(This past weekend saw the release of Marvel Studios newest film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. So your humble host, and contributor Dan Grote, went out to see if the movie lived up to the hype. Here's what we thought)
Dan Grote: Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a movie of basements with sub-basements, secrets with sub-secrets, ops within ops, escapes via quickly created holes in the ground, and tall buildings with really long elevator rides and easily shattered glass. And Cap and Black Widow go to all the floors.
My friend Rob called it the Empire Strikes Back of the Marvel Cinematic Universe after he saw it, on account of storytellingwise, it's easily one of the best of the bunch (up there with the first Iron Man and Avengers). But I'd compare it to a different Star Wars movie, considering the mission at the end is essentially to blow up three death stars by exploiting the womprat-sized weakness at each of their cores. Also, Robert Redford’s character finds the lack of faith of the other members of the World Security Council disturbing.
Matt Lazorwitz: While I see both those comparisons, I would liken the movie more to The Dark Knight. Both are intense, action based films with plots that mirror current political fears. In 2008, urban terrorism was a fear that permeated every day, which granted hasn’t really changed, and that film’s Joker was this idealized (for want of a better word) urban terrorist; he just wanted, “to watch the world burn.” The Winter Soldier deals with a fear that has come to the fore in the past couple of years; the fear that Big Brother is watching. In a day of Edward Snowden and the NSA leaks, the idea of terror using what the government has set in motion, or the government using that knowledge to itself instill terror, is a real one, and the film takes it to the logical endgame in a world where things like S.H.I.E.L.D. exist.
DG: Seriously, though, this movie is more than two hours long, but I would have gladly sat for three. As someone who loves Cap, especially Ed Brubaker’s run on the book, this movie gave me everything I wanted: Action heroes with dry, cool, wit; geopolitical intrigue, a WarGames reference, at least three cameos that made me smile despite my dropped jaw, what briefly appears to be an old British woman who isn’t Helen Mirren fighting people, and Alan Dale.
Most refreshingly, it was leaps and bounds better than Captain America: The First Avenger, which, let’s be honest, was a two-hour-long Act I, as much as I enjoyed it.
ML: While I haven’t read the Mark Waid mini-series of the same name (and I know I need to, especially with some real good press on it lately), this is one of the best examples of showing how Cap is a, “man out of time.” He doesn’t dwell on it, and it’s not just played for laughs, with scenes of him looking at iPods and commenting about record players, like it could have been. But the general sense of not fitting in, of not knowing who he is and where he should be, was done perfectly, not dwelled on, but always there. And the final action scenes of the movie, where Cap re-dons his World War II era costume, both show who Cap is and when he is most comfortable, but also are physical representations on the theme of the world of the past in conflict with the world of the present being crafted by Hydra.
DG: The relationships between the movie’s main protagonists are spot-on, especially between Cap and Falcon (Anthony Mackie is a fantastic addition to the MCU, btw). There's always a danger of Falcon being treated as Cap's sidekick, but that was never the case. They were always partners. And in the movie they find common ground as soldiers having a hard time adjusting to being “home,” which provides a perfect way to weave in Sam Wilson’s background as a social worker in the comics.
ML: The rapport between Chris Evans and Anthony Mackie was clear from the film’s opening scene. The two played off each other perfectly, not just in how they were written, but how they were realized by two great actors. Evans has come into his own as an actor as Captain America, and while he hasn’t done a, “golly shucks,” sort of performance, he’s always stood apart. Giving him a friend in the present lets us see a different aspect of him. And Mackie plays the Falcon as a hero in his own right, looking to Cap for inspiration but not looking at him as his boss.
DG: Cap and Black Widow make great work spouses, which is good, because ScarJo eats up a lot of screentime. It’s pretty much a team-up movie the whole way through. She and Cap even go on a Scooby Doo-like adventure in a dusty old basement with a secret room behind a bookcase (which leads to my favorite surprise scene in the whole movie).
And Cap and Fury, well, it could have ended up being more of the same from Avengers, if they hadn't removed him from the equation early on.
ML: I was also happy to see Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill given a time to shine. Maria Hill in the comics is a hard character to like, as she seems to be just to the left of classic Marvel hardass government guys like Henry Peter Gyrich, always waiting for the heroes to screw up. Here, she is Fury’s loyal right hand, and has plenty of action scenes and plenty of brains, and works with Cap and company not begrudgingly, but as part of the team.
There are actually quite a few strong female characters in the film, especially when you look at it in comparison to other superhero movies. Black Widow and Hill alone would be impressive, but when you also factor in Emily Vamcamp’s Agent 13, who doesn’t get a ton to do, other than have some great fight scenes, but is set up nicely to be the female lead in Cap 3 (hopefully Black Widow will have graduated to her own film by then), you have more women fighting then in pretty much any movie I can think of that isn’t specifically an ensemble movie about women warriors. And one final note, Haley Atwell’s brief appearance as an aged Peggy Carter is both beautiful and tragic.
DG: Directors Joe and Anthony Russo are known for their work on NBC’s Community, and you can see that show's genre-bending humor in the movie, especially when they play with tired action flick cliches like threatening a low-level baddie with a fall from a tall building to extract information.
There are a couple of shots toward the end that are boldfaced homages. Cap plunges into the water - again - and after Cap is shot in the stomach, he lies in the exact same pose He did when he was killed in the comics. And of course the scene where all the fake D.C. cops attack Fury reminds of the Blues Brothers (and, uncomfortably enough, of racial profiling).
With that same Fury scene in mind, I want to tell whoever first thought of having a car or truck flip forward and explode in movies this: I love your work, but I'm worried it's been overused, especially in superhero movies (see also X-Men: The Last Stand, The Dark Knight).
Also as you watch this scene and the rest of the movie, ask yourself: Why was Fury the only person allowed to have bullet/shatterproof glass? If I lived in the MCU, after this movie, I would invest in a glass factory; that’s all I’m saying.
Audience observation: There were at least three people in a not-that-packed theater who gasped when the Winter Soldier took off his mask. Compared to some of the other surprises in this movie, this one was horribly kept, but I’m happy those people got an extra thrill.
ML: Before we get to wrap ups and final thoughts, I figured it best to actually talk about the film’s title character, the Winter Soldier. This film is so much more than that, more than just about that one figure, but I frankly couldn’t think of a better title, and it certainly is one that is dynamic and interesting. Sebastian Stan does a great job acting with just his body and eyes. His origin works well here, fitting seamlessly into the universe that has been crafted, and Stan plays the tormented side of the character as well as he does the ruthless side. I don’t know exactly where they’re going with him in the future, but I hope we get to see more of his interaction with Cap.
DG: Biggest quibble (and I don't consider it all that legitimate a gripe): Batroc was not Batroc-y enough. I'm not saying I wanted the purple-clad French martial arts master to be a joke, but I did want him to fight with more bravado and braggadocio. At the very least yell "Zut alors!"
Random observation: In the first action sequence on the ship, when Cap takes out the first pirate from behind, I really wanted the words "Y silent takedown" to appear on the screen, because I've been playing a lot of Arkham Origins lately.
Trailer notes: I was disappointed the Guardians of the Galaxy was the same one from two months ago. Next to Lucy in my notebook, I wrote "ScarJo is LIMITLESS SPECIES." Who the hell looked at Kelsey Grammer's resume and said "How have we not put him in the Expendables movies?" I do not buy Megan Fox as April O'Neill.
ML: This film had some of the best fight choreography I have ever seen. The up close fighting between Cap and Winter Soldier was that tight, Taken style, with tremendous economy of motion, while fights between other characters was broader and more open. I like how Black Widow doesn’t fight like Cap, who doesn’t fight like Falcon. That was smartly done.
As a personal pat-myself-on-the-back moment, when Agents of S.HI.E.L.D. debuted, I observed that it felt like the season’s seeming big bad, Project Centipede, were like Hydra, and wouldn’t it be great if that played into Winter Soldier since it would be coming out near the end of the season. This is being written Tuesday morning, so I haven’t seen the new episode yet, but judging by scenes from last week’s episode, I just might have been clairvoyant.
Oh, and just in case you don’t know, stay through the credits in this one. There are two scenes like in Thor: The Dark World, one mid-credits, teasing an upcoming Marvel Studios film, and one at the end, giving a final sting to this movie. It’s 2014 and we’re nine movies into the Marvel Cinematic Universe; I was shocked at the number of people who got up right as the movie ended, and more shocked at the people who left after the first scene. You stuck with it this long; what’s five more minutes?
So, in the end, the consensus here on The Matt Signal is that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is one of the strongest entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and a good film over all. On a scale of one to five, this one gets five cybernetic Soviet issue arms up.
(Post movie trip to the Bargain Book Warehouse. Yes, I wore an Invincible t-shirt to see Cap. You don't wear a band's t-shirt to their concert, you don't wear a superhero's shirt to his movie.)