OK pumpkins . . . you want to know why I watched "Captain America: The Winter Soldier"? Was it because it was (all together now) another superhero film? Was it because, along with Captain America, the movie also featured the Black Widow, the Falcon and one of my favorite Marvel villains (Arnim Zola)? Was it because I felt the original Marvel story was brilliant? Was it because Chris Evans is really starting to kick butt as the title character?
All very legitimate reasons (except possibly the one about the original story), but the Real Reason I went to see the latest Marvel Comic film adaptation was because I would've paid twice the regular ticket fare just to see Robert Redford go "Hail Hydra!"
Ah me . . .
Anyway, as before, I must open this review of a Marvel Comics Movie Adaptation with my:
Official Uncle Mikey Marvel Comics Movie Geek Checklist.
1. Once again, as with "Thor: The Dark World", no one thinks of calling in The Avengers to handle this new threat. Considering that we have two-sixths of the team present one can only speculate idly. Fortunately, being a comics geek, I do idle speculation quite well.
2. Good action scenes, especially with Cap in an elevator crowded with bad guys, as well as an early scene involving Cap against B-list Marvel villain Batroc (sans ridiculous French accent).
3. The Falcon gets a better origin story here than he did in the original comic ("Captain America" #117/September 1969, although one has to wonder about the propinquity involved in Captain America casually meeting the one VA employee who also had experience handling an experimental flying suit).
4. Scarlett Johansson gives good Black Widow.
5. Some tie-in with the "Agents of SHIELD" television series (and vice-versa, although I personally feel that if you have to depend on a big budget movie to help pull your ratings up then it's a clear sign of trouble).
6. I guess it'll be a long wait before we get to see Arnim Zola as he appeared in the comics. But the way he appeared here wasn't all that bad. On the other hand . . .
7. MAIN PROBLEM: I don't care if this is the way it currently appears in Ultimate Marvel or whatever . . . I am not, Not, NOT buying the idea of Jasper Sitwell as a Hydra agent. No. Ain't happening. Yes, Sitwell is anal-retentive to the point of nightmare, but when it comes to SHIELD he is such a Boy Scout. If it helps, think of him as Smithers to Nick Fury's Mr. Burns. I'd sooner believe my Mom was a Hydra agent.
(Then again, that would've answered a few questions. "Hail Hydra! Immortal Hydra! Do a load of laundry and two more shall take its place!")
(Note to Walt Disney/Marvel Studios: here's an idea. "Housewives of Hydra!" I swear it'll write itself.)
Okay, now we can segue to the main body of the review. The non-comic geeks can come back in and take notes.
Interestingly enough, Young Son enjoyed "Winter Soldier" more than I did (if such a thing was possible). I haven't seen him effuse so much over a superhero film since . . . since . . .
Okay, I can't remember him ever effusing over a superhero film. But that's the point. Now I enjoyed "Winter Soldier". As I mentioned above, Chris Evans is fitting into the role of Captain America as smoothly as Robert Downey Jr. handles Iron Man. And, as Young Son pointed out, "Winter Soldier" wasn't as flashback heavy as "Captain America: The First Avenger" (a situation I didn't have much of a problem with). Along with some other commentators, Young Son appreciated the issue-driven plot of the film. "Winter Soldier" has been called more of a genuine espionage story than the first Captain America film.
Admittedly the film played more like an actual Captain America adventure. In brief: the story involved Our Hero working for SHIELD. So far so good, but he soon begins to suspect that All Is Not Quite Right in everyone's favorite comic-book spy organization, and before long he finds himself at odds with those he worked alongside, as well as facing a ghost from his past.
(Gasp! Illegal goings-on at an American-based covert intelligence organization. Who'da thunk?)
And yes, several people (including Young Son) have wondered how an organization like SHIELD could realistically go so far south as to allow itself to be so heavily infiltrated by bad guys. Admittedly that bothered me as well until I thought back and recalled how SHIELD has never quite been depicted as being on the up and up. Forget Hydra, forget AIM . . . the biggest enemy SHIELD has faced for years has been the writers at Marvel Comics. Take Uncle Mikey's word for it: feel free to disavow SHIELD after Jim Steranko's run with the concept. You'll sleep a whole lot easier.
I guess we should consider ourselves fortunate that "Winter Soldier" did so well (and is still doing great guns at the box office as of this writing). Whereas it's true that directors Anthony and Joe Russo (uh oh . . . two people directing) copped an Emmy for their work on the "Arrested Development" television series, their film output hasn't exactly been the stuff for warm letters home. Then again, "You, Me and Dupree" wasn't all that horrible, and it could be argued that "Welcome to Collinwood" could've benefited from a wider distribution.
"Winter Soldier" apparently lays all criticisms to rest. So much so that the Russos have been tapped to bring us the next Captain America film in 2016 (which, along with being the 50th anniversary of "Star Trek", promises to be a banner year for movies based on Marvel Comics).
Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely add another jewel to their crown with their writing job on this film (especially in having to work with what I felt was an overrated source story). After "Thor: The Dark World" and the first Captain America film it makes some people (including This Writer) consider that maybe the lackluster performance of the Disney "Narnia" adaptations were due more to the studio than the writing.
It certainly didn't hurt "Winter Soldier" any that the cast knows what is expected of it. Chris Evans not only nicely fills out the Captain America uniform, he also gives Steve Rogers the sort of wounded apple-pie attitude that has identified the character for so long. Markus and McFeely took advantage of the situation with a few nicely sly touches. We learn, for instance, that Cap keeps a list with him of things he has to experience now that he's living in the 21st Century. And later on, the Black Widow throws out a reference to the 1983 film "WarGames" that she expected to go over Cap's head. Captain America's ongoing dissociation with contemporary times has been an element which, in the hands of an expert, can make for some good moments. With the help of Markus and McFeely, Chris Evans is working the vein rather nicely.
Off the top of my head I can't think of anyone I'd rather see playing the Black Widow than Scarlett Johansson. As with the better performances in these adaptations she's playing it straight (as well as occasionally playing straight man to Evans). And, whereas the obvious inclination is to have the character attempt to be a love interest for the Hero*, Johansson's Black Widow gets more appreciative mileage out of her gentle attempts at setting up Captain America with this or that comely female in the vicinity.
(*Considering that, in the Marvel Universe, the Black Widow has almost beaten Janet van Dyne/The Wasp in the Boyfriend Collection Sweepstakes** . . . no small feat that . . . Johansson's underplayed love life comes as something of a genuine relief.)
(**And no, I am not counting Sue Richards/The Invisible Woman's constant shuttling back and forth between her husband and Prince Namor. When all is said and done, Sue is faithful to . . . both men . . . so let's be fair.)
Speaking of underplayed: Anthony Mackie gets severe points for not going over the top in his portrayal of Sam Wilson/The Falcon (ahem! Samuel Jackson this is your Conscience calling). Starting out with a mildly humorous bit involving him and Steve Rogers jogging through Washington D.C., Mackie puts an impressive amount of believability as the sympathetic Veterans Administration counselor who, at the drop of a hat, soars into action as the Falcon (his role becomes one of the few reasons we should be grateful for modern special effects technology. As Sam Wilson, Mackie is great. As the Falcon, Mackie is fantastic and I'd easily tap him for a solo film.
And, of course, there's Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce: the SHIELD official who's Not Quite Pure. With so much temptation out there to ham things up it's a sheer joy to see someone of Redford's calibre rein it in and turn in such a low-keyed straight performance that I initially didn't pick up that it was Redford. Compared to the way he acted in "Winter Soldier", his role in "Sneakers" was a babbling fool.
(Okay, I'm leading with my chin here. Be nice.)
"Winter Soldier" gives the audience enough action for the money, and nicely manages to squeeze in a story that justifies the shield slinging, acrobatics and punch throwing. It's turning into yet another success story for the Marvel movie team (and confirming 2011's "Green Lantern" as the definite low point in superhero films).