Monday, April 7

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

Okay, I'm not even going to answer the question, Did you like it? Anyone who knows me knows the answer. And this is not going to be a long, detailed review. I'm just going to throw some thoughts out there that came to me during and after seeing the movie.

Due to various things going on, I was afraid I wouldn't get to see it before next weekend, but I managed to get to the early-evening showing last night, thus on its third official day of US release. Although I'm not one for whom spoilers ruin a film experience, I had managed to avoid any real plot details beyond the most general or those known to anyone who read Ed Brubaker's great run almost a decade back now in one of the more recent “reboots” of the Captain America comic book series, the first 25 issues or so of which I have in a wonderful Omnibus edition the centerpiece of which is The Winter Soldier story arc that did the unthinkable – brought Bucky back from the dead. (It’s also available as a series of smaller trade paperback volumes.) So I was as close as possible for a comic book reader – and fan of the earlier Marvel Cinematic Universe offerings – to being a “blank slate.” Of course, the particular showing I attended would be in 3D, and I still agree with my son (who saw the movie the previous evening, but did not tell me anything other than he thought I'd like it – duh!) that 3D does not add much of anything to most movies, in fact seems to dull color and detail. It certainly did not ruin the experience for me, though. And I was anxious to see it, especially after belatedly, Friday night, finally watching the DVR'd episode of Agents of SHIELD from Tuesday, which ended with an “as-if-in-story” sequence directly from the movie, where the Winter Soldier takes on Nick Fury and his wonderful SUV – and had already seen such Internet headlines as, “So What The @#$% Happens to Marvel's AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.? SPOILERS” on Newsarama, although I had not clicked the link [LINK] (I have now, and it has some good ideas), as well as various “leaks” that the rest of the season of that TV show will deal directly with the fallout from The Winter Soldier. And I am very glad I did – because nothing is the same anymore. I will say this, though – for the first time since the TV show debuted, I'm actually looking forward to the next episode. So far I'd been watching the series more out of a sense of duty, and enjoying it all right, but finding it disappointing – and (no less astonishing to me than anyone else, given my initial revulsion last year when it debuted) enjoying the second season of Arrow a lot more. Hopefully, The Winter Soldier is going to give SHIELD's ratings a big boost – although were I Marvel Studios I would have included a this-weekend-only after-scene basically flogging Tuesday night's episode. That is a lost opportunity.

This was a marvelously (pardon the pun, which believe it or not was totally unintentional) complex and textured film, driven largely by character, primarily Steve Rogers as a living relic of an earlier age when the world seemed a lot more black and white stuck in a modern world where issues seem much more complex. Are they really? That’s a question for another time. They definitely do a great job tapping into the current zeitgeist of societal fear centering on the ubiquity of information, how much the government knows about individuals, what it is doing or may do with that information – NSA spying, drone attacks, pre-emptive strikes, how much freedom we are willing to trade for secrecy. It’s what has made Person of Interest so compelling, bounding ever higher in the ratings, writ large and translated to perfection into the world of comic book movies.

Of course, in that sense it was great seeing Cap back in action, and Natasha, and Nick Fury having probably his most key role in any movie save maybe The Avengers. The Falcon's introduction and characterization was spot-on – although I missed Redwing. Zola's disembodied appearance was totally cool – although my son is right that the cheesy Nazi German dialogue did more than just verge on camp. Of course there was over-the-top action, although my son’s assessment that it was as non-stop with the violence as Man of Steel (which dissuaded my wife from seeing this movie with me, by the way) is not exactly true. I thought it was near perfectly balanced with plenty of chances to catch my breath along the way. Don’t get me wrong – I loved Man of Steel, but the latter half or so of that movie was, as I wrote last year, mind-numbing.

There were, of course, things I did miss seeing – and here's another lost opportunity for a connection to the TV show: Don't you know Steve is going to be royally pissed when he finds that Fury has been “compartmentalizing” the fact of Coulson's “survival” (is that the right word?) and realizes how he and the others were played by Fury back in New York? Actually, that's a hole that's been bothering me for months. Coulson's second life is widely known within SHIELD – other than the obligatory allusion to it being classified “Level 7” in the debut episode, it doesn't seem to have been kept much of a secret at all. How could Steve, Natasha, Tony, and so forth not know? But I would have loved to have seen that revelation here – and Cap’s reaction given his issues with Fury – and putting it off any longer, say until Avengers: Age of ULTRON next year, is ridiculous.

I also would have liked to have seen some indication that the Red Skull is still around, that he somehow survived being sucked up into the cosmos by the Cosmic Cub– – er , Tesseract – at the end of the first Captain America movie, that he is still around to bedevil his arch-enemy in the modern world as he is in the comics. Come on, if you’re going to make a comic book movie, pull out all the stops, play with all the tropes – one of which is that if you don’t see a body, the villain’s not dead … and even if you do, he’s still not dead.

Finally – and this partially comes from conversations the morning after with colleagues who also saw the movie over the weekend – I’m fairly certain that Avengers: Age of ULTRON when it comes is going to springboard straight out of this movie. Of course, the first after-scene introduced two mutan– – er, “miracles” – who will have major parts in that movie. But I'm really talking about the precedent now of Zola’s mind being transferred into computer memory as far back as the 1970s to add to the fears regarding artificial intelligence that underlie both Iron Man 3 and the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past (although it’s from a rival studio who is licensed to use the term “mutants” – Come on, people, I bet you could make more money through synergy, working together, from a cohesive multi-studio Marvel Cinematic Universe, than you even do already!) – as well as a host of other stories far and away beyond just Marvel Comics (e.g., Terminator, which I still consider, given the timing (1984), to have been in part “inspired by” the original Days of Future Past stories in X-Men #141-142 (1980)) – i.e., more zeitgeist. Whose mind will, in this movie continuity, serve as the pattern for ULTRON’s, is so far a mystery – I’ve heard it will not be that of a deranged Hank Pym (Ant Man, Giant Man, Goliath, Yellowjacket – did I get them all?) as in the comics, but one thing is certain: ULTRON is coming!

In summation, I’ve long said that, even though Avengers is bigger and more spectacular, Captain America: The First Avenger has been my favorite of the Marvel movies. The Winter Soldier makes a fine companion piece.

Cheers! … and Thanks for reading!

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