Sunday, April 06, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier / *** (PG-13)

Steve Rogers/Captain America: Chris Evans
Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow: Scarlett Johansson
Sam Wilson/Falcon: Anthony Mackie
The Winter Soldier: Sebastian Stan
Brock Rumlow: Frank Grillo
Kate/Agent 13: Emily VanCamp
Jasper Sitwell: Maximiliano Hernández
Maria Hill: Cobie Smulders
Alexander Pierce: Robert Redford
Nick Fury: Samuel L. Jackson

Marvel Studios presents a film directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo. Written by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. Based on a concept and story by Ed Brubaker and characters created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Running time: 136 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence, gun play and action throughout).

The best comic book storylines, and movie storylines for that matter, are those that don’t hold to what is “sacred” in any particular mythology. “Batman: Year One”, “The Dark Knight Returns”, “The Death of Superman”, “The Death of Captain America”, “The Saga of the Swamp Thing”, even the recent “Superior Spider-Man” developments and numerous other great comic book storylines have rewritten all that had come before them. This is what made “The Winter Soldier” storyline in the Captain America comic books so substantial. Now, for the first Captain America movie sequel, the filmmakers have adapted parts of that storyline to send a considerable shake up through the Marvel cinematic universe. They do it by pulling the carpet out from under everything they spent so much time developing over the course of the first phase of the Marvel movies that culminated in “The Avengers”.

What’s really interesting is that it is this type of sea change we all imagine seeing in our own world when things aren’t quite the way we would like them to be. That type of dramatic change is what all sides think is necessary. Then everybody would see that you were right all along. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” uses all of these desires to fuel a politically charged plot that sees the all-American Captain trying to work his way through a world of grays coming from a world a blacks and whites, which he inhabited 70 years ago. Can Captain America’s purity survive or even serve the greater good in this new shadow world?

The filmmakers, directors Joe and Anthony Russo and  “Captain America: The First Avenger” scribes Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, approach this conflict of foundational ideals between Cap and his employers S.H.I.E.L.D. in the form of a 70s government conspiracy flick, ala “3 Days of the Condor”. I suppose it’s no mistake that Robert Redford, the star of that film, is cast as one of the upper echelon agents of the secret intelligence agency. The ideological tension is first expressed between Cap and his immediate superior Nick Fury, with Fury supporting the organization’s lack of transparency as a necessary evil for the greater good. Fury has never been a fan of being forthcoming with his intensions from his very first appearance in “Iron Man”. However, it soon becomes clear that the nature of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s secrets is more convoluted and run much deeper than even Fury is aware.

Events occur that allow S.H.I.E.L.D. to put a target on Captain America, so he becomes a fugitive on the run with Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow. He enlists the help of a new friend, Sam Wilson, to help uncover the secrets behind S.H.I.E.L.D. Wilson’s military training and military prototype wings make him an asset to the small band of truth seekers, especially once the assassin known only as the Winter Soldier sniffs out their trail. What connection does the Winter Soldier have with Cap’s past, however? Moreover, what does that past have to do with the present deceptions occurring at S.H.I.E.L.D.?

The filmmakers wisely take their time building the intricacies of the plot. They focus a great deal of time on the characters of Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America, Romanoff and Fury, who’ve all been established in previous films, but Romanoff and Fury have never gotten this much attention. This allows the movie to be about more than just its plot. There’s a study here about how individual ideals can be perverted by politics to undermine the interests of the public. The story contains a great deal of criticism concerning government transparency and the notion of infringing upon the civil liberties of the public for its own “greater good”. Cap has a better understanding of what is wrong with what S.H.I.E.L.D. is doing because he hasn’t grown used to the status quo. “This isn’t freedom. It’s fear.”

The only thing holding this movie back from being a classic government conspiracy flick is the fact that it is a superhero flick and therefore is filled with wall to wall action sequences of the grandest nature. Heavy on the CGI, at times it seems as if the action sequences draw focus away from the heart of the film. This isn’t really the filmmakers’ fault, but rather a natural side effect of using superheroes to tell a politically critical story. The action is intense, but its implausibility lightens the real world weight of the message behind the story.

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is another fine feather in Marvel’s growing cap. The events depicted within it will have a profound effect on the Marvel cinematic universe as a whole. It’s also an engrossing thriller that puts good use to the characters already established in previous Marvel films. For any contrast the superhero genre has against the government conspiracy angle, its drawbacks are minimal and in the end make a good marriage for the two genres. “Captain America 3” is the most recent film the Studio has unveiled with a release date, and that day cannot come soon enough.

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