By David Poland firstname.lastname@example.org
Review-ish – Captain America: The Winter Soldier (spoiler-free)
I can’t quite claim that this movie is the beginning of the end of the Marvel dominance of the last couple of years… but for me, it was the first sign of the problem with Marvel trying to flex its muscles annually two or three times a year. I can’t think of a single original or memorable moment in this entire film… with the possible exception of the appearance of one character in their old age.
I have no idea at all what the actual budget for this film is, but it feels to me like the cheapest—by a significant margin—of all of the Marvel-produced movies. It certainly has size. But it’s a lot of bullets, a bunch of car stunts, and a touch of big picture CG (the most expensive element of most Marvel films). It also felt to me like the most talk-y of all the Marvel movies, but with almost nothing to say.
Speaking of which, the top special effect in the film—aside from the ability of light to be seen between Ms. Johansson’s thighs (and don’t blame me for noting a lingering shot in the film to highlight this only)—is getting Robert Redford to make the film. It feels as though he felt he was slumming less by saying more, more slowly. But for me, it is the least convincing performance of Redford’s career, as the words are so weak. All i got was “Robert Redford is talking.” But the demand of the role, that this character somehow stand for all things truth, justice, and the American Way, is not Robert Redford to me and nothing here changes that for me. It’s a role you can imagine Gregory Peck or Henry Fonda or Jimmy Stewart making interesting. But Redford was always more complex than those men on screen (with the exception of a handful of roles played by those men).
Does the movie add to the Marvel Universe idea? I suppose there are a few seeds planted for future films. But there is also that weird, lingering “because of what happened in New York” thing that suggests that people who work at Marvel think that what happened to New York in Avengers is particularly memorable or not just Standard Comic Book Movie Procedure. Ironically, Man of Steel, with which I had big problems, had more impact with its destruction of a city because there was real emotion attached to the fight between Superman & Zod. In Avengers, which was infinitely better as an entertainment, the fight in New York was just a chance to blow stuff (and bad guys) up.
But I kept feeling, with almost every action sequence, that I had seen it before… mostly in Marvel movies. The glory of comic books themselves is that our imaginations bring the details to life. Whether it is how the look and sound of fights or the details of escapes or how Captain America’s shield bounces, hits villains, and returns to The Cap.
Also… the threat in this film, not giving anything away, suggests no less than the end of freedom on earth…. yet in a Marvel Universe in which Iron Man is not only nearby but built one of the mechanisms that might enslave earth’s free will… and Hulk is a good guy… and Thor swings his mighty hammer all over the place, the end of the world as we know it comes down to non-supers Captain America, Black Widow, and the not-always-skillful Falcon. No one even reaches out to Tony Stark to ask for help to sabotage the machinery he contributed? How does that make any sense at all?
So here is what you get… a B/B+ level shoot ‘em, drive ‘em, fight ‘em flick with a guy in a suit and some massive hovercrafts. There is, literally, not a gag in the film that I haven’t seen before in other films, better for having been fresh. Like 30 machine guns put to a guy’s head leading to everyone holding one being killed or knocked out by that guy? Got it. Repeatedly. 20 guys in an elevator getting their ass kicked by one guy? Obviously. Big twists that are either so movie familiar or so obvious they are inevitable? Got it. The best sequence, the first, taking a boat, not only has been done before, but looks like they shot it on the same boat that closes Iron Man 3 in the extra week of location rental.
I liked the cast. All the cast, really. I thought Redford was trying real hard, but was left more afloat on his own than in All Is Lost. Chris Evans deserves better, but is game, his sphincter crushing everything in sight. You don’t quite believe that Scarlett Johansson really can move like that, but her comic timing is deft and she remains a great screen beauty. Sam Jackson IS Sam Jackson… almost always better than the material. Anthony Mackie brings all the excitement to his role here that Falcon would have swooping through the air to grab a check that will pay him as much as he has earned in the last 5 years of acting (and I don’t mean that in a bad way). Cobie Smulders has more to do here than in the other films so far… which is still not nearly enough.
There was one performance that I really think is worth pointing out. Toby Jones has a great bit mid-movie. It was really the only time where I felt the movie’s rhetoric and its pleasure were close to equal.
You can’t really call the movie “horrible.” But “get on with it already” came to mind often while sitting through the bloated 2:16 running time.
Finally, I used the word “I” a lot in this review… because it really is about how I felt. There are a lot of objective complaints to make about the film, but these movies are a subjective experience and 90something percent at Rotten Tomatoes, while a little shocking to me, is interesting. Do I think that some of the critics are grading on a curve, in that the film suggests that it has a political message worthy of serious consideration and has Robert Redford mouthing platitudes? Yeah. Will any of them think about this film again… ever? Not likely. But so it goes.
I just kept waited for it to become interesting. The first film was quite interesting… until it threw away its ending to accommodate an unused connection to Avengers. The last Iron Man was quite interesting… until they made the last 20 minutes all about blowing stuff up. This one… everything about it was trying so hard to matter and in the end, it really means nothing except another box-office success for Marvel. That will be quite enough for quite a lot of people.