Friday, April 11, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier / ** (2014)

What happened to the heroism? The modesty? The integrity of a character and the preservation of his history? “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is that loud and shapeless sequel about a noble man in a patriot costume that I feared would come to pass, a movie that spends two heavy hours propping up wall-to-wall actions in vein of the “Avengers” saga as opposed to just, you know, living in the world of a character who has got a lot to learn about the change of the times. From the first moment we join good old Steve Rogers at the opening of the story, events from the first film – as well as those of “The Avengers” – are long behind him, and a world full of culture shock is at his heels yearning to be uncovered. But there is no time in this screenplay to allow the big guy an opportunity to deal with his realities on any organic level, because Marvel law dictates that we must send such warriors right into the furnace of intrigue and zealous explosions and shootouts. Audiences will no doubt justify that course of action, but there is no arguing that the directors, Anthony and Joe Russo, have made the unfortunate mistake here of looking through their camera lens as businessmen instead of as filmmakers inspired by the conviction of their likable hero.

Not many of today’s comic book protagonists warrant that enthusiasm, much less their own movies. Those with strong cores are rarely matched with distinctive personalities, either. But Steve Rogers, the once scrawny but eager kid who would volunteer for a government experiment at an early age and become the symbol of a system of ideals in the time of fascism and world war, occupies a distinctive facet: the principles of his character remain unburdened by physical evolutions and deteriorating political standards. There is a charm about him that is infectious, even alarming; when the evil impulses of the new world seek to penetrate his core, always there is a demeanor unchanged by the corruption. That puts him, perhaps, in that elusive class strong-willed icons like Superman and Spider-Man, and one can easily imagine the three of them sitting around a table somewhere waxing philosophical over their “serve and protect” mantras.

In “The Winter Soldier,” new dilemmas arrive at the forefront. The S.H.I.E.L.D. Agency, with the good Captain’s assistance, thwarts the endeavors of a series of pirates who, apparently, are trying to crack secret agency files. Upon recovering them, however, the conspicuous Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) discovers a new barrier in the encryption that may hint at a security breach, and that dilemma will likely undermine an ambitious project dubbed “Insight,” which is discussed ambiguously and with emphasis on widened eyes in all those associated with it. Unfortunately, by the time that knowledge reaches Fury’s attention, something devious is already underway; he is ambushed by a group of thugs posing as cops, and then nearly assassinated by an unknown assailant with a mask and metal arm. What does this imply? Someone from within S.H.I.E.L.D. is apparently in on the scheme to overthrow the agency, and this reality puts not only Fury in danger, but also all of his closest consorts, including Captain America himself.

I describe the plot with loose brackets, because even I lack a certainty in the details. Here is a three-act story so convoluted that it scarcely indicates its intentions until well into the middle, although you do at least suspect it all involves something very wicked. The characters are thankfully eager to explain the outcomes of the intrigue through dialogue, and there are several moments in between loud actions scenes and tense confrontations in which deeper intentions are, indeed, revealed. But there comes some absurdity with that too, such as in a scene in which we discover that a villainous carry-over from the first film endures as a computer consciousness. His significance? His presence apparently revolves around a “Hydra” project that is alluded to in whispers by some of the more devious characters, but the movie requires us to make a leap in that determination that is rather tricky, even by the standards of a comic book story. Why bring back the villains of the past? And why utilize them in ways that come off as stretches in narrative logic? The twist is not an effective use of plot, but a betrayal of it.

The first “Captain America” film, in which a vintage hero exchanged fists with Nazis and military spies on the open fields of World War II, was admirable in two regards: it created a hero we could admire and even identify with, and it wrapped his growth in the social standards of an era where the darkness of the world inspired a society to embrace honor and integrity. As a stand-alone film, it was thoroughly effective. But what to make of this sequel, which begins with the promise of a stranger displaced in a strange modern time and results in lengthy shootouts, crumbled cities, an endless series of scenes involving innocent civilians fleeing from danger, and overzealous stunts (like a man running from a collapsing building and then leaping into a nearby helicopter that is in mid-air several flights down)? “The Winter Soldier” doesn’t use any time in establishing an identity, because it is obsessed with the thrill. That also means other key details get shortchanged, including the gloomy and uninteresting “soldier” who serves as the villain; strong and seemingly unbeatable even by a hero carrying an impenetrable shield, there is no genuine interest in him until far too late, when the screenplay seems to only offer up new details to set up momentum for another sequel.

And yet there is no denying the movie is incredibly well made. The cinematography by Trent Opaloch (“Elysium”) anticipates wondrous scope and frames it all in impeccable wide-pan shots that are sharp and precise. The special effects are some of the best of any comic book film, and emphasize the reality of our times: it is now almost impossible in many instances to tell the difference between what is real and what is computer generated on screen. Many of the performances are much more credible than the genre is probably worth (Evans makes a very charismatic Steve Rogers), and I liked a lot of the minor characters within Captain America’s sphere, including a strong-willed military veteran named Sam (Anthony Mackie) who possesses a valued skill in action sequences. But where does it all lead in the end, really? This is a movie that knows how to stage all the kinetic details to impeccable precision, but doesn’t have much clue as to how it can create a destiny beyond being a two-hour foreshadowing session.

Written by DAVID KEYES

Action/Adventure (US); 2014; Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, gunplay and action throughout; Running Time: 136 Minutes

Chris Evans: Steve Rogers/Captain America
Samuel L. Jackson: Nick Fury
Scarlett Johansson: Black Widow
Robert Redford: Alexander Pierce
Sebastian Stan: Bucky Barnes
Anthony Mackie: Falcon

Produced by
Victoria Alonso, Mitchell Bell, Louis D’Esposito, Kevin Feige, Alan Fine, Michael Grillo, Stan Lee and Nate MooreDirected by Anthony and Joe Russo; Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely; based on the comic book characters created by Ed Brubaker


rjthompson said...

Liked the movie (really think Chris Evans does a great job as Steve Rogers/Captain America) but i agree with you, they did the chr of captain america a disservice over all.

Bryan said...

An irony: it isn't an origin story. Which is good. But it sucks. Which is a waste in more ways than one.

For decades, we've been ruminating continually on the origin story of the same heros over and over again. Batman in particular has watched his parents die, grown up a cynical rich kid, and turned it all around in his sacrifice of his body (and sleep, I guess,) by donning the proverbial cape... Over. And over. IMDB counts NINE productions of the same plot. Superman has the same Groundhog's Day going on, just as badly.

So these gentlemen have a civic duty to attend to: making sequels that are worth watching. Three is the greatest number of hero movies in a row that I'm aware of. Yet how many comic books do we have to draw on? Enough to support an entire print industry! We have tens of alternate universes to draw from for EVERY HERO. We have profound stories to tell, that ask real questions of our society, if only we could get beyond that initial cash-cow.

If they keep this up, we're all going to stop watching. I already have. I just read your reviews. "Oh, yep." I think. "Just as I expected. A thoughtless grab for cash. What a disappointment." Its pretty insulting that they're still asking us to give them money for this drivel. Its like someone keying your car, then asking you for ten bucks. No, Hollywood. You don't get to squash my favorite heroes into two dimensions and expect money for it. That's silly.

Victor Nunez said...

Aw come on, the movie ties together adapts dozens of comic
editions of "Captain America", the Ed Brubaker era, the Marvel "Ultimates" version and makes them easy for everybody to understand.

Of course it´s rushed, otherwise today´s audience will start to tweet "this is boring" on the teather. Captain America was ´til a few years ago, the most "boring superhero" in the eyes of the general public, and now we have a spiritual sucessor of the X-files. Everybody wins.

Now, newborn fans who liked the story will now race after the Ed Brubaker stories, and in there they´ll be able to fill the gaps.

Unknown said...

I've read this review several times and I'm still not convinced the review 1. saw the movie or 2. watched the movie before writing the review. He writes, "I describe the plot with loose brackets, because even I lack a certainty in the details." and many other comments or so general (Why bring back the villains of the past?) I still don't believe this reviewer has even seen the movie.

Unknown said...

Oh I can assure you he has seen every movie he has written about. If you didn't agree with the critics opinion then just say so, there is no need for anything else.

Unknown said...

One of the things that’s clear to me is that all the critics who claim this motion picture has no plot obviously didn’t see it our were too inebriated to follow it. If anything, this motion picture was a bit too heavy for a super hero movie. If a critic were to write, “the plot was too think and dense for a super hero movie” that might be a criticism I might actually except. I might actually respect that since my kids had a hard time sitting still for a couple of scenes.

To say this film had “no plot” is an insult to people who actually saw the film. To say “Oh I can assure you he has seen every movie he has written about. If you didn't agree with the critics opinion then just say so, there is no need for anything else” is just retarded.

Unknown said...

Everyone who dislikes this movie seems to come off as a really pretentious comic book movie hating douche in general, strange huh?