So, way back in the month known as March, you might recall I posted a list of my most anticipated films in 2014. Well, with two of those films coming out shortly, 22 Jump Street and How to Train Your Dragon 2, the time is coming to start addressing whether the movies on my list were actually worth putting on it. Now, you might be asking, “But hasn’t one of the films, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, already come out, and with no mention from you?” Well, I could say that that was intentional so that these posts wouldn’t be so spread out—in fact, yep, let’s just go with that as the reason, and not just that I hadn’t gotten around to it. Still, now that more of these films are getting ready to come out, it is time to address the Captain in the room. With that, I will now unveil The Anticipated, a new feature in which I discuss the films on my list after I have had a chance to see them. We’ll find out whether they warranted inclusion on the original list and any other thoughts I have about the movies themselves. Let’s get started.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
This version of the Anticipated will be a bit different than the rest will prove to be, because Captain America: The Winter Soldier cannot be discussed without also talking about how it impacts the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole and Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. specifically. But first things first:
How was it?
It’s a good movie; let’s just get that out of the way. With an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes and massive box office success, this seems pretty obvious, but it must be said. It’s not perfect by any means: the action sequences are rather shaky and hard to follow (especially at the beginning), the script is nothing special, some of the characters aren’t given enough to do, and it takes the Russo Brothers a bit of time to adapt to the scope of movie they are directing and really seem to be putting their stamp on things. (Not surprising, considering they had only directed various sitcom episodes before this.) At the same time, the acting for the most part is top notch. Chris Evans is once again great as Steve Rogers/Captain America and he really helps hold everything together. Scarlett Johansson really makes Natasha Romanoff /Black Widow sparkle, and the rapport between Evans and her is the best part of the movie, especially when they spend many scenes casually discussing Cap’s love life even while on life-threatening missions. Meanwhile, Anthony Mackie is able to make what could have been a generic role as Sam Wilson/Falcon the heart of the movie. Robert Redford, while not always necessary, does a good job with what he is given. I wish they had given more for Emily VanCamp as Agent 13 to do, but to be fair, she seems to be there so she can have a more prominent role in the third movie. Also, honestly, until the last thirty minutes it really could have been called Captain America 2 with a Cameo by Winter Soldier. But overall, it’s a fun movie that knows what it is.
What about Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?
So Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. came about with much fanfare, with a powerhouse creative team and Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson joining in. Then it aired, and, well, it was terrible. Boring characters, boring storylines. It was basically just NCIS with Shield Agents (which is really an insult to NCIS). More importantly, the show seemed aimless and repetitive. Things began to turn around somewhat at the end of the first half of the season, but overall the show seemed stuck. As the release of Winter Solider grew near, however, things began to rev up, and it seemed as if Agents was finally leading to something. Then Winter Solider came out, and blew up SHIELD, and suddenly everything changed. Boring and not likable Agent Grant Ward turned out to be working for Hydra, his entire boring straight man act a deep, deep cover. Suddenly, Agents had a purpose, with Agent Coulson and his team trying to be SHIELD Agents in a world that no longer had SHIELD. This didn’t magically fix all of the show’s problems, but now at least it seemed possible that this could be a good show, and proved that every thing had been far more thought out than anyone could have imagined. (One strong example: pilot episode wannabe superhero Mike Peterson becoming Deathlok.) Now, the fact that Agents is so beholden to the whims of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is a bit troubling. It is not like the show can just rely on a big movie to constantly change up its status quo. But for now, Agents seems to once again be brimming with potential, and I am excited to see what is to come.
What does Captain American: The Winter Soldier mean for Marvel in the long-term?
Well, for one thing, Marvel’s plan now seems far more ambitious than before, as it is clearly looking to expand its world on both the small and big screen. Upcoming projects with Netflix (Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, and The Defenders) further confirms that a fascinating master plan is beginning to unveil itself. More importantly, the movie suggests that Marvel is learning and looking to make each of its projects more and more distinctive instead of the same cookie cutter superhero movie that it used to look like they were heading towards. This is a very positive sign moving forward, and bears further analysis as future movies are released. This film also illustrates that Marvel is committed to treating the MCU as a true shared work. Captain America: The Winter Soldier made no real effort to explain what has happened in past movies, and simply expected its audience to get what is going on. Thus, the MCU is coming closer and closer to the comics it is based on. This is very cool, but also very troubling. One wonders if eventually things will begin to fall apart in the same way much of modern Marvel comics have, each issue buried under too much history for any reasonable reader to understand it. Another thing worth noting is how the Winter Solider is used in this movie. As I alluded to earlier, his involvement is really less than one would expect. Whether that is to set up a bigger role in the third movie, or even a different movie (like the rumored Black Widow solo project) remains to be seen. There is also the potential that Marvel is building a back-up plan in case Chris Evans actually follows through on his stated plan to retire when his contract is up. Just like in the comics, Bucky Barnes might take over as Captain America for a time. All of this is and will be fascinating to see.
Did it warrant its selection on The Anticipated?
Sort of. I said that this movie would form the basis of my judging of Marvel’s intentions from this point on. Is Marvel interested in making serious movies? The answer is yes and no.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier had an edge to it that has certainly been missing from past Marvel movies, and it definitely begins to feel like it has its own distinctive style both with its directing and character work, but there was a problem I didn’t foresee—the writing. I was so distracted by wondering if this film would actually have a darker tone that I neglected to think about the script stage (kind of silly, seeing as I am a writer myself). See, as different as this movie felt tonally, its script felt so generic and really very similar to every other Marvel movie. Marvel simply has to start writing better and more nuanced scripts if it wants its universe to take the next step up. Much of Winter Soldier is handicapped by a poor screenplay that seems to have come off a Marvel assembly line. To its credit, Marvel does seem to learn from its mistakes, but the company also has a perception problem when it comes to whether real artists will actually work with them. (Edgar Wright’s departure from Ant-Man after eight years of involvement is only the latest example.) In general, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a step in the right direction, but the company still has a lot of work to do in many ways. Then again, the movies keep making loads and loads of money, so it will be interesting to see if Marvel becomes content and cheap or continues striving to be better and take risks. (James Gunn directing Guardians of the Galaxy is a step in the right direction, so there is hope.)
Would I recommend it to others?
For a comic book fan, definitely. For a non-fan—probably, as it is a solid action movie in its own right.
How would I rate it?
On my custom-made anticipation meter it rates about 7 Cap Shields out of 10.
As for rating it as a movie, that is a little hard to peg down. It’s between a 3 and a 3 and ½ star movie (one could say 3 and ¼ stars if they wanted, but that pegs things down too much). So, very good, but not quite great.
That’s it for the first edition of The Anticipated. The next two will be, in some order, 22 Jump Street and How to Train Your Dragon 2, so look forward to that. Until then, continue enjoying the summer movie season in full swing.