“CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” (2014) Review

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“CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” (2014) Review

If I have to be perfectly honest, I do not recall the initial reaction to many Marvel fans, when the studio first released the news of the upcoming release of the second Captain America film. I do recall various comments regarding the first one – 2011’s “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER”. The comments for that film ranged from mediocre to box office disappointing. I found the latter opinion odd, considering that movie made a considerable profit at the box office. And besides . . . “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER” proved to be a favorite of mine from 2011.

It was not until the release of this second Captain America film was less than a month away, when I finally heard some excellent word-of-mouth about it. Some were even claiming that it was better than the 2012 blockbuster hit, “THE AVENGERS”. Personally, I could not see how any comic book movie could top that. But I did look forward to seeing “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” – especially after I learned that Robert Redford, of all people, had been cast in the film. I mean . . . honestly, can you imagine an actor like Redford appearing in a Marvel Comics movie? And yet . . . he appeared in this one. Either he was desperate for work, or he really liked Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s screenplay.

“CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” begins two years after the events of “THE AVENGERS”. Steve Rogers aka Captain America now works as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in Washington D.C. During an early morning jog, he meets and befriends an Army veteran named Sam Wilson, before he is summoned by Natasha Romanoff aka the Black Widow for a new mission. Steve, Natasha and a team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents led by Agent Brock Rumlow are ordered to free hostages aboard a S.H.I.E.L.D. vessel from a group of mercenaries. During the mission, Steve discovers that Romanoff has another agenda – to extract data from the ship’s computers for Director Nick Fury. When Rogers returns to the Triskelion, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s headquarters, to confront Fury, the latter briefs him on Project Insight, which consists of three Helicarriers linked to spy satellites and designed to preemptively eliminate threats. After failing to decrypt Romanoff’s recovered data, Fury becomes suspicious about Insight and asks World Security Council member Alexander Pierce to delay the project.

Fury is later ambushed by assailants and a mysterious assassin named the Winter Soldier. After reaching Steve’s apartment and giving the latter a flash drive of the information acquired by Natasha, Fury is gunned down by the Winter Soldier. Steve is summoned by Pierce to explain what happened between him and Fury. But Steve refuses to cooperate and is later declared a fugitive by Pierce and S.H.I.E.L.D. When Natasha helps him evade S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, she also becomes a fugitive. The two S.H.I.E.L.D. agents discover that Steve’s old World War II nemesis, HYDRA, had been infiltrating the agency for years. They seek sanctuary with Sam Wilson, who turns out to be a former U.S. Air Force pararescueman, trained for combat and the use of an EXO-7 “Falcon” wingpack. The trio sets out to learn more details about HYDRA’s infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D. and their agenda, before they can do something about it.

If I must be brutally honest, I feel that “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” is not only one of the best Marvel Comics movies I have ever seen, but also one of my top favorite comic book movies. It is superb. Some have claimed that it is better than “THE AVENGERS”. I do not share that belief. I have yet to see a comic book movie that is better than the 2012 film. But this movie was fantastic. I could see why Robert Redford was willing to be cast in this film. I agree with many that “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” was reminiscent of the political thrillers released during the 1970s. But this particular film did more . . . it shook up the Marvel Movieverse in ways that no one saw coming. The revelation of HYDRA’s infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D. certainly had a major impact on the ABC television series, “AGENTS OF MARVEL”, which is a spin-off of the Marvel films. I also have to say a word about the fight sequences. There have been fight scenes from other Marvel movies and the TV series “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” that I found admirable. But the fight scenes featured in “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” – especially those between Steve and the brainwashed Bucky – were probably the best I have ever seen in a Marvel movie, let alone in recent years.

Many film critics and some moviegoers have commented on the movie’s action sequences. To them, “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” seemed to be a movie with a great deal of action sequences and very little dramatic moments. That was not the movie I saw. Mind you, Anthony and Joe Russo handled the movie’s action sequences very well. Their work was aptly supported by Trent Opaloch’s gorgeous cinematography, Jeffrey Ford’s excellent editing and the exciting work from the visual effects team. I was especially impressed by the following sequences: the S.H.I.E.L.D. team’s rescue of the hostages; HYDRA’s attack upon Nick Fury on the streets of Washington D.C.; Steve, Natasha and Sam deal with a team of HYDRA agents led by the Winter Soldier; and especially the big finale in which the trio and Maria Hill attempted to stop HYDRA’s plans to use the three newly constructed S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarriers.

But as I had earlier stated, I do not believe that “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” was all action and very little drama. The film featured some dramatic moments that not only brought out the best in the cast, but also struck me as very well written. There were a good deal of verbal confrontations in this film. And most of them seemed to feature the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury. I was especially impressed by the drama and the acting in scenes that featured Fury’s two conversations with Steve – one regarding the helicarriers and the other about the future of S.H.I.E.L.D. I also enjoyed Fury’s final confrontation with Alexander Pierce inside the Triskelion. I was also impressed by how the screenwriters and the Russo brothers managed to inject some very good drama in the middle of Steve’s final fight against Bucky, while he tried to convince the latter to remember the past. Speaking of the past, this movie also featured a poignant moment that displayed the strength of Steve and Bucky’s friendship in a late 1930s flashback regarding the death of Steve’s mother. The movie also featured another friendship – the budding one between Steve and Sam. This was especially apparent in one poignant scene in which Steve and Sam discussed the latter’s experiences in Afghanistan.But the best scene, as far as I am concerned, featured Steve’s last conversation with a very elderly and dying Peggy Carter. That moment between the two former lovers seemed so sad that I found myself crying a little. How this particular scene managed to evade the memories of those who claimed that the movie was basically an action fest baffles me.

Was there anything about “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” that baffled me or turned me off? I found it hard to believe that Fury actually accepted Steve’s rather ludicrous suggestion regarding the future of S.H.I.E.L.D. Why he did not laugh in the super soldier’s face or told the latter that suggestion was dangerously naive is beyond me. Why did the movie make such a big deal about HYDRA infiltrating S.H.I.E.L.D., when certain characters made it pretty obvious that it had infiltrated other government agencies . . . all over the world? And considering that Steve’s personality was not suited for espionage, I am still wondering why Marvel – both in the comics and in the movies – would have him join S.H.I.E.L.D. in the first place. And what happened to World Council Member Hawley in the movie’s climax? The movie never explained.

I certainly had no problems with the performances featured in the movie. Once again, Chris Evans proved that he could be a first-rate dramatic actor in his portrayal of Steve Rogers. Although he injected a little more humor into his character – especially in the movie’s first half hour – he did an excellent job of expressing Steve’s continuing discomfort of being a man in the wrong time period, his penchant for making friends with people who are not Tony Stark, and his priggish nature. I should have known that since Evans, who can be a first-rate comedic actor, should also prove to be excellent in drama. He certainly proved it in his scene with Hayley Atwell, who reprise her role as former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Peggy Carter. And she was marvelous as the aging Peggy, who wavered between joy at being with Steve again, sadness that they are now far apart age wise, and suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. But Evans’ leading lady in this film proved to be Scarlett Johansson, who reprised her role as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Natasha Romanoff aka the Black Widow. And as usual, she was fantastic. I do not know whether she did all of her stunts, but she certain looked good. And . . . as usual, Johansson did a great job in conveying the agent’s ambiguous nature – especially in the film’s first half hour. I was especially impressed by her chemistry with Evans in this film. Mind you, they did a good job of projecting a newly developed friendship in“THE AVENGERS”. But in this film, there seemed to be an extra sexual charge between the two characters.

So far, Samuel L. Jackson has appeared in at least six Marvel films. Of the six, he has somewhat sizeable role in“IRON MAN 2”, and major roles in both “THE AVENGERS” and “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER”. He did such a marvelous job as the manipulative Fury in “THE AVENGERS” that I did not think he could repeat himself in portraying that aspect of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Director’s character. I was wrong. He not only did a great job in portraying Fury as manipulative as ever, but at the same time, conveyed Fury’s own anger at being a victim of his mentor’s betrayal. Speaking of which, a part of me still cannot imagine Robert Redford in a comic book movie. And I cannot help but wonder if he felt the same. I wonder who approached him – the people at Marvel or his agent? Nevertheless, I am glad he accepted the role of World Security Council Alexander Pierce. This is the first time I have seen Redford portray a genuine villain and he was great. His Pierce was intelligent, soft-spoken, friendly, manipulative as Fury, and cold-blooded. It is a pity that he did not portray similar roles in the past.

Anthony Mackie joined the cast as Steve’s new friend, Army veteran Sam Wilson aka the Falcon. And like the rest of the cast, he gave a great performance. Mackie injected a good of down-to-earth sensibility to the story, along with some much-needed humor – especially in scenes in which Sam expressed annoyance at the machismo of both Steve and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Brock Rumlow. I was especially impressed in one scene in which Mackie’s Sam recalled his time in Afghanistan and the death of a fellow Army comrade. Sebastian Stan reprised his role as James “Buchanan” Barnes, Steve’s old childhood friend. Only his Bucky Barnes in “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” is, like Steve, a man out of time. More importantly, he is a brainwashed amnesiac and super assassin known as the Winter Soldier. I have to give kudos to Stan for skillful portrayal this seemingly cold-blooded assassin, who seemed torn between his role as a HYDRA killer and a confused man haunted by memories of his friendship with Steve.

The movie also featured some solid supporting performances from Cobie Smulders, who portrayed Fury’s no-nonsense second-in-command Maria Hill; Maximiliano Hernández as Agent Jasper Sitwell; Frank Grillo, who portrayed the cocky Brock Rumlow; Gary Shandling as Senator Stern, and the members of the World Security Council – Alan Dale, Chin Han, Bernard White and Jenny Agutter. By the way, many fans will be amazed to see Jenny Agutter kick butt in one particular scene. And for fans of “LOST”, you might be able to spot Adetokumboh M’Cormack, who portrayed Mr. Eko’s brother in the series, as one of the mercenaries who took control of the S.H.I.E.L.D. ship early in the movie.

There may have been a few things that left me feeling a bit uneasy in “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER”. But if I must be brutally honest, I think it is one of the best Marvel and comic book films I have ever seen . . . period. And one has to thank Kevin Fiege’s excellent control of the Marvel films that centered on the Avengers Initiative, the marvelous screenplay scripted by Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus, Anthony and Joseph Russo’s superb direction and an excellent cast led by Chris Evans. Not only is this a superb film, but it managed to shake up the Marvel Movie Universe considerably.

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Top Ten (10) Favorite Disaster Films

Recently, director James Cameron re-released his 1997 blockbuster “TITANIC” in remembrance of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of R.M.S. Titanic. Because it is a disaster movie, I decided to post my favorite disaster films in the list below: 

 

TOP TEN (10) FAVORITE DISASTER FILMS

1. “2012” (2009) – After a second viewing of Roland Emmerich’s movie about a possible apocalyptic disaster, which is based loosely on the 2012 phenomenon, I realized that it has become a favorite of mine. John Cusak, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, Thomas McCarthy, Danny Glover and Woody Harrelson starred.

 

2. “The Day After Tomorrow” (2004) – Roland Emmerich also directed this film about catastrophic effects of both global warming and global cooling in a series of extreme weather events that usher in a new ice age. Another personal favorite of mine, it starred Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emmy Rossum, Sela Ward and Ian Holm.

 

3. “Battle: Los Angeles” (2011) – Aaron Eckhart and Michelle Rodriguez starred in this exciting movie about the experiences of a U.S. Marine platoon battling invading aliens in Los Angeles. Jonathan Liebsman directed.

4. “A Night to Remember” (1958) – Roy Ward Baker directed this Golden Globe award winning adaptation of Walter Lord’s book of the same name about the sinking of the Titanic. As far as I am concerned, this is probably the best cinematic version of that particular event. Kenneth More, David McCullum, Ronald Allen and Honor Blackman co-starred.

5. “Titanic” (1953) – This is my second favorite movie about the Titanic and it centered around an estranged couple sailing on the ship’s maiden voyage in April 1912. Great drama! Directed by Jean Negulesco, the movie starred Barbara Stanwyck, Clifton Webb, Robert Wagner, Audrey Dalton, Thelma Ritter, Richard Basehart and Brian Aherne.

 

 

6. “Independence Day” (1996) – Produced by Dean Devlin and directed by Roland Emmerich, this movie is about a disaster of a science-fiction nature, as it depicts a hostile alien invasion of Earth, and its effects upon a disparate group of individuals and families. The movie starred Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Vivica A. Fox, Randy Quaid, Margaret Colin, Judd Hirsch and Robert Loggia.

 

7. “Titanic” (1997) – James Cameron directed this latest version of the Titanic sinking that won eleven (11) AcademyAwards, including Best Picture. Centered around an ill-fated love story, the movie starred Leonardo DiCaprio, Oscar nominee Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Frances Fisher, Bill Paxton, Kathy Bates and Oscar nominee Gloria Stuart.

 

8. “In Old Chicago” (1937) – Based on the Niven Busch story, “We the O’Learys”, the movie is a fictionalized account about political corruption and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Directed by Henry King, the movie starred Tyrone Power, Alice Faye, Don Ameche and Oscar winner Alice Brady.

 

9. “Outbreak” (1995) – Wolfgang Petersen directed this tale about the outbreak of a fictional Ebola-like virus called Motaba at a town in Northern California, and how far the military and civilian agencies might go to contain the spread. Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Morgan Freeman, Cuba Gooding Jr., Kevin Spacey and Donald Sutherland.

 

10. “The Poseidon Adventure” (1972) – Based on a novel by Paul Gallico, the movie centered around the capsizing of a luxurious ocean liner by a tsunami caused by an under sea earthquake; and the desperate struggles of a handful of survivors to journey up to the bottom of the hull of the liner before it sinks. Ronald Neame directed a cast that included Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Oscar nominee Shelley Winters, Carol Lynley and Frank Albertson.

As a treat, here is a video clip featuring scenes from recent, well-known disaster movies.

“THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” (2004) Review

“THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” (2004) Review

I have seen only four movies directed by Roland Emmerich. All of them were disaster films of some kind, whether they centered on an alien invasion or a natural catastrophe. Of the four movies, only one of them I had failed to see in the movie theaters. That movie happened to be Emmerich’s 2004 movie, “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW”

The movie depicted the catastrophic effects of global warming in a series of extreme weather events that ushers in global cooling which leads to a new ice age. “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” began with a paleoclimatologist named Jack Hall on an expedition in Antarctica with his two colleagues, Frank and Jason. While drilling for ice core samples on an ice shelf for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Jack almost falls to his death, when the shelf breaks off. Later, Jack presents his findings on global warming at a United Nations conference in New Dehli. Unfortunately, many diplomats and Vice President of the United States Raymond Becker remain unconvinced by Jack’s findings. But Professor Terry Rapson of the Hedland Climate Research Centre in Scotland believes Jack’s theories. Two buoys in the North Atlantic simultaneously show a massive drop in the ocean temperature and Rapson concludes that melting polar ice is disrupting the North Atlantic current. He contacts Jack, whose paleoclimatological weather model shows how climate changes caused the first Ice Age, and can predict what will happen. Jack believes the events will take hundreds or thousands of years. But his team and NASA’s meteorologist Janet Tokada build a forecast model with their combined data.

Across the world, violent weather causes mass destruction, including a massive snowstorm in New Delhi, a hailstorm destroying Tokyo, and a series of devastating tornadoes in Los Angeles. President Blake authorizes the FAA to suspend all air traffic due to severe turbulence. Meanwhile, Jack’s son, Sam is in New York City for an academic competition with his friends Brian and Laura. There, they befriend a student named J.D. (Austin Nichols). During the competition, birds migrating south suddenly fill the sky and the weather becomes increasingly violent with intense winds and rains. Sam calls his father, promising to be on the next train home. Unfortunately, the storm worsens, forcing the closure of the subways and Grand Central Terminal. As the storm worsens a massive tidal wave hits Manhattan, causing major flooding. Sam and his friends seek shelter in the New York Public Library.

After seeing the last Roland Emmerich film, 2009’s “2012”, I came to a conclusion that the director likes to follow a pattern regarding his disaster films. One, most these films usually feature a dysfunctional family or divorced couple, a new romance, cheesy dialogue (especially from minor characters), questionable science, an annoying government official, a head of state – friendly or otherwise, a friendly foreign-born colleague and a noble scientist in one of the leads. Well, “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” certainly featured every one of those traits. Which goes to show that the movie is not exactly an epitome of originality. I also have one more complaint. In my recap of the movie’s first forty minutes, I failed to point out that Dr. Lucy Hall, Jack’s ex-wife and Sam’s mother, remained behind at a Washington D.C. to care for a very ill young patient, while the city’s remaining citizens are evacuated to Mexico with the rest of the country’s southern citizens. Northern citizens, along with Sam and his friends in New York, are forced to remain behind and wait for rescue. The movie made such a big deal about Lucy’s willingness to sacrifice her safety for the sake of her patient. Yet, very little time passed before an ambulance appeared to evacuate both doctor and patient to the south. Talk about a wasted storyline.

Despite my quibbles about the movie’s lack of originality and the Lucy Hall storyline, I must admit that “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” has become one of favorite disaster movies of all time. I really enjoyed it. I was surprised to discover that screenwriters Emmerich and Jeffrey Nachmanoff may have used the historic 1993 Storm of the Century as an inspiration for the film. The screenwriters also did an able job of setting up the story with a series of natural disasters – the breaking of the ice shelf in Antarctica, the hailstorm in Tokyo and the series of tornadoes in Los Angeles. Emmerich and Nachmanoff also did an admirable job in setting up the movie’s centerpiece – the tidal wave that hits New York City – with a series of events that began with Terry Rapson and his colleagues detecting the drop in oceanic temperatures and ended with a heavy rainstorm that threatened Manhattan. With the exception of the Lucy Hall storyline in Washington D.C., I feel that this movie was well-paced not only by the screenwriters, but also by Emmerich’s direction.

However, I cannot talk about “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” without discussing the film’s special and visual effects. And I must be honest that I found them mind blowing. The special effects teams supervised by the likes of Louis Craig, John Palmer and Christian Rivest did a superb job in depicting the film’s natural disasters. I also found Greg and Colin Strause, Greg Anderson, Remo Balcells and Eric Brevig’s visual effects featured in the movie equally stunning. And with the assistance of cinematographer Ueli Steiger, these two teams made the Manhattan tidal wave and Ice Age sequences two of the most memorable I have ever seen in a disaster film. I have not been a fan of the musical scores featured in Emmerich’s films such as 1996’s “INDEPENDENCE DAY” and 1998’s “GODZILLA”. But I was surprised to find myself impressed by Harald Kloser and Thomas Wanker’s score for this film. It had a haunting and smooth quality that seemed lacking in some of Emmerich’s other films.

Despite my love for this film, I must admit that I found it almost difficult to endure some of the cheesy dialogue and acting by many of the minor characters. In fact, one could find some of the worst acting by minor characters in the sequence featuring the New York City tidal wave. Thankfully, “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” featured a solid cast that proved to be more talented than many of the minor supporting actors. I think that Dr. Jack Hall might prove to be one of my favorite Dennis Quaid roles. I realize that the actor is more known for portraying sexy, roguish types in movies like “THE BIG EASY” and “THE RIGHT STUFF”. But I must admit that I found it refreshing to see him portray a no-nonsense and intense type like Jack Hall. He was ably supported by Jake Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of the character’s son, Sam Hall. Gyllenhaal must have been at least 22 or 23 years old at the time, but he skillfully projected a sardonic weariness, tinged with a little offspring resentment that strongly impressed me.

I also enjoyed the performances of Ian Holm as the intelligent and warm-hearted Terry Raspon; Sela Ward as Jack’s nearly frantic ex-wife; and Emmy Russum as Sam’s tender-hearted, yet ambitious love interest. Perry King’s President of the United States may have come off as a little too noble, but he still gave a solid performance. I was especially amused by Arjay Smith’s portrayal of Sam’s sardonic friend Brian; Glenn Plummer as the blunt, yet hilarious homeless man who decides to remain at the public library with Jack and his friends in order to survive; and Nestor Serrano as Jack’s no-nonsense boss at the NOAA. But the one performance that surprisingly impressed me came from Kenneth Walsh as the irritable Vice-President. The actor ably developed his character from a snide and bureaucratic politician to a man who had the grace and wisdom to realize that he had been wrong to doubt Jack.

I realize that “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” had received mixed reviews upon its release nearly seven years ago. Many critics had complained about the questionable science behind Roland Emmerich and Jeffrey Nachmanoff’s story and some of the film’s other flaws. But I believe that its virtues – a solid cast led by Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal, stunning special and visual effects, a well-paced script and solid direction Emmerich – outweighed the flaws. And this is why it has become a personal favorite of mine.