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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Movie Review Break: Captain America - The Winter Soldier

So I went and saw this one this weekend and I went into it with high expectations. After all, I have a pretty soft spot in my heart for the Marvel Universe series of movies. They've done an excellent job and not one of their movies ever can be considered "unwatchable." While I will say the quality has been uneven, the vast majority have been really entertaining.

The reviews on this one have been rapturous, other than a few killjoys who don't like anything. For the most part, I have to agree. I was very entertained and while the movie has some plot holes/WTFs that don't bear scrutiny on closer inspection, they really don't take away from the overall enjoyment of the movie.

Spoilers ahead so if you don't want to know, don't read.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a pretty brisk, well done, political thriller with a side helping of awesome ridiculousness on the side. Basically it's Nick Fury who stumbles on to a problem that gets him targeted and killed and this sends Cap and Black Widow out to find out what it is. On the way, the pick up Sam Wilson a.k.a. "Falcon" to help. They figure it out, save the day, and destroy SHIELD in the process.


So we have consequences, a rather simple plot with some twists and turns as you go along to keep it very interesting and some confusion (until about 2/3 into it) about who the bad guys are. I was intrigued the whole time and even though I was pretty sure Robert Redford was the bad guy, I wasn't completely sure as they played some effective twists to make me question that assumption. Also, Redford's motives aren't all that evil and somewhat understandable, given the state of the Marvel Universe as we know it.

Cap starts out a man adjusting to the world he finds himself in but still steadfast in his ideals. He is not naive and not blindly patriotic but he is fundamentally decent and that is a huge breath of fresh air in this angsty, dark, brooding, dark knight-esque atmosphere we see most studios turning heroes into. I mean, did we need the The Dark Knight of Steel? Steve is not conflicted but he doesn't know what's what because he doesn't have all the information he needs to make decisions. He naturally questions what's right and wrong anymore but not because he doesn't know, but because everyone is lying to him. Once he figures out the truth of things, he knows what to do.

This is a big difference in most of the heroes these days because they are always questioning themselves. Batman, Superman, Wolverine, etc. They are always looking in. Steve was different because he knows at his core what is right and what is wrong, it's the world that's changed and he's adjusting to make the decisions. It's a subtle difference but it is there and I appreciated it.

Nick Fury as a character fares pretty well here too. He is also fundamentally decent but is arrogant, distrustful, and too dependent on the apparatus he has helped create. He's given a dose of reality and realizes how something so big can be easily corrupted.

Here's where the story gets really interesting to me. For the left, it may seem like an anthem against drone attacks and how we enforce our will against other countries. For the right, it may seem like a warning against entrenched bureaucracies, and the dangers of corruption. I liked that it really wasn't heavy handed either way in its message. The methods used in the movie seemed a little far-fetched but then this is a universe where Norse gods exist and men can turn into giant green rage monsters so what the heck.

See Nick has been working on a plan to put a trio of new helicarriers into air along with Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford).  They need to be linked together for some reason to find threats using the internet metadata(?) and then they can eliminate the threats because the helicarriers are absurdly overarmed gunships. This is the awesome ridiculousness.

Cap and Widow went on a mission to rescue hostages however Widow's mission was to retrieve data on the ship the hostages were held. Cap wasn't in the know and was pretty pissed. When he confronts Nick about secrets, Nick shows him the helicarriers. Cap is understandably skeptical of this.

When Nick's security is compromised, he starts sniffing around and gets attacked by the Winter Soldier and a group of thugs pretending to be cops. It's a pretty good scene though I wasn't sure why the Winter Soldier held back for so long other than to show us how bad ass Nick Fury is. End result is Nick gets injured and escapes to Cap's apartment where he gives Cap the USB drive that holds the data that was on the boat. He then dies.

Yeah, I didn't buy that either. Of course he pops back up. Since we know Sam Jackson is contracted to do at least 46 more of these movies.

Cap and Widow figure out where the data came from which leads them back to the very training base Cap was at in the first movie and where apparently SHIELD started. I thought that was a nice touch. They find an underground bunker and a pile of old computers from the 70's or early 80's. But a modern USB hub is connected to them. They plug in the drive and the computers come to life. I mean literally. It appears Armin Zola from the last movie has digitized himself and is living in these old computers. Or on the drive? Or the drive started him up? I'm not sure if the bad guys tried to get him off the computers or if he was always there.... it's a little unclear.

Point is: Hail Hydra!

Yeah, turns out that Hydra has been infiltrating SHIELD and the government for decades. In a nice touch, Senator Gary Shandling, Head of the Ways and Douchebag committee from Iron Man 2 turns out to be a Hydra agent. I suppose some may complain "Can't it just be that he's a douche? Does everyone have to be on the wrong side?" But I kinda liked it.

So Zola pretty much outlines it, while contacting Hydra to have the base bunker bombed. They escape, head out to find Fury (see? told ya.) alive. They get Falcon and Maria Hill to help and come up with a plan to take down the helicarriers.

To do this, they also have to demolish SHIELD since it's too corrupted with Hydra now. Long story short, there is no SHIELD or Hydra by the end.

The Winter Soldier is really a sub-plot and didn't have to be there but was a nice addition to add to the texture of the movie. So big fight, lots of action, carriers crash, boom boom, good guys win. Pretty satisfying.

Some points though:

When Fury and Widow confront Pierce, they decide to release all of SHIELD's information, which includes all of Hydra's, on to the internet. Those of you who work in IT would know that that would be petabytes of information. I mean sifting through all that would take years. Hell, we still don't know what's in Obamacare even though we passed it, right Nancy?

So once they release it (how? Open the firewall? Put it in dropbox? Had a website ready? I don't know) Widow says "It's out! And it's trending!" Sort of funny I guess but royally stupid. When Hollywood writes a line about computers that sounds like they just heard cool words and puts them in the script, it really stands out to me. Like in Iron Man 2, when Whiplash typed some nonsense and started accessing the drones and Sam Rockwell commented "whoa, just got right through that firewall there..." well, Marvel... hire a tech consultant, please? Know your audience, half of it is tech savvy. Shit like that stands out. (There was no firewall, he maybe broke through some kind of authentication, and since all of that is most likely custom made, there was no way Whiplash could do that just because he's evil.)

This is really a minor point though. The Hydra plan bugged me a bit. So they realized from WWII that if you try to take freedom by force, free people will fight back. But if they could get people to feel unsafe, then people would willingly surrender their freedom for that safety. And the helicarriers would make people feel safe. Ok I can buy that. There is precedent going on right now for that. There are different kinds of things however that people define as "safe." The libs want to make things safe domestically by taking away things like smoking, gun free zones, etc. Conservatives are more about using the military to deal with foreign threats to feel safe. The left just wants to appease.

But then the Helicarriers used the internet and metadata to somehow predict which people are going to be most likely to fight and then just mows them down. Immediately. Like 2 million of them in the first salvo. This seemed very unsafe to me? I know we've taken out one or two Americans that work for the taliban or al-queda without trial and I think that's where they were going with that? But mowing down 2 million people along the eastern seaboard is not exactly the same thing. It seemed like Hydra was doing exactly what they learned in WWII wouldn't work. I figured they would take out a few terrorists in Pakistan, expand out to maybe Russia or Europe and creep up until they finally started taking out "threats" in the US. That would have made more sense but day 1? Mow down 2 million US citizens immediately? Seems a little doomed to fail in the long run. Thor may have been dealing with dark elves at the time but he probably would've taken those carriers down pretty quick after that. Hulk would've done the rest. Not a smart plan.

But comic book movie. The narrative and what Cap was trying to stop was good enough. I never was angry or bored and even though a few things don't hold up under a little scrutiny, it in no way stopped my enjoyment of the movie. Evans pretty much owns the role, Falcon was a nice addition, and I'm ready to see a Black Widow movie now. Too bad Robert Redford bought it but he is 134 years old.

I was definitely interested in the intrigue and mystery. Cap is in street clothes for a good portion of the movie and that added to realism, in the sense that we didn't have him out in a silly costume during these moments when he's on the run. When he did put on the costume, it was a good moment. (Though, enough with the Stan Lee cameos.) Shaky cam can go but at no time did I not know what was going on and why. The action is great. (I did get the feeling Falcon has been doing his thing for quite a while, but wasn't Iron Man the first that could fly? It's been 6 years, maybe he gave some of that tech to the government, but in Iron Man 2, he wouldn't give up any of his tech. Wasn't he in a big senate hearing telling.. ahh fuck it.)

Overall, it's one of the best of the Marvel movies and well worth your time.

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