Wednesday 2 April 2014

Review: Captain America: The Winter Solider

Year: 2014
Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo
Screenplay: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell, Robert Redford, and Samuel L. Jackson.

Synopsis is here 

I do say to myself that I’m tired of this current stream of comic book movies. I still find it astonishing how some of my friends keep themselves psyched for each upcoming entry. I guess they do well to avoid the teaser teaser trailers and constant click bait articles which break down said trailers shot by shot.  Of course you ignore these things as much as a mainstream film fan can, one can still suffer from comic book fatigue. Evidence can be found in the hammer headed -marketing campaign that The Amazing Spiderman 2 is leading.

I complain about these things and yet due to this blog, the current film environment and that fact that I'm full of self hatred, I find myself settling down with popcorn to watch these things. I have become more partial with the superheroes. I abstained from Thor: The Dark World, for no other reason than I'm not especially interested in that strand of the Avengers (Loki excluded). Yet I found myself hitting Captain America: The Winter Solider on the opening weekend. Reason being, I simply want to see what they do with Steve Rogers thread.

Captain America: TWS pleasantly reminds me why I find myself coming back to comic book franchises.  This is a solid extension of what has come before with its head firmly placed with where it wishes to go. The basics still remain; Roger's is still the slick haired, Boy Scout action man, whose heart is so securely in the right place, you'd need power tools to wrench it loose. Yet there's a stern sense of growth. Evans deals comfortably with Rogers as a man who is a step out of touch with the world, but with the willingness and ability to adapt.

Observing at how the screenplay deals with an extraordinary man thrust into a modernised cynical world, makes me consider just how crooked the likes of Man of Steel feels against this. True the Marvel studio has had time, but it only takes a few scenes to see the deftness of touch. One scene based inside Washington's Smithsonian Institution balances Rogers as the relic he was and the hero he is. It's executed with a grace that displays a sense of assurance the Russo brothers clearly have, considering these are directors whose recent history is been more successful with smaller screen comedies (Arrested Development, Community).

The film still suffers from conflict. The presence of Robert Redford, paranoid mood and knowing establishing shots of the Washington monument do suggest 70's thriller the film aims for, but once the action kicks in, the tone sometimes gets swallowed up by Marvel's action style. While we gain more physicallity than we've seen in previous entries, most of the action itself still feels pretty typical of what we know. Less Parallax View, more powerhouse punches, although it's hard to think of the target audience noticing.

Joe Johnson created a Captain America with a similar tradition to the likes of The Rocketeer (1991). The first film's buccaneering style and compositions feel more comfortable with the comic book source. It's difficult not to feel that that The Winter Solider does sometimes feel at odds despite its larger, more confident set pieces.

 The Winter Solider still maintains some neat touches. In a film that talks about the enemy within, it's interesting to see Rogers have a book on George Bush on his shelves. Early talk about R&B singer Marvin Gaye starts off as an amusing aside, but reminds us of the artist's socio political leanings as well as his death by the hand of his own father. Consider this when we discover the identity of The Winter Soldier.

The uncomfortable notion that no one can be trusted is becoming key to this incarnation of this Marvel universe. The Winter Solider toys with the strand as effectively as the other entries in the universe. Unlike Iron Man 3 however, there's less awkwardness in the carrying out of the theme, revelations feel less like pulled rugs, while red herring play out more than adequately. A small yet effective piece of editing seems to turn attention to a character that isn't surprising, but hints at a dormant conflict that would throw up interesting outcomes.

I found it hard not to think of more Paul Greengrass more than Alan J Pakula. Evans has the kind of conflict of interests that bother Matt Damon and while he takes on the unassuming role well, the superhero aspects make him a little less affecting than the likes Gene Hackman, Warren Beatty or Donald Sutherland. That said, these films have a different agenda than their influences, or fan canon for that matter. People like me need reasons to keep coming. If Marvel keep generating curiosities such as Captain America: TWS, I guess I'll keep spending.