Zack & Nick's Culture Cast

Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!

Tag Archives: Marvel Comics

ANCC: Doctor Strange

By the wondrous winds of watoomb!  In our epic 75th episode, Nick and the Gorehound are joined by Cousin Charles to discuss the 2016 film, Doctor Strange, starring Bennybutton Cumbersnitch! Check out the episode to see what they thought!

To listen to the episode, click here or on the image below.

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ANCC: Favorite Superheroes

After a week off due to technical difficulties, Nick and the Gorehound are back!  Since we are in the midst of a superhero summer at the movies, they decided to talk about some of their favorite superheroes!  Join the fun and have a listen on who they like!  It might just surprise you!

To listen to the episode, click here or on the image.

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Nick saw “Big Hero 6”

Big Hero 6 is the Walt Disney Animation Studios 2014 offering, following the mega-hit Frozen.  It is also loosely based on a Marvel Comic of the same name (I suppose owning the comic company now allows for such things).  Luckily, it is completely unconnected to the Marvel Cinematic Universe which allows it to do its own thing and not be bogged down by needless continuity.  Unfortunately, while the movie is entertaining, it comes up just short for it to be a future Disney classic.

bh6

I suppose part of the problem I had with the movie concerns my expectations of a Disney movie.  To be honest, I don’t know if I can articulate those expectations in any concrete manner.  I grew up in the era of the Disney Renaissance of the 90s.  My reflection of what a Disney movie is sort of comes from that and the studio’s earlier productions.  Big Hero 6, while having many hallmarks of a traditional Disney movie (colorful characters, dead family members, a clear sense of right/wrong), it is seems very atypical.

Now, don’t get me wrong, being atypical isn’t bad.  And, for Disney, after doing something like Frozen, it was probably a wise move to release something very different.  On that level, the film succeeds.  However, instead of taking this superhero property and doing something fun and new with it, Big Hero 6 keeps things incredibly conventional to its respective genre.  As is, there is really nothing new to be found here that you can’t find in a Marvel film.

In many respects, Big Hero 6 reminded me of 2012’s Wreck-It-Ralph in that it has a great idea, but comes off as underwhelming in the end.

But, I don’t want to dump on the film too much as there is still a lot to like about it.  For starters, the computer animation is absolutely amazing (even better than the recently release The Book of Life).  I guess that is to be expected as Disney rarely releases an inferior product on a technical level, but there were times when I was looking at establishing shots of the city or landscape and forgot that it wasn’t real.  It is that good.

The characters are pretty generic for a movie like this, but they keep you entertained as you go through.  Baymax, the quasi-balloon robot that has been marketed is really the breakaway character.  While the movie might be forgotten in a few years the way Wreck-it-Ralph and Meet the Robinsons have largely been, I suspect his image will be kept around, if for the sheer novelty of it.

Oh, and the villain’s design is pretty bad ass.  Anytime he appeared on screen and was looking all “villainy”, he is legitimately scary.  The promo pieces circling the internet do not do him justice.

My verdict here with Big Hero 6 is that kids will probably like this movie.  Adults will be entertained too.  But for its lasting appeal, there really isn’t much.  I’m glad I saw it, and I don’t feel I wasted my time seeing it, but I think the best I can say about Big Hero 6 is that “it was cute”.

~N

Kick-Ass 3 – Unsuspectingly Deep?

ka3

The Kick-Ass franchise and I go back a ways.  I first became aware of it in 2009 when I met author Mark Millar at a Wizard World comic convention.  He was peddling his book in addition to the movie adaptation then in production.  I was in awe of the little I learned, so I eagerly awaited for the collected edition of Kick-Ass to come out.  I loved it then, and it still holds up now.

Then Kick-Ass 2 was released in 2012 and it was an incredible let down.  I liked the general idea of it, but the execution was way too over-the-top and violence too extreme to be legitimately entertaining.  In a surprising move, the movie version pretty much fixed everything that was wrong with the comic and is actually a better product in my mind.

Finally, in 2013, Hit-Girl, an interquel, came out and regained what was so good about Kick-Ass in the first place.  For me, it redeemed the series.  As such, I was pumped and ready for this final chapter in which Millar promised some definite conclusions.

And that’s what happens.  Mostly.  Kick-Ass 3 picks up some time after the second installment.  Dave is out of high school and, despite his best efforts, is beginning to question his role as a superhero.  Mindy is locked-up in prison and sort of screwing with the minds of the guards and psychologists there.  Meanwhile, the final Genovese mob boss brother comes to New York to re-establish his family’s control over the criminal enterprises Dave and Mindy disrupted over the past three series.

There is a lot of good here and a lot of middling efforts as well.  Kick-Ass 2 is definitely better than its predecessor, but it falls short of the original series.  I think one of the problems is that the first half of the book is boring.  Nothing really happens.  You get some interesting character work (which I’ll discuss below), but there is a real lack of momentum.  Things just sort of happen with little impact, and characters (like Red Mist) pop up briefly before disappearing for issues on end.

I have no problems with a slow burn, but it really felt like Millar was spinning his wheels for a good while.  About midway through, the plot really starts to kick in, but during the second half of the book, things just speed along at an almost too brisk of a pace.

What also didn’t work for me is that Mindy/Hit-Girl was just too much to handle.  I know that I need to take her character with some suspension of disbelief, but what she is capable of doing throughout the story is completely illogical and eye-rollingly stupid.  The book just tried too hard to make her look cool when it didn’t need to.

But, as I hinted at earlier, what really works in Kick-Ass 3 is Dave’s character arc.  He’s older now and is at that stage in his life where he wants more out of life and isn’t sure the superhero thing is really it.  He begins to seriously see someone and begins to get something that resembles a normal lifestyle.  And he likes it.  There is a maturity at play that really, really works well.

As I was reading, I couldn’t help but wonder if Millar was trying to make some sort of statement with what Dave is going through as if Dave’s journey was a loose allegory for the comic book reader.  As a kid you like comic books for the goofy stories and fun pictures.  As one gets older, they get really into it and reach intense fanboy levels (as seen on any internet message boards on any given day).  But then, as you enter your twenties and you develop new interests and new perspectives on things, you sort of leave comics behind, or at least your intense love for them greatly diminishes.

And this is what really stood out for me with Kick-Ass 3.  I really could relate to this as I went through a similar thing in my younger days (though, I don’t think I was ever a fanboy – but that’s not up for me to determine).  I still like comics, of course.  But at the end of the day, who cares?

If this is what Millar was saying, then I really need to give him credit as it is a completely bold thing to run with in the sense that the most vocal of today’s comic readers are people who are older and should be beyond an intense irrational love for comics.

If that is really the legacy behind the Kick-Ass series, then it really paints everything in a different light.  And I love that idea.  I really, really do.  It makes it feel so much more personal with a deeper meaning.  Kick-Ass 3 ends the series with a, far-from perfect, but satisfying conclusion.

~N

The “New” Black Captain America

There was some minor news the other week about how Marvel Comics was going to replace the current Captain America, Steve Rogers, with his long-time crime-fighting partner Sam “The Falcon” Wilson (who was recently played by Anthony Mackie in this past summer’s The Winter Soldier). Since it was revealed on the popular The Colbert Report, other news media outlets have reported that Captain America was now going to be black. Overall, there has not been much controversy over this change, which I speculate comes mostly from the fact that the “new” Cap is an already established character, and that it seems to be a natural evolution of where this current storyline was heading. In other words, it makes sense.

Falcon new look as Captain America.

Falcon new look as Captain America.

But despite what the news outlets are saying, this is not the first time Captain America is black. Comic fans will automatically point to the 2003 mini-series, Truth: Red, White, and Black, in which readers learn of Isaiah Bradley, a black man who also functioned as Captain America during WW2. However, Bradley still wasn’t the first. Truth is there was another black Captain America published before that. And he was Sam “The Falcon” Wilson.

Bradley was not the first published black Cap.

Bradley was not the first published black Cap.

Wait…is Marvel retreading ground? Yeah, comic book companies do that a lot. Chances are the Marvel editors (and seemingly all comic media outlets) had forgotten about this relatively obscure story. But don’t worry loyal readers. I’m here to tell you all about it!

In the late 1990s, Marvel Comics launched a second Captain America comic subtitled Sentinel of Liberty. SOL was largely an anthology series that told a variety of Cap stories from his past (and, in one instance, his future). In issues 8 and 9, Cap and the Falcon are trying to calm increasing race tensions in Harlem (Falcon’s home turf). Things are not going well and making problems worse is a white supremacist group claiming that Cap supports their beliefs which the Harlem residences believe sight unseen. This group also has an African American working for them in order to further their agenda (for reasons left mostly unexplained). Things continue to escalate, and Cap is seemingly killed in action.

Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty - Issues 8 & 9

Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty #8 & #9 (1999)

These issues have a big ‘70s vibe with the racial tension (which the Cap comics of that era dealt with in some capacity with the Falcon character). They never address when it takes place (as comics are always in the perennial now), but they give hints of 70s décor (with a novelty Nixon prop in the background of a costume shop).

Anyway, turns out Cap was really captured by the bad guys (never explained how since it was very apparent that his body was turned into ashes – COMICS, Everybody!) and, under mind-control, starts to train their henchmen. But, we don’t learn that until the end of issue 9.

In the meantime, since the Falcon earlier commented on how Cap doesn’t see color (a phrase rightfully ridiculed in 2014, but completely fine in 1999) and that symbol of “Captain America” is for everyone, he dons a Cap costume and continues the fight in Harlem. It doesn’t go as well as Falcon-Cap doesn’t have the fighting prowess as the original Cap and, even worse, is attacked by his fellow African Americans (they, apparently, don’t see color either).

"Deal with it."

“Deal with it.”

Eventually, Falcon-Cap finds his way into the lair of the white supremacist group and discovers their ultimate plan: to create an airborne virus that only attacks people of color. In other words, if someone is black, they’re toast. If you are white, you are fine.

Yep. You read that right. The story doesn’t go into what happens to Asians or Hispanics. Presumably they are targeted too (white supremacy after all). This is a plot development that is so incredibly goofy that it can only work in any “serious” nature in comics.

In the end, the virus is a dud as it too doesn’t see color and kills anyone who inhales it. So much for white privilege. Falcon-Cap ends up saving the day and the original Captain America. Falcon then goes back to being Falcon and Steve Rogers resumes his role as Captain America. All is well in the world.

From Captain America #333.

From Captain America #333 (1987)

Under the pen of Mark Waid, I am not sure how serious this tale was meant to really be. On one hand, you have some good stuff with race relations (with some light black-exploitation for good measure), but the story is trying to emulate the ‘70s without it being the ‘70s. I’m not sure it works in that regard. For a straight up adventure, it works just fine.

But, really, none of that matters. What does matter is that Captain America was black long before now. And Sam “The Falcon” Wilson was that black Cap. His new gig as Cap really isn’t all that new.

I wonder if they’ll even reference this adventure.

~N

Franchise Fracas! – X-Men (Part One)

The X-Men series is a very complicated one. Since 2000, there have been seven films connected to it, making it one of the longest-running superhero franchises out there currently. Unlike other properties (like, say, Spider-Man) X-Men have yet to be completely rebooted – shocking in this day and age. But that said, the series is far from perfect and have had a lot of black marks against it, including some retro-active “reviews” from online commentators.

This poster is soooo late-90's.

This poster is soooo late-90’s.

2000’s X-Men is a fairly simple film. There is nothing offensive about it, but there is also nothing overly memorable about it either. I remember watching this movie back during the holidays of that year (I missed it in theaters), and, while I enjoyed it, I felt it just came short. One of things that I took away was the fact that the movie didn’t kill off the main villain, Magneto (Ian McKellen). Given that the big superhero movies up to that point were the Batman films and each entry more or less killed off the villains, the idea that the main bad guy could return in a sequel was surprising to me (and given that it is Ian McKellen, we are all thankful for that).

The film went on to receive high critical praise and dominated the box office. This was a surprise by many considering that comic book movies were at an all-time low, the X-Men were a mostly unknown property (to general audiences), and the cast was comprised of largely unknowns or actors under the radar (which is really strange to think from a 2014 perspective). 20th Century Fox was happy, and a sequel was commissioned with director Bryan Singer returning. The result was 2003’s X2 (an obviously studio-forced title).

The second movie went through a couple of  official titles.

The second movie went through a couple of official titles.

X2 improved upon its predecessor with a larger and more complex storyline, deeper themes, and a bigger scale. On the other hand, the film sometimes gets a little too big for its britches, and it slightly comes off a bit pretentious – mostly in regards to how too-serious the characters act and not embracing some of the goofiness the movie inherently has. That said, it is a minor criticism, and I do feel that X2 is the arguably the strongest film in the series thus far. At the time, people felt that the movie was one of the best superhero films out there.

Which is very, very interesting. Within the last three or four years, the online opinion of the first two X-Men films have nearly reversed. They used to be loved by many. Now, they are considered some of the worst superhero movies ever made. This is utterly perplexing to me. Why such a turnaround? I have no problem with people revising their opinions, but the consensus seems to be that they were never good and that no one ever liked them – which is completely untrue. What happened? My theory is that that internet echo chamber is ridiculously comparing these films made nearly 15 years ago to modern standards. Does X-Men and X2 look cheap compared to things like Marvel’s The Avengers or Man of Steel. Of course they do! They had much, much smaller budgets and were a part of a genre that was not nearly as accepted as it is today. The success of those early X-Men movies allowed for the current wave of superhero films. I am not saying that gives Singer’s films a complete pass, but you really have to judge these things in relation to the time period they were released in.

The X-Men posters featured a lot of characters walking.

The X-Men posters featured a lot of characters walking.

After those two X-Men films, problems occurred. Singer departed the franchise to helm Superman Returns. Fox, not wanting to wait for him, turned to Matthew Vaughn. Vaughn did pretty much all of the pre-production work on a third installment before he bailed on the movie. Fox scrambled and hired internet-whipping-boy Brett Ratner to pick up the slack. The result was 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand.

I have a confession to make: I really like this movie. Oh, I know it isn’t perfect, and there is a noticeable drop in quality from the previous installments, but for me, it has just enough social commentary to give the film some weight with enough fun action and character bits to make it a really good popcorn movie. The internet hates this film. I mean hates it. I don’t think it really warrants it. They also hate Brett Ratner for it (well, it is one of many things they hate him for). I really don’t blame Ratner for

the outcome. If you look at everything involved, this really was Vaughn’s film. From my understanding, Ratner served as the midwife.

But, whatever one thinks of The Last Stand, it definitely signaled some bad times ahead.   Fox didn’t quite know where to go next with the X-Men. They got a trilogy out of it (which resolved many of the ongoing storyline threads), but they were not ready to reboot the property or focus on the “next generation” of characters. And why would they when they have the popular Hugh Jackman as fan-favorite Wolverine? So, with a huge stable full of characters, the next idea was to do spotlight films on specific characters. Under the banner of X-Men Origins, Fox entertained the idea of doing films about Wolverine, Magneto, Deadpool, Gambit, and Emma Frost (note: up to this point, the first two were the only characters so far featured in a X-Men film).

Most of these characters are barely in the movie.

Most of these characters are barely in the movie.

Unfortunately for Fox, the only Origins film made was about Wolverine (which did feature Deadpool, Gambit, and Emma Frost). Also unfortunate for Fox was that the Wolverine movie was…not very good. Even though it was directed by Gavin Hood (hot off his 2005 Oscar win), critics and audiences savaged it and for good reason. The film had an overly complicated story, nonsensical character motivations, and surprisingly terrible effects for 2009 (seriously, how do you screw up Wolverine’s claws for his own movie when it was done so well for three previous films?!). The film seemed as if it was structured by set pieces than an actual story suggesting that this really wasn’t Hood’s movie and, instead, was made by a committee of studio execs.  You can read more here.

Not helping matters was that the film was leaked to the internet weeks before its release date. To its credit, X-Men Origins: Wolverine did feature some really fun performances from Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber. But, it wasn’t enough to save it. I think the Culture Cast’s very own Zack is the film’s only fan.

The X-Men series was in the midst of some dark times, but as history has shown, the mutants were far from over. Since this Franchise Fracas entry proved to be too long for its own good, tomorrow, we will pick up with the rest of the X-Men franchise.

Trek Tuesday: Planet X

planetx

The final part of the Star Trek/X-Men crossover wasn’t a comic.  Instead, it was a novel titled Planet X.  Picking up from “Second Contact”, the X-Men find themselves in the 24th Century and working again with Captain Picard and his crew.  This novel was written by Michael Jan Friedman, a veteran Star Trek and comic book scribe, so you would think he would create a product that perfectly fuses the two properties together.  Unfortunately, the story is not that good.  It’s really kind of terrible.

The biggest problem is that the story was either sloppily written or sloppily edited with spelling errors and character names switching around.  Planet X came out an approximately a month after the second cross-over comic.  I almost wonder if this novel was a rush job to get it out there when the comic was relevant.  That really is the only explanation for an author like Friedman to release something so amateurish.

But, if that was the only problem, then we’d be okay.  The bigger issue is that the story is just dull.  Nothing really happens of any consequence.  In it, a planet within the Federation discovers that some of its people are developing alarming powers.  The USS Enterprise is sent in to investigate.  Along the way, they happen to encounter the X-Men who have mysteriously found themselves in the 24th Century.  Teaming together, they attempt to find out what is happening on this world.

At its core, this sounds like a good idea, but the execution is just boring.  The first half of the novel has the Enterprise crew and the X-Men just sitting around and talking and/or humorously getting on each other’s nerves.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s just not interesting.  While that is going on, we see the lives of the aliens who are transforming on the remote planet.  There seems to be leaders arising from this group not unlike Professor X and Magneto.  But, this is all dropped the minute the Enterprise arrives.  There is really no pay off to what was happening here.

Once the Enterprise and the X-Men get to the planet, a whole other story occurs.  Apparently some other aliens are at the planet and are trying to round up the transformed.  Why?  Well, the book doesn’t really give much of a reason.  While the story does feature some good action and neat uses of the X-Men’s powers, the latter half is nothing but punching and fighting.  There is little substance.

Again, none of that is bad, but it made for a very uninteresting read.  That’s a shame, really.  You have this, admittingly silly crossover, but nothing is really done with it to justify its existence (beyond money).  I really wish I could have liked this more, but as it is, Planet X is a lackluster, dull novel.  Read it only if you really want to see the two teams meet again.

~N

Trek Tuesday: Star Trek: The Next Generation/X-Men

After the success of the first Star Trek/X-Men crossover, Marvel Comics wanted to replicate that (especially since sales were slowing with the Star Trek line).  Only this time, they took it to the next logical step: a Next Generation crossover with a new team of X-Men.  The only returning characters from the first one were Wolverine and Storm, thus providing a link between the two narratives.

"Second Contact"

“Second Contact”

Following directly on from the events of Star Trek: First Contact, the crew of the Enterprise-E are trying to return home, but are thrown into the Marvel Universe where they come across the X-Men while trying to nab technology that will help them return to their future.  Soon, these two groups need to team up against Kang the Conqueror who is trying to take advantage of the Enterprise’s presence in the Marvel Universe from reshaping the timeline.

The story here didn’t really connect with me the way the previous crossover did.  There is nothing overly wrong with it as it does a fine job crossing over the two properties (particularly when we see mash-ups of two popular storylines respective of each franchise).  I just felt as if they are trying a bit too hard to make everything work to the point that they are throwing everything into it.  Was there really a need for Wesley or Sisko to show up?  I’m not sure that there is.

Plus, the story is a little convoluted at times.  The details of Kang’s plan are a bit muddled making it a bit hard to follow at some parts during a first-read through.  Normally, I liked Dan Abnett and Ian Edginton’s work on other then-recent Star Trek comics, but this just didn’t quite click the way it could have.

From what I understand, apparently, there was a bit of a rush job to get comic done.  It somewhat shows in the writing as the script really could have used another polish.  That said, the art by Cary Nord is exceptionally good given the short lead time Marvel gave.  He did a really great job capturing the likeness of the Star Trek cast.

A totally missed opportunity was for Captain Picard to meet Professor X.  Given that in a few short years, Patrick Stewart would step into that character on the big screen, it would have made a great meta-reference.  It is likely that Stewart wasn’t quite cast yet, so Abnett and Edginton didn’t even think to do such a thing.

While I didn’t like “Second Contact” as much as I did “Star TreX”, this is still a fairly enjoyable romp.  If Marvel wasn’t in such of a rush to get this book out, it could have been as good, if not better, than the first installment.  At least we got some Borg Sentinels.  That’s kind of cool.

~N

Trek Tuesday: Star Trek/X-Men

In the mid-1990s, Marvel Comics got the license to produce Star Trek comics.  The inaugural project of this venture was a crossover between the original series and the X-Men.  Two more crossovers followed.  With the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past coming out, I thought it would be fun to look at each of these Star Trek/X-Men adventures.

"Star TreX"

“Star TreX”

The first, written by then X-Men scribe Scott Lobdell, featured the X-Men (mostly comprised of the group as seen on the then-popular cartoon) sneaking onboard the USS Enterprise under the command of Captain Kirk.  Apparently, they crossed over into the Star Trek universe while trying to track down an enemy, Proteus.  Turns out that Proteus merged his consciousness with Gary Mitchell (from “Where No Man Has Gone Before”).  Together they plan to rule the galaxy with the help of the Shi’ar Empire (who also crossed over with the X-Men).  Now, the crew of the Enterprise and the X-Men must team up to defeat this threat.

This special gets a lot of grief today – much of which is uncalled for.  Yes, it’s silly and kind of dumb, but it never takes itself all that seriously.  That’s where the charm is.  The story is simple, but works rather well and it integrates the two worlds of Star Trek and the X-Men together well enough.  It is more about seeing these two groups of people interact than anything else.  Lobdell didn’t over-reach with his story, and the comic is better for it.  I remember reading this when I was a kid and loving every minute of it.

You could tell that the book was considered a big thing when it was released given the number of artists asked to contribute to the project, several pin-ups/promotional pieces, and the lack of outside ads.  In fact, the only advertising featured were previews of the upcoming Star Trek comics Marvel was making.

Oh, c'mon.  That's funny!

Oh, c’mon! That’s funny!

It is perplexing how online reviews sort of bash this crossover when we get as silly (and over-long) Star Trek comic crossovers today (Dr. Who; Legion of Superheroes) and fans gush over it.  I don’t know.  Maybe it is symptom of the Marvel-bashing (popular in the 1990s) or just 1990s comics basing in general.  I guess it doesn’t make much of a difference today.  I liked it, and it is good for what it is.

If you are a Star Trek and X-Men fan, this should be required reading.  It is a curious comic with some really cool and some so-dumb-its-awesome moments (Gladiator literally punches the Enterprise).  In the end, it’s fun – and that’s what a thing like this should be.

~N

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

NOTE: This Review Is Spoiler-Free!

Those who follow this blog probably know that I was not the biggest fan of Captain America: The First Avenger. I am a life-long Cap fan, and that film had all the right elements of what should have made a great Cap movie – but it didn’t quite come together for me. I was disappointed by that, but I felt that everything that misfired in that film could be corrected in a follow-up. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, just released, seem to have a lot going for it. Even though it shares the same screenwriters as the previous installment, this sequel has an exciting directing duo due to them being an outside-the-box choice, the amazing casting of Robert Redford in an important, supporting role, and a narrative based on a popular story in Captain America lore. All that was enough to get me on board!

cap2

With all that, I found Captain America: The Winter Soldier to arguably be the strongest outing thus far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now, that said – the movie is far from perfect. There is a lot of good in this, but there are also some really questionable filmmaking decisions The Winter Solider took. Let’s just go into this movie, shall we?

In The Winter Soldier, Captain America (a returning Chris Evans) discovers a conspiracy within government agency SHIELD, and, when investigating it, he becomes hunted by the very same organization. With very few allies, including newcomer Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Cap is determined to stop this shadow group before they can launch their diabolical plan. And, unlike some of the other Marvel movies, stuff actually happens with lasting consequences.

Clearly, this is a very different type of movie than The First Avenger was. It is much more of spy story in the vein of those 1970s thrillers (which was, in part, the reason behind Redford’s casting) – but not nearly as much as other news outlets are making out to seem. There is still plenty of comic book goofiness in the movie (which works both for and against it). I really enjoyed the execution of the film, but I do feel that, at times, the narrative became a bit too complicated for its own good.

I feel that some of the movie could have been streamlined a bit, but I am not exactly sure where. Perhaps the film is just too fresh in my mind at the moment, and I need a few more days to fully process it. Because so much goes on during the course of the movie, the pacing really suffered for it at times. I realize that there were a lot of characters to service, but The Winter Solider sort of falters in that area a bit.

The prime example is the titular Winter Solider. For a movie titled The Winter Soldier, I was expecting a bit more of him to actually be in the movie. For most of the film, he works as mostly as a heavy – a thug to be overcome. It isn’t until two-thirds of the film before we get any backstory on the guy, but it is way too late in the movie for me to really care about it. The Winter Solider and his connection to Cap formulate the emotional resonance of the film, but, again, this doesn’t happen until the final act at which point it feels a bit shoehorned in. I suppose these themes can be picked up in a future installment, but as they are here, it doesn’t quite work.

On the other hand, you have Anthony Mackie as the Falcon who is great! He was probably my favorite part of the movie. I also have to give credit to Frank Grillo as a villainous SHIELD agent. Both of these actors really throw themselves into their role, and Grillo in particular is clearly having the time of his life. I hope they find a way to bring him back in a future installment.

The direction by Anthony and Joe Russo was interesting. Known mostly for comedies (You, Me, and Dupree) and TV shows (Arrested Development), this is really their first foray into action spectacle. I am always fascinated when directors change gears like this. Sometimes it is a disaster (such as Marc Forster in Quantum of Solace), but I think the Russos mostly succeed. Their action scenes are crisp, and you can see everything that is happening on screen clearly. Some of their shots, however, were a bit to television-like, but they are new at this genre and will likely improve their technique the more they do this sort of thing.

I have to give a thumbs up to Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It isn’t a perfect film, but it is definitely one of the stronger Marvel movies to be released (and possibly one of the best superhero films of the last five-to-ten years). While it is still nothing more that disposable entertainment (which is not a bad thing), there is a certain weight to the movie that you don’t really get with a lot of superhero flicks. That’s what really makes this movie a cut above the rest.

~N

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