Friday, April 11, 2014
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
I really liked the first Captain America film, but with some reservations. Storywise it was a bit weak, with the second half really failing to live up to the opening origin sequence. It worked because Chris Evans was so great as Captain America. This one works because it's just a good movie. Of course, Chris Evans is still great as Captain America, solidifying himself as the king of Comic Book movies, since just off the top of my head I can think of about seven he's starred in, which must be some kind of record. Even more impressive is that, almost without exception, he's the best thing in every one of them. What can you say about an actor who nailed both the Human Torch and Captain America? I can't think of a single actor about whom both of those casting choices make sense and could actually work. I would even go so far as to say that Chris Evans as Captain America is the first perfect casting in a comic book movie since Christopher Reeve played Superman.
Anyway, I like Chris Evans.
I liked the rest of the cast too, especially Anthony Mackie who shows up in his first appearance in a Marvel movie, and nearly steals the entire series away from every other Avenger, and I'm no joking. I was skeptical about the inclusion of Falcon, not because I didn't think that the character is a perfect partner for Captain America, but just because I didn't trust the movie to not fuck it up. After nearly ten Marvel movies, I should've been more trusting. Mackie was great, not just because he's a fabulous actor, but because the character was so well written and his chemistry with Evans was just incredible. The filmmakers made the smart decision to omit any kind of tacked on love subplot and let the friendship between these two heroes be the dominant relationship that carried the film. The film actually opens with the two men meeting, and even though it's just two dudes talking, it could've gone on for the entire film and I would've enjoyed it. That's how good these two guys are.
We've also got the return of Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow. Her debut as the character was shoe-horned into Iron Man 2 for some reason, but luckily for her that movie was such a mess nobody even remembers how lame she was. Then she showed up in the Avengers movie, and while she wasn't bad, she just didn't stand out amongst Gods and Iron Men. She just didn't have much of a hook to her character, and some how the fact that she outsmarted Loki was more unbelievable to me than anything else in the film. But for whatever reason, she finally clicks here. The performance is the same, but the actress is given more to do, and the character is given a sense of vulnerability and humanity that she lacked previously. She's actually shown to be the enigma she is in the comics, and skirts the boundaries of right and wrong. Also, Johansson is more gorgeous and sexy than ever, for whatever that's worth.
Then there's Sam Jackson once again as Nick Fury, who at this point in the series is just phoning it in, but that's ok because even a weak performance by Sam Jackson is better than most Oscar-winning performances by anybody else. The best sequence in the entire film (perhaps even the entire Marvel series) was the set piece where the assassins try to break into Nick Fury's armored SUV. Robert Redford also shows up, and he's still insanely handsome and is probably the only actor on the planet who out-cools Sam Jackson. I also really liked the guy who played the Winter Soldier, whoever he was.
Action-wise, this movie was off the hook. More than any action film in recent memory, there were real stunts, actual car-crashes, and a distinct lack of CG through-out. The fight scenes in particular were fantastic because they actually looked and felt like two people fighting, albeit stylized in a comic book fashion. There's actually a fight between Captain American and Batroc the Leaper, and it's every bit as cool as that sounds (if you're a comic book geek, that is). It was directed by two guys named Anthony and Joe Russo, who I've never heard of before, but they nailed it.
I even liked the story, because it made sense, was possible to follow, and actually had moments of real suspense. I can't remember anything about the stories from the Iron Man movies. I've never read the Winter Soldier storyline from the comics, but I remember hearing about it when it was announced and thinking to myself, "that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard." Well, I can't comment on how faithful this was to the original story or that character, but I didn't think it was dumb at all. I thought it was really clever and really cool. I actually thought the Winter Soldier was one of the coolest villains I've seen in any comic book movie. I'm not going to spoil anything, but when his identity was revealed, the guy in the seat behind me actually gasped. I just thought that was funny.
If I have any complaints at all about this movie, it's that Captain America's costume still sucks. Why is this so hard? Richard Donner nailed the Superman Costume, then Tim Burton nailed the Batman costume, and then... nothing. Why has every costume since then sucked? The film actually opens with Captain America in a really cool looking costume, but it's not one I've ever seen, but then again, I haven't read the comics in close to a decade. At the end he puts on the costume from the first film, which worked as a part of the story, but I much preferred the costume from the Avengers, even though that one still was garish and over designed. For most of the film, it's just Chris Evans in street clothes swinging around his shield, which is weird for a comic book film, but actually preferable to the awful costume he finally puts on.
So... go check it out. It's awesome.