Sunday, April 6, 2014

Captain America: A Tale of Two Soldiers

     Of all of the Marvel films that star one of the Avengers individually, Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) was my least favorite. There was nothing particularly bad about it: some of the pulpy story and action was enjoyable enough. But it had nothing memorable--no classic lines or brilliant action set pieces--to grasp onto. Since then, namely with The Avengers and Iron Man 3, the comic company has perfected the art of must-see superhero entertainment, stories filled with humor, tension and action scenes that showcase their 100+ million dollar budgets. So now we ride along to the second film in the Captain America series, The Winter Soldier. It's a solid--if unremarkable--spring movie. Showcasing a story where our hero Steve Rogers's foe is more of a corporation than a specific villain, The Winter Soldier is a more thoughtful Marvel film with notions of politics and surveillance. It's Captain America finding his way through modern America.
     In a world where it's nearly impossible to determine who to trust, Captain America must navigate the throes of S.H.I.E.L.D. itself, as always led by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). At the beginning of the film, Nick sends our Captain, a group of soldiers, and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) on a mission to a submarine that has been taken over by pirates--not Somalian like in the other Captain movie, Phillips, but Algerian terrorists. It showcases some of the fast-paced, more intimate fighting that Captain America performs. The Widow downloads some secret information, they save the hostages, and they head back home. Soon after, Fury himself gets attacked (seemingly because of the information of the zip drive that's now in his possession) while driving, and it becomes clear that a nameless force with infinite henchmen and government resources is trying to become a superpower, wiping out targets across America.
     This paranoia--that same worry that some Americans feel in this present day of Drone strikes and traffic light cameras--is present throughout Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Much of the film is spent with Captain America and Black Widow on the run (along with a new bird-like friend, portrayed by Anthony Mackie) , enemies of the state and of S.H.I.E.L.D. itself. If it feels familiar, that's because this notion has been explored before (and more skillfully) in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight. It's almost impossible to not see the similarities though, and it makes The Winter Soldier feel much more real than its WWII-set predecessor.
     These individual Avenger films follow a pretty specific formula--it's rare that we feel true danger for these characters, so there needs to be other entertaining aspects from them to stand out. Other than the focus on a political story, in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the uniqueness comes in two new characters and the intense hand-to-hand fight scenes. It's interesting to see Robert Redford in a superhero film--the man doesn't appear on screen very often, so it's intriguing watching him portray Alexander Pierce, a higher-up in S.H.I.E.L.D. who clearly has motives of his own. He's a nice presence in the political intrigue. The Winter Soldier in the title is a villain who's as powerful as Captain America, and maybe they even have a connecting thread. He's a good antagonist: violent and ruthless. And when the two soldiers are pitted against each other, it makes for great superhero fight scenes.
     We all know that Marvel films can showcase some of the best action set pieces in the universe of big-budget film making. And though Captain America: The Winter Soldier contains large-scale Avengers-esque battles and explosions, it's the smaller fight scenes that are the real star of the action--the battles that are fought on the ground rather than in the air. Not too many American films can convey excitement when it comes to hand-to-hand combat, not after films like The Raid: Redemption that show you how realistic movie fighting can look, but The Winter Soldier performs admirably: they don't leave you breathless, but they seem much more brutal and real than the cartoony (but still fun) action in the Iron Man films.
      Chris Evans portrays Captain America as a man who is vulnerable--maybe not vulnerable to fists or bullets (he's quite capable of handling those), but to finding his place in a modern world that he still doesn't quite understand. It's a naivety that is charming, like the first few scenes in Thor after Chris Hemsworth crashes onto Earth. It's funny (enough) and likable. A few scenes drag in The Winter Soldier, and it could have been more concise, cutting a few of the plot points that lower your adrenaline too far. But the film is a thoughtful spring superhero film that is well-worth watching once: completely respectable and an above-average entry into the Marvel canon.     (B)

1 comment:

  1. Watching something as fun and exciting as this, makes me wonder just why DC hasn't gotten their act together. Good review Hutch.