Hammering Out...Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Hammering Out...Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Hammering Out... is a series of movie reviews featuring a lively he said/she said discussion between John and Julie.  This week: CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER.

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JOHN: Forgive me if what follows reads like a love letter to Marvel Studios.  There is no other production company in the game right now - okay, maybe Pixar - that is making consistently good-to-great blockbusters that connect with critics and audiences.  If you thought The Avengers reached the pinnacle of everything Marvel had to offer, well, you're probably right.  The Avengers is still my favorite: it's a fun, hugely entertaining film that did the near impossible by uniting all the various superhero franchises with humor and style to burn.  All that being said, I think Marvel just topped itself with the new Captain America.

Yes, I said it.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier is Marvel's best film yet.  It may not reach the heights of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, but it is more grounded, mature, and plot-centric than I think audiences are accustomed to seeing in a superhero film.  The filmmakers - producer Kevin Feige, and directors Joe & Anthony Russo - have repeatedly said that the movie's tone is closer to classic 1970s conspiracy thrillers (like Three Days of the Condor or The Conversation) than bombastic comic book action, and that's exactly how it plays.  The casting of Robert Redford in a key supporting role is a nice nod to that era of filmmaking.

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That doesn't mean the movie lacks action. Far from it.  The Russos do a fantastic job of staging the action sequences, which are way more brutal than the typical Marvel flick, and boast a realism - well, as real as these films tend to get - that makes you feel every punch and crash.  Hard to believe these are the same guys behind You, Me and Dupree and some of the best episodes of Arrested Development and Community.  They really came to play here, and earn their chops in a way that reminds me of J.J. Abrams' jump to big screen directing with Mission: Impossible III.  And, if you know me at all, you know that's a huge compliment.

Chris Evans returns, and he wholly embodies the character of Steve Rogers/Captain America.  I can't picture anyone else in the role.  He's supported on all sides by great actors, who really help bring the Cap out of his shell.  Scarlett Johansson is back as Black Widow, and she and Evans have a flirty chemistry that suggests there may be something more between their characters.  Anthony Mackie is the new addition, as a war vet who befriends the Cap and joins the fight as his heroic alter ego, Falcon.  Both Mackie and Johansson add a lot of humor to the film, which is needed because it is otherwise quite serious.  There is a gravitas to the story of the Winter Soldier and his ties to the Cap, and that conflict comes to a head in a very satisfying way at the end.

I haven't even gotten to any plot elements, but it basically pits Hydra agents against S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and sends Cap and Black Widow on the run as fugitives.  I loved it.  This is way better than the first Captain America (which I thought was good for the first half and then kind of fell apart), and - most interestingly - doesn't even resemble it.  This is a completely different movie - in tone, style, and execution.  Even if you're not a fan of superhero flicks, I can see The Winter Soldier breaking out beyond the core Marvel faithful.

What'd you think, Jules?  Did this make you a fan of the Cap?  Have you gotten over your Chris Evans face blindness?  Where does this one rank in all the Marvel films that you've seen?

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JULIE: I'll admit that Captain America is not my favorite superhero. Nothing against him; I just find him boring. He's too good, too principled, too one-dimensional (in a way. I get that he has his interesting-ish backstory, but he's often too rah-rah America). I feel the same way about him that I feel about Superman and Leonardo from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The leader, the one who's always in the right, whose morality is never called into question, he's not the guy who interests me. I'm more of a Raphael kind of girl.

That said, I think this movie (and finally seeing the original Captain America a few days earlier) has shaken me out of my Chris Evans face blindness. Watch yourself, Mr. Evans. I can now pick you out of a police lineup. Sebastian Stan, on the other hand, he's a different story. I basically have no idea what he looks like, whether he's wearing a mask or not.

And Sebastian Stan is the one I want to talk about first. The Winter Soldier is a fabulous villain. He's scary. He's just as strong and capable as Captain America. He's ruthless. Stan has hardly anything to say in this movie, but he makes his presence known. This film is a big moment for him as an actor, and I expect great things from him in the future.

Same goes for Anthony Mackie, who has the charisma of a young Will Smith (before he got all super famous and weird and guarded). Mackie is obviously having a great time in this movie, and his character definitely brings out the humor in Captain America. He makes the Cap fun. So does Scarlett Johansson, who kicks all kinds of butt in this movie (along side Cobie Smulders -- yay for the ladies holding their own with the Captain and his miracle shield).

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I've seen a lot of the Marvel movies, I guess, but they kind of bleed together for me. Except Thor. Thor was just weird. I have Masters of the Universe feelings about Thor, like I wouldn't have been surprised if Loki pulled out a Cosmic Key synthesizer at some point. Anyway, like you said, Marvel is pretty darn genius in what it is doing. Yes, this is a Captain America movie, but it so seamlessly integrates other Avenger-types into the film, it plays bigger than that. Having other Avengers characters pop up in these satellite movies is brilliant. Who would've thought that the Cap and Black Widow would play so well opposite each other? That was an experiment that totally paid off. I'm excited to see what other pairings Marvel tries out in the future. (I'm shipping Bruce Banner and Maria Hill, by the way, because my motto is "Always Be Shipping.")

Who would you like to see paired up in future Marvel movies?

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JOHN: Well, if we're shipping, I'd love to get a Bruce Banner and Tony Stark solo flick.  Maybe they could share a house and do science experiments together while getting on each other's nerves like The Odd Couple.  I'd pay to see that.  I think it's also interesting that you say the Cap is too "rah rah America."  If anything, I think this movie is anti-rah rah America.  The movie portrays America as a big, sprawling place full of government corruption, secrets, and hidden agendas, and I enjoyed seeing the Cap struggle with that realization.  The world is a dirty place, and it's tough for someone to stay clean and rise above it all, even if they're named Captain America.  I think that's an interesting struggle, and Evans plays it well.

I'm also all for the ladies kicking butt, and I really appreciate how Black Widow has come into her own.  Joss Whedon did a lot of the heavy lifting in that regard on The Avengers, but I think screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (who also scripted the first Captain) continue the effort here and deepen her character.  Funny how you can imagine a Black Widow movie working, but not a Hawkeye one.  It's only a matter of time.

The Winter Soldier is a great foil for the Cap, and the two are evenly matched, but I agree that Sebastian Stan is rather forgettable as an actor and lacks a certain...something that could elevate the material.  Kind of unfortunate given how it would appear that the Winter Solider will be back in a big way in Part 3.  By the way, there was a big brouhaha online a few weeks ago when Marvel announced that Captain 3 would come out the same day that Warner Bros. had already staked for its Batman vs. Superman flick.  After seeing this, I know why Marvel is so confident.  I'll take the Cap over a Zack Snyder Superman any day.  Until then, bring on Guardians of the Galaxy!  Now, that one I know you'll be excited to see, if only because of the cheeky humor ("what a bunch of a-holes") and a super-buff Chris Pratt.  Amiright?

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JULIE: Holy jeez yes to Bruce Banner and Tony Stark making an Odd Couple-type movie. Everyone wants to see that; they just don't know it yet. Even if they don't do it as a Marvel thing, Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey, Jr. should make that film anyway, playing themselves.

And, yeah, you're right. This was definitely not the most rah-rah America movie, and that's probably why it works having Captain America in the lead. This would not have played as well as an Iron Man joint. Between his first movie and this one, Captain America has had to call into question everything he has ever known. He woke up seventy years after WWII, and "The Greatest Generation" has been replaced by a bunch of smarmy, selfish dill holes. So it is nice to see Captain grapple with his love for his country and the unfortunate direction in which things have gone. If he were a more cynical character, maybe he wouldn't have fought so hard to save the country from destruction.

As far as Stan goes, I actually think he's great as the Winter Soldier. Yeah, as an actor he kind of disappears, but I think he actually looks so very right in the role -- totally menacing. His presence is felt, even if his face is unrecognizable. I look forward to seeing what they do with him in Captain America 3. It took me a long time to be able to recognize Chris Evans as a person with an actual face, I'm willing to give Sebastian Stan a little time to grow on me as well.

And I am definitely excited for Guardians of the Galaxy. That movie looks fantastic. When do you think Warner Bros. will switch the Batman/Superman date, and what reason will they give for the move? They're totally going to flinch. It's only a matter of time.

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JOHN: Oh, Warner will move the date soon.  They will definitely flinch.  Okay.  Rating time.  I'm going to go big.  We're looking at the first 5-star movie of the year.  This is a complete success.  It works from beginning to end.  Rousing action, great performances, intelligently plotted, and it's even better on second viewing.  Granted, I was primed to love this movie before seeing a frame, but it lived up to, and exceeded, my already lofty expectations.  I could watch Cap knock out bad guys with his vibranium shield all day long.  How 'bout you?

JULIE: I'm not going to go full Boyle and give this one the highest marks possible, but on a scale of NCAA basketball tournament stars from Larry Bird to Christian Laettner, I give this one an Emeka Okafor.

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