Film review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)


“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” with Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, and Cobie Smulders

Directed by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo, Written by Christopher Markus (Screenplay), Stephen McFeely (Screenplay), Ed Brubaker (concept and story), Joe Simon (comic book), and Jack Kirby (comic book)

PosterThe Marvel Cinematic Universe, otherwise dubbed as “MCU,” continues to expand and impress with each new film introduced into the respective universe and the newest Captain America film, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” exceeds expectations more than ever.  Marvel Studios seems to now uncover pieces of a puzzle to us one at a time, letting audiences dive into the action and lore of the current generation.  Some pieces have several adjacent pieces already exposed in prior releases, while on other sides we have only film titles, future release dates, and a handful of factoids.  Regardless, the amount of cohesion that is the MCU puzzle is impressive and never before been done; Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige have pioneered the film industry and what it means to be a franchise.

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” fits into the puzzle so well, its quality is on par with or even exceeds Joss Whedon’s 2012, “The Avengers.”  Gone are the days of the cheesy Marvel films, audiences now get to enjoy comic book films that are deeply entrenched in nerdery but so well-crafted it is as-if we are watching the newest high-caliber thriller, espionage film akin to the likes of Ludlum’s Bourne or the grittiness of a Ridley Scott drama.  “Captain America: Winter Soldier” is no exception, and while uncovering a new piece of the Marvel puzzle to us, it also pulls from the rich genre well of the great conspiracy films from the 1970s— Bits and pieces elegantly placed together to create a modern retelling of some of the great genre films of the past.

If curious check out this great article by IGN’s Daniel Krupa, “5 Films You Should See After Captain America: Winter Soldier.”  Krupa details out specifics references of Winter Soldier’s obvious respect to cinema history and recommends some of the best espionage films of the era that “Captain America: Winter Soldier” most-likely pulls from.

05Picking up after the events of the first Captain America as well as “The Avengers,” the newest entry into the Marvel series places Captain Steve Rogers in a new world, specifically a new world order.  The inside jokes and technological marvels of the second modern millennium are not as confounding to the Captain as they were in “The Avengers (2012),” but he still lives as a man out of time.  He is conflicted, but at an ideological level.

He pulls upon the threads of a lost life by finding lovers and compatriots of the old.  However, more important than his lust for a forgotten time, he is torn between the ideologies of the time.  Forcing good and evil into a black and white spectrum, just doesn’t seem as easy as it was back in the day, and the idea of secrecy and espionage being the mainstay in a constant struggle tears at Captain America, which is essentially the driving force behind the film.

Captain America is in a brave new world and he knows nothing else than being a soldier.  He is at service to his country, and is trying to find his footing in a different type of war.  The film opens with Cap making a connection with a fellow soldier as they run laps around the mall in front of the Washington Monument.  This seemingly small connection expands throughout the film because it provides Cap a connection to the era; war is eternal and the two can relate even across the decades.

10Captain America’s newfound running mate is later introduced as Falcon (aka Sam Wilson) played by the talented Anthony Mackie.  Alongside Captain America and Falcon, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson); Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders); and Nick Fury (Sam Jackson) round out the primary protagonists, subsequently pitting them against a villain from Cap’s past and present in a sweeping plot that will have long lasting consequences upon S.H.I.E.L.D., the Avengers, and the entirety of the MCU.

The action scenes are tightly shot and fluid.  Captain America is finally given the chance to prove his dynamism in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”  He is agile and more gymnastic than he has ever been— Obviously refining his skills and training in order to adapt to Norse Gods, men in Iron suits, and, well…Hulk, along with a new world paradigm.  Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), who stands by Cap throughout the narrative, is just as fluid and badass as she has been in the prior Marvel films.  This time around we get to see Natasha more in the raw— A little bit of backstory and vulnerability are exposed along with a dash of flirtatiousness thrown in for good measure.  Nick Fury remains stoic and secretive as always, but his role within the MCU also is called into question similarly to that of Captain America’s place.

09The cinematography and art style is at its best in this film.  Not only does Marvel Studios manage to keep an atmospheric cohesion between two films set seventy-years apart, they also manage to tie the two plot lines to one of Caps greatest villains as well as the massive juggernaut of “The Avengers.” This is an incredible filmmaking feat and a tricky endeavor on multiple fronts— “Finesse” is the word that comes to mind.  Continuity is tricky, especially when dealing with comics and an expanded film universe that now encompasses nine films and counting, but like aforementioned “Captain America: Winter Soldier” is merely a new puzzle piece being revealed to audiences.  It fits perfectly in the overall scope of things, and doesn’t deviant anyway from the big picture.

The acting is superb in “Captain America: Winter Soldier.”  Chris Evans is excellent as always and is a more believable Captain America than he ever was a Johnny Storm.  Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow seems to improve every time she stars in a new Marvel film, and the vulnerability and rawness that Johansson brings to the character was particularly believable and refreshing.  It is honestly coming to the point where she could probably handle her own, standalone “Black Widow” film and Marvel would see the return that they would need to film another.  Anthony Mackie is a standout actor that brings a certain modernity to his role as Falcon and ultimately one of Captain America’s closest friends.  The Winter Soldier was excellently cast and written; the presence, shock and awe, and gravitas that Sebastian Stan brings is impressive.  Villains have always been a comics mainstay, and (as Loki has proven) can be incredibly popular and successful in their own right, and with further backstory and films the Winter Soldier can perhaps reach the lofty height of Hiddleston’s portrayal as Loki.  Watching Robert Redford on screen was fantastic.  He played Alexander Pierce wonderfully and his inclusion added another layer of sophistication that rounded out an already stellar cast and well-constructed plot.  Redford’s inclusion was very much akin to Tommy Lee Jones’ portrayal of Colonel Chester Phillips in “Captain America: The First Avenger.”

The film was impressive to say the least.  The plot line was impressive for its continuity and level of construction; the castings and overall acting were topnotch and more than a couple of decades ago would have been unheard of for a comic book film; the atmosphere, art direction, and cinematography managed to tie in numerous elements of prior films while remaining cohesive is the film’s high point among many highs.  At the moment, it is difficult to imagine a film franchise reaching such heights, except for maybe Star Wars.

Fan Art

As an aside, I had the pleasure of seeing two different showing of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”  One was opening evening (but was a standard theater showing), however the second viewing was an IMAX 3D one.  I usually don’t prefer IMAX 3D presentations due to issues with my contact lenses, but this time around I preferred the experience because it was more enveloping.  The IMAX presentation showed quite a bit more peripheral action in the extended sequences and the 3D was not harsh upon the eyes, actually translating quite well to the viewer.  It was visually stunning and added to an already great cinematic experience.

To cap off such a film, movies goers were shown a brief glimpse into the franchises with not one but two after the credit scenes, so make sure to check out the post-credits before leaving the theater.  The first scene gives audiences as glimpse into “The Avengers: Age of Ultron,” while the second is little more specific to Captain America.  Nevertheless, they’re both worth checking out, so if you plan on seeing “The Avengers 2” and/or “Captain America 3” stay seated till film stops rollin’.

Film review: The Wolverine (2013)


“The Wolverine” with Hugh Jackman, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Famke Janssen, Will Yun Lee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Haruhiko Yamanouchi, and Brian Tee

Directed by James Mangold, Written by Mark Bomback & Scott Frank

02Comparing “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” to “The Wolverine” is like comparing apples to oranges.  They are both about Marvel’s burly and animalistic Wolverine, but they could not be any more different.  Origins seemed to explore a bit of Wolvie’s past under the framework of the prior X-Men movies (i.e. familiar characters, settings, and themes), but unfortunately it didn’t hit home like the prior X-Men films.  The writing fell flat, because 20th Century Fox took odd twists and turns with fan favorites like Gambit and Deadpool and then never expanded on them in future films like they promised.  Instead of bridging Wolverine’s backstory to the acclaimed X-Men trilogy, Fox ended up widening the gap.

However, “The Wolverine,” takes an entirely different approach to the eponymous character.  Audiences get to see the Adamantium and claws stripped away in a more emotionally driven film.  Wolverine is facing an existential crisis.  Following the events of “X-Men: The Last Stand” filmgoers get to see the Wolverine battle is own mortality, or rather near-immortality, during a series of dream sequences centering-around Jean Grey, which is reprised by award-winning Dutch actor, Famke Janssen.  This creates a great underlying plot, and immediately sets “The Wolverine” apart from the other X-Men films.

Surprisingly enough, “The Wolverine” closely follows the original comic book volume of Wolverine, Chris Claremont and Frank Miller’s four-part miniseries, that set the tone and standard for Wolverine and his story arcs.  Even though the film is set after the events of “X-Men: The Last Stand,” instead of “X-Men Origins,” “The Wolverine” accurately showcases the events of the 1982 comic book series.  Slight changes have been made to modernize and fit the screenplay into the continuity of the X-Men franchise but on the whole I was incredibly surprised by the amount of source material represented in the movie.

06Following the conclusion of “X-Men: The Last Stand,” in which Jean Grey (aka the Phoenix) is killed by Wolverine in order to stop her from committing genocide, Wolverine    once again takes to the Canadian Rockies.  Living as an animal, Logan only ever comes down from the mountains to garnish what little supplies that he needs.  After a particularly unjust hunting party pulls Wolverine from his introspection and a mysterious Japanese woman shows up to escort Logan to her adoptive grandfather, the films gains traction.  The remainder of “The Wolverine” takes place in Japan with an almost all Japanese cast, and focuses on Wolverine’s relationship to a (now) elderly Japanese man who Logan saved during the closing days of World War II after the atomic drop over Nagasaki.

Rivals emerge and mutants aid both sides, but at its heart “The Wolverine” is primarily focused on Wolverine.  It discusses his mental state after killing Jean, his own mortality as he confronts an old acquaintance, and ultimately his place in an ever shifting world.  Hugh Jackman portrays the character perfectly.  He is, for lack of a better phrase, the only actor that could ever play Wolverine.  He is the best he is at what he does.

Aside from the phenomenal adaptation and Jackman’s performance, the action sequences are tight and the revelations are legitimately surprising.  There are only a handful of lines that came off forced or cheesy, but they can be forgiven considering the overall quality of the film.  The pacing is so smooth and cyclical, that I personally had difficulties telling where the climax of the film landed; this left me without a frame of reference.  Usually I can tell when the conclusion is eminent, but this time around I had difficulties nailing it down.  I think that this is a byproduct of closely adapting a mini-series into a film.  It felt more like a series of mini-climaxes akin to the conclusion of four separate issues culminating in the finale of a series.  Regardless, the flow was appropriate and I never felt that the film hung in exposition or action for too long.  It had great balance.

This is a solid superhero film that pays homage to its source material better than most and keeps with the character’s integrity after nearly fifteen years.  Cheers to Hugh Jackman and the whole crew for “The Wolverine.”  “The Wolverine” garnishes four-out-of-five stars.

Also, do not forget to stick around for the after the credits scene.  It ties wonderfully into “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” which is slated to release May of 2014.  Its got surprises a plenty and if it doesn’t get you excited for the next X-Men film then I’m not sure what would.

(SOURCE: Film review: The Wolverine (2013))

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