that she is involved:

“I don’t think we begin shooting before March of next year. I know we’re shooting in London, that James Spader is Ultron and going to be the bad guy, and that we added Ms. [Elizabeth] Olsen, but I don’t know what she’s doing, if she’s on the inside or the outside. I haven’t seen a script.”

Not many more casting news this week. I, for one, am waiting for news on who’s playing Constantine in the upcoming tv pilot!

New Poster and Trailer for Spike Lee’s Oldboy Hits the Internet

We have been hearing rumors of the Oldboy remake for years now (originally set to be directed by Spielberg and starring Will Smith), but this is the first visual clue as to what we can expect from Spike Lee’s take on the 2003 Korean film. I am a huge fan of the Chan-wook Park original (hardly a contraversial opinion), so I’m glad to see the newly related images similar enough to the original, while there’s still enough difference to keep us guessing – this certainly doesn’t look like a shot-for-shot remake.

First poster for Spike Lee’s Oldboy remake;
Image courtesy of Geekosystem

The poster is certainly an interesting image, and the overall look is definitely very reminiscent of the Korean classic. The tagline, “Ask not why you were imprisoned. Ask why you were set free,” is potentially spoilery, but not overly so. Thankfully, the first trailer is similarly restrained in terms of spoilers.

Given that this is the redband trailer, however, it is not even a little restrained when it comes to violent imagery. And Oldboy is definitely a very violent story, I just hope it doesn’t remake doesn’t ignore the sort of weird beauty that made the initial film enticing.

Also, while I knew about Samuel L. Jackson’s presence in the cast, I was not aware that Elizabeth Olsen was playing the female lead. That, more than anything else, makes me believe in the movie, because I really like her in Martha Marcy May Marlene, and Josh Brolin, frankly, has been slipping (his performances in Jonah Hex and Gangster Squad  were particularly lackluster).

How do you think the poster and trailer compare to the original? What are your views if you haven’t seen the Korean version? Comment below!

Unbreakable

Unbreakable (film)

Unbreakable (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The concept behind Unbreakable is brilliant, as is so often the case with M. Night Shyamalan films, whereas the execution is so mediocre it’s tough to believe. Shyamalan seems to fall into that distinctive decade of films in the 90s where movies where striving for realism and grittiness in their looks. Most of the time, however, they were simply dark, bleak, and uninteresting to look at. It’s disappointing that probably the most unique take on the superhero genre in cinema falls so flat due to stylistic choices. It’s hard to believe that it would not have looked dated even in 2000, when it came out.

Unbreakable is set against the background of comics, as evidenced by statistics of comic book readership during the opening of the film. All this is interesting, and indeed some of the dialogue about comics and their tropes is very enjoyable (and falls well in a great tradition of comic book dialogue in movies). This can only serve to appease comic book fans, however. Mr Glass’s character’s obsession with comics will be misunderstood by most viewers, and the fact that the film itself treats it as psychopathic is unfortunate.

Bruce Willis plays David Dunn, a man who miraculously survives a train crash without a mark on him. It is then that he is approached by the owner of a comic book art gallery, portrayed Mr. Price, otherwise know as Mr. Glass, portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson. He, after a life-long search for a real superhero, becomes convinced that he has found him in Willis’s character, who for the most part want nothing to do with it. The majority of the film, therefore, concerns the skeptical Dunn going back and forth on his superhumanity.

As a study of a genre, the film definitely has strong points. Unfortunately, it simply fails as good cinema.