Friday, 28 March 2014

Filmdog Weekly #10 (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Greenwich Picturehouse)
'Major Snoozefest...'

As a general rule of thumb I usually try not to read other critics' reviews before I have written my own in case it affects my opinion. It's very easy to think 'hmmm...I should have thought of that' and then pass it off as your own observation and that's not really the point. The good thing about movies and music, amongst other things, is that they are completely subjective. One man's masterpiece is another man's wallpaper. 

On Thursday, however, I found myself drawn to a review on The Guardian by Peter Bradshaw titled 'Marvel's dullest superhero' and couldn't help but sneak a peak. Having seen the film on Wednesday (at mid-day alongside several other lone males of a similar age) at my local Greenwich Picturehouse, my thoughts on the film had already been formed and so I was interested to see what Bradshaw thought of it. Unsurprisingly his views were not wildly dissimilar from mine.

In this second instalment of the super-soldier franchise, his third overall after his run out with The Avengers, our hero's character is firmly established. Steve Rogers, a man genetically modified to combat the Nazis in WWII, frozen in ice and time after battling the evil Red Skull, revived in modern day USA, enlisted as an agent of SHIELD and now resuming his duties as the all-American protector of his homeland and the wider world.

The first Captain America film, 'The First Avenger', was an enjoyable twist on the genre, which had until then been mostly set in the present day, giving us a retro superhero who despite possessing awesome strength and speed, still uses a gun to kill his enemies. He was the ultimate do-gooder and this was made fun of in Avengers Assemble where he was a fish-out-of-water, struggling to adapt to the generational changes in attitude and technology that took place during his 70-year freeze. The reason why that film works so well (and is ultimately the best Marvel film so far) is the badinage between Cap, Thor, Hulk and Iron Man, deftly guided by writer and director Joss Whedon.

In 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier', the fish is well and truly back in the water. No longer troubled by the gulf in his personal timeline, he's happy again. He's at home using the internet ("very useful"), he's making a small catch-up list of pop culture (which bizarrely included the 1966 World Cup final for UK audiences) and he's even managed to hook up with 100-year-old Agent Peggy Carter (Haley Atwell) to reminisce about the old days by her bedside.

He goes about his duty, leading missions alongside Avengers' Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson as former KGB agent Natasha Romanov), shoehorned into this film to give it some star quality and who's primary concern is trying to hook up Cap with a girlfriend.

So there's not much wrong really apart from a little internal conflict about whether he wants to continue being a soldier. Step up Nick Fury, director of SHIELD, with the ingenious idea of putting 3 super-bastard-sized-spaceships in the sky that can each target and wipe out a million people at the same time. Why? For our own protection of course. Cap's not happy with this idea, suspecting it might infringe on the peoples liberty just a little bit and uses his superhuman powers of perception to figure out that this might not be a Dragons Den-winning idea after all.

The rest is pretty formulaic. A host of new characters, including Robert Redford as scheming SHIELD executive Alexander Pierce, Anthony Mackie as Cap's new sidekick Falcon and mysterious new bad guy The Winter Soldier (who could he be? You've failed if you can't figure it out after 20 minutes), join established faces Nick Fury and Black Widow to make this as much as an ensemble as Avengers Assemble and unfortunately that's a damning indictment of Captain America's (and Chris Evans') power to pull an audience.

It's quite an enjoyable film despite the endless bursts of 'TAKATAKATAKATAK' machine gun fire that crops up throughout, and the sooner they get rid of those boring super-spaceships the better. A scene in which Cap takes an eventful ride down an elevator is a standout in terms of action, while Anthony Mackie gives some much needed camaraderie as fellow soldier Sam Wilson. 

However, the real fault of the film lies at its heart. What made Captain America fun in the first place was seeing a man struggling to adapt to his new surroundings and keeping hold of his morality while still reluctantly fulfilling his fighting duties, much like the Wolverine does. That's all gone now. Here, he's happy to chat with Agent Romanov about girls while letting a man (albeit a bad guy) fall to his death from the top of a tower block, the scene deliberately pointing to the fact that he's become more morally flexible. In trying to modernise him, the filmmakers have shed much of the pathos that made him appealing in the first place. An attempt to re-conjure those feelings of self-conflict, whereby he spends much of the film moping about because his best buddy died in The First Avenger, feels phoney, serving only as a plot device for the climax. And try as they might, there is no sexual chemistry between Scarlett Johansson and the impressively muscular Chris Evans, somewhat of a real-life Hulk.

Evans has said he may quit acting and move into directing after his six-film contract with Marvel is finished. That leaves another three outings at least for Captain America and you have to wonder if the man in the red, the white and the blue will come through after all. 

Captain Charisma he most certainly is not and I can't help but agree with Peter Bradshaw. He is Marvel's dullest character and Chris Evans struggles to impart any charm upon him, which is possibly the reason to include several other big stars to prop up the poster boy in this. Sadly it seems he's such a dull character that he can't even be trusted with the lead role in his own film.

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