By Will Ashton | firstname.lastname@example.org| @thewillofash
Captain America: The Winter Solider | Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo | Rated PG-13
With Disney’s purchase of the company, they, like all things, have been able to produce their films not just a means of making films, but rather as a way to sell, sell, sell. They get in, market the hell out of their movie, make a solid buck, then move on to the next film. They have a movie or two planned out for the next ten or so years, literally, and this is the best and worst thing that could possibly happen here.
Now, I don’t want to go on a rant here, but Marvel movies are starting to lose their soul a bit. Even The Avengers had a whiff of emptiness in it, saved mostly by Joss Whedon’s whip smart writing and the cast’s great chemistry.
I’m not going to go around moping about the state of the Marvel movies for this whole review—because, essentially, I did that already in my Thor: The Dark World review and my upcoming (hopefully) published column in one of this week’s Post papers—but I will thankfully say this: Captain America: The Winter Solider, the latest marketing gig by Marvel Studios, is their best in the Phase Two sequence. But it’s not quite a great film.
Concluding his adventures with the Avengers, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is finally starting to get adjusted to life in the 21st century. Or, at least, he’s trying. But he doesn’t get too much time to do so, as he gets wind of a group of people trying to take over the S.H.I.E.L.D. industry and possess its immerse power for their own personal use. Now, as he tries to stop it, Cap gets made to look like the villain, and everything, including his life and the lives of those he cares about, are put in jeopardy.
What helps save Captain America: The Winter Solider from falling into the depths of average that were the last two Marvel movies is its attention to character. Thankfully, this movie understands Rogers, and wishes to explore who he is a human being. Not just a man in a goofy mask running around throwing a shield. It layers him out, exploring an emotional side that deserves to be told and therefore draws a stronger emotional impact to him than we have developed for any Avenger, save for Tony Stark. The quieter, more character-driven moments are where the movie excels.
Oddly enough, for a movie so jam packed with action, the scenes centered on two characters talking are much more interesting and well done than any scenes involving fisticuffs. It’s weird that, for a blockbuster like this, the scenes where the movie is at its weakest are when they involve explosions and punching and general violence. While some scenes are pretty well done—there’s an impressive shot of Rogers fighting a group of guys on a boat early one, as well as a fist fight between the title characters three quarters into the motion picture—a lot of these scenes suffer from over-use of shaky cam, and a lack of knowledge as to how to shoot close action.
It’s no surprise that this movie is shot by the same man who was the DP of last summer’s Elysium—Trent Opaloch—because both movies seem to have the same problems. They are good at shooting action from a distance, but when it involves characters up close and personal, it seems to be at a lost. The camera shaking, along with the over-use of quick edits, is not only jarring, but near headache inducing trying to get a hold of what’s going on. Where Elysium only had one of these scenes, though, The Winter Solider has about five to seven.
One of the highlights of the film is a supporting performance by none other than Robert Redford. Without getting too deep into the plot, I will say that his character is perhaps the most fascinating of the new players introduced in this game, and he doesn’t get nearly enough scenes to scorn and skillfully play along with the film’s antics.
Also, one of the best aspects of this movie is that it finally gives Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) their due. I mean, don’t get me wrong, this is not their movie in any stretch of the imagination. But, for once, they are actually able to expand their characters and, especially for the later, they are given lines that are not just exposition. Although Black Widow has had a couple scenes of character in both Iron Man 2 and The Avengers, this is the movie that really uses her the best thus far.
Decidedly, as the Star-Spangled Avenger, this is Evans’ best performance to date behind the shield and cap. Granted, it’s mainly because this is the most weight he has had to pull thus far. But he does it in stride, and helps drive home the script’s attempts of establishing an emotional core.
Not to knock on the script, though, because this is genuinely one of the best they have had in some time. I have a hard time believing that these are the same guys that wrote Thor: The Dark World and Pain & Gain, because Christopher Markus and Stephan McFeely have put together one of Marvel’s most sophisticated scripts to date. True, the film does fall back on traditional story troupes whenever it gets the opportunity, but the banter is a lot wittier this time around (I wonder if directors Anthony and Joe Russo helped out here) and the general sense of story structure is a lot more tight and clear.
Plus, it’s not afraid to get its hands dirty at times with a little bit of grit, even if it starts to chicken out towards the end.
Speaking of grit, the Russos are mainly responsible for bring this sense of character to the film. Given their background—excluding You, Me and Dupree—they have generally gathered a strong understanding of character development and use of team building, especially in their work on TV for shows like Community and Arrested Development, and help make this a much more personal film than most of the other Marvel features to date.
While they are good in the character department, though, they lack the understanding to make strong hand-to-hand combat scenes. Generally, much like The Avengers and Iron Man 3, whenever they are showing action for a distance, they do a respectable job. But, when things are shown up close and personal, they rely too much on shaky cam and over editing. It’s not only distracting, but it runs the action, especially considering that the fight choreography in this movie is actually quite good overall, especially in an opening sequence on a boat.
Additionally, while not a bad villain, the title villain doesn’t quite ever get the time to shine. He certainly has some badass moments, but, save for these, he doesn’t really get enough of a back story for us to care that much about him, or really enough screen time to make us invested. As much as people like to hate on the D.C. movies of late, at least they know how to make a strong villain. I felt much more of a threat from Zod in Man of Steel than I ever did for the Mandarin in Iron Man 3 or whoever the hell the villains were in Thor: The Dark World besides Loki or even here. I’m just saying.
Also, just another random side note, the make-up in this movie, especially with one particular scene in mind, is actually really good—much like in the first Captain America movie. I will give Marvel that, they have a knack for finding good make up artists. Though, I suppose when you are buddy-buddy with Disney, they are able to help their kin.
Overall, Captain America: The Winter Solider may not be the great superhero movie that some are making it out to be on social media websites, but it is still a damn fine superhero movie that shows promise for the Marvel franchise to move beyond fast-food filmmaking. Hopefully, they keep on this track and continue to make quality movies with a little more thought put into the characters and their motivations, because this is definitely the strongest one in the “phase two” sequence.
At least, until Guardians of the Galaxy comes out. Hopefully.