Saturday, April 05, 2014

Thoughts on Captain America: The Winter Soldier (with spoilers)

Hey, kids! It's Batroc!
•If you haven't seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier yet, and you like superhero movies and/or action movies, I would recommend you go see it (Write a check for at least the price of your movie ticket to the Hero Initiative if it helps assuage your guilt). And, if you can, try to see it in Cleveland, Ohio, or at least a suburb of Cleveland, as I did. As you may be aware, several passages of the movie were actually made in Cleveland, much to the annoyance of many local commuters (I think all the scenes involving cars and or stuff blowing up on highways). Every time a new scene would start that was filmed in Cleveland, the audience in the theater would ripple with rustling and whispers as people all over turned to the people next to them and say things like "That's not D.C., it's Cleveland!" or "This is the part they did in Cleveland!" or "Hey look, Cleveland!"

•I think I've said this a couple of times before, including of the previous Captain America movie, but I think this was the best Marvel Studios movie I've seen so far. That I've said it multiple times before means that they seem to be getting better and better at making these movies, so that's good news. This was really head and shoulders (and abs) above Thor: The Dark World, which I believe I noted felt like it was filmed from an early, unfinished draft of a script that still needed some major work done to it—like selling the maguffin in a somewhat logical fashion. There's none of that here. The plot is at once simple and complex, but the stakes and motivations are always clear. I didn't feel the least bit of confusion until the first of the end credits teaser/sting.

•The Captain America/Falcon—or Steve Rogers/Sam Wilson, I guess—meet-cute was actually cute, bordering on adorable. So was the little notebook Cap keeps on things to catch up on since defrosting.

•I was pretty impressed by the way that the film's primary creators—directors Anthony and Joe Russo, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely—were able to eschew adapting a single storyline from the comics (despite the sub-title, although a lot is taken from the Ed Brubaker-written run of the comic, including a barely changed Winter Soldier), but whole eras of Captain America comics. If First Avenger summed up his Golden Age adventures, and Avengers his 1960s rebirth, then Winter Soldier seemed to be as much about all those stories, particularly from the 1970s (Hi there, Robert Redford!), but off and on from his Marvel Age rejuvenation to the present, in which he questions the government he serves, whether means justify ends, if he's really on the side of the angels or not, and so on. They really captured the spirit of a huge swathe of Captain America comics quite elegantly.

•One thing the Marvel Studios do really, really well, better than the comics, actually, is make that whole shield-slinging thing look realistic and cool. Comics when done well, can really communicate the motion and the bouncing of the shield as it ricochets from wall to wall to skull to wall to Cap hand, but even the best onomatopoeia sound effects can't communicate that it's fucking metal the way the films do.

•Overall, the action in this movie was very, very well executed. Not just the just-mentioned shield-slinging and the many various ways Cap uses his shield in combat, but he and Black Widow and Winter Soldiers' kung fu (for lack of a better word) and the shit-blowing-up stuff with firearms and explosives.

There's a scene where a buy takes a gatling gun-looking thing to a bus that just turns it into a wall of sparks that's actually quite beautiful; ditto the trio of SHIELD helicarrier super-drones.

•The Nick Fury car chase was pretty awesome.

•I was sort of disappointed in The Falcon design that I saw in the trailers and commercials and suchlike—it is essentially his Ultimate designs, with no changes—as it was so black and metal and utilitarian, and it didn't seem to me that a dash of red here or there would have killed them. But given how Wilson becomes (or resumes) being The Falcon in the movie, it makes sense. Hopefully if and when he reappears—a third Cap film seems safe to assume, and I'd really like to see a man of color join the Avengers, which currently has that old-school Justice League problem of having a roster with only one non-white guy, a green guy—he will have a modified jet-pack/bird wing kit, with some red on it.

•I liked the fact that, despite their names not being in the title, this was the best Nick Fury and best Black Widow movie so far.

I can sort of understand the argument for not making a Black Widow movie, in so much as she's "just" a super-spy lady with gadgets, and there would be so little to distinguish it from any other action movie that Marvel might risk diluting their brand (Of course, they could always have her fight Marvel super-villains to diminish that risk. Pit her against Taskmaster or A.I.M. and M.O.D.O.K. and then she's no longer just Lady Bond).

The character worked really well in this film though, as a sort of second and foil to Captain America; his partner in crime-fighting and an example of what he's no good at when it comes to being an Agent of SHIELD vs. being a World War II super-soldier or a 21st century superhero. I could see her working similarly well in a Hawkeye/Black Widow movie, as the Marvel Studios version of Hawkeye seems just as ordinary an action movie character as Black Widow, and thus unlikely to headline a movie (Actually, I could see a Black Widow movie being made before a Hawkeye one).

•I was really surprised to hear the name "Batroc"...and then to see the character get an entire action scene devoted to him, including a hell of a fight with Captain America (it's actually a better pure fight-fight than the climactic Cap/Winter Soldier fight, on account of it being too dudes with their feet and fists).

While I didn't expect him to wear purple and gold spandex and a goofy mask, I was a little disappointed that his mustache and goatee were so...unpronounced, that his accent wasn't outrageous and that he wasn't even referred to as "The Leaper," let alone "The Lepair."

•As I tweeted last night, we can now add Batroc The Leaper to the long, long list of characters to appear in major motion pictures before Wonder Woman.

•I was just as surprised to see Zola reappear, and in a form closer to that of the comics. The outdated tech he was living in made for a pretty awesome, pretty creepy scene. Hopefully, enough of him survived that he can appear in a camera-headed robot suit in the next movie.

•Oh, and then they got Von Strucker in the teaser. Red Skull, Batroc, Arnim Zola and Von Strucker...we're just, like, a Baron Zemo away from Captain America archenemy bingo here, aren't we?

•I expressed disappointment to the friend I saw the film with that there weren't any Chris Evans shirtless scenes. One thing these movies do very well is sell superheroes as sexy, and I think a shirtless scene is pretty much required for all the heroes. I don't think the sexiness of male superheroes comes across as much in a lot of superhero comics making for the simple fact that they are almost all drawn by dudes all the time, so even the characters whose good looks are so often discussed in the comics (Nightwing, for example), don't often look that hot or handsome in the comics (Another problem? A lot of the artists aren't very good at drawing). But the film medium gets around that simply by being able to cast real, good-looking people in the role of the superhero characters, so it doesn't matter if a freelance artist is interested in making Captain America look hawt or not.

Anyway, when I mentioned that they forgot to do a scene with Evans not wearing a shirt in this, she said they compensated by having him spend much of the film wearing children's shirts that were about ten sizes too small for him. Fair point.

•The scene between young Cap and old Agent Carter where she apparently has dementia? That was weird. I wonder if Marvel Studios missed a beat by not having a Notebook-style date movie featuring Chris Evans' Captain America and Hayley Atwell's Agent Carter in theaters in February?

•I was also surprised—hey, I've been saying "surprised" a lot lately. That's a good thing. Anyway, I was also surprised the extent to which SHIELD was dismantled by the end of the film, with various characters all going different ways—Maria Hill taking a job interview at Stark Industries, Agent 13 joining the CIA, Fury burning his eye-patch (?) in order to go to Europe to hunt Hydra (Fellow Robot 6-er Carla Hoffman discusses this more fully in her column this week).

"What about the show Agents of SHIELD...?" my friend asked. I don't know. I've never had any interest in watching it, and from what I've heard, it's even worse than it looks. Watching this, and seeing all of the stars and/or charismatic actors involved with SHIELD and Hydra, it seems weird to me that they couldn't make a cool TV show out of the concept (Garry Shandling could be on it! Is Garry Shandling on it?).

The absence of Clark Gregg's Agent Coulson was notable in this. I imagined him sitting in the back row of a theater watching this, a tear running down his eye, thinking a bit part in this movie has gotta be better than a starring role in some shitty TV show everyone hates...

•It wasn't until that scene of Henchman #1 being pulled out of rubble at the end that I realized he was supposed to be semi-important. It wasn't until I looked him up on the Internet that I realized that the character had a name, and it was the name of Crossbones. So I guess he'll be in Captain America III too...

•The credits sequence, featuring stylized, comic-like drawings of the characters, was awesome. Do we know who designed that? It reminded me of Dave Johnson's work quite a bit.

•I didn't look to see if there was a "created by" credit, though. I did see the usual end-of-the-credits thank you's to various comics creators. Either way, the Hero Initiative could use nine bucks or whatever from everyone who sees this movie this weekend.

•So, the teases were pretty disappointing (The most exciting tease was hearing "Stephen Strange" mentioned as a possible threat to Hydra/SHEILD during the course of the film). The first is just Von Strucker, wearing a monocle, saying something like, "We didn't need SHIELD and their super-drones. Look, we have lots of cool stuff down here in our secret lair—like this!" And the camera pans to...the stabby thing with the crystal Loki had in Avengers.

I...didn't get it. So what? Oh, but then they pan to "the twins," and we see someone (a dude) with super-speed in a cell next to someone (a lady) with some kind of telekinesis making blocks float. Those are the Maximoffs, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, of course, but didn't we already know they were going to be in Age of Ultron...? I guess it was supposed to be a surprise geared narrowly at people who could identify Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch by a glimpse and reference to them being twins, but who aren't. so plugged into the Internet that they've seen set photos form Age of Ultron yet...? (Actually, I guess this teases the fact that they will have something to do with Hydra. Personally, I woulda preferred an Ultron head sitting in Stark's workshop, or a teaser for...whatever Marvel's doing after Guardians of The Galaxy and Age of Ultron.

Have they made announcements yet...? I know Ant-Man is (forever) in the works, but they haven't announced a Dr. Strange or Black Panther or anything yet, have they...? (A trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy was attached to this, and everyone in the theater responded very excitedly to it, even moreso than they did to the dour and confusing trailer for X-Men: Days of Future Past; I hope that movie is as good and as fun as it looks, and that it makes so much money that Marvel Studios greenlights an Agents of Atlas film).

The second tease was just Bucky going to look at the Bucky part of a Captain America exhibit. I guess to reinforce the fact that Bucky remembered he was Bucky? I thought the fact that he stopped beating Captain America to death with his robot arm and then dragged him out of the water at the end did that effectively enough.

Holy shit, Bucky's been alive all this time! probably didn't have quite the same effect on movie-goers as it did comics readers a few years back, huh?

•I still think its weird—as I did while watching Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World that no other superheroes show up to help when things get apocalyptic. I know they can't—and shouldn't—always appear in each other's movies the same way that Superman and The Flash shouldn't appear in every single DC comic book even though, realistically, they probably would. But given how much the makers of all these films like to name drop (I think they said "Stark" about 95 times, and "Banner" once), you would think the bad guys would at least consider and dismiss calling in "Barton" to help with the search for Cap ("No, he's too close to Rogers and Romanov. We can't trust him to finish the job"), or that Sam Wilson would have suggested to the runaway Cap who shows up on his doorstep, "Can't you ask your friends in The Avengers/your buddy Tony Stark for help?" just to get a, "No, Fury said to trust no one."

•I assume it won't be too long after opening weekend receipts are counted up that Marvel Studios announces that they're making another Captain America movie. And not too long after that that they announce the title of their next Captain America film. My fingers are currently crossed that it's either Captain America: Bicentennial Battles or Captain America: Capwolf.


Anonymous said...

Anthony Mackie [Falcon] actually revealed that we'd be getting Cap 3 come 2016, and as far as I know the Russos will be directing that one as well.

Seeing as how bland Hawkeye was in The Avengers, I have trouble seeing him carry his own movie period, let alone before or after Black Widow.

Nicholas Yankovec said...

The Russo's said at the UK Premiere they would be directing Captain America 3. So that's good.

I missed Batroc's outrageous accent and twirly moustache, but that fight scene was so awesome I forgive the film makers. This was the best Batroc we're ever likely to see on film, and I hope he returns with Machete and Zaran in the next film. Especially if Danny Trejo plays Machete!

Eric Lee said...

I appreciated how powerful they made Cap's punches. When he punches somebody, it feels like it hurts bad... The beginning carrier ship scene was the best example of that where Cap was literally knocking guys over the edge.

El Serracho! said...

shame about there being no shirtless scene...except there was. in sam's apartment, with black widow looking on.

Anonymous said...

What this movie taught me is that I'm no longer the demographic for big tentpole films. The fact that it ended with a non-resolution and a sales pitch for two adjacent films bugged me, as did the fact that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (which I *have* been enjoying, despite its being too watered-down to be the hardcore Steranko-fest of my dreams) was forced for reasons of merchandising & release dates to suspend its own narrative autonomy to tie into CAP2. (Deathlok is more Deathlok than I'd been led by badvertising to expect; downside is he has all of two scenes.)

It irritates me when books do this, and it's doubly irritating when films do it. CAP1 was its own story. THOR2 was its own story. I could easily enjoy these films on their own merits without being coerced into watching other projects.

Ah, whatever. They have to make money. I just felt the lack of resolution to the Bucky story (to say nothing of "What makes Steve Rogers happy?" being given one note) caused my interest to peter out by film's end. There was more action than motivation. Cap's lamenting being a man out of time, but is given no time to find purchase in the present, then we're sent off with a pitch for the third film, which we may presume is about him reclaiming a friendship out of the past. And a pitch for AVENGERS 2. And a reminder that the guy who's playing Bucky is about as emotive as a racquetball. It all contributed to me feeling cynical about a film I had been anticipating, and that cynicism is beginning to extend to the Marvel movie brand.

Andrew said...

No twirly moustache, but if you look closely, they did at least give him a purple shirt with a yellow stripe up the middle.

And at my theatre, when they revealed the Winter Soldier as Bucky, some woman behind us yelled "I knew it!" to which someone yelled back, "Yeah, we all read the comics already!"

Dave said...

What's an Ultra head?

Your perpetual and frequent typos are incredibly annoying. Do you just not give a damn?

David Charles Bitterbaum said...

I chatted with David Mack at Wizard World Saint Louis (he's super-nice) and he said how he did the stylized credits. So now you know, Caleb!

Caleb said...

Thanks for the info on the sequels and on the end credits, gang (Man, I never woulda guessed David Mack).

shame about there being no shirtless scene...except there was. in sam's apartment, with black widow looking on.

Wha...? Really? I went to the bathroom just as he opened the door to let them in, and when I got back I think Cap and Widow were both in tank tops (I missed the breakfast too, I guess). My friend said there was no shirtlessness though! The liar!

What's an Ultra head?

I don't know; what is an Ultra head?

Your perpetual and frequent typos are incredibly annoying. Do you just not give a damn?

Oh. I thought your question was a set-up to a joke. To your first comment, then don't read my writing, particularly the not-edited stuff I do here, often late at night and at great volume and with great speed, for no monetary recompense (Sorry, I don't really understand the "Arrgh, this thing I voluntarily expose myself too is perpetually and frequently annoying me!" line of commentary...unless you're that ONE guy whose comments always get marked spam now but generally posts a comment on every article anyway, using a different identity; I see your identity has all of 2 page views, so maybe you're that guy? Please don't make me check your IP address to see if you ARE that guy; that is more work than I like to devote to avoiding weird online stalkers, of which I've thankfully only ever had the one).

To your second comment, no, I don't really give a damn if I mispell Ultron's name or not. Certainly not as much as you apparently care if I do, anyway.

Dave said...

Ha ha no I don't think I'm that guy. Ive read and enjoyed your comics commentary for at least a couple years now, but have never commented until yesterday, as I recently acquired a gmail account.

Thanks for writing back. Sorry I didn't mean to sound like a jerk. I just find the typos bewildering as a basic spell-check would identify most of them. Certainly as a published writer who works in a library the virtue of error-free writing is its own reward. Typos are annoying wherever they occur, and frustrate the reading experience. I just felt the need to communicate that.

Anyway, my apologies again; I was in kind of a bad mood last night. Thanks for the article as it was a fun read, as is most everything else you write.

FrankiePitt said...

Agents of SHIELD took several episodes to find itself, but since returning from the winter break it's been getting better week after week, with more serialized storytelling and plot threads/reveals that up the ante in many respects. It bugs me that people call it shitty, because it's almost like there was an expectation that if viewers weren't getting a 220 million dollar weekly film on TV, the show was a failure. True, the characters are slow to like, but it's definitely worth the time. If you want to take a shortcut, just start with the very recent Lady Sif episode and go forward from there. It's good. Trust.

googum said...

I think Loki's staff-thingus is being played up as causing the twins' powers, since mutants belong to Fox.

Caleb said...


You may wanna steer clear of tonight's post; it's a super-long one, and likely to be fuller of typos than most.

Frankie, Rev,

I have heard SHIELD's improving. I don't know if I'll ever actually get around to it, based on how slow I am to catch up on stuff. Like, I've been EXCITED to watch YOUNG JUSTICE since it debuted and, um, I've yet to sit down with a DVD of that.

I don't know exactly what people's expectations of SHIELD was/were, but I think the ante has really been upped by all these high-quality cable shows, and a lot of fans are less willing to settle for mediocre, even for TV science fiction. Given how many characters never get much space in the films, and likely never WILL, I woulda hoped to see guest-stars like, I don't know, Kat Dennings and Coby Smulders and so on (they haven't outgrown TV yet!), and some original-to-the-show minor Avengers of some sort (Doctor Druid? He's never gonna be in a movie, is he?)


I look forward to seeing Avengers Quicksilver. X-Men Quicksilver sure set the bar low.