Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a movie featuring about 10 minutes of Georges St. Pierre (like this), but that's more than enough of an excuse to get MMA fans to watch an action movie. Below, film curmudgeon Peter Lampasona reviews the second installment of the Captain America franchise.
After watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I made a list of minor changes that would have made the movie more enjoyable, such as Georges St. Pierre dropping to the ground in pain when he kicked a super metal shield instead of the squishy leg he was aiming for (watch it). A list like that may seem tongue-in-cheek, but when Captain America: The Winter Soldier gets just slightly more realistic, it really shines.
I'd like to get the themes of the movie out of the way and focus on the action -- which is what audience members probably think to themselves while watching this movie. I'll give Captain America: The Winter Soldier credit for trying to be about something more than explosions and fan service, especially this summer. But that's where the credit for intelligence ends.
The heart of Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a ham-fisted revenge fantasy of the ideals of old America rising up and smiting the philosophy of the surveillance-state, drone-using, constantly fearful America that we live in. The film's themes are basically season one of The Newsroom with about 10 more explosions per minute. It turns out that those extra explosions would have improved The Newsroom, significantly.
The movie makes a few attempts at nuance. Robert Redford, who plays the oh-so memorable antagonist whose name escapes me -- and I refuse to look up to prove a point -- tries to explain the benefits of providing an absolutely secure world. But, the attempts to make the audience think seem just a little shallow when the bad guys are literally a group of date-raping, child-killing Neo-Nazis.
But hell, I'm libertarian enough to enjoy watching superheroes stomp caricatures of people I disagree with. Go get 'em Cap, and let's get on to the action -- where the film both excels and falls short at different times.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier has two types of action sequences. Half of the movie's action scenes are the big, dumb kind that only exist because every successful action movie has them, right down to a big, blue guy taking out one of the gunships from Avatar with the combined powers of a melee weapon and gymnastics.
The other half start off like the same standardized action, but then make some little change to the visuals or the way it plays out that make it truly interesting. Captain America: The Winter Soldier begins with a cold open where the Captain takes out nameless thugs in a series of tight shots with a shaky camera that makes it hard to tell exactly what's going on. This camera technique started to get old shortly after Batman Begins made it the only way superhero fight scenes were allowed to be shot.
Then, out of nowhere, the camera pulls all the way back for a wide shot where you can see the Captain running through henchmen like you're watching from the bleachers. The shot isn't any more original than the "shaky cam." In fact, some might recognize it as taken directly from a camera angle in Metal Gear Solid 2. But, the sudden change in visual scope is neat to the point where just 10 seconds of footage is the highlight of the first act.
It's not only the little changes, but the scale that separates the big, dumb action sequences from the ones that are actually cool to watch. When a cluster of missiles vaporizes everything in a hundred yard radius, Cap and Co. have clearly got it handled. The situation is physically impossible to escape from, so you know that the heroes will do something stupid and physically impossible to get out of it.
There's no tension whatsoever.
But, when the Captain has to break a car door or the bad guy has a knife(!), it's on. Real obstacles that are cleverly shot and realistically solved look and feel better than the more fantastic elements. The disparity between the smaller action scenes and the bigger ones gives the impression that most impractical explosions were stapled on in committee after the film was storyboarded.
The first act of the movie does suffer from a common problem of not emotionally connecting the audience with the characters fighting or what the stakes of their fight are. Even the more interesting action scenes are hard to appreciate because it takes Captain America: The Winter Soldier so long to give the audience a reason to care about what happens.
Once there is even the most basic emotional investment in what's going on -- the hero has to save a likable supporting character at the act two climax -- the more unique action sequence start popping out and becoming more enjoyable.
For an early summer action film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is good. Even if the film focused more on what it did well, it wouldn't be great because the movie isn't that clever, no matter how hard it tries. But, it looks better than the usual fare and will hopefully get other superhero movies looking at least a little outside the box. Hard core comic fans have obviously already seen it and blogged about it, extensively.
For the rest of the world, it's a solid watch.