Wednesday, April 16, 2014

It Came From The Cineplex: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier was written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and directed by Anthony and Joe Russo. Apparently it took two people to do anything on this film.

Markus and McFeely wrote Captain America: The First Avenger (the previous movie) as well as Thor: The Dark World and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe and all its sequels. If it's got a colon in the title, like as not they wrote it.

As for the Russo brothers, who knew the directors of You, Me And Dupree could make such a good film? Actually it should come as no surprise, since they've directed several episodes of the TV series Community, namely A Fistfull Of Paintballs and For A Few Paintballs More. They've reportedly been signed up for Captain America 3, which is good news.

I enjoyed the first Captain America movie quite a bit, and this one's just as good if not better. It's not quite as much fun as the first film, but it's a very well made and action packed political thriller.

The actors played a large part in elevating the material. Once again Chris Evans proves he's the perfect person to play Cap, as he has the wholesome and earnest thing down pat. Scarlett Johansson seems to be having a blast as Black Widow. And Anthony Mackie hits it out of the park as the Falcon, even though he didn't get a lot of screen time. Hopefully he'll turn up again soon somewhere in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And they somehow even got Robert Redford to sign on as Alexander Pierce!

The only real shortcoming? For a movie subtitled The Winter Soldier, there wasn't a lot of the Winter Soldier in it. I have a feeling this was just his introduction though, and he'll be back.


The Plot:
Captain America has a new job working for S.H.I.E.L.D., and soon begins to think all is not right in the super secret spy organization. His suspicions are proved correct when S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury is killed by a super powered assassin known as the Winter Soldier. S.H.I.E.L.D. official Alexander Pierce then brands Captain America a traitor.

The Captain and Black Widow seek refuge in a forgotten S.H.I.E.L.D. bunker, where they discover that HYDRA, an enemy agency from WWII, is alive and well in the 21st Century and threatening to take over not only S.H.I.E.L.D., but the world itself.

Captain America, Black Widow, Agent Maria Hill and the Falcon must then band together to defeat HYDRA and save S.H.I.E.L.D.

Oh, and to absolutely no one's surprise, the Winter Soldier turns out to be Cap's childhood friend Bucky Barnes.

• Unfortunately I knew the basic plot of the film a week before I had a chance to see it. The April 8th episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. was pretty much a sequel.

By the time I got around to seeing the movie, I already knew that HYDRA was back, S.H.I.E.L.D. was kaput and Nick Fury was kind of dead.

As I've said before, it's cool that the movies and the TV series are part of big happy universe. But this interconnectivity can result in major spoilers.

• S.H.I.E.L.D. has been a huge part of all the Marvel films ever since the first Iron Man film. It's the spine of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The engine that drives them, so to speak. 

It was a very bold move to destroy S.H.I.E.L.D. in this film. Obviously it'll be back at some point, but in the meantime, well done to them for having the guts to actually shake things up a bit!

• I'm not a fan of Cap's dark blue stealth suit, but it looks very much like the one he wears sometimes in the comics, so I guess I can't squawk about it too much. They're being faithful to the source material, even if I don't particularly care for the look.

At least Cap was wearing some kind of costume for the majority of the movie, unlike Tony Stark in Iron Man 3, who spent the majority of that film in civilian clothes.

• Speaking of costumes, why was Nick Fury wearing what appeared to be a Nehru jacket? I much preferred his Avengers ensemble.

By the way, this film marks the first time we've seen what's under Fury's eyepatch.

• It was fun to see Batroc and Arnim Zola, but… it would have been even more fun if they'd actually looked a bit more like their comic book counterparts.

I like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I really do, but they seem to have trouble cutting loose. It's as if they're afraid to be too weird, lest they scare off the general public, so they play it safe when it comes to the look of certain characters.

Go for it, I say. Which would have been more awesome, the movie version of Arnim Zola who's a boring Matrix-y looking face on a computer monitor, or the comic version who's a freak with a TV camera for a head and his face on a monitor in his stomach? I know which one I'd pick.

Your movie already has a ninety-something year old super soldier who was frozen in the ice for seventy years. Why not take that last step into comic book weirdness? Captain America has a very bizarre looking rogues gallery. Why not take advantage of that?

• Cap uses his shield much more extensively all through this movie, bouncing it off walls to knock out the bad guys, and even using its energy absorbing powers to break his fall. He uses it exactly as he does in the comics. Kudos to the writers for doing their homework!

• It's starting to look like we're never going to get a Black Widow solo movie, which is too bad. Then again, it almost felt like this was her movie, as she was in virtually every scene. I guess as long as she keeps popping up like this in other Marvel films, I can live with the lack of her own movie.

 • At the risk of sounding like some overprotective Soccer Mom, I'm surprised that the filmmakers don't have Steve Rogers wear a helmet when he was tooling around on his motorcycle. He definitely looks cooler without one, but Captain America is a huge role model for kids, so you'd think they'd stick a helmet on his head to send a message to all the kids in the audience. Just because he'd likely survive a helmet-less crash doesn't mean his fans would. 

• Steve Roger's neighbor Sharon (who poses as a nurse) turns out to be a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who's keeping an eye on him. 

I'm assuming this is Sharon Carter, who in the comics was Cap's sometime girlfriend. And she's the niece of Peggy Carter, his 1940s love interest from the first film.

• I wonder if Tony Stark designed the artificial intelligence in Nick Fury's S.H.I.E.L.D.-issue SUV? Because it sure sounds and acts a LOT like Iron Man's JARVIS system.

• Reading behind the scenes movie info is fun, but can be a down side to it. When Nick Fury was "killed," I knew he wasn't really dead. How'd I know? Am I psychic? A good guesser? Did I read the script? No, I knew he wasn't really dead because this is the sixth movie in Samuel L. Jackson't nine film deal with Marvel. There's no way they're going to kill off his character while he's still got three films left on his contract. They're not going to pay him to sit at home!

• Nick Fury "dies" on the operating table, and of course his doctor wheels in the defibrillator unit and heroically tries to shock him back to life. 

This is an old, old refrain, but one more time: DEFIB UNITS DO NOT WORK LIKE THIS!!! They are not jumper cables for your heart! If your heart has stopped, a defib unit will do absolutely nothing for you. The doctor can shock you for hours until your nose hair ignites, but it absolutely will not restart your heart.

How this particular trope ever got started, I have no idea. It's got staying power though, I'll give it that. It absolutely will not go away.

• When the Winter Soldier appears, we see he's got a red star painted on his bionic arm. A red star is the symbol of Russia. According to the backstory we got, Arnim Zola found the injured Bucky Barnes, rebuilt him and then wiped his mind. He then became a HYRDA assassin. So he worked for the the Russians and HYDRA as well? I don't recall any mention of that, but if so, he's been a busy boy the past seventy years.

• Chris Evans has three films left in his Marvel contract. Most likely he'll star in two more Avengers films and one more Captain America.

Sebastian Stan, who plays the Winter Soldier/Bucky, reportedly just signed a six film deal with Marvel (!). Some have speculated that at some point Steve Rogers will either retire or be killed off, and Bucky will become the new Captain America. 

That exact thing happened in the comics, so it's entirely possible it could happen in the films as well. 

• This is admittedly some extreme nitpicking, but here goes. S.H.I.E.L.D. stands for Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement Logistics Division, which is as tortured an acronym as I've ever heard. 

When Cap and Black Widow visit the forgotten S.H.I.E.L.D. bunker in New Jersey, we see the current emblem on the door. The thing is, I don't ever recall hearing anyone say the word "homeland," as in "homeland security," until the late 2000s. This bunker looks like it was abandoned sometime around the 1960s or 1970s.

The exact meaning of S.H.I.E.L.D. has changed many times over the years in the comics. It originally stood for Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law Enforcement Division, and that would have been a more appropriate meaning for a 1960s bunker. But it would have been too confusing if they'd used more than one acronym definition in the film, so I'm willing to give them this one. 

• By the way, in the bunker we see photos of the three founders of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Colonel Chester Philips, Howard Stark and Peggy Carter. All three were in the first Captain America film.

• In the underground bunker, Arnim Zola gives Black Widow's birth year as 1984. Whoops!

She's mentioned several times that she was a former KGB agent, but that organization was dissolved in 1991. Was she really a secret agent when she was seven? She did have a line in The Avengers about starting out young, but sheesh!

• Speaking of Black Widow, all through the film she wears a necklace with a small arrow pendant. I'm assuming from that we're to guess there's something going on between her and Hawkeye?

• Well would you look at that! This movie featured the Falcon, a cool black superhero who was actually black in the comics. They didn't have to take a white character and turn him into a black one, against all reason and logic (I'm lookin' at you, awful upcoming Fantastic Four reboot).

By the way, the Falcon's wings have a Stark Industries logo on them. 

• Agent Sitwell, we hardly knew ye!

It turns out that Sitwell was a secret HYDRA agent all along, which was surprising, as he's been a fixture in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for quite some time. He had bit parts in Thor, The Avengers and several episodes of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. I'll actually miss him.

• Sitwell mentions a list of people that HYDRA considers to be threats, one of which is Steven Strange! Comic fans will recognize that name as the alter ego of Marvel's Doctor Strange! So were they just throwing a bone to the comic fans, or will we be seeing the Sorcerer Supreme in his own film one of these days?

• A bloated Gary Shandling returns as Senator Stern. Stern first appeared in Iron Man 2, trying to coerce Tony Stark into giving up his Iron Man technology.
• Skinny Steve returns! And the effect is just as amazing as it was last time.

• During the big HYDRA attack, Danny Pudi (Abed of Community fame) pops up in a cameo role. Not surprising, given the director's Community link. As much as I like Pudi, I have to admit it was a little jarring. And it occurred to me that he's going to have a lot of trouble shaking his Abed image once Community's done.

• There was a lot of action and awesome fight scenes in the film-- I think. The directors used extensive use of the patented Shaky Cam™ Filming System, rendering much of the action incomprehensible.

I'll never understand why filmmakers do this. Why hire fight coordinators and train your actors and hire stunt people and film your scenes like the camera's sitting on an unbalanced washing machine?

• In the third act, Alexander Pierce welcomes the visiting World Council members to S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters and gives them special all-access security badges. Later he reveals that he's actually a HYDRA agent and can use the badges to burn a hole in the Council Members' chests if they don't cooperate.

Black Widow is posing as one of the Council Members, and surrenders to Pierce when he threatens to detonate her security badge. She must have been really flustered by his treason, because she apparently forgets that she could simply take off her jacket and be rid of the deadly badge.

• At the end of the film, HYDRA Agent Brock Rumlow battles the Falcon, and is engulfed in an explosion when two helicarriers collide.

Later we see Rumlow lying on an operating table, burned almost beyond recognition. The camera lingers an abnormally long time on him, indicating that something's up.

In the comics Rumlow is the alter ego of the villain known as Crossbones. Apparently they're setting him up here for a future appearance.

• The epitaph on Nick Fury's tombstone reads, "The Path Of The Righteous Man. Ezekiel 15:17." That's a Pulp Fiction reference.

• Since this is a Marvel movie, you know what that means-- end credit scenes! The first of them packs quite a bit of info into itself. We're introduced to Baron von Strucker, a high-ranking HYDRA agent from the comics. He's apparently performing experiments on two "miracle" twins, one of which can move at superhuman speeds, and one with telekinetic powers. 

Of course these twins are Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, who will both be showing up in The Avengers 2: Even Avengier. Awesome!

You might wonder why Strucker calls them "miracles" instead of mutants, which they most definitely are. It boils down to legal reasons. Fox unfortunately owns all the X-Men characters, and apparently even the word "mutant." So Marvel can't use the word in regard to their own superheroes. Weird.

We also see that Strucker is conducting some sort of experiments on Loki's scepter, last seen in The Avengers. It's pretty obvious that the glowing blue stone in the scepter is another of the Infinity Gems. This makes three we know of so far. The other two are the Tesseract (from The Avengers) and the Aether (from Thor: The Dark World).

There are a total of six Infinity Gems, and whoever possesses them all will have the powers of a god. The evil alien Thanos (the purple faced guy from the end of The Avengers) is looking for them all, and when he finds them he'll most likely be the big bad in Avengers 3. Cool!

In the final end credits scene, the brainwashed Bucky goes to the Smithsonian to see the Captain America exhibit, which includes info about himself. He must have sneaked in the rear entrance, or else his bionic arm would have set off the metal detectors!

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a rare sequel that's as good as the original, and brings major changes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I give it an A-.

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