Monday, April 21, 2014

Marvel Rallies "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" to New Heights

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) returns to star in Marvel’s latest big-budget blockbuster, the aptly-named Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Well, we’ve solved the obvious part of the equation. Now, who’s this “Winter Soldier” guy? I’ll let the movie answer this question, if it hasn’t already been spoiled for you.

Captain America, being a serum-enhanced “ordinary kid from Brooklyn”, is probably the least-superheroish guy out there. His films, seeing that he is supported by ordinary humans (Peggy Carter, Natasha Romanoff, Sam Wilson), take the qualities of superhero films while keeping it firmly grounded to reality. The first film struck a balance with its World War II setting and the second follows, except this time, it’s set in a modern-day conspiracy-filled surveillance era. The film puts a large focus on realism which the first sorely lacked; the Cap himself makes a visit to a PTSD seminar, a reoccurring sub-theme.

Captain America is supported by the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), who returns from her role in The Avengers. As they struggle to fight against the Winter Soldier, Rogers enlists the help of a new friend, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie). The movie places an emphasis on character development and the basis of trust – especially given the setting of The Winter Soldier.

Evans and Johansson exhibit a strong bond as partners and when Mackie joins the fray, it gets better. The trio shoot jokes at each other and Johansson’s always there to bug Evans about “that nurse” after an intense firefight. As military veterans, Rogers and Wilson bond spectacularly well, mentioning their past, while planning the future as comrades. The film is scripted with elegance in order to balance humour, plot, and a few touching moments.

Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) reprises his role as SHIELD’s director alongside Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), Secretary of Defense – SHIELD’s, and in turn, Fury’s, gate to the National Security Council. The two, as friends, play a stoic role in highlighting the humanity and morals of leaders stuck in a modern-day society.

Alongside the major cast, Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) features as one of Fury’s trusted aids, who is introduced early-on in the movie and neglected until nearly the end. Alongside her is Agent 13 (Emily VanCamp) who plays an even more minor role than Hill.

The movie opens with a hostage-rescue attempt, in which Captain America and the Black Widow are sent, alongside members of SHEILD’s STRIKE team. While a bit stretched out, like a few other scenes in the movie, it is used to set the tone of the film – secrecy – and is used effectively as a way to drive his relationship with Romanoff and Fury, one focused on trust – or the lack of it.

In something-akin to Pixar’s WALL-E, except with adapted themes, The Winter Soldier delivers a stunning and politically astute film to audiences. It highlights the dangers of surveillance, order, and control, in what seems to be a criticism of modern-day government policy and agencies. Like WALL-E, Marvel shows a possible future. Instead of a garbage-filled wasteland, we are on the onset of having have cannons and guns ready to kill anyone, at any time – essentially handing over the world to SHIELD.

Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely take the opportunity to tie this movie to the first, having Rogers visit the Smithsonian’s exhibit dedicated to himself. He later visits Peggy Carter, an old love, but she’s now bedridden and suffering from memory loss. For those that haven’t watched the original film, or those who’ve forgotten, a flashback to old memories is essential to amplify this poignant scene. Aside from that heart-rending reunion, the pair expertly script the movie to stand on its own accord – no prior knowledge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or superhero films, required.

There’s no shortage of CG scenes in this movie, being an action film. The film’s usage of 3D doesn’t add to or detract from the film, which is disappointing given the premise. This can be attributed to the directors’ choice of converting to 3D in post-production. In no scene were there hazards flying at the audiences, surprising given the amount of explosions and fight scenes – the action seems to almost stop at the screen.

At the centre of the movie’s plot are three gargantuan helicarriers, which are destined to eliminate all hostile threats from thousands of feet above the Earth. Aside from those flashy carriers, the crew smartly excludes the overabundance of CG that dragged down the first film. Accompanying the larger-than-life CG is a score composed by Henry Jackman (Turbo, Captain Phillips) alongside the score from the first film (Alan Silverstri). The two combine together well enough to envoke a sense of nostalgia.

The film’s climatic and suspenseful third act is scripted and performed with elegant clarity which will keep viewers glued to the screen as the writers elegantly clean up all remaining arcs. A few references to the characters’ pasts are made, this time punctuated with a prior flashback. Once everything is resolved, a few more threads are loosened up, in preparation for next year’s Avengers: The Age of Ultron and an unnamed Captain America sequel in 2016. We can most likely expect a returning of the majority of the cast and hopefully minor characters Agents Hill and 13 will receive a larger role.

As with other Marvel films, make sure to stay right to the end. There are two post-movie sequences – one mid-credits, one post-credits.

Marvel delivers a suspenseful and stunning truth of the world with its latest installment, which never fails to highlight the humanity and basis of our heroes – trust.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier:  A-

Opening Date: 4 April 2014

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Production: Marvel Studios
Cast: Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Writers: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Story: Ed Brubaker
Producer: Kevin Feige
Executive Producers: Victoria Alonso, Mitchell Bell, Louis D’Esposito, Alan Fine, Michael Grillo, Stan Lee
Production Designer: Peter Wenham
Editors: Jeffrey Ford, Matthew Schmidt
Music: Henry Jackman, Alan Silvestri (Captain America: The First Avenger)
Based on: Captain America, Jack Kirby and Joe Simon
Rated PG-13, 136 minutes.