“Captain America: the Winter Soldier” is on your left

Captain America is back post-Avengers in one of Marvel's best

Captain America is back post-Avengers in one of Marvel’s best

Marvel ushered in last summer with a stellar capstone to the “Iron Man” franchise. This year they do the same with the crux of the First Avenger’s franchise, “Captain America: the Winter Soldier.”

Being the third post-Avengers movie, and somewhat the last until 2015’s “The Avengers: Age of Ultron,” the sequel to 2011’s origin has much to connect and carry on from its precursors. And this is why the movie as a whole works so efficiently.

I won’t dive too much into the plot as the details are difficult to describe. But what the main premise is is that S.H.I.E.L.D. is compromised by some inside force. It’s up to the Cap (Chris Evans), the Widow (Scarlett Johansson), the Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and newcomer Sam “Falcon” Wilson (Anthony Mackie) to join to stop whatever and whoever is in the driver’s seat. A ghost-like assassin “The Winter Soldier” (Sebastian Stan) is a true match-up for the Captain who also shares similar histories with each other.

As you can tell by my difficulty from describing the intricacies of the plot, it’s not that simple. And that so happens to be my one and only complaint. As with other Marvel movies, they writers and characters are not afraid of talking over your heads. They trust the audience to keep up. But someone like me, who unpurposefully neglects detail, can and will get lost in it. Not that I didn’t follow the connections, I just didn’t understand fully how they connected. That’s more my fault than anyone else’s.

Much of that has to do with the content of the film which is political sabotage. It’s not really my forte. Yet, the subject matter is one with many characters’ allegiances, places and plot points. It’s easy to get lost in. But once the filmmakers make this decision to go this direction, you can’t glide over it. And that’s what writers Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely and Ed Brubaker do. The writing is sophisticated and tight and whippy. It’s definitely the thickest of all Marvel installments.

The Winter Soldier is draped in mystery.

Steve and Natasha are back in full force.

What I loved about “Captain America: the First Avenger” was the cinematography. It had this old picture filter on each frame that made me feel like I was hopping into a memory of a WWII vet. With “The Winter Soldier” it does quite the opposite. Captain America is now in the Marvel future and the look reflects it. The color palette has this shine to it which helps us escape from the gritty future we are so used to.

Along with the political intrigue comes the action. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo (who launched into this from directing some episodes of “Community” which is my favorite sitcom) show the action clear and deliberate. Every move of these super-human heroes is like watching an intense match of rock-paper-scissors. And each action scene means something. There are stakes and risk involved. They made me believe that anyone could have died at any time.

And on that same note: a lot of unknowns did die. If this hadn’t been a PG-13 Disney/Marvel family popcorn-munching event movie, there would have been a lot of blood and more violence. But since it’s only “implied” they can get away with it.

The Winter Soldier is draped in mystery.

The Winter Soldier is draped in mystery.

A second viewing is definitely required, especially for one like me. I think knowing the full picture will help me appreciate the writing even more. But overall “The Winter Soldier” doesn’t fall short of its hype.

Man, am I chomping at the bit for August’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Avengers 2” and even “Ant-Man.” Keeping bringing the quality Marvel and I’ll keeping showing up.

Rating: Very Good.

What did you think? Could you follow the plot details easily or did you really have to lean in to listen?

Next up: Transcendence. (or Grand Budapest Hotel if I can get to it.)



Marvel’s demigod sequel soars

Previously printed in the UVU Review.

Thor-The-Dark-World-Poster-003“Iron Man 3” opened up a huge summer of blockbusters with its action, humor and superhero aesthetics that can only be found in a Disney Marvel movie. Although Robert Downey Jr. set a high bar for the Avengers Phase 2, somehow Chris Hemsworth and the “Thor” crew took it as a challenge.

2011’s “Thor” served as a launching pad for the title character. It was a simple story of a strong-headed demi-god who is humbled by mortality and love. Even though it wasn’t the strongest movie pre-Avengers, it was essential to know his origins and what Thor (Chris Hemsworth) values and why.

“Thor: the Dark World” begins a couple of years after the events of “The Avengers.” Thor is busy watching over the nine realms with his hammer, Mjolnir, and his might. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is imprisoned in Asgard for his failed attempt to enslave and rule the people of Earth.

To gain revenge and the state before time, Dark Elves, lead by Malkith (Christopher Eccleston), attempt to find the “aether,” which was hidden by Odin’s (Anthony Hopkins) father a millennia ago. Luckily, the aether finds its way into Thor’s love interest Jane Foster’s (Natalie Portman) veins. Simultaneously, Foster acts as the boon and damsel in distress.

Yes, the plot sounds ridiculous, but the way it is told is never overbearing or confusing. It slowly guides you from plot point to plot point by the hand which any viewer can appreciate.

The visual effects are the most stunning in most of the Marvel films. In a fully realized Asgard, the action sequences reflect a blend of “Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars” prequels kinetic joy. Director Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones) handles fight scenes and fast paced aerial shots with care and cohesiveness.

There are many bait and switch moments which act as major plot devices, but you can’t really be upset about them because the movie makers tell you time after time to watch out for them. You can tell that the screenwriters (Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely) love and respect the source material and are having a blast with it.

No good superhero movie is without its humor, and “Dark World” is brimming with it. Some of the humor it is out of place and some doesn’t land right, but when it does it hits hard. You will walk out with countless “remember this part” moments with your friends to laugh about later. The humor doesn’t diminish the hard hitting drama when it delivers.

Where the movie truly shines is when Loki finally teams up with Thor. Hiddleston’s Loki brings charisma and tension to the screen to balance Thor’s stiffness with great ease. The two create remarkable sibling chemistry that only a guy with a brother can fully appreciate.

Marvel is only one of Disney’s powerhouses that turn out hit after hit, but it’s safe to say that they have overtaken Pixar as their safe moneymaker. In the last few years Pixar has lost its place as Disney’s favorite poster boy with their less than impressive “Brave,” and “Cars 2” movies.

In the last two summers, Marvel has released two huge hits that joined the billion dollar club: “The Avengers” and “Iron Man 3” and don’t seem to be letting up. As hard as it is to say: Marvel is the new Pixar.

Like most of the Avengers movies, “Dark World” furnishes the right mixture of CGI, compelling charaters, stakes, action, adventure, romance and geek fandom into a compressed package. If this is any indication of the Phase 2, then we have our expectations for April’s “Captain America: the Winter Soldier” sky high

Batman/Superman Mashup Spitball

Last week at San Diego Comic-Con, Warner Brothers/DC dropped a huge bombshell that made a semi-strong splash made by none other than infamous action director, Zack Snyder. There will be a Superman/Batman movie. The assembly hall and the webverse erupted with cheers and jeers.

Now, I’m not a comic book intellect like many of you, but I do know what I want to see and I am familiar with ways that could have hooked other people. Many other fan-made predictions are being made for the upcoming movie that just gets our imagination running with the possibilities. I don’t want to get too deep in that though.

superman vs. batmanMy thoughts on the DC vs. Marvel “rivalry” are a bit more passive than other fans’. I think DC already lost, but they won huge by changing the way we look at comic book movies for the next few decades with the game-changing The Dark Knight. Nolan brought realism, theme and intrigue to the once glossy world of superhero flicks. Marvel has their own branding with a glossy look (at least in its first stage, it looks like they’re moving into darker themes with the next Captain America and Thor). I think it’s silly of DC to compete with the Marvel formula because it probably won’t work. I truly don’t see how Wonder Woman or Aquaman will work on screen without giving it the Nolan realistic twist. Audiences have become smarter. Main point: DC needs to get their stuff together. 

A huge staple in the Marvel cinematic universe is teasing the next movie with an after credits sequence. Taking a page out of their playbook after Man of Steel wouldn’t have been be such a bad idea and I think they missed a huge opportunity to get the gossip running early and faster.

What they should have done (which would have caused a bigger splash than the Comic Con reveal) is to copy Marvel in such a way to provoke excitement in the fan-base. It would have escalated the movie to another level and pave the way for a DC expandable universe.

Specifically, this is what they should have done… according to me.

Man of Steel‘s major critique is the amount of unapologetic damage done by the hero. He made no effort to move it elsewhere to save the citizens of Metropolis. This irritated me too and I’m surprised the film makers didn’t do anything to address it.

Also, what angered a lot of audience members is when Superman snapped Zod’s neck when he threatened to kill a family. This didn’t bother me so much as the purists, but I still see their concern.

One after credits shot would have (maybe) dissipated the critiques. A small 15 second shot of the back of  Bruce Wayne watching a news report of the destruction of Metropolis. This would be the promise of consequence.

What made The Avengers so great is that it put the heroes at odds with each other. They rubbed each other the wrong way which made each question their role in this universe. Bruce Wayne has always been a non-killer, at least by his own hands. He believes in justice, but not at his own hand. Superman should believes these ideals as well, but makes the excuse that since he has the power he should be able to carry it out. He can make himself a judge, jury and executioner because he may be entitled to it. This isn’t giving Superman a huge ego, it’s just that he knows his place in the world.

Although it’s rumored that Nolan’s trilogy doesn’t exist with this new one, we can speculate that the new mashup happens after Batman fixes Gotham. With Batman’s origins out of the way, we can focus on him trying to save Metropolis before it becomes like Gotham, a city of ruin and crime.

Again, this is me just spitballing not having all the details ironed out, it’s just what I would have liked and like to see.

Iron Man 3 Review

Iron Man 3 falling“I am Iron Man. The suit and I are one.” Not the case in the capstone of the Iron Man trilogy. Tony Stark has always been left to his own devices, but those devices happened to be outstanding technology encased in an indestructible man-shaped casing. In Iron Man 3 his technology is practically stripped away from Stark to answer Capt. America’s question of, “Big man in a suit of armour. Take that off, what are you?” We are shown who the man behind the suit is, at least a glimpse at the beginning.

Iron Man 3 begins with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) suffering from panic attacks, insomnia, and lack of direction. The events of The Avengers has him in somewhat of a PTSD condition. He’s brought from a place of immortality to one of vulnerability, and he can’t shake it.  When the untraceable and intimidating Mandarin(Ben Kingsley) strikes Stark’s body guard Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau)  forces Stark into a position of responsibility to find and kill the villain.

Stop! Now, this is a movie. From here it would put Stark’s brain to the test since these Mandarin strikes cause a mystery that he would need to solve. But this isn’t what Iron Man 3 was truly interested in. Yes, there is some mystery, even though it isn’t too hard to figure out yourself, it becomes wrapped up into back stories and a larger plot than one presented. And I’ll leave it at that to avoid any spoilers. And the surprises are pretty good, if I do say so myself.

My one main “gripe” of the movie is that it gets too caught up in the over-arching plot and not enough in the personal struggles of Stark. Action is good and comedy lightens that mood in the right places. I felt a hole where the drama should have been, and it could have made a more fulfilling emotional experience. They lined up the pieces perfectly in the first act, but didn’t capitalize on it. Too bad.

We’re treated to what we expect from a superhero movie and an Iron Man movie. There is wit beyond measure coming from all sides of conversation, side characters included to liven up the interaction and to keep the audience entertained between the massive action pieces. Speaking of the action sequences, they take the new mechanics of the Iron suits and make them more compelling than ever before.

Downey has Tony Stark down pat by now, and he fills the frame with the charm and sometimes drama of the character. Guy Pearce, who’s a new tech rival,  Aldrich Killian, is devilishly charismatic  in all sense of the word. And again, Ben Kingsley steals every scene he’s in one way or the other. Except for maybe a side character or two, all actors brought their best to the screen.

To sum up, Iron Man 3 is a great way to begin the summer season. A tasteful action appetizer with enough familiar but enough unexpected to keep you engaged throughout the whole 2 hours and some change.

Why “The AMAZING Spider-Man” Justified an Early Reboot

Andrew Garfield springs onto the screen with success.

A better style, story and acting gives Spider-Man another chance to succeed.

With a wild season of blockbusters this summer has been, one franchise has been under the radar. I’m talking about Spider-Man… wait… sorry, I meant “The Amazing Spider-Man.” And with a name like that it has some to live up to.

Yes, I’ve heard it all before. “It’s too early for a reboot.” “Haven’t we seen this all before?” “Why are they making this so soon?” True, the first modern Spider-Man spawned on the screen with Toby Maguire and Kirsten Dunst in 2002 and left us high and dry in 2007 with a let down of a third-part. Me, I appreciated the original franchise. The VFX were astounding, the storyline made sense, the villains were intriguing and the drama was believable. So why a reboot. My best answer is: go see the movie and find out for yourself. But I wouldn’t be doing my job if I did.

Firstly, the original Maguire trilogy lost its footing. Even though I didn’t mind Spider-Man 3, I can’t deny that the silliness of the scenes tainted the whole movie for me. Venom deserved more time on screen and there were too many villains crowding the time. “The Amazing Spider-Man” had the plot points to make a fourth; it was hinted in 2 and 3 that Dr. Connor would be coming up in the next round of villains… eventually. I think Spider-Man 4 would have revitalized the franchise and set Spider-Man in a good position to join the Avengers in their sequel. But! What “The Amazing Spider-Man” has the the original doesn’t is a fleshed out backstory. It is an origin story that takes up about half of the running time. This function might be off-putting for viewers as they want to see action and comedy (don’t deny it, that’s what sells.) Right now the money is going to these huge comic book franchises, it’s a gold mine, but to build upon a sandy foundation (which is a story without a backbone) wouldn’t be an ideal move for Marvel Studios.

From what I’ve heard since I’m not a comic book enthusiast, the original didn’t align with comics. Even since Marvel Studios took the reigns of their characters it has been faithful to the comics more or less. That’s right, Mary Jane wasn’t Peter Parker’s first squeeze. Also, the Easter Bunny isn’t real. Sorry. To stay true to the source material is what is important to the studio now, it has worked so far.

Another reason is the production. Toby Maguire and Kirsten Dunst have moved on, they demand too much for their work and, frankly, it wouldn’t be worth the price. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are rising actors with enough past to justify having them on board because they’ll have a future in the franchise. Can you imagine Maguire and Dunst coming back 5 years after? I think that would have caused more stir than a reboot did. And! Garfield and Stone do miraculously in this film; their chemistry and humor reflect the high school awkwardness that we might remember.

Lastly, the director Marc Webb. He has a minimal portfolio in film, only directing (500) Days of Summer previous but has a strong reputation in the music video department. Webb has directed over 100 music video for musicians like Green Day, My Chemical Romance, Maroon 5 and Weezer. Marc Webb is no stranger to style and telling a story in a clear way. That’s what this movie needed; it needed a look, proper direction and enough character to establish a workable universe. The conflicts are tight, the dialogue is perfect and the action is polished. With all due respect to Sam Raimi (the franchise former director), Webb takes the hero to the next level leaving behind the unnecessary feel-good moments that lighten the story up.

Yes, it is rehashed, it is familiar, it is something that we’ve seen already. But at the same time is isn’t! Give this film a chance and don’t excuse yourself from the theater because you have the originals in a boxed blu-ray on your shelf… like I have.