April 10, 2014

Podcast Episode 11: To The End Of The Line With CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER

"To build a better world sometimes means tearing the old one down."
You guys, I think Marvel might just be unstoppable.

Captain America: The First Avenger is without question my favorite of Marvel's Phase One movies, not counting The Avengers itself which is a movie that I will watch anytime, anywhere.  (I think the Avengers movies will be historically viewed more as punctuation marks to each phase of Marvel's slate.)  I have no real history with Captain America, save for an irrational fondness for Albert Pyun's terrible adaptation from the early 90's.  In truth, that probably has less to do with Matt Salinger's Steve Rogers and more to do with President Ronny Cox.  But I love the classic WWII pulp adventure of The First Avenger and Chris Evans is so great in large part because he understands that the heart of the character lies in Skinny Steve, a beacon of honesty and morality who's always willing to face impossible odds in order to do the right thing.  The fact that Evans has got great comic timing, he oozes charisma and he looks believable dispatching a horde of Hydra soldiers is just the icing on the cake.

Iron Man 3 set a pretty high bar when it kicked off Phase Two.  Thor: The Dark World did an admirable job meeting that challenge.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier clears it.  Handily.

This is not just the best Marvel movie (it probably is) or one of the best all-time comic book movies (it definitely is); this is just a flat out great movie.  In fact, I'm convinced that if you took away the superhuman elements, the shield, the wing suit, the villain trapped in the computer and the cryogenically preserved killer with the robot arm and simply made Steve Rogers an upstanding, accomplished soldier shining a light on a world of shadow and subterfuge, you'd still have a helluva flick on your hands.  Cap is "the man out of time," but rather than waste time on his confusion over pop culture references or modern technology (Avengers already handled this perfectly) writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely choose instead to dwell upon the inevitable clash between Steve's mid-century idealism and our modern surveillance, complete with its love of drones and its tendency to sidestep due process in the name of security and convenience.  There's a fundamental flaw within the system that only Steve is willing and able to correct; Steve knows that while S.H.I.E.L.D. may have their heart in the right place, they're doing a big thing badly and he's ready to burn the whole thing down if necessary.  It's a great throwback to the conspiracy/spy thrillers of the 1970's, stuff like Three Days Of The Condor and The Parallax View.  That they also managed to snag Robert Redford for a key role creates an unspoken authenticity which elevates every scene that he's in.

Of course some of those old school thrillers have a tendency to become so opaque that they start to drag after a while. The Winter Soldier never drags.  In fact, it quite literally puts the "thrill" back in "thriller."  (I can't believe I said that either.)  The action comes hard and heavy, whether it's Cap single-handedly taking down a Quinjet, dispatching a boat load of Algerian assassins or hunting down his best friend turned sworn enemy. But this isn't just meaningless combat; each set piece has clear physical and emotional stakes and the Russo brothers smartly favor wide angle shots that really let the audience see what's happening, a note that feels obvious but is increasingly less so in modern cinema.  This film is many things, but boring simply ain't one of them. 

It's not that I can't wait to see this movie again. It's that I can't wait to see this movie ten more times.

Bart and Jamie give their own two cents in Episode 11 of the podcast, but it's all largely positive (and unapologetically spoilery).  At this point I think we're all pretty much in the tank for Marvel, but I'm totally okay with that reality and I continue to count down the days until I get to see Burt Macklin and Uhura team up with a gun-toting raccoon and a talking tree to fight off legions of alien baddies.  We also speculate on Winter Soldier's impact on ABC's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. show and for what it's worth, this week's episode proved Jamie totally correct and me totally wrong.  That they passed up such a perfect opportunity to connect the Agents with what will certainly be their biggest hit of the year in a way that costs them absolutely nothing only reinforces my belief that Marvel is still flailing around a bit when it comes to that show.  Bart and I also chat about the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie and pray that Michael Bay will eventually leave the icons of our childhood unmolested.  At this point, that seems unlikely.

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Title: Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Director: Joe Russo, Anthony Rus
Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Redford, Sebastian Stan, Emily VanCamp, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo
Year Of Release: 2014
Viewing Method: Theatrical IMAX - Jordan's Reading