Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro

I saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier last weekend, and thought it was about as good as a Captain America movie could be.  For me that puts it up with the first two X-Men movies, the first two (original) Spider-Man movies, and the first Iron Man movie as Marvel film adaptations that pretty much make the most out of their material. A lot of the movie draws from what I believe to be the greatest run of Captain America comics ever, writer Ed Brubaker and artist Steve Epting’s run in the mid 2000s. That run used essentially all the best Captain America supporting characters there are – the Falcon, the Black Widow, Nick Fury, and Agent 13 – all of whom make significant appearances here. It also repositioned Cap as an action/espionage type hero, and that is the approach wisely taken in The Winter Soldier.
The second Captain America flick also supports my view that Marvel stories are better once the characters have been established and you are thrown into the middle of things, as this movie hits full speed almost right from the start. Scarlett Johansson has her best outing as the Black Widow yet, and Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Redford, and Anthony Mackie all put in solid performances.  The mystery of who the Winter Soldier is will be no mystery to recent readers of the comic book series, and even in the movie it is not really treated as much of a revelation, but it does add some emotional weight to a character and movie that might otherwise be a little on the wooden side. Some reviews have made a bit out of the political themes in the movie - as if it is a major surprise that Marvel films would venture into that territory - but they do not take over the film, and one can also enjoy it is a straightforward action flick. The WWII homage of the first Captain America movie was not a bad way to go until the character and his surrounding universe was more established, but this is much, much better.
After watching The Winter Soldier I then walked three cinemas down the hall and sat through the second (or fifth, depending on how you look at it) Spider-Man movie.  Rise of Electro has a few more flaws than The Winter Soldier, not least its name. Although I struggle to figure out what other subtitle might work (The Rage of Harry Osborn?), just leaving off a subtitle altogether seems to me preferable. The character of Electro himself does not fully work either, while actor Jamie Foxx makes a reasonable go at it, the character seems like a sideline to the main Peter Parker/Gwen Stacy/Harry Osborn drama. Which, as many have noted, gives you a sense that there is not too much new to see here – even those who have only seen the movies know about OsCorp, and scientific experiments, and what the Brooklyn Bridge in the background means.
But a few points of credit here. One, the movie comes up with what I thought was a clever twist on Spider-Man’s origin, in particular why Peter got powers after being bitten. Two, assuming you have not read spoilers, the resolution of the Gwen Stacy/Green Goblin plot will keep most viewers second-guessing right up to the very last moment, even those familiar with the comics. Three, for all its strengths, you could pretty much tell what sentimental words were going to come out of Peter’s, or Mary Jane’s, or Aunt May’s mouths in the original trilogy, whereas here the dialogue – particularly between Peter and Gwen – often throws you slightly off-base. Which is enough to make this worth a look, even if just on DVD. Unlike other Marvel movies, you can probably skip the credits though.

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