Marvel has a terrible habit of making trailers that are more original and intellectually intriguing than the films they go with.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the latest film to fall into that trap. The trailer promised an examination of freedom versus safety, having Captain America struggle with his own desire to protect personal liberty when the organization he works for is more interested in security. The proposed plotline has distinct parallels to Barack Obama’s domestic spying practices, and, in the trailer at least, Marvel had the balls to take the issue head on.
After Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) flexes his muscles for a bit, he guilts Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) into showing him SHIELD’s top secret and highly illegal project — three new heavily-armed helicarriers that will seek out and kill terror threats where they live using a network of spy satellites. Before they get too deep into whether or not this is truly the path of the righteous man, Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), a SHIELD higher-up, puts a hit on Rogers and sends him racing to stop the helicarriers and their true, sinister purpose.
All the while, Rogers battles the ephemeral Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), an assassin with a bizarre affinity for hype men who handle his rifles.
The movie very much gets off on the wrong foot with its first two scenes. In the first, Rogers is running laps around Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackle), understating his powers for comic relief. In the second, he’s running laps around a captured boat, dismantling a cadre of pirates. These first action sequences are similarly understated and dull. Though Rogers dispatches all the other pirates, his steroid powers suddenly don’t apply to the boss pirate (Georges St-Pierre) when producers wanted a longer boss fight.*
The whole thing is very cooreographed. The sudden shift in the fight with St-Pierre’s character may as well be the stage shifting on side-scrolling fighter video game, it’s so jerky and deliberate. When dispatching the cadre, the captain simply sprints a counter-clockwise lap around the boat and runs over them like hurdles, taking advantage of the pirates’ incredible inability to, as a unit, never look more than one direction. The action is stilted and not engaging, and it makes the rest of the movie stilted and not engaging.
The best example comes later in the movie when the Winter Soldier has Rogers’ magic bullet-erasing shield and a firearm. He throws the shield at Rogers, who goes from helpless to evenly matched in the span of a second, and then thinks to shoot at him just in time for Rogers to recover and raise the erstwhile projectile.
It’s… distant. It’s less of a story and more of a show. The movie isn’t engaging, it’s over in its corner of the arena doing its thing and you are in a seat watching with some level of interest, but it doesn’t really involve viewers the way a movie should.
This feeling bleeds from the action — for a political thriller, The Winter Soldier is extraordinarily reliant on its action sequences — into the dialogue and overall story. The Winter Soldier is entertaining enough, but like most of the movies in The Avengers series it’s just way too safe. The series started off tantalizingly well with 2008’s Iron Man,** which is riveting. But they’ve settled into a pattern of well put-together productions that don’t have much heart or originality. Winter Soldier could have been a move away from that, but instead it’s a face in a growing crowd.
Their next installment will star Chris Pratt, John C. Reilly and an interstellar raccoon. It will take considerable skill to make that not engaging, but Marvel doesn’t go into a production if it isn’t confident with a creative team, so I’m sure they have it in them to make it a dull, non-interactive experience.
Joshua Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, journalism and film student at the University of North Texas and a senior staff writer for the NT Daily. All thoughts and prayers go to Fort Hood after suffering their second shooting incident in five years. For questions, rebuttals and further guidance about cinema, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. At this point, I’d like to remind you that you shouldn’t actually go to movies and form your own opinions. That’s what I’m here for.
*St-Pierre’s character is named Georges Batroc, or Batroc the Leaper, a villain who’s been around since 1966, an Olympic-level athlete and Savate master who is as capable as anyone in the Marvel Universe at holding their own against Captain America hand-to-hand. If you don’t read the comics, you would never ever, ever know this. In the movie, he’s just another extra who, for some reason, lasts more than three seconds.
This is a common problem in Winter Soldier. Frank Grillo plays Brock Rumlow, also known as Crossbones, a major henchman of the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving). He is also annoyingly handled — he gets much more screen time and is a much better fighter than an extra, but has no real development. Major comic book characters’ mere existence in a movie shouldn’t require homework to confirm, let alone notice in the first place.
**Speaking of Iron Man, in the entire two hour movie there is no character, good or bad, that has a problem Tony Stark couldn’t solve with a waive of his hand. Wilson’s entire existence as a superhero is based around him having a flight suit that is nowhere near as cool as Stark’s. Robert Downey Jr.’s absence in this movie is extremely noticable, not just because he’s funnier than everyone else, but also because it would have been over in five minutes if he were available.
Also, what the hell happened to Clint Barton? This seems like his cup of tea.