Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Movie Review)

Pictured: A scene in Captain America in which fake Robert Redford plays a character whom real Robert Redford would fight valiantly to defeat. Or at least donate a shit-ton of movie to help defeat.

And to think that if you were to come up to me after I watched those god-awful Fantastic Four movies and try to convince me that the guy who played the Human Torch would ever star in a superhero movie again, I would have laughed, and laughed and laughed…

 Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Directed by: Anthony and Joe Russo

Produced by: Kevin Feige

Screenplay by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

Based on: Captain America by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby

Sequel to: Captain America: The First Avenger

Series: Marvel Cinematic Universe (9th installment)

Genres: Superhero, Action Thriller

Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson,Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily  VanCamp, Hayley Atwell, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson

 

Plot: Two years after the battle of New York in The Avengers, the cryogenically preserved title character, World War II superhero Steve Roger, code-name: Captain America (Chris Evans) is keeping himself busy trying to catch up with 65-ish years of pop culture and news, and carrying out missions for S.H.I.E.L.D., the shadowy spy agency led by one-eyed badass Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), accompanied by deadly super-spy Natasha Romanoff, code-name: Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and a lethal S.T.R.I.K.E. team led by Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo). During a mission to rescue hostages being held by Algerian mercenary Georges Batroc (Georges St-Pierre! Seriously!!!), Cap discovers that Fury tasked Romanoff not with saving the hostages, but with extracting data from the ship’s computers for Fury.

When Cap confronts Fury about this, he is briefed by his boss on the brand new Project Insight, which consists of three enormous helicarriers linked to spy satellites, designed to eliminate terrorist threats before they get serious. In other words, it’s Dick Cheney’s wet dream. Fury tries to sell Rogers on the project, but Steve, still an advocate of fun little things like “freedom” and “fair trials”, is disturbed. However, when Fury tries to decrypt the files that Black Widow stole, he is not only denied access, but, on his way to a rendezvous with fellow agent Maria Hill, he is assaulted by a hardass Soviet assassin known only as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). After the attack, Rogers is unable to reveal any information about the attack to senior S.H.I.E.L.D. director Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), who declares him a fugitive. Rogers, accompanied by Black Widow and his friend, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) embark on a journey to uncover the truth about the Winter Soldier… And some bad apples who have infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D.

Anybody who’s going into this movie thinking that it’s gonna be your typical Saturday morning cartoon-turned superhero movie (Avengers, Thor, Amazing Spider-Man the first Captain America) should know that they will be not disappointed, but kind of jarred by the tone of this movie. Right off the bat almost, the audience is shown that this will not be a light-hearted almost-comedy like Marvel movies tend to be, as Captain America, Black Widow and the Winter Soldier often get into prolonged, somewhat brutal fight sequences with terrorists and S.H.I.E.L.D., which often end in graphic death, not exactly something you’re used to seeing in superhero movies.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s no Tarantino film, and the movie has its’ lighthearted moments. Especially the comedic scenes between Cap and Natasha, but this is in no way, shape or form a movie that I would be comfortable taking my hypothetical  children to see. When I saw it, there were parents in the theater who were clearly regretting taking their very young kids to see it.

This isn’t meant to be a discredit to the movie though. I love me some graphic violence, and it makes sense to me that the different superheroes of the MCU should each have their different film genres (Iron man gets sci-fi action comedies, Thor gets fantasies, Hulk gets tragic dramas and Captain America gets gritty semi-political action thrillers).

Sure, the plot does suffer from a little bit of the Thor: The Dark World malaise of making the plot a little bit more complicated than it really needs to be (And, in fact, the two screenwriters for this movie also co-wrote the second Thor movie), but it’s really not so bad in this case. The plot is mostly airtight, with the often risky political overtones actually feeling important to the story and not shoehorned in for a phony sense of urgency. I, personally think that they should’ve  played up the whole “spying on innocents” angle, but that’s probably just my pesky left-wing liberal bias.

And maximum kudos to the Russo brothers, who had previously been known for directing episodes of Happy Endings, Community and the good seasons of Arrested Development, for crafting a movie that is way out of their comfort zones, with some kickass fight scenes that may be some of the best I’ve ever seen, even including an awesome fight scene at the beginning between Cap an UFC fighter Georges St. Pierre. You aren’t gonna see any of that shit in Arrested Development.

As for actors, There isn’t a weak link among the cast. Chris Evans is everything you’d want in a charismatic superhero lead, and has grown a lot as an actor since his nauseating performance as Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four. Scarlett Johansson is great as Black Widow and Anthony Mackie makes a great impression as a Marvel newcomer. Robert Redford is wonderful as the somewhat shady Alexander Pierce, and Sebastian Stan’s Winter Soldier is probably the best Marvel villain so  far apart, of course, from Loki.

Conclusion: Dark and violent while also funny and entertaining, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is one of the best MCU movies released so far (I’d put it just behind Iron Man in second and The Avengers in first) and the best movie in Marvel’s second phase.

9/10

Thor: The Dark World (Movie Review)

I was going to review Wes Anderson’s new movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel, for you guys, but apparently, the good people of Edmonton Alberta decided that today, of all days, was the perfect day, two weeks after the movies’ opening day, to wander over to Cineplex Odeon and fill up the goddamn theater to partake in the whimsical delight that is Wes Anderson (I assume. I’ve never actually seen a Wes Anderson movie before).

Which means I’m missing out on way more Bill Murray than is acceptable.

Anyways, since iTunes and credit cards are things that exist, I decided to catch up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with the next Captain America movie and Guardians of the Galaxy coming up. Time to bring the hammer down on Thor: The Dark World!

Get  it? ‘Cause he uses a hammer?

Ah, fuck it.

 Thor: The Dark World

  Directed by: Alan Taylor

  Produced by: Kevin Feige

  Written by: Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus,  Stephen      McFeely (Story by Don Payne and Robert Rodat)

  Based on: Thor by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Larry Lieber

Genres: Superhero, Fantasy

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgård, Idris Elba, Christopher Eccleston. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Kat Dennings, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, Tadanobu Asano, Jaimie Alexander, Rene Russo

Plot: Taking place two years after the events of Thor, and the title character (Hemsworth), accompanied by the Warriors Three (Stevenson, Levi and Asano) and Sif (Alexander) have just completed a campaign to pacify the nine realms of Asgard after they were destabilized following the destruction of Bifrost and the attempted alien invasion of New York, led by Thor’s step-brother, Loki (Hiddleston) in The Avengers. Loki has since been imprisoned by his adoptive father (And Thor’s biological father) Odin (Hopkins), the Allfather.

Meanwhile, on Earth, Dr. Jane Foster (Portman), Thor’s ex-flame, and her intern/best friend/effective comic relief, Darcy Lewis (Dennings) are in London, looking for their colleague, Dr. Erik Selvig (Skarsgård), who has been driven crazy by the experience of being possessed by Loki during The Avengers. While adventuring around London, they find an abandoned warehouse that houses several inter-dimensional portals. One such portal transports Jane to another world, where she is infected by the Aether, which is essentially a weapon of mass destruction in creepy liquid form. Her infection attracts the attention of Malekith the Accursed (Eccleston), a dark elf and ancient enemy of the Asgardians who aims to plunge the universe into darkness.

The plot sounds simple enough, but the reality is that it’s told in a way that had me kind of lost midway through. When the whole selling point of your movie is “Chris Hemsworth dresses up like a viking and beats the shit out of mythical creatures”, you don’t need to add a bunch of convoluted crap about the alignment of the realms, and then explain it in a way that bores and confuses me, to get me to watch your movie. But, as I just mentioned, this is not the case, and as a result, some parts (Cough cough, the climax) feel muddled and anti-climactic. It doesn’t help that a large part of the plot is built around a rather uninteresting villain in Malekith the Accursed.

Another plot problem is that the movie, at the beginning, tries to establish sort of a love triangle between Thor, Jane and Sif. The filmmakers went to the trouble of foreshadowing some sort of sexual tension, but we never hear about it again. What the hell was that all about?

While the cast does a great job, the one weak link among the whole bunch is Christopher Eccleston as Malekith. I’ve never seen an episode of Doctor Who in my life, but he didn’t exactly make a compelling case for my dropping Sword Art Online anytime soon.

Aside from Fullmetal Alchemist and Pokemon, it’s the only anime I’ve ever seen that doesn’t give off a rape-y vibe. Mostly.

Of course, it doesn’t help that his makeup looked like total shit.

Thankfully, the rest of the special effects are beyond phenomenal, especially the visuals of the city of Asgard. How this movie was excluded from the Oscar ballot in lieu of the Lone fucking Ranger  blows my goddamn mind.

Acting: Aside from Eccleston, the cast does a great job. Tom Hiddleston steals the show as Loki, who may be the best-written super-villain since Heath Ledger’s Joker. Chris Hemsworth is charismatic and fits the role of Thor like a giant, blond, muscular glove, and Natalie Portman has come another step closer towards erasing the memory of her role in the Star Wars prequels.

As much as one can try to forget, anyways.

What really made the characters shine is the dialogue, though. While the writers may have ignored minor details, such as a halfway understandable plot, but they nail the interactions between all the characters (Though, again, it helps that the actors did great jobs). the movie never really had a problem with tone, and managed to be sad, funny or tense whenever it needed to be, even avoiding the typical amounts of superhero cheese that comes with the territory of a movie like this.

Conclusion: I’d need to watch the first one again to decide whether I liked this one better or not, but what it lacks in terms of a coherent plot, it makes up for with its’ cast, dialogue, action scenes and especially the visual effects, and it all adds up to a very entertaining superhero flick.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10