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Posts Tagged ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’

It was fashionable, about ten years ago, to declare that we were living through the Golden Age of the Comic Book Movie. Implicit in this, of course, was the suggestion that one day the ‘Golden Age’ would end and we would go back to the bad old days when Joel Schumacher directed Batman films and David Hasselhoff played Nick Fury. Obviously it hasn’t happened; no year is complete without at least four major productions based on either Marvel or DC characters, and – if we’re honest about it – the overall standard of these is generally pretty good.

Much of the credit for this must obviously go to Marvel Studios, who hadn’t even released a film when talk of the ‘Golden Age’ first happened, but are now a major feature of the pop culture scene. Owners of the characters who Marvel farmed out prior to the creation of their own studio are now copying their franchise-of-franchises model (forthcoming X-Men and Fantastic Four movies will apparently be linked, while The Amazing Spider-Man looks set to spawn a glut of spin-offs), while even their old rivals at DC Comics seem intent on inverting the Marvel Studios’ model by using a team movie to lay the groundwork for various solo-hero projects.

It’s got to the stage where things are rapidly becoming traditional: the first Marvel Studios film of the year is a sure sign that summer is on the way – this being ‘summer’ in the cinema-release-schedule sense, of course. Cinema summer used to start in the middle of May or even later, and run until late August, but it has gradually been creeping out in both directions. This is why, only quite shortly after the official start of the British spring, I was able to go and enjoy Marvel’s latest would-be summer blockbuster, Captain America: The Winter Soldier (directed by Joe and Anthony Russo).

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Chris Evans (the other one) is, naturally, back as the steroidally-enhanced ex-corpsicle, and very logically the man with the shield is now working as an agent of SHIELD itself (although if one of his missions has been ‘make the TV series less disappointing’ it doesn’t seem to have worked, based on the episodes we’ve seen over here at least). This is despite his growing concerns over the intrusive and authoritarian methods SHIELD is increasingly adopting, and a lack of transparency within the organisation.

However, the increasing tensions between Cap and co-workers like Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) and the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) are put on hold when senior elements of SHIELD come under attack. Dark forces are at work behind the scenes, and soon enough the star-spangled man is forced to go on the run from his own government’s intelligence apparatus, pursued by SHIELD itself and a shadowy, decades-old cyborg killer known only as the Winter Soldier.

As usual, I will answer the most important question first: yes, there are teasers after the end titles – two of them on this occasion. The second one isn’t much cop, but the first one is interesting. In any case, sitting through the credits gave me a chance for a nice chat with the guy sitting behind me concerning the status of the Rights-Fudge Twins, who will be appearing in wholly different incarnations in this year’s X-Men movie and next year’s Avengers sequel (as both mutants and members of the Avengers, they are covered by two licences, so their main superpower is essentially the ability to make entertainment lawyers very rich).

What about the rest of the movie, though? Well, as noted above (not to mention previously), Marvel are quite simply very good at making a certain kind of film, and they have not dropped the ball on this occasion. The plot is extremely robust, the effects are immaculate, the action is very well staged and there are laughs and more thoughtful moments in all the right places. Lots of familiar faces reappear from other movies (I see this is being advertised in some countries as a sequel to the first Captain America movie, but it really follows The Avengers at least as directly), plus some new characters are introduced into the mix. I found the movie version of Batroc the Leaper (played by Georges St-Pierre) to be pleasingly realised, but on other hand the Falcon (Anthony Mackie) largely seems to be present to beef up the film’s special-effects quotient, and I’m not sure how effective the revelation of the Winter Soldier’s secret really is. Obviously the highest-profile new face in this movie is Robert Redford as SHIELD commander Alexander Pierce, and while it’s nice to see the veteran star in such a high-profile movie, he doesn’t quite get the material he needs to shine.

The Winter Soldier is less SF than Iron Man 3 and a lot less fantastical than Thor: The Dark World, and this by default puts it towards the grittier end of the Marvel canon (although this is obviously a relative thing: there’s a limit to how gritty a film featuring flying aircraft carriers and malevolent AIs can truly be). It clearly wants to be about the tension between public safety and personal privacy, with Captain America obviously flying the flag for individual liberty, but this never feels like much more than a sprinkling of thematic dust on a big blockbuster machine of a movie. That said, Chris Evan does a genuinely impressive job of making Cap a stand-up, decent, idealistic guy without turning him into a prig or a bore, and the contrast between him and the Black Widow (who’s much more pragmatic) is nicely achieved.

The real genius of Marvel’s approach to all their films is that, so far, they’ve shown very good judgement when it comes to knowing how much they can vary their basic formula without losing the audience or destroying the unity of their films as a whole. That these films are conceived as part of a larger narrative is clear (and there’s a reference to Doctor Strange in this film which may suggest one direction this narrative may go in future), and while this has obviously worked on a number of levels, it does mean the films feel perhaps a little lacking in individual identity. Certainly, looking back at my reviews of Marvel Studio films all the way back to The Incredible Hulk in 2008, my general response has always been very much the same: they make technically brilliant, accomplished blockbusters that supply everything you would expect from the form, but somehow lack that extra bit of vision and individuality that lifts them above the level of simply being great entertainment. Well, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a vehicle for one of Marvel’s touchstone characters, so perhaps it was unreasonable to expect it to be too daring (on the other hand their next film, Guardians of the Galaxy, promises to be utterly insane), and it is after all, ultimately a superhero blockbuster. Most people will go to see it expecting nothing more than an entertaining movie from a well-loved brand: and they will not be disappointed. The Golden Age shows no sign of finishing just yet.

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