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“I’m here to pick up a fossil” – on unchanging ideals in “Captain America 2”

Captain-america-2-poster-us-fullWarning, spoilers are present below!

Several years ago, I reviewed the first Captain America movie, criticizing it for being too safe and glorifying war.  In “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” there is some degree of realism – mentions of PTSD, groups at the VA, doubting the morality of covert missions.  However, it’s very little of the movie, and what doubt exists is mostly for naught – Steve Rogers is still a straight arrow, boring and flat.  Even Romanoff, who supposedly has more flexible principles, was quite simple.  Also, I liked her better with dark, curly hair.   There was a great opportunity here – dropping a hero from days past into the modern world and watching him struggle to align his way of thinking with that of his new surroundings.  There’s a couple good moments where Fury describes how things must be realistic; unfortunately, Captain America barely changes, and instead just gets his way when he (of course) ends up being right about everything.

In terms of style, I thought some of the fight scenes were really too ridiculous.  It’s fine to have heroes bounce their shields off walls with billiards-like movements in a cartoon, but to see the same effect so poorly-rendered in a movie is pitiful.  Plenty of other superhero movies have portrayed high-powered fights with believable physics, so why couldn’t they here? I also thought the dialogue was for the most part bland, with the occasional cute quip thrown in.  Furthermore, there were devices thrown in just for the sake of advancing/delaying the plot – why does the Winter Soldier wear a mask?  So we don’t know who he is until it gets taken off.  I can’t stand storytelling that resorts to this kind of weak mechanism.  There are too many predictable cards – the sidekick who joins up (despite previously mentioning how happy he was to get out of fighting), the nemesis who turns out to be a former best friend, etc.  I had heard great things about Captain America 2, and had high hopes for it despite disliking the original.  After seeing it, I can’t fathom how it managed to score so high on Rotten Tomatoes (89/95%).

I do have to applaud Marvel for building up quite an expansive cinematic universe.  I actually enjoyed the television series, “Agents of SHIELD,”  which follows a team of less famous actors that constantly refers to movie characters like Thor or Captain America.  However, as I discussed in “The Avengers,” there’s a danger in involving too many heroes – someone will have to take the back seat, and things will eventually spiral into complicated mush.  In terms of Marvel’s main movies thus far, I thought the first “Iron Man” had some original ideas, but that since then, their movies have devolved into disappointing money-making pieces that are continuously churned out as if through an assembly line.  Sorry, Marvel, I think I’m going to have to stick with DC from now on.

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“You lack conviction.” – On Marvel’s The Avengers

I was excited about this movie when I saw its preview at the end of Captain America last year, and again had my interest piqued in a Time article from this week, praising Whedon for making an enjoyable movie.  Though this movie is proof of Joss Whedon’s juggling abilities, it is inherently limited by its own premise. No matter the amount of care gone into sculpting a film like this, each individual character will lack development.  Sometimes writers choose to develop leaders more (X-Men: First Class), though here, no one seemed to care too much about Nick Fury.

How can a movie like this be anything more than a mess?  Half the time, we are meeting new members of the team and explaining their subsequent backstories, struggling to make them all fit together with some semblance of coherence.  As a result, any overarching story is lost.  The climax was far too reminiscent of last summer’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon – a portal in the sky opening to another part of the galaxy and letting in aliens who want to enslave humanity over a skyscraper background?  Sound familiar?

Orson Scott Card once wrote how each character added a whole new layer of complexity to the number of relationships that need to be developed – between A and B, there is one relationship: A with B; between A, B, and C, there are four relationships: A with B, A with C, B with C, and all three together; and so on, and so on.  Think it’s hard with four people?  Try ten on for size.  When they all stopped fighting and actually talked to each other, I thought some good character dynamics came out.  It was reminiscent of a Final Fantasy game – flying in the sky on some sort of ship, visiting different characters in the cockpit or laboratory, getting to know everyone…  While I can’t stand Tony Stark/Iron Man, I dislike Steve Rogers/Captain America even more.  There was some nice vicarious catharsis each time the two went at each other.

In terms of acting, casting Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/The Black Widow felt like a poor choice.  I found her scenes to be unconvincing and flimsy, even grimace-inducing.  I thought Cobie Smulders (Robin from How I Met Your Mother) as Maria Hill, Fury’s assistant, would have made a much stronger main character to develop and focus on.  By the way, did anyone else totally think she was Jennifer Connelly?  Mark Ruffalo also did an excellent job as Dr. Banner/The Hulk; he was probably the best of the set.  Jeremy Renner, who I will always love for The Hurt Locker, was splendid though plain as Hawkeye.

Joe tipped me off to the not one, but two secret codas during and after the credits.  Most of the audience left after the cliffhanger afternote set the stage for a sequel, (nowadays, everyone expects one secret preview at the end of a movie), but we stayed until the credits were all finished.  Apparently, Robert Downey Jr. needs five hairstylists or so.  The second secret scene was actually adorable, living up to the cuteness of the movie as a whole.  All the characters have a continuous stream of one-liners and running gags, all to be expected from a Whedon production, with self-deprecating humor that is surprisingly charming.

Overall, I have to give this a 3.5/5 – it has good tension and dynamics, but the characters take up too much space and edge out any meaningful storytelling.  It’s a nice kick-off to the blockbuster season, but not anywhere close to earning its current 93%-96%-8/10 rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

By the way, I talked to Orion, who is currently giving this movie a 4.5+.  Maybe it’s because he’s read/watched all these heroes in action before.  I’m not sure how people who have no history of comic books will feel about this film, since we are, after all, in the Marvel Universe, which seems to me like a very sentimental storage attic the size of a football field.

And one last endnote – we saw the previews for the Expendables 2, and I have to say, it’s ridiculous. Stallone, Statham, Jet Li, Chuck Nooris, Liam Hemsworth, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger…they seem to have given up on any semblance of serious storytelling.