Review – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

hr_Captain_America-_The_Winter_Soldier_138I waited months to see Captain America: The First Avenger. I was worried that they would take one of Marvel’s great characters, and make a film that took his title literally and create something that ultimately boiled down to US propaganda, rather than really explore what Steve Rogers is about. The first time around, I wanted to hate it. I mocked everything – laughed at the dialogue, joked about how one scene in particular was awfully reminiscent of Return of the Jedi, rolled my eyes at Hugo Weaving’s scenery chewing – but at the end I turned to my husband and said that was awesome, let’s watch it again.

I feel bad about my lack of faith in Marvel Studios now. While I still try to go in to MCU films with no hope other than to be entertained, they consistently and effectively deliver exactly what the audience is wanting. What does the audience want? A film that shows us superheroes that exist here in the real world. A universe that is so close to ours, that sometimes it’s easy to suspend your disbelief, and imagine that these events are really happening, while we’re sitting in the comfort of our living rooms watching the destruction on the news.

To say Winter Soldier is a game changer is a bit of an understatement really, but it’s difficult to elaborate on that idea without offering up some pretty huge spoilers for the end of the film. What I will say, however, is that it cements the concept of these characters existing around us. From Sam Wilson’s uncannily plausible flight suit, through to Frank Grillo’s likeable but sinister portrayal of Brock Rumlow (the name Crossbones is never mentioned outside of a bit of symbolism for comics fans), and Robert Redford’s brilliant turn as Alexander Pierce – someone you can really see heading up an intelligence agency. They’re written well, they’re acted well, and most importantly, they talk like real people, which are key elements missing from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – the Marvel property with the closest ties to Winter Soldier.

Chris-EVans-vai-gostarHow can a film that contains such a ridiculous character as Batroc the Leaper do this so well though? Through brave interpretations of characters whom we have seen as jokes, caricatures, and ridiculously implausible technological developments. Just wait until you see how they brought Arnim Zola into the modern day – it’s genius, and not at all what I was expecting.

While the peripheral characters are the icing on a rather large cake, the main characters have plenty of time to shine. With a running time of over two hours, there’s never any doubt that everyone gets their share of the limelight. Nick Fury gets his own action sequence, Maria Hill has a key role to play in the final act and somehow there’s still time to explore how the events of the Battle of New York have affected Cap and Black Widow’s – both personally and publicly. There’s a glaring lack of Black Widow backstory, but Johansson’s character actually gets to be a person here, rather than a means to an end, or a Whedon Woman trope, which gives me hope that those Black Widow movie rumours may come to fruition after all. Chris Evans handles bringing the role of Steve into the modern world very well, he plays him with just the right combination of righteousness and sass, and that’s exactly what I think Cap is all about.

The real stars of this show, however, are Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan, as Sam Wilson, and Bucky Barnes respectively. Mackie’s clear excitement at being able to play in the sandbox carries over to his portrayal of Wilson, who has a kind of fanboy excitement about being included in Cap and Widow’s team. Stan does an impressive job of a role that, for most of the film, involves a lot of empty, angry, or irritated gazes, and the delivery of one particular choice line lifted from the comic. Both actors fit their roles perfectly, yet another example of Marvel choosing the right actors, and developing the right characters.

bwposter2From a technical standpoint, this is probably Marvel’s most ambitious project to date. If you think The Avengers was a large project CG wise, forget it. Winter Soldier has not one, but three helicarriers, more action sequences than I can remember, and while it may not have Iron Man 3 scale supersuits, the work on Falcon’s wings, and The Winter Soldier’s arm, is pretty impressive. There are certainly a few missteps in the larger scale shots that are more visible when viewing the film in 2D, but overall the CG is great.

The score is adequate, with moments of greatness when building tension, but there are points where it could have done with dropping out completely. Over all, Winter Soldier has a post-Cold War action thriller vibe to it, and sometimes the score doesn’t quite fit, particularly during a lot of Cap’s dialogue. I found myself wanting a bit less soaring patriotism, and a bit more understated disillusionment.

On paper, it’s hard to believe this film would work. The guys who made You, Me and Dupree direct an espionage thriller based off a comic book, where half of the long standing characters either aren’t cast in the film, or are only just being introduced, and the only way you won’t know what the big reveal will be is if you live under a rock. Forget about it. Wry humour, innovative use of characters, and a big reveal that has so much more large scale fallout than what you’re thinking of, make this film quite possibly the best that we’ve seen from Marvel Studios yet.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier makes excellent use of one of Brubaker’s great storylines, but never once feels like the core concept came from a comic. Anthony and Joe Russo may be mostly known for directing such classics of modern cult television comedy as Arrested Development, Happy Endings, and Community, but don’t let that make you think they can’t handle a big budget action epic.

Equal parts tense dialogue, thrilling action, and character development, Captain America: The Winter Soldier pushes the Marvel Cinematic Universe one step closer to the audience, and continues to reinforce the idea that superhero movies don’t need to exist in their own genre.

2013 Comics Highlights

capt-marvelIt’s the time of the year where we look back on the previous 12 months and the highlights and lowlights. Kimberley Griffiths and I dragged ourselves off our respective summer couches to throw some bouquets and brickbats:

Kimberley’s take

1. /Hawkeye v4/

This series has gone from strength to strength, and bringing in whole issues for Kate Bishop was a genius idea on the creative team’s part. Some have disliked the amount of introspection in Fraction’s book, but for me, it’s a welcome relief from the constant chaotic events that tend to take over the Marvel universe. It just edges out my number two thanks to none of its issues being annoying event tie-ins. Favourite issue? #11 (Pizza Dog), thanks to the innovative storytelling and David Aja’s fabulous art. (Marvel)

2. /Captain Marvel v7/

The first volume of Kelly Sue’s book is now over, but this has been a huge standout for me. When it first started, I was mostly just excited to see Carol in pants, but it had me hooked within two issues. Wonderfully written, only a few missteps with the art and the Infinity tie-in, and great character development. I can’t wait for volume 2.

Favourite issue? #17, which ended on a poignant, whimsical note.  (Marvel)

3. /Pretty Deadly/

Another Kelly Sue Deconnick title, this one is brand new but already shows promise to be a stand out for 2014. I feel like we’ve been waiting for it forever, but the anticipation didn’t dull any of my enjoyment – gorgeous art from Emma Rios, a witty, clever script from DeConnick, and Jordie Bellaire’s subtle touch on colours. It’s a fairytale western mystery, and if that combination doesn’t hook you, the art certainly might.

Favourite issue? #1 if only because there’s only three so far. (Image)

And the worst: Rick Remender’s /Captain America/ /v7/. I made it five issues in before I decided it wasn’t worth it, not even for Steve (Marvel). The Bounce, for being a self indulgent, trying too hard to be cool, disaster of a book (Image).

David’s take

1. /Daredevil: End of Days/

This mini-series was not only the highlight of 2013 for me but probably the highlight of the last five years in comics I’ve read. Art to die for, a brilliantly penned story with equal amounts of Daredevil history and new events – this series has got some serious praise and it’s all deserved. (Marvel)

2. /Judge Dredd/

I’m quite the Judge Dredd fan and I really like what IDW are doing with him. The stories are new, the art is more than respectable and the franchise is getting the respect it deserves. My only criticism would be that IDW oversaturated a little with the Judge Dredd: Year One and Judge Dredd Classics, although Mars Attacks versus Judge Dredd has been brilliant. (IDW)

ToddUgliest3. /Todd: The Ugliest Kid On Earth/

I’ve raved repeatedly on this title, and I’ll continue to do so. It’s wall to wall quality from an art, story and humour viewpoint. Each cover is pretty well worth the price of admission alone. (Image)

The lowlight for me was: Hoax Hunters even though I liked it a lot initially – it just lost me by issue six or seven and I just gave up.

For 2014 I’ve added Pretty Deadly to my pull list and would love any suggestions for others. Happy New Year from us all here at The Comics Herald!

Captain America: Living Legend #1 – Diggle/Granov

living-legendWhat is Captain America: Living Legend?

Well, three years late, is a good place to start. This four part miniseries was supposed to be released in the lead up to the Captain America: The First Avenger (albeit under a different title), and it’s been shelved ever since. Now, with Captain America: The Winter Soldier movie around the corner, I guess they figured the right time is now.

I’ve been looking forward to this title for a while, mostly because I dropped Remender’s Captain America on issue 5, not caring for his problematic, pointless, and at times out of character story, or for JRJR’s ugly art. All I was looking for in this book was a decent story and solid art – anything to wipe what’s happening in the character’s current ongoing story from my memory.

On this front, Living Legend delivers. It’s not a great title by any means, but it’s engaging and interesting enough to have me looking forward to the next issue. Diggle’s writing is solid, although the story lacks cohesiveness at times, and it’s nice to see Steve back in character again.

The story begins in 1945 Germany, skips through Soviet era Siberia, and ends up in the present day. From WWII, to space, and finally the Helicarrier. Much of the start of the issue is taken up introducing the character who will be the main protagonist, and this doesn’t leave a lot of room for Steve, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s a good set up for the next three issues, but if #2 doesn’t feature a less disjointed narrative, then the title may be in trouble.

The issue is illustrated by the celebrated Adi Granov. He’s best known for ultra-detailed work, and that’s certainly what you can expect here. Fans of Granov’s work will be excited to see a full issue featuring his art. Sadly, I once again found myself decidedly underwhelmed. I have never been a fan of Granov’s, and while I can appreciate the technical skill, I always find it leaving me cold. His lack of expression (and I don’t mean facial) and movement, as well as his characters looking placed in their environments, rather than interacting with them, is something I struggle with. The page design is also uninspiring – although he does take some risks in places, it just doesn’t quite work.

Living Legend is also filled with his trademark teeth baring expressions, as well as almost grotesque looking characters. I was also unsurprised to see Sharon Carter looking exactly the same as just about every female character Granov has ever drawn, just with blonde hair. Interestingly, I found the less detailed panels far better. When he takes the focus off creating something photo realistic, his work can really shine.

Living Legend is a little bit of a let down, but far, far better than Remender’s current ongoing. The sci-fi element looks like it could pan out to be interesting, and Andy Diggle’s writing is nothing to sneeze at. Those who share my opinion of Adi Granov’s art, may be pleased to hear the rest of the miniseries will be illustrated by Agustin Alessio, so here’s hoping there’s more dynamic movement between panels next issue.

Over all, definitely worth a read if you’re a Cap fan, but don’t set your expectations too high.