Saturday, April 5, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review

Watching the new installment from Marvel Studios reminded me of something that I've thought many times before: are superheroes a genre unto themselves? I've been meaning to write a blog post on this topic, and perhaps one day I'll get to it. However, for now I just have to point out that this film really doesn't feel like it's the same genre as Thor: The Dark World or even any of the Iron Man films. It also doesn't feel like it's in the same category as the previous Captain America movie. The only thing that really ties all of these films together, other than The Avengers, is that they're action movies, and the only thing that ties this one in with the last one is the main character.

Basically, this feels more like one of the Bourne movies (in a good way) mixed with a hero who's got some superhuman strength. Throw in a little bit of future tech and paranoia about the government, and you've got Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Anybody who read the original comic book storyline by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting will recognize the tone, even though many of the plot points have to be changed to accommodate the movie. (All of the major ideas and themes are there though, so I'm not complaining.)

What really made me happy about this movie is that they did exactly what I hoped that they would do with the sequel. Captain America is a character whose origin is fun, but he's even more interesting when he's the "man out of time" and placed into the present day. While there were certainly references to the fact that he had a lot of pop culture and history to catch up on since the time he was frozen in ice, it doesn't get too bogged down in that though. What works best about him is when he's a symbol for when (whether it's more mythology than reality) America was clearly on the good side, and putting him in the present day, where things are not so clear, helps to bring an interesting bit of inner conflict to a character who runs the risk of being one-dimensional.

I was also pleased with how they were able to cram as many characters and villains from the comics into the story without it feeling like they were being crammed in there. Batroc the Leaper? Hell yeah! Do we really need an origin and character arc for him? No. Just show him giving Cap a challenge with all his fancy kicks, and you've done the job. Crossbones? Got enough of him to set him up for the sequel. There's also a surprise villain in this, and I don't want to spoil it. While his appearance is brief (but significant) he also has some potential for a sequel.

I found myself really liking Anthony Mackie as The Falcon. Much like Cap, you've got to get a guy for that part who's able to convey a believable, yet morally upright, guy. Mackie pulls this off, and he also handles the action scenes really well, making him believable as somebody who can be Cap's wingman (pardon the pun). He's always been more of a partner than a sidekick in the comics, and it felt that way in this film as well.  I say put him in The Avengers. Also, Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow made a lot more sense in this story than she did in Iron Man 2, and she serves as a great character foil for Cap.

I suppose that I should say something about The Winter Soldier himself. I don't want to say too much, as I don't want to spoil anything. Let's just say that fans of the comic won't be disappointed, and it was great how he was able to convey a real sense of unstoppable menace every time he was on the screen.

I'll say again that despite my initial hesitation about Chris Evans taking on the lead character, but he won me over in the first film and then even more in The Avengers. I also wasn't sure what to make of The Russo Brothers directing when I first heard about them (as they're more experienced with comedy) but this film shows that they can direct action with characters that the audience can invest in. I hear that they're signed on for the next one. I'm looking forward to it.

So, where would I rank this considering that I recently ranked all the comics adaptations? It's hard to tell with just one viewing. I'm tempted to say that it would crack the top ten. The top fifteen? That's probably pretty safe to say.


Deron Murphree said...

Did you know that Falcon was introduced in the Captain America comics to coincide with the civil rights movement in America during the 1960s? Many people do not know this trivial fact. Also, early issues of Captain America depicted the hero punching out Adolf Hitler because it was a subliminal rallying cry for the war effort. I enjoy and will keep reading your blog as you have some informative entries. I also have a blog and my latest post is on the competition between superhero films. You can check it out here:

Lance Johnson said...

I didn't know about the Falcon thing, specifically, but I know that the Civil Rights Movement inspired a lot of what was going on in comics, so that's not too surprising.

And of course I knew about the Hitler thing!