Spoiler Free Review: Captain America the Winter Soldier


Last night I went to a midnight showing of Captain America, The Winter Soldier, and I wanted to do a quick review, no spoilers.

Quickest review: I really liked it, and I think I’m going to enjoy seeing it again. Maybe not as much as the first Thor, but more than Iron Man 2 or 3. Maybe just a touch below The Avengers. It’s a great continuation from the first Captain America and Avengers films.

I went to see the movie by myself because it’s PG-13, and I wanted to see what the action was like before letting my eleven-year old boy see it. We went to see Iron Man 3 as a family, and it turned out there were a lot more ‘people melting, on fire and exploding’ scenes than I expected from an Iron Man film. Surprise!

I’m glad I saw it, it’s a good movie. I’m also glad I didn’t take my son this go around.

No spoilers, but I’ll share a few things if you’re considering taking your children to see it.

First, this isn’t a primary-color superhero film. This isn’t Spiderman or Superman. This movie is, first and foremost, a very tight cold war technothriller involving super-spies and super-soldiers. Think more like James Bond 007 without the drinking, gambling and sex.

I’m fine with that, in fact I loved it. I’ve read the comics where The Winter Soldier was introduced, I always loved the Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD comics, and there was a time in Marvel comics where Captain America was used as a super-spy by SHIELD as though it were a natural extension of being a super-soldier. This storyline felt very natural.

In case you love old SHIELD comics yourself, one of my favorite Marvel one-shots was a “What if…” issue where the question was asked, ‘What if Wolverine was an Agent of SHIELD?‘ It is a superb one-shot story, and if you find yourself browsing a bin of used comics, by all means look for it. It’s kick ass.

Anyway, I’m not the guy that’s going to walk in to this movie pissed because it had lots of spying and secret agent man stuff, but your kids probably won’t understand why a superhero movie has all these people in black commando outfits racing around in black Chevy suburbans shooting at each other.

Let me be clear. This film is a cold war technothriller in that there are two opposing forces with a whole lot of gray area in the middle, each is evenly matched in terms of power and influence, and they use the latest bleeding-edge technology in their attempts to gain the upper hand.

One of the strengths of this movie was in giving us two sides that could each argue their positions with passion and charisma. When you see an idiotic frothing-at-the-mouth twit ranting illiterate pseudo-Nietzschien crap, you wonder how the hell he’s got more than three people following him around, and expect two of them to be CIA plants keeping an eye on the moron.

In this film, when talking motive the speakers are able to passionately articulate their position so they sound reasonable. Caring. What they say smacks of fascism, but of the “yes, it’s fascism, but it’s okay because it’s us doing it, and you know you can trust us” kind of thing. “Oh, okay, if someone else were to say that I’d think they were a crazed would-be megalomaniac with dreams of world domination, but since it’s you saying it, we’re good.”

You can believe that the two sides here could recruit intelligent, committed people to their causes.

Bottom line, no real super-powered Loki-style colors and capes villains. It’s causes and crimes and sneaking and techno-gadgets. It’s “Trust no one” levels of super-spy.

The other thing to keep in mind, Black Widow and Nick Fury share a lot of screen time with Cap. That poster I put up there is accurate, Captain America is the star and we follow him around, but he spends a lot of time with our two other favorite super-spies. I thought it was great, gives you three kick ass stars instead of one, and let us build on their relationships.

Now for the two things that I thought were annoying.

First, we’ve got a movie starring a super-soldier that doesn’t use guns. That makes for some hard cinematic choices.

He uses his shield as both a defensive and offensive weapon, and they make a point of showing how skilled he is at unarmed combat. Through most of the movie, the action is tight and well filmed. Also, the shield matters. A lot. He’s a freaking genius in using the shield tactically, and they show it MUCH better than in the first film.

But in the first fifteen minutes, they are trying to establish that he is the ultimate bad ass. Where it went a little off was they didn’t show us his fights clearly, they used a LOT of shaky-cam and sped-up shots with weird angles to give you the impression of blistering fast movement without a clear idea of what the heck just happened.

They calm it down, but that first fifteen minutes had me worried that it was all going to be like the first Transformers movie, lots of shots of giant robot feet running by and crashing noises and falling rubble, but no clear shots of giant robots fighting.

The other thing to consider, and the main reason I’m not going to take my son to see it in the theater, is the nature of the violence.

Yes, it’s a spy movie, so there is a lot of political double-play that is going to go over his head. ┬áMost of the plot is going to be muddy to him, so it’ll end up being a bunch of people fighting for no clear reason. That’s okay, he’s eleven and a fight is exciting for it’s own merits. How else can we explain the popularity of Dragonball Z?

But this isn’t blasters and stun guns and aliens falling down. A lot of real people get shot. There are real consequences and real tragedy and real injuries and death. All the things that make a cold war technothriller tense and exciting are present. Real people shooting at other real people, and dying.

I didn’t see any gratuitous ‘head blown off’ stuff, it’s not like that, but you can show people getting shot and have it matter without spraying guts across the room, and they do that. Most of the time when people got shot it was the ‘red blooms of color form on chest, people fall down’ level of wounding. And when superheroes get shot, they just get a little slower and their uniform gets stained, you know what I mean.

But it’s intense, and if you’ve got small children they are going to see gunfights in crowded city streets, and while you don’t specifically see the people in a bus get mowed down into hamburger, it would be easy to walk away with your mind filling in the blanks.

So in the end, like I said, I liked it a lot. I thought the acting was first rate and I’d like to see it again, but it’s not one that I’d recommend for the youngsters in your life.

That being said, I’d take my son to this one before I’d let him watch Man of Steel. At least THIS hero cares about saving people and doesn’t kill the bad guy at the end by ripping his head clean off.

Okay, that was a spoiler, granted, but it was for Man of Steel, so it doesn’t count.

Looper – A non-spoiler, “should you see this movie” review.

I saw the new movie “Looper” today.

This is what I knew about the movie walking into the theater;

  1. Bruce Willis was in it.
  2. It was something about a guy that is sent back in time to kill other people and stuff, and when they “retire” you they have you kill your older self, closing the ‘loop’.

I didn’t see any trailers, didn’t know anything more about the plot than that.

Now, I am a big Bruce Willis fan. That may not be enough to get you excited about a movie, but based on how well I’ve enjoyed his recent smaller productions, such as ‘Red” and “Surrogates”, I wanted to see this sci-fi actioner before it vanished to DVD.

A spoiler-free review

I can’t actually describe anything to you. I don’t know what magic in the way I approached the film might be lost if I explain anything of substance.

Anything I say might give you expectations, and if I even gush about it too much, or talk about the approach it takes towards things, you might have it built up so big that your expectations couldn’t be met by anything short of another Lord of the Rings.

This ain’t another Lord of the Rings, by the way. A teeny spoiler there.

What I can tell you is this.

I enjoyed the entire movie. Every step of the way, I was on the edge of my seat.

At the beginning, my expectations were that there would be shallow, cardboard cutout characters with flimsy motivations, big explosions and violence, and some good one liners by Bruce Willis. Also, I expected seriously cheesy, predictable time-travel science fiction.

What I got were characters that were good, solid, and damn well developed. And the movie didn’t beat me over the head with some “oh we are so serious, we studied at Juilliard look at the subtext layers” bullshit, either. I was gradually introduced to the basic setup, the initial characters, and the environment and then stuff got layered in a VERY natural way. No pretentious bullshit, it was stripped down, meaty rock and roll.

But it didn’t stay totally stripped down for long.

It kept building and building, it set a solid foundation early on and then, unlike most smaller movies, it USED that foundation and went off like a rocket.

I found myself becoming emotionally invested in the characters. I didn’t expect that. There was character growth, and yes it may in retrospect have been accelerated, but it’s a movie, and at the time it did feel very natural.

The characters felt like real, believable people with fucked up but real attitudes and decisions based on how they had been setup and acted.

The science fiction… the action. The plot.

All I can really say is, there are two types of sci-fi plots I usually identify.

There are ones that take an existing condition or idea and try to follow it through, foretelling what it might turn into naturally. Those kinds are usually very focused on getting the tiniest details just so. They’re built on the existing world and tweaking it a little, so small details have to be clearly thought out and resolved. If you are making a statement about the dangers of existing technology or philosophy, then you have to have every single duck in a row, or people will use a logical fallacy to pick it apart. “If they were wrong about x, then y must also be wrong.”

Then there are those sci-fi plots that take a big, honking bold idea, something currently impossible, truly no kidding impossible and then ask, “what if”.

This is definitely the second kind of movie. Big ideas, but bold ideas… but viewed at purely from the street level, once those ideas are put in the hands of the little guys.

You never even see the big picture. This is what you see in a tiny sliver of the world when Pandora’s Box is open, and the demons are loose, and what one group of people that most citizens don’t even have anything to do with get their hands on it.

This is a Goodfellas film, or a Godfather, where all you really see is the world the bad guys live in, because that’s where the story takes place.

There are some big ideas here. And those ideas and how they are presented are very smart, very well thought out.

The movie does not allow itself to fall into the trap of having to explain every little thing to you. You are encouraged to watch, to follow along, and figure this shit out as you go. And enough is done well and explained ant intrinsically logical that I got the impression that if you could see the entire backstory they wrote, the science would make sense, but there is no realistic way that they could fit in all the explanations while people are either hunting down other people to kill them, or running for their lives.

Basically, I was wowed by Looper. Yeah, I’m gushing, but there it is.

I thought I knew what I was in for, and yes that is what I got, but I also got the bonus plan. It was more than I expected, in a good way.

I expected a light snack, and got a fulfilling meal instead. With an ending that left the people in the audience kind of stunned, and silent, taking it all in.

It’s that kind of movie. For a second, just before the credits roll, you stop and think, “Holy shit.”

You have to take a breath.

I’ll be honest, I’m sitting here, and even as I’m typing this, I’m still thinking about some of the ramifications of the plotline and how it all played out. And I’m not trying to pick it apart or look for loopholes, I’m working it out backwards, unraveling the thing and admiring how it all went.

I guess, here is how I would end a review.

Should you see it?

Well, putting aside your personal feelings about Tom Cruise, did you like the way the plot unfolded in the first Mission Impossible movie?

The first Mission Impossible was the one where, in the beginning, a con job unfolds before you, and there are lots of intricately timed movements, like watching a carefully choreographed ballet.

And then it all turns to shit, and how it turns to shit is at the heart of the movie.

Some of it is explained, but at the same time, most of it is left for you to figure out and keep up, we’ve got a movie to run, fuck spoon feeding you.

Did you like that? Did you like that feeling that they’ve got a story to tell, a visual story, and you’re expected to pay attention and figure some of it out on your own like a big boy or girl?

Put aside the rest of the Mission Impossible movie, did you like not having everything spoon fed to you? Like maybe you could figure some of this stuff out based on what you SEE?

Then I have to say, if you like that, and you like Bruce Willis, and you like science fiction action movies with guns and stuff, you’re going to damn well like this movie.

I just missed three hours of WoW playing on the Sunday afternoon the first week of release to see it, and I’m damn glad I did.

Oh, and as an afterthought, I hear they’re doing a sequel to Red.