Monday, May 19, 2014

Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier

Cap is in some tough straights. His first film was of decided low ambition. It was fantasy thriller. By which I mean the characters gestured at some vague political message while punching each other. His role in the Avengers is easily overlooked, as his super powers don’t yet seem active and he became a naive idealist following World War II…  Wellp, someone fixed all that. Cap shoulder checks his critics and rallies the faithful around a something they can say “That’s why I love the Cap!”

I mean, Ok, a genuine political thriller it is not. But Cap 2 is a lot smarter about what to use. Absurd Nazi scientists are given minor roles before being mercilessly stomped out of canon. Most of the weaker story elements are carry-overs from the comics. They feel like ritual homage. Cap 2 doesn’t celebrate its comic history as much as pass it like a kidney stone. It wants to be better, smarter, but is saddled. It does its best to setup the factions and technology with modern sensibilities but when the punch line is “brainwashed Russian solider”… How is that ever going to feel rational? Larger themes come half-way to respectable. Issues like government overreach born out of zero oversight are hot. Again, the film does so much to come at these ideas honestly but in the end the comic booky-ness steps in and says “Helicarriers with, like, A THOUSAND GUNS!!!”.

Here’s what’s cool and will blow your mind. Captain America actually has badass super powers. I think the highlights from the first movie were 1) Cap running 40mph and 2) Him punching a car window. In The Avengers he nearly died fighting, what, six aliens? Fighting one brainwashed agent with a gun was touch and go. It’s every little thing here. His morning run is something to behold. And no matter how many times its Cap vs a squad of elite soldiers with guns, he makes it fresh. He rampages. I’m watching these sequences in theater wishing so badly I could rewind to see it again. I’m very nearly shouting in my seat. There is not a single bad action piece in the movie. They just get better. I don’t buy movies to own anymore. I see a lot so it’s always “on to the next one”. I cannot wait to rewatch The Winter Soldier. Everything was done Right. He fights like a soldier. But he moves with power well beyond human levels.

That feeling of Rightness is what I found so compelling. Finally, the potential of the concept is realized. Not only the fighting. The relationship between Cap and Black Widow is dramatically different. It’s apparent in the trailer. These characters aren’t a few special effects on top of a stream of shitty one-liners. They’re much more human than other characters in any Marvel movie. The banter is fun, not filler. There isn’t Dead Time. Those moments between major set pieces. If Cap and Widow are going to talk, it’s an honest talk with purpose. When they’re traveling, it’s with style. Even Nick Fury! Who has been the greatest disappointment to me in each film. It’s Samuel L. Jackson! Why is not doing anything Samuel L. Jackson would do? Well, now he does.

Same with Falcon / Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie). I thought he was going to get his abrupt little origin. Cap would give him a high-five so audiences would know he’s a good guy. Go see his movie whenever that comes out. No. Captain America does the unthinkable in an action / superhero movie and makes use of its supporting cast. Falcon is integral. What’s more, Mackie is supremely comfortable. He doesn’t try to get a mini Me Too action moment. Or be the funny guy. Or whatever one dimensional archetype. He elevates the movie through simple, authentic, acting. Who the fuck would have thought more actors in a superhero movies would make it stronger?

For my money, Captain America is wearing the crown as far as Superheroes go. Forget Avengers 2 or hoping for another Iron Man movie. What I most want is Cap 3. The universe building was so smart that I hope, so much, that the writers can transition away from the camp (crap) that is holding back Cap from becoming a legitimate movie. ‘Cause The Winter Soldier wasn’t just good comic book movie, it was straight up Good. Restoring my faith the genre won’t become a parody of itself. Contenting itself with lazy plots so long as there is gratuitous fan service to ward off criticism.

(Note: I didn't directly talk about the Winter Soldier because he fits into the "lousy comic book elements" paragraph and the "hype fighting" one. So, there.)

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