Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Anthony & Joe Russo, 2014)
I wrote about the new Captain America film for the francophone film website Panorama-cinéma. In a nutshell: hands down Marvel’s best film so far, and in keeping with Ed Brubaker’s source material, the film proves smartly indebted to the 70s political thriller. Furthermore, it finally dares bring some monumental changes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s status quo, which proves highly satisfying following a bunch of hermetic and uneven sequels to the Thor and Iron Man franchises. It also successfully reframes Steve Rogers as a hero of the present, sabotaging his inherent New Deal idealism through a quotation of post-Watergate paranoia (and it’s cinematic mirrors), which in turn comments on today: S.H.I.E.L.D. acts as a substitute for the America of drone warfare and NSA data-mining and, in a turn of events of unexpected cathartic potential, is brought down. Of course, it’s not as subversive as I make it sound and most of this is felt in the sinuous and propulsive plot.
Conversely, the film’s aesthetic proves as mechanical and uninspired as one could expect from this kind of hasty and “safe” tent pole studio film. In keeping with most of Marvel Studios’ so-called “Phase 2”, it is a haphazardly made producer’s vision, assembled by sitcom television directors , with little or no interest in the staging or interesting cutting of action. More frustratingly, the Russo brothers also have no interest in replicating the stylings of the various films screenwriters Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely have so much fun quoting (think 3 Days of the Condor or All The President’s Men, for example). Considering The Winter Soldier is a film that mostly takes place in (and occasionally comments on) the greyish, drab world of corporate America and its surrounding non-places (malls, airplane carriers, submarines, offices, hospitals, highways), this bland “TV aesthetic” is occasionally fitting, but the film suffers where it matters most: some action sequences prove muddy and spatially confusing in key places, and perhaps one could also look to blame stunt coordinator and second unit director Spiro Razatos, who has handled many similar-looking films, more recently Fast and Furious 6 and Total Recall.
Such is the game in Hollywood, though, and this is far from unwatchable: my only complaint is that it is a bit mechanical, and as a fan, I can only hope for a sharply stylized Captain America that’s more like The Conversation and less like every film in theaters right now. I kept thinking they should give the sequels to either John Hyams or Anton Corbijn, but we’ll have to wait for James Gunn’s Guardians and Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man to see if auteurist iconoclasm can even pierce through Marvel/Disney’s thick shield of uniform and accessible blockbuster filmmaking ethos. As a fanboy, the inclusion of Falcon, Batroc, allusions to Sharon Stone and Stephen Strange, as well as the implications of the film’s ending, have me more excited for Cap 3 than for Avengers: Age of Ultron, and I’m glad and surprised I got as much juice out of this one. I guess it also means I’ll pick up Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. where I left it. Anyhow, if you read French, you should click through to read more or less what I’ve hastily recapped (and, lucky you, revised) over here. You’ll also get a brief discussion of the film’s urban guerrilla aesthetic and how it brings back its violence to the more human level of chases and knife fights, getting away from the allegorical spaceships crashing into anonymous buildings.