Cinema Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain-America-The-Winter-Soldier-Chris-Evans-Samuel-L-Jackson

DIR: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo • WRI: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely • PRO: Kevin Feige • DOP: Trent Opaloch • ED: Jeffrey Ford • MUS: Henry Jackman • DES: Peter Wenham • CAST: Robert Redford, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson

Steve Rogers – super soldier, war hero and man-out-of-time – is back in the world after a stint as a patriotic popsicle beneath Arctic ice. Captain America’s second solo outing since the so-so WWII epic that was 2011’s The First Avenger, The Winter Soldier sees Cap trading in his wartime crusade against Nazi pseudo-science outfit HYDRA for more cloak-and-dagger espionage under SHIELD. When the intelligence agency closes ranks after a masked super-soldier threatens even their highest levels, Rogers is forced into the fray against an unknown enemy who will ultimately lead him to question everything – particularly his place in a world that has more use for him as a weapon than a symbol.

It’s not exactly a new premise, seeing the quintessential poster boy for the Good Ol’ Days thrown into the morally ambiguous snarl of sleeper agents and sexy sexy spy tactics, but why should it be? The Avengers proved that our summer superhero flicks, smartly-scripted with a dash of character, can follow the commercial course without devolving into a by-the-numbers blockbuster, and The Winter Soldier certainly aims to carry that particular torch.

On the whole, what follows the much-lauded ten minute-preview released online proves stronger than even the ethereal and undefined “buzz” might suggest, the first hour or so delivering a story that is by turns entertaining and, dare I say, engrossing.

Dipping a booted toe into some genres and gleefully cannonballing into others, Cap 2 is a surprisingly subtle blend of nostalgic espionage and pulse-pounding action, all wrapped up under the stars and stripes of a superhero film. The fight sequences oscillate between balletic and genuinely bone-shuddering, rarely feeling overwrought thanks in no small part to a script that is well-paced and self-aware without bordering on trite.

Characterization is key to taking us through the hammier blockbuster aspects – every instance of Cap’s shield caroming off of another henchman’s head without somehow reducing it to patriotically-branded pulp is balanced by a quieter moment, such as Rogers sitting by the bedside of his now-aged love interest from the first film, or lingering in the doorway of a veteran rehabilitation meeting.

Johannson is again on form as the mercurial Black Widow, a glib foil to Evan’s po-faced Captain. Indeed, the leading man himself gets a chance to stretch actorly muscles typically left uncurled in films such as this, and it’s a genuine treat to watch him bring a quiet charisma to the ultimate blank slate that is Steve Rogers, a man with no life outside of his uniform.

However, just as those tracking shots ease their way down Black Widow’s catsuit as she strikes a pose after some particularly intense leg-grappling, I’m sure you sense a “but” on the way.

Thematically, the film follows the heightened stakes of Whedon’s alien attack on New York by attempting to ground Cap in some approximation of the real, the plot making vague gestures towards institutional paranoia and our hero’s waning faith in the powers-that-be. The hot-button topic of a secure state and the taxes it levies on personal freedom certainly forms the crux of the latter half of the film, but by this point a moment late in the second act has cast a new light upon events that ultimately dilutes all that went before and everything to follow.

In the interest of remaining as brief and spoiler-free as possible, suffice it to say that the core conflict of this film is the tension between a straight-laced soldier without a cause and the shady masters only to happy to provide him with one, so long as no questions are asked. In the grand tradition of the espionage thrillers it tips its hat to, The Winter Soldier is strongest as a tale about not knowing who the enemy is, of fighting in a brave new world of moral ambiguity where the word “evil” doesn’t hold the same currency it used to. The very last thing we needed was a flickering black-and-white montage narrated with a smug German (sorry, Swiss) accent whose sole purpose was to solidify this murky morality into solid black and white in time for our final battle, and yet that’s exactly what we got.

This descent at the end of the second act ultimately hamstrings the third, plonking us firmly back into a narrative of hero vs. villain and rendering all of the tropes that earlier seemed playful into reductive parodies of themselves. From here the plot aims for home along the path of least resistance – which, conveniently, intersects with that of most exploding aircraft, least concern for collateral human fatality and spends a great deal of time detouring around Scarlett Johansson’s hips.

Ultimately, the chink in The Winter Soldier’s armour is the same that plagued Snyder’s Man of Steel. Heart, humour, fantastic visual action and a solid villain – the bones of an excellent film were there and could likely still be excavated from an overwrought third act. Unlike MoS, Captain America: The Winter Soldier still makes it out near-intact as two-thirds of an excellent film, and certainly sets up some daring knock-on effects for the rest of Marvel’s ominously-titled “Phase 2”. However, while certainly the beefed-up super-soldier to its weak-chinned predecessor, The Winter Soldier ultimately pulls its punches and I can’t help but wonder at the Cap that could have been.

 

Ruairí Moore

12A (See IFCO for details)
135 mins

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is released on 26th March 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier– Official Website

 

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Cinema Review: What’s Your Number

The ol' shock at waking-up-under-a-table syndrome

 

DIR: Mark Mylod • WRI: Gabrielle Allan, Jennifer Crittenden, Karyn Bosnak • PRO: Kathy Busby, Gitty Daneshvari, Beau Flynn, Daryl Freimark, Jordana Glick-Franzheim, Tripp Vinson• DOP: J. Michael Muro • ED: Julie Monroe • DES: Jon Billington • CAST: Anna Faris, Chris Evans, Ari Graynor

What’s Your Number is a thought-provoking dramedy, which pokes gentle fun at modern-day dating rituals and gender roles, with its distinctive, dry and offbeat wit. Not! It’s actually a bog-standard Hollywood Romantic Comedy starring Scary Movie’s Anna Faris and one quarter of the Fantastic Four (not to be confused with former Channel 4 presenter), Chris Evans.

Boston local, Ally Darling (Faris) finds herself unemployed, single and desperate, as her younger sister’s wedding fast approaches. After reading in a magazine that women can’t find a husband after they’ve slept with over 20 men – which is conveniently enough her own ‘magic number’ – she decides to scour her exes for a potential Mr. Right. She enlists the help of her devilishly handsome neighbour, Colin (Evans), and together the good-looking pair begin the search for everyone Ally’s ever hooked up with.

For the fans of TV sitcoms there are some great comedic performances and familiar faces dappled among the exes; some of the highlights include Community’s Joel McHale, The Office star Chris Pratt, and even Andy Samberg got off his Lonely Planet boat for a quick cameo.

Surprisingly Chris Evans manages to bring some genuine warmth to a barely-likeable character; meanwhile Anna Faris stays in zany mode throughout the whole film. This admittedly at times can be amusing, but is mostly just grating, much like a cute but highly-strung poodle that keeps pooping all over a new carpet. Also, judging from her acting in the toast scene, Anna has apparently never seen an actual real-life drunk person.

The overall premise although chauvinistic, is executed fairly well considering its ridiculousness. The tone of the film is all over the place; hopping from sentimental to just plain mental at the drop of a hat; but somehow still manages to tick all the boxes – it’s entertaining, humorous and goes to the odd surprising place now and again. While What’s Your Number will never be analysed in the Leaving Cert for subtext, it’s a bit of fun and does exactly what it says on the tin.

Gemma Creagh

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
What’s Your Number is released on 30th September 2011

What’s Your Number – Official Website

Trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9stplJF1ek

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Push

DIR: Paul McGuigan • WRI: David Bourla • PRO: Bruce Davey, Kyle Mann, David M. Richardson, Kerry Rock, Christa Vausbinder, William Vince, Glenn Williamson • DOP: Peter Sova • ED: Nicolas Trembasiewicz • DES: François Séguin • CAST: Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning, Camilla Belle, Djimon Hounsou

PushPush is about people with different kinds of telekinetic abilities: Chris Evans can move things with his mind, Dakota Fanning can draw the future, and both of them are trying to locate a mysterious case, a girl who has escaped from a US government agency, and, in particular, Djimon Hounsou. They’re also being pursued by a gang of Asians who also have psychic abilities, and may or may not be involved with the aforementioned government agency. There’s a touch of Heroes about it, but it’s more frenetic, and the powers are based around different forms of telekinesis, and therefore less wide-ranging. It opens with a sequence involving Chris Evans as a child, his father and some as yet unknown baddies. This sets up the suspense pretty well, and is then followed by a credit sequence featuring a voice-over from Dakota Fanning, explaining the whole psychic situation. Once that’s done the film moves fast as fast can be, which is a good thing, because it might not be too believable otherwise (insofar as a film about telekinesis can be believable).

There’s also a romantic subplot, which thankfully doesn’t get in the way, and is intrinsic to the main plot, although the love interest in question turns into more of a weapon than a love interest. Of course this could be good or bad, depending on your point of view.

There are some pretty cool sequences, like the big fight towards the end, and another where Chris Evans corners Djimon Hounsou, and gets beaten up. The effects are also quite good. Some of the powers are a bit crap though. Sniffers, for example, smell things and know what you’ve been up to for the last few months. Perhaps this is realism of sorts: not everyone can have a cool power. Actually, in general the powers aren’t too good. Watchers predict a future that keeps changing and therefore turn out to be wrong a lot of the time. The fact that their powers seem to be increased with an injection (the film’s MacGuffin) or alcohol (Dakota Fanning drunk!) is also something that can only be described as an interesting choice.

It’s set in Hong Kong, which looks and sounds pretty cool and distinctive in the film, and provides a novelty for a story that isn’t hugely original, but is enjoyable enough. The mechanics of the plot get a bit muddled, but by the time that happens, you’re either into the movie or you’re not.

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