Scarlett Johansson

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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2014

Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios

Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo

Produced by Kevin Feige

Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

Based on “Captain America” created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby

I think that the thing I take away from seeing CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER besides my admiration for the excellent acting performances and the complicated yet meticulously laid out plot is that the talent involved in the crafting of the Marvel Cinematic Universe respect their characters. You can’t mistake an Iron Man movie for a Thor movie or a Captain America movie. Each of these characters have their own worlds inside of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe and we should be rightly exploring each of those worlds in the solo movies featuring these characters. And so with CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER we get a story concerned the role of espionage organizations and what their ethics should be. Themes such as sacrificing personal freedoms so that we can be “safe.” National security and how far our government should go to pursue that security. The compromises made against the privacy of American citizens. Those are some heavy themes for what is supposed to be “just” a superhero movie. But then again, Captain America has never been “just” a superhero.

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Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) is settling into 21st Century life quite well after the events of “The Avengers.” He’s working as a card-carrying S.H.I.E.L.D. agent now and his latest mission finds him partnered with Natasha Romanoff aka The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson)  They have to recover a S.H.I.E.L.D. freighter/spy ship that’s been hijacked by the bloodthirsty mercenary Batroc (Georges St. Pierre) a master of the French martial art of kickboxing known as Savate. The mission is success but Steve is naturally upset that The Black Widow’s mission on the ship was unrelated to his. A mission personally given her by the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Colonel Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson)

The mission she was on concerned retrieving encrypted data about Project: Insight, a preemptive strike program involving spy satellites and three Helicarriers (where do they keep getting the money for those things?) And the data is responsible for the very infrastructure of S.H.I.E.L.D. being put into serious jeopardy and it isn’t long before Captain America and The Black Widow find themselves declared traitors and on the run from S.H.I.E.L.D. with their only allies either dead or trying desperately to save their own asses. S.H.I.E.L.D.’s elite S.T.R.I.K.E. team leads the hunt for the fugitives along with the mysterious and deadly Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) whose combat skills, amplified with his cybernetic arm may make him the equal of and possibly superior to Captain America.

Now, even though The Winter Soldier is being held up for much of the movie’s running time as the movie’s villain, the real villain of the movie is the morals of politics and national security. As the characters battle each other physicals they’re also battling the lies that have been told to them and that they’ve told to the nation they’re protecting. But who are they really protecting? And why?

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Like I said earlier, the plot is pretty complicated. But because the movie takes the time to delve into these themes and a government conspiracy plot Tom Clancy would have loved, CAPTAIN AMERICA:THE WINTER SOLDIER is about much more than characters punching each other because since this is a superhero movie then somebody has to be getting punched every few minutes.

The acting in CAPTAIN AMERICA:THE WINTER SOLDIER is really good. Chris Evans gives a speech at one point that sells the soul of Captain America. He also gets some nice scenes where he gets to show that even though Steve Rogers has acclimated to the 21st Century, he’s still a man out of time. He and Scarlett Johansson have some really great chemistry together. And due to the contrast in the moral ideologies in the two characters it makes for some nice friction in how they go about working together to find out what’s broken in S.H.I.E.L.D. and how they’re going to fix it.

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It’s no surprise that Samuel L. Jackson is terrific because since when is Sam Jackson not terrific? Cobie Smulders provides more than able backup as Maria Hill and newcomer Anthony Mackie fits in with the established cast as if he had been a part of the MCU right from the start. Seeing Captain America and The Falcon in action together on the big screen made a ten year old kid outta me. Robert Redford knocks it out of the park as Alexander Pierce, an senior S.H.I.E.L.D. official. An actor of his stature and talent gives an added weight to every scene he’s in and since his name was one of those mentioned back in the 1970’s and ‘80’s as playing Captain America whenever a theatrical movie was rumored, I thought it was nice to find such a meaty role for him here.

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That’s not to say I loved every moment of it. I’ll never forgive this movie for what it does to Jasper Sitwell. There was one point I found myself scratching my head wondering why Steve and Natasha just didn’t call Tony Stark for help (I figured the events of “Iron Man 3” must have been happening at the same time as this movie and so Tony had his own problems to worry about) And for a covert espionage agency, S.H.I.E.L.D. sure seems to like operating out in the open a whole lot. Including waging war right in the streets of Washington, D.C. And the fight scenes at times got a little too fast and frenetic for me. I appreciate seeing who got hit and how they got hit. Still, the fight choreography did a fantastic job of displaying the speed, power and agility of Captain America in combat which is what I wanted to see.

So should you see CAPTAIN AMERICA:THE WINTER SOLDIER? Absolutely YES. This movie makes a daring move in changing the status quo of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a major way, one that I didn’t see coming and establishes that this is going to be a universe that will change and grow with each new movie. It’s also a whole lotta fun. It’s such a kick for me to be able and go to the movies to see my favorite Marvel superheroes up on the big screen and presented in a way I could only dream of as a kid. It’s a good time for Marvel superhero fans. Enjoy.

PG-13

136 Minutes

Scarlett Johansson In A Chair Vs. Jason Statham In A Chair

The Avengers

2012

Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Pictures

 

Directed by Joss Whedon

Produced by Kevin Feige

Screenplay by Zak Penn, Joss Whedon

Based on the Marvel comic book “The Avengers” created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

 

This review is spoiler free as I’m pretty sure there will be some of you reading this who haven’t seen THE AVENGERS yet.  In about another month or so when more of you have seen it I’ll be rewriting the review so as to talk more in-depth about the movie.  Now if you want to read an excellent, more comprehensive review, by all means, go read Mark Bousquet’s review.  But be advised that Mark’s review has spoilers aplenty so if you’re the type who foams at the mouth at the very thought of spoilers, then don’t. 

 

My love affair with THE AVENGERS goes back to 1968.  That’s when I bought Avengers Annual #2 which featured Captain America going back in time with teammates Hawkeye, Goliath, The Wasp and The Black Panther and through a cosmic mixup find themselves doing battle with Giant-Man, The Wasp, Iron Man, Thor and The Hulk.  I was hooked and from that year to this one, The Avengers have always been my favorite superhero team.  Way back then my friends and I fantasized about seeing The Avengers in a live-action movie but until a few years ago I never really believed it could be done.  It has.  After five previous Marvel superhero movies it’s all led up to this.  And it’s been done with such fresh intelligence, unique wit, humor, creative consistency and downright fun that as far as I’m concerned THE AVENGERS is the best and greatest superhero movie ever made.  With this movie, the bar for superhero movies has been raised so incredibly high that I don’t think it’ll be topped anytime soon.  Matter of fact, I’m sure of it.

The meat of the plot is actually quite simple.  After being thrown off the destroyed Rainbow Bridge by his brother Thor (Chris Hemsworth) during his attempt to conquer Asgard, The God of Mischief Loki (Tom Hiddleston) found himself in a hostile dimension.  He has made a deal with the leader of the warrior alien race known as the Chitauri.  If Loki retrieves the ancient artifact known as the Tesseract he’ll be given command of a Chitauri army to conquer The Earth.  Loki manages to remotely use the Tesseract to open a portal by which he returns to Earth.  Loki steals the Tessarct from the S.H.I.E.L.D. research facility where it is being studied by Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard)  Loki escapes, destroying the facility in the process while turning Dr. Selvig, Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and half a dozen S.H.I.E.L.D. agents into his mind-controlled lackeys.

S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) decides to reactivate “The Avengers Initiative” to combat this threat.  He sends Natasha Romanoff aka The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to India to recruit Dr. Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).  Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) heads to New York to bring in Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.).  When Loki is discovered to be in Germany, it seems like the perfect assignment for Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) to capture him but that plan goes wrong when Thor shows up, intending to capture his brother himself, recover the Tessaract and take them both back to Asgard. And he’s got an outrageously big hammer to back up his intentions.

Surprisingly, Loki allows himself to be taken captive and imprisoned on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s flying aircraft carrier, the Helicarrier.  Fury attempts to talk this wildly diverse group into becoming a team while Banner and Stark try to find the Tesseract and the true depths of Loki’s scheming soon become obvious to all.  Divided and disheartened, The Avengers must learn how to work together as a team to save the world from Loki and the overwhelming onslaught of the Chitauri hordes pouring out of a interdimensional  portal above Stark Tower.

That’s the bare bones of the plot but there’s so much meat on the bones that it flat-out astonishes me how much Joss Whedon and his co-writer Zak Penn gets in there without the movie feeling rushed or over-bloated.  There are some great character moments aboard the Helicarrier and the scene of The Avengers bickering among themselves had me chuckling even though it’s a deadly serious scene.  But as a long-time Avengers fan, I’ve seen this scene played out in I don’t know how many issues of the comic book and it feels absolutely right in here.

We get astounding superhero battles such as Iron Man vs. Thor and Hulk vs. Thor while the actual alien attack on New York is jaw-dropping in its scale and level of sheer spectacle.  It’s also where we get to see The Avengers finally working together as a team and it’s one of the best moments in superhero movie history.

The acting is dead on-point with Mark Ruffalo being the stand-out.  I expected everyone else to be good as they’ve played these characters before and they know the tone they’re supposed to take.  But Mark Ruffalo comes in cold and nails Bruce Banner with an ease that is truly impressive.  He’s just as good as Eric Bana and Edward Norton and I could even see the progression in both The Hulk and Bruce Banner through Ruffalo’s performance.  They both have come a long way and Ruffalo as Banner reflects this.  Nothing he does invalidates or violates the Bana or Norton performances and actually builds on them.  And both Banner and The Hulk get some of the best lines/scenes in the movie.  Including the one between The Hulk and Loki that had the audience I saw the movie with laughing, cheering, clapping and high-fiving for at least five minutes.

Jeremy Renner makes for a far better Clint Barton than I thought he would be.  This incarnation of Hawkeye as well as The Black Widow are darker versions of the traditional characters but I didn’t mind.  These characters I’ve always admired and loved since they don’t have superpowers.  Even Captain America has the Super-Solider Formula going for him but Hawkeye and The Black Widow are superbly trained humans who through virtue of guts, heart and their outstanding skills prove why they’re worthy to be Avengers.

So should you see THE AVENGERS?  If you don’t, I don’t wanna know you.  If every other movie I see this year turns out to be crap I honestly don’t care because I’ve seen THE AVENGERS and it’s the Avengers movie I’ve been waiting since 1968 to see and it was worth the wait.

143 minutes

PG-13

 

The Spirit

2008

Lionsgate Entertainment

Directed and Written for the screen by Frank Miller

Produced by Michael Uslan

I’d have probably been able to swallow this version THE SPIRIT a lot more if Frank Miller hadn’t come out with interviews where he claimed that Will Eisner himself would have approved of this movie.  Y’know, if you’re going to do your own version of a classic character like The Spirit then say so.  But this incarnation of The Spirit is so far from Will Eisner’s character that it qualifies as an original character in its own right.  Here’s what I thought of it in a nutshell:

GOOD:  I actually found myself liking Gabriel Macht a lot in his role as Denny Colt/The Spirit.  I really liked the physicality he brought to the role as he throws himself into the fight scenes with a sort of the-hell-with-it abandon.  And he’s just fun to watch.  And I got the feeling just from his performance that he actually read some of the original Will Eisner Spirit strips.  He’s an okay actor that got caught between a bad script and and an even worst director.

BAD: Scarlett Johansson.  Much as I love The Scarlett (and I have since “Ghost World”) her role as Silken Floss in this one was thankless.

GOOD: The digital photography/sets/lighting.  Say what you want about Frank Miller but he’s proven he’s expert at using this technology in motion pictures and despite all else, THE SPIRIT looks damn good.

BAD:  The unnecessary vulgarity and over-the-top violence was most certainly not needed in this movie.  As most of you who have read my reviews in the past know; I don’t condemn a movie for language and violence.  If the movie warrants it.  THE SPIRIT doesn’t.  I personally found the first fight between The Octopus and The Spirit in extremely poor taste as its ten minutes of them literally wallowing in a mud pit.  And then I saw The Octopus cram a toilet seat on The Spirit’s head and holler: “Hey, toilets are funny!”  Maybe if you’re ten years old, sure.  But when I saw that toilet bowl being crammed on The Spirit’s head I knew what Frank Miller really meant for them to be crawling around in.

GOOD: Eva Mendes.  Any movie that gives me a gratuitous nude butt shot of Eva Mendes is okay in my book.

BAD: The laughable voiceovers we get from time to time.  “The City….she is my mother….she provides whatever I need…” Frank, you didn’t invent that style despite what you fans tell you and you can’t do it well.  So stop it, awreddy.

GOOD: Samuel L. Jackson.  Now hold on, hold on…Sam did exactly what he was hired to do.  Sam was hired to act absolutely Off-The-Wall and that’s what he did here.  And let’s be honest here…Sam Jackson’s performances usually start just this side of Off-The-Wall and go off from there.  He did a great job of playing a villain more at home on an episode of the 1960’s “Batman” TV show right along with The Scarlett and Louis Lombardi as sidekick and henchmen, respectively.

BAD: Paz Vega as Plaster of Paris.  What was up with her?

GOOD:  The backstory between the young Denny Colt (Johnny Simmons) and Sand Saref (Seychelle Gabriel)

BAD: Just about every scene between The Spirit (Gabriel Macht) Dr. Ellen Dolan (Sarah Paulson) and Commissioner Dolan (Dan Lauria)

And what I think is totally unforgivable: during the closing credits we don’t even get to see Will Eisner’s artwork…instead we’ve shoved Frank Miller storyboards for the movie in our face.  And there is no mention of where we as viewers can purchase Will Eisner’s SPIRIT Kitchen Sink collections.

Let’s get down to where the rubber meets the road, okay?  THE SPIRIT has nothing to do with Will Eisner and everything to do with Frank Miller.  If you worship at Frank Miller’s alter and think he created comics and was the first to introduce film techniques and film noir into comics then you’re going to orgasm over this movie.  If you know and respect your comic history like the rest of us then you can look upon THE SPIRIT as a film curiosity and go on to other more worthy films.

103 minutes

Rated R: Definitely not a kid’s movie due to language, some really brutal violence and a brief rear nude shot of Eva Mendes.