In 2010 I saw 100 different movies in 100 different theaters. Here are the details.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Alameda Theatre and Cineplex

(Previously reviewed)


In the fall, movies are preceded by tantalizing teasers for upcoming summer films. They merely hint at the glorious entertainment that awaits us. That's all I need to get the gist of the film, and to decide to buy the ticket. But by April, the full-blown trailers are revealing every detail possible, trying to makes us stand up and go buy advance tickets right now. They show everything. It's a huge annoyance and detracts from the one time I'll be able to see the film for the first time.

Godzilla (Trailer 1)

Godzilla's balletic teaser, opening with an assault team sky diving into an apocalyptic San Francisco, was beautiful, emotional, and captivating. The first full trailer is a mashup of backstory, destruction, and monster reveals. I skipped 1998's Godzilla, in which, as my college roommate described it, a 20-story monster somehow sneaks around New York City. I also skipped Cloverfield (2008), although Lizzy Caplan will compel me to watch it eventually. I would've said that I don't watch giant monster movies, but I have seen and enjoyed King Kong (2005), Beowulf (2007), Monsters (2010), Trolljegeren (Trollhunter, 2010), Super 8 (2011), and Pacific Rim (2013). In contrast, 2012 (2010) saturated my appetite for disaster movies. Skyline (2010), which I hope to still review in full, was grotesquely terrible. Battle: Los Angeles (2011) featured good action, and It's a Disaster (2012) was great black humor, but the more recent This Is the End (2013) and The World's End (2013) were equal parts raunchy, disgusting, and disturbing. I don't want to see cities destroyed and thousands of innocent people killed. What victory can be claimed at the end of such a movie?

X-Men: Days of Future Past (Trailer 1)
I closed my eyes for this one. So far I've managed to avoid all but a few production stills, and hope to be thoroughly surprised at next month's release. I'm now expecting this to be my favorite movie of the year.

Maleficent (Trailer 1)
I closed my eyes again. The teaser was enough to set the stage for a beautiful fantasy world, inhabited by a dark, perhaps tragic anti-hero. I don't need to know more.

Guardians of the Galaxy (Trailer 1)
Closed my eyes for a third time today. I've also managed to avoid all but a few images for this movie. I'll be very interested to see how a Marvel movie performs when it doesn't employ any known heroes, and is more sci-fi than superhero. I didn't enjoy the original team as it appeared in the early 1990s, illustrated by Jim Valentino, but thankfully the movie features a rebooted team, with a few characters I'm familiar with.

Marvel Movies

What a glorious time to be alive. Fifteen years ago the only successful super-hero movies had come from the worse-as-they-went-along Superman and Batman franchises. Marvel's grim and boring The Punisher (1991) and not-really-a-superhero-movie Blade (1998) were all the publisher had to show for itself. But since 2000's The X-Men, it's been one terrific movie after another, with 28 Marvel titles released since 2000, and most of them good.

The publisher is no slouch on the home market either. Historically, Marvel's television offerings have been inferior to DC's. While Marvel was releasing a string of bright, bubbly, hastily drawn series in the mid 1990s (anchored by the well regarded, but not actually all that good X-Men), DC was establishing Bruce Timm's DC Animated Universe, with the dark and somber Batman: The Animated Series (1992), followed by Superman: The Animated Series (1996), and culminating in Justice League (2001), the greatest superhero show to date. But in the new millennium, just as DC was cementing itself on television (8 series, not counting the failed Aqauman) and the home video market (22 direct-to-video releases), Marvel has asserted itself as well, with 11 television series (half of them excellent) and 10 direct-to-video features (most of them good).

In the shadow of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy (portraying Batman as a thuggish everyman), and two excellent Superman movies (yeah, that's right), DC has been unwilling to risk a movie on another character other than Catwoman (2004, bad) and Green Lantern (2011, so-so). On the big screen, Marvel reigns supreme, selling 787 million tickets in the US since 2000. Discounting inflation, every American has seen roughly 2.4 Marvel movies.

Prior to its release in 2012, I predicted The Avengers would be awesome (it was), but I didn't know it would be so successful. Its per-capita ticket sales rank it 73rd of all time, just behind The Dark Knight (2008), each being seen by roughly 24% of the US population in their corresponding years. (Adjusted for inflation, The Avengers made more, thanks to the higher ticket prices of a successful 3D campaign.)

I've updated chart from my Avengers post to reflect Marvel movies released in 2012 and 2013, and looking forward through the end of 2015 (there are more to come beyond that as well). Although 20th Century Fox's X-Men franchise is about to hit its 7th title, Walk Disney's Avengers franchise, inclusive of the six movies produced by Universal and Paramount, now spans 10 movies, and except for the two Hulk movies, I give them all 4-stars or higher.

Edit: Adding an infographic showing which Avenger characters have appeared in which of the franchise films, and to what degree. I'm excluding Sif and the Warriors Three because they aren't based on Earth.

Captain America

Captain America is a tough character to pull off. Spider-Man has his guilt and witty banter, Batman his intelligence and obsessive vigilance, and Thor his arrogance and valor. Captain America is just, well, awfully darn nice. He has that cool shield, but contrasted to Spidey's webs, Thor's hammer, Wolverine's claws, and Iron Man's armor, you might think Cap showed up late the day everyone was picking signature weapons. He doesn't come from a doomed planet, mystical island, or even a dark alley; he comes from . . . our grandparents' generation. How did he get his powers? Steroids. Does he have to hide his secret identity? Balance crime-fighting with a day job? Keep his inner rage in check? No, no, and no. He combs his hair each morning, puts on an American flag, and does what he's told.

But Captain America isn't boring. Like Superman, he's driven by righteousness. He gives good orders and he follows good orders. As a tactician, he's able to distribute his teammates with lethal precision, leveraging their individual strengths, and trusting them to succeed. As a soldier, he runs toward the fight without regard for his own life. (It brings tears to my eyes thinking of the scene in the first Captain America in which he jumps on what he thinks is a live grenade, reflexively sacrificing himself to save the handful of people around him.)

The Winter Soldier is easily one of the strongest films in the Avengers franchise. Chris Evan's Captain America is 100% bad-ass, slinging his shield with such awesome proficiency I didn't want to blink, lest I miss out on him taking down another half dozen bad guys. He's backed up by Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), both of whom have more space to shine in this film than they did among The Avengers's larger ensemble. Collectively they both kick enough ass to populate their own sequel. Anthony Mackie as Falcon is an outstanding addition to the team, reminding me that in the comic books, each Avenger in their own title is always supported by a core group of allies (whether superpowered or not), and among Captain America's team, I recall Falcon as his most stalwart friend.

Even in the grand shadow of The Avengers, Iron Man 3, and Thor: The Dark World, Winter Soldier's action sequences impressed me. The film combines the speed and complex choreography of a martial arts movie with the constant super powered demonstrations of The Incredibles. The film is full of guest stars from other franchise installments, and teasers either of movies to come, or just of the wider Marvel universe. This movie is awesome.

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