What is this Kool-Aid that everyone’s drinking and where can I get some?
I just don’t get it. One may claim that my inner child is dead and buried, but anyone who knows me knows that my inner child/immaturity runs free. I like comic books and superheroes, so why don’t I get more excited about Marvel’s lineup of movies? It might be that I’ve seen better and anything that doesn’t reach that level of excellence will be disparaged in my mind.
It all started with Iron Man. I saw it and loved RDJ’s take on it. He made a C-lister into an automatic A-list hero and franchise. But as funny as the movie was, there was no depth. No reason to watch it again. Yet, people ate it up like it was their last meal. It was at that point that anything stamped with “Marvel” on it would be fool’s gold to the millions lining up to indulge. In between Iron Man and The Avengers, there were three movies (Iron Man 2, Captain America & Thor) that were made only to lead in to the team up in Avengers. They ranged from awful to mediocre, but people couldn’t get enough. The Avengers paid off in terms of fun and allowed the Disney/Marvel machine to keep on chugging along.
These are all fun movies, but what if one of them decided to be something more? What if one movie broke the Whedonesque wisecracking formula?
Is the sequel to Captain America that movie?
Captain America: The Winter Soldier follows Steve Rogers two years after thawing out and fighting the alien hordes in New York. He is growing accustomed to modern life, but still can’t let go of “the good ol’ days.” He helps out Nick Fury and SHIELD wherever he can, but he starts to doubt the agenda behind their latest plans.
Even Fury starts to question the intent of SHIELD’s latest privacy-invading project and the stance of Secretary Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford). As allegiances are tested, Cap and his lackies, Black Widow and The Falcon take on a mysterious assassin ripped right from Rogers’ past.
It is refreshing that the plot was directed towards a threat that feels real. The villains were no longer trying to harness the power of a cosmic cube or Infinity Gauntlet. The major threat this time around centers around the loss of privacy and the abuses of power that can happen if an overseeing organization can bring governments to their knees and wipe out citizens for possible acts of wrondoing in the future (ala Minority Report). While the scrawny-to-brawny bland hero was impossible to relate to in the first movie, his dilemma of making the right choice makes him a far better anchor point this time around.
The Winter Soldier is a far better movie than the vanilla original. Instead of relying on montages to show the action sequences, we get to see why Captain America deserves to be one of the Avengers. He gets plenty of hand-to-hand combat time and you see his strengths and weaknesses. Yes, his helmet still sucks. But don’t worry, he doesn’t wear it that often. There is a clear weakness in terms of the close-up action. The Russo brothers (the directors) take a headache-inducing page from the Bourne series by shaking the camera to simulate intense fighting.
Captain America 2 follows the same formula as The Avengers. It drags for the first half and becomes a Michael Bay movie for the second half. It really does push the espionage angle early on. It’s a spy thriller in the same vein/quality as the recent Jack Ryan movie. It’s a change of pace for a superhero flick, but not entirely original for any other movie.
If you know and love Marvel flicks, you know that they don’t take any risks. Characters are killed off only to reappear. At one point, Cap is told “Don’t trust anybody.” But the warning only goes as far as that. He is never truly double-crossed. The audience and Cap know exactly who’s bad and who’s good at every moment.
Scarlett Johansson returns as Natasha Romanov/Black Widow. Character-wise, she doesn’t add anything to the movie. Johansson seems to phone it in, except when her stunt double joins in on the action. She’s a great butt-kicker, but the movie would have been exactly the same had she not been in it. Anthony Mackie joins the cast as army vet Sam Wilson, later becoming the Falcon. He is serviceable as the War Machine to Rogers’ Iron Man. Don’t worry about an origin story with Falcon. He just happens to have billion dollar metal wings on hand just in case he is ever asked to be a sidekick. Both Black Widow and Falcon speak with the voice of Joss Whedon. Whenever there’s danger about, they are always ready with a wisecrack. I remember the days when Spider-Man was the only comic character with sarcastic one-liners. That’s a major problem I have with most Marvel movies. When every character is a comedian, no one is.
Audiences will love this movie. It makes no apologies for being a good-not-great movie. While it may have a high RT score, check out some of the reviews. They’re mostly slightly-better-than-average grades. If you love Marvel, you will LOVE this movie. It’s on par with Thor 2 and Iron Man 3. That’s not a compliment coming from me. Call me crazy, call me a cynic, but I have high expectations. Give me Spider-Man 2, X2 or The Dark Knight any day.
The humor of Marvel continues to carry average movies where plot relies more on convenience than resolution. With all the hate I’ve spewed, I’d still give it a B-. It’s goal is to entertain and for most audiences it will. I wouldn’t recommend paying full price at the theater. It’d make a better rental.
Items of note –
Robert Redford looks like he’s about to fall over and die in this movie. But he does have Newman’s Own Dressing in his fridge.
Emily VanCamp stars in a throwaway role as Agent 13, but was originally meant to play the granddaughter of Peggy Carter and Cap’s love interest.
Stay for the first mid-credits Stinger. Don’t stay till the end. It’s basically a worthless deleted scene on par with the Thor 2 makeout stinger.