Captain America: The Winter Soldier

April 4, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johannson, Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by: Joe and Anthony Russo (“You, Me and Dupree”)
Written by: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (“Captain America: The First Avenger,” “Thor: The Dark World”)

Of the stable of Marvel Comics superheroes that make up the cinematic version of The Avengers, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is the one tinged with the most melancholy. Originally a shrimpy wannabe World War II enlistee, Rogers was transformed into the super soldier Captain America, accidentally frozen for 70 years, and revived to fight for a cause he’s not so sure he believes in anymore. While he hasn’t aged a day, his best girl went on to marry someone else and grow old and gray. He’s a man out of time, working for an organization, SHIELD, that seems more about intimidation than securing freedom. But Cap is a soldier, and he does what a soldier does:  follow orders.

Cap’s unease continues to grow as “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” kicks off. Sent to rescue the crew of a SHIELD ship from Algerian pirates, Rogers’ trust in SHIELD is shaken when fellow team member Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johannson) ignores his orders to covertly retrieve data from the ship’s computers. Back in Washington, D.C., Rogers confronts SHIELD leader Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) about his suspicions. Fury comes clean, letting Rogers in on Operation: Insight, a system of satellites and helicarriers linked to eliminate threats before they happen. Cap isn’t reassured, and during a visit with his former love Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), he laments what has become of the country he signed up to fight for. Meanwhile Fury, after visiting with SHIELD official Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) about delaying Operation: Insight, Fury is attacked in the streets of D.C. by a mysterious assassin known as The Winter Solider.

A delicious mixture of superheroics and ‘70s-style political thrills, “The Winter Soldier” plants its flag firmly at the top of the Marvel cinematic universe alongside “The Avengers” and Cap’s first big-screen adventure. While “Iron Man 3” felt like it was laying the groundwork for Robert Downey Jr.’s eventual exit (presumably, anyway) and “Thor: The Dark World” kept most of its action in Asgard, “The Winter Soldier” feels like the first Marvel film since “The Avengers” dominated the box office to actually live in and shake up the world that film left behind. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo turn in a hard-hitting, exceedingly confident film that feels effortless, the same of which can’t be said for the latest adventures of Thor and Iron Man. Evans shines again as Captain America, playing it straight while not turning the part into a clichéd patriot/man from the past. Surprisingly, the veteran Redford comes to play as well, digging his teeth into the material instead of coasting on his decades of movie stardom. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” may not be flawless – once again, the standalone film conveniently ignores the fact that the hero has other super pals he could call on – but it’s close.

Thor: The Dark World

November 7, 2013 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston
Directed by: Alan Taylor (“The Emperor’s New Clothes,” “Palookaville”)
Written by: Christopher Yost (debut), Christopher Markus (“Captain America: The First Avenger”) and Stephen McFeely (“Captain America: The First Avenger”)

Before heading into the screening of “Thor: The Dark World,” my mind rang with an echo of a thought I had back in May, before “Iron Man 3” hit theaters. Here’s what I wrote then:

After the roaring success of last summer’s “The Avengers,” the biggest question facing the Marvel cinematic universe is “What’s next?” Since 2008, with the release of the original “Iron Man” film, everything that came afterward—vehicles for Thor, Captain America, and The Hulk—was build-up (for better or worse) to the epic team-up adventure of “The Avengers.” And boy, did it deliver, wowing critics and audiences on its way to becoming the third-highest grossing movie of all time. But after all of that (which Marvel is now calling Phase 1), what do you do?

The answer with Tony Stark’s third outing, and also with Thor’s sequel, was to stick the character back into a solo adventure that, instead of being a chapter in a larger story, marks time with epic battles for Macguffins until we see the Avengers assemble again in 2015.

“Thor: The Dark World” opens in a flashback, telling the tale of Thor’s grandfather Bor vanquishing the Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) and his Dark Elves. Malekith’s goal was to use a powerful force known as the Aether to return the Nine Realms to a state of darkness, but Bor was able to contain the Aether in a hidden stone column. In the present, Thor and his warrior compatriots have brought peace to the Nine Realms, while Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is imprisoned for his crimes by his adopted father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Back on Earth, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), still missing Thor, discovers a portal wherein she becomes possessed by the Aether. When Jane disappears from Earth, Heimdall (Idris Elba) informs Thor, who ventures to Earth to save Jane. The Aether’s release awakens Malekith and his forces, who will stop at nothing to capture Foster and release the Aether, plunging the Nine Realms back into darkness.

To say the mythology is dense is an understatement. There’s an awful lot going on here that ultimately doesn’t amount to much in the grand scheme of the Marvel universe, settling for a return to the status quo by the time the end credits roll–thanks mostly to a twist that seems to forego logic and is content to let future films figure out how to explain. For those concerned that Thor’s first cinematic outing spent too much time on Earth, “The Dark World” solves that problem by spending the vast majority of its runtime in and around the sci-fi/fantasy hybrid worlds of Asgard and beyond. While that answers the question all post-”Avengers” movies will struggle with—namely “why don’t the Avengers help out?”–it may leave casual fans of the Marvel movieverse feeling indifferent.

Director Alan Taylor, a veteran of HBO’s spiritually-similar “Game of Thrones,” has done a fine job expanding Thor’s home world, but in the process it seems he’s made the character more obtuse. I have a theory that at some point the general public will throw its hands up at one of these Marvel movies and say, “No more…that’s TOO comic-book-nerdy!” While “Thor: The Dark World” probably won’t be that tipping point, the upcoming “Guardians of the Galaxy,” previewed in one of the movies’ two post-credits sequences and featuring a blond, be-caped Benicio Del Toro, is the odd-on favorite to send this whole thing back into the sweaty hands of the fanboys.

Captain America: The First Avenger

July 24, 2011 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Hugo Weaving
Directed by: Joe Johnston (“The Wolfman”)
Written by: Christopher Markus (“The Chronicles of Narnia” series) and Stephen McFeely (“The Chronicles of Narnia” series)

In preparation for the larger than life “Avengers” film set for 2012, Marvel Studios has been fast tracking films loaded with back story on several characters that have yet to see a major film incarnation. In the final tune up for “The Avengers,” one of the most iconic comic book heroes, Captain America, is brought to the big screen. While far from perfection, “Captain America: The First Avenger” is a largely successful adaptation of a comic-book franchise looking to fit into a grander scheme of things.

Set in the early 1940s, the story begins with a scrawny and often sickly Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) trying and failing to enlist in the Army. On his sixth attempt, Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) finally accepts Rogers into the Strategic Scientific Reserve, run by Colonel Chester Philips (Tommy Lee Jones) and Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). From there, Rogers is a guinea pig for the super soldier serum, made to genetically alter soldiers into “super-soldiers.” The experiment is successful, and Rogers, soon to take over the alter ego of Captain America, begins his mission to prevent the evil HYDRA leader Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) from taking over the world.

Chris Evans is a fine choice for Captain America, making sure to establish charm as the frail Steve Rogers and having it carry over to the suddenly bulky and heroic Captain America. However, while Evans is good in his role, it is the strength of the supporting cast that elevates the film. Tommy Lee Jones makes it look easy in his role as the hardnosed Colonel Philips, displaying among other things, perfect comedic timing. Stanley Tucci also turns in a charismatic performance, making every second of his screen time count. While Red Skull is not the most well-rounded villain, Hugo Weaving does his best to intimidate and exude evil.

Although this is one of the better all around superhero movie casts in recent memory, director Joe Johnston (“The Rocketeer”) deserves a lot of praise. Johnston nails the setting of the 1940s perfectly, with elaborate sets (especially at the Modern Marvels of Tomorrow exhibition) and costumes giving legitimacy to the film as a period piece. The action scenes are expertly shot and choreographed, using modern special effects and weaponry and applying it to the 1940s backdrop. Stylistically speaking, Johnston’s best choice was de-saturating the colors, providing a unique, muted presentation to an explosion-packed film and giving the worn down suit and shield of Captain America an even more rustic look.

Unlike fellow pre-“Avengers” film “Thor,” “Captain America: The First Avenger” strives to be its own stand-alone film. Absent from “Captain America” are the constant winks and nudges to the “Avengers” series as well as the general campiness and silliness that audiences saw in “Thor.” Instead we get a relatively well-rounded period film in which “The Avengers” isn’t even in the audience’s consciousness until the very end.

While the final act of the film is clumsy and feels quickly thrown together, “Captain America: The First Avenger” is an overall success, and proves itself to be at the top of the pack of comic book movies this summer.