“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” and the Disappointment of Season Two (2014-2015)

“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” AND THE DISAPPOINTMENT OF SEASON TWO (2014-2015)

I might as well put my cards on the table. I did not like Season Two of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”. In fact, I almost despised it. But what I despised even further is this belief among television viewers and critics that Season Two was an improvement over the series’ first season. This told me that today’s society has no real concept of what constitutes good or bad storytelling.

After the Season One finale, (1.22) “Beginning of the End”, first aired, I made a prediction that the producers and writers would respond to the complaints about the show’s slow storytelling and give them what they want in the following season. When I first saw the Season Two premiere, (2.01) “Shadows”, I saw to my disappointment that Joss Whedon’s Mutant Enemy, Marvel and Disney did exactly that. “Shadows” was a travesty for me. But the worst was yet to come. By the time the series’ mid-season finale (2.10) “What They Become” had aired, I was ready to throw in the towel for this series. So, what kept me watching “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” after that horrible mid-season episode? My family. By this time, the members of my family had become regular viewers of the show. However, I did my level best to ignore as many episodes as I could. Unfortunately, I was unable to ignore most of the episodes that made up the second half of the show.

Where there any aspects of Season Two of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” that I liked? There were some performances that impressed me. Both Reed Diamond and Dichen Lachman made first-rate villains as former HYDRA commander Werner Reinhardt aka Daniel Whitehall and the Inhumans’ leader Jiaying. I suppose I have to give some credit to Mutant Enemy and Marvel/Disney for promoting Henry Simmons (Alphonso “Mack” MacKenzie) to series regular, despite getting rid of B.J. Britt (Antoine Triplett) and maintaining J. August Richards (Mike Peterson aka Deathlok) as a recurring cast member. This show’s attitude toward non-white characters and performers is still bad enough to make my stomach turn. And there are at least four episodes that I managed to really enjoy this season, namely:

(2.04) “Face My Enemy” – Agent Melinda May is kidnapped and a HYDRA impersonator takes her place in order in order to lure S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Phil Coulson into a trap. This episode first introduced the brainwashed Kara Palamas aka Agent 33.

(2.15) “One Door Closes” – This episode featured flashbacks on how agents like Alfonso MacKenzie, Bobbi Morse and especially Robert Rodriguez survived the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D., while serving aboard one of the agencies’ aircraft carriers and formed their own S.H.I.E.L.D. faction.

(2.17) “Melinda” – Once again, Agent May is the focus. In this episode, she looks into Coulson’s actions as S.H.I.E.L.D. director, while in control of the agency’s main base. This episode also flashed back to how her first encounter with the Inhumans led to a great deal of trauma for her.

(2.21-2.22) “S.O.S.” -The two S.H.I.E.L.D. teams, now under Coulson’s leadership, try to prevent Jiaying from destroying the agency and mankind. Meanwhile, Bobbi Morse is held hostage by Grant Ward and Kara Palamas in order to coerce her into confessing her actions as a S.H.I.E.L.D. mole within HYDRA.

It is a miracle that I actually managed to enjoy three of this season’s twenty-two episodes without being disgusted, bored or pissed off. Why? Because there is a good deal of Season Two that I heartily disliked. One, I disliked the change in the series’ storytelling. I disliked how Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen seemed more interested in providing as much action as possible, without any real consideration toward the series’ narrative. There have been complaints about the series’ convoluted writing for the past season. But most fans and critics have not been listening or paying attention. Even the season finale, “S.O.S.” reflected this penchant to stuff as much action as possible. I found it unnecessary for the writers to include two major story arcs in this episode. They could have saved the Bobbi Morse kidnapping arc for a separate episode.

And then there was (2.19) “The Dirty Half Dozen”, the series’ tie-in to the summer blockbuster, “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON”. The writers took a break from the Inhumans story arc to bring back HYDRA and do . . . what? Coulson, his team, Robert Gonzales’ S.H.I.E.L.D. team, Grant Ward and Kara Palamas infiltrated a HYDRA base operated by one Dr. List to save Mike Peterson aka Deathlok and Inhuman Lincoln Campbell, who had been kidnapped by the villainous agency. This gave Coulson the opportunity to discover the location of the main HYDRA base and the organization’s leader, Wolfgang von Strucker. This whole episode was about setting up the prologue for the second “THE AVENGERS movie and trying to repeat the critical success of Season One’s (1.17) “Turn, Turn, Turn”. As far as I am concerned, the Season Two episode failed. Why? The Season One episode had a far reaching impact on both the season and series’ narrative. “The Dirty Half Dozen” barely made an impact on the rest of the season, other than driving Ward and Kara away from S.H.I.E.L.D. And the season’s main narrative immediately returned to the Inhuman story arc. I have never known for Mutant Enemy to be this clumsy in their writing in the past.

Another aspect of Season Two that I disliked so much was the unwillingness of the showrunners to take their time with their stories. “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” is supposed to be at its core, a serial drama. The story lines for serial dramas are supposed to take its time … even to the point of them being played out over several seasons. Due to some need for higher ratings and pleasing the fans who seemed to be unaware of what a serial drama is supposed to be, the Whedons and Tancharoen rushed headlong into Season Two’s story arc without bothering to set up the introductions of the new characters. Well, I take that back. They took their time with the Daniel Whitehall and Jiaying characters. But they rushed headlong into the introductions of Lance Hunter, Alphonso MacKenzie and Bobbi Morse without any real setup. Why? They wanted to rush right into the action. Storytelling has now reached a point in which novels, movies and serial television series have to jump into the action without any real set up or introduction. Why? Because so many people have become so damn impatient. Or else today’s society has the attention span of a gnat.

Mutant Enemy also did a piss-poor job of handling some of their characters. For example . . . there is Grant Ward. Why is this character still on the show? Why is he still a regular? He was in slightly more than half of the episodes, this season. In fact, he was missing a lot in the second half of Season Two. He has become a irrelevant character. Mutant Enemy should have wasted his ass at the end of Season One. Most of Season Two saw Brett Dalton portray Ward as some mysterious super spy, while channeling Julian McMahon’s acting style. It did not help that producer Jeffrey Bell tried to claim that Dalton possessed the same level of acting skills and screen presence as James Marsters of “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”. I did not know whether to laugh at the implication or shake my head in disgust. Worse, I was subjected to three episodes of the saga regarding Ward’s relationship with his brother, Senator Christian Ward (Tim DeKay). The entire story arc came to nothing and no future impact upon the series’ narrative. Ward ended the season with accidentally killing Kara and declaring his intentions of becoming the new HYDRA leader. All I can say is . . . good luck. Why? Recently, Marvel and Disney announced that Daniel Brühl had recently been cast to portray Baron Zemo, the new HYDRA leader for the upcoming film, “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR”. If so . . . why is Ward still around?

Another problematic character for me proved to be Skye aka Daisy Johnson aka Earthquake (or whatever her name is). I used like Skye . . . back in Season One. I did not like her very much in Season Two. Her story arc dominated the season just a little too much. She also lost some of her sense of humor. Her martial arts skills developed just a bit too fast for me to consider them realistic. And quite honestly, I realized I could not care less about the Inhuman story line. Or the fact that Skye became a “super being”. I am still pissed that Mutant Enemy allowed Skye to become one without any change in her physical looks. Yet, it was so damn important that another character, Raina, have her looks drastically altered. I guess that is what happens when an actress of African descent appears on this show.

Then again, this series’ treatment of its non-white characters, especially African-Americans, has always been problematic . . . even in Season One. It grew worse in Season Two. At least two non-white male characters – Antoine “Tripp” Triplett and the other S.H.I.E.L.D. director Robert Gonzales – were bumped off. I am still angry over Trip’s death. And I am disgusted over the handling of Gonzales character. I cannot count the number of episodes in which Coulson maintained this smug and superior attitude toward Gonzales, which left me feeling disgusted. The manner of his death also disgusted me. But I was not surprised. Mutant Enemy also managed to kill off three non-white female characters in “S.O.S.” – Jiaying, Raina and Kara Palamas. Three non-white women . . . in one episode. What in the fuck?? Disney/Marvel and Mutant Enemy did make Henry Simmons a series regular at the end of the season. Yet, they did so at least sometime after they had promoted Adrianne Palicki. They also promoted Luke Mitchell, who portrays Inhuman Lincoln Campbell. But for some reason, J. August Richards, who has been portraying Mike Peterson since the series’ premiere, is still stuck portraying a recurring character. Why? Was it really that important to Marvel/Disney and Mutant Enemy to provide a white male love interest for Skye? Let me get this straight. It was okay for Mutant Enemy to have two regular characters portrayed by women of Asian descent. It was okay for the production company to have three regular characters portrayed by British white . . . one woman and two men. But for some reason, they cannot maintain more than one regular character of African descent? Too disgusted beyond words.

I do not know what else to say about Season Two of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”. I disliked it. Immensely. The series’ writing struck me as a clear indication that the quality of storytelling, especially for the serial drama format, is going down the tubes. Even worse, a good number of television viewers and critics seem unaware of this. Their idea of good storytelling is to rush headlong into the narrative with a great deal of action and hardly any setups or introductions. This is sloppy writing at its worst. However, I suspect that nothing will really change for Season Three.  Some of the mistakes I had spotted, while watching Season Two, continued in the 2015-2016 television season. Hmmm. Pity.

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“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” Season Two – At Mid Point

 
“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” SEASON TWO – AT MID-POINT

Ever since the second season of Marvel’s “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”, many television viewers and critics have waxed lyrical over their belief over the series’ improvement from Season One. And yet … the ratings for the show seemed to reflect differently from this view. Regardless of the opinions of others or the ratings, I have my own views about the show’s Season Two.

I am going to be blunt. I do not like Season Two of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”. In fact, it has turned out to be a major disappointment for me. Last season, many fans and critics complained about the show’s pacing and slow revelation of the season’s main story arc. For them, Mutant Enemy’s handling of Season Two’s story arc has improved a great deal. I disagree. I had no problems with the development of Season One’s story arc. For me, it was no different from the formats for previous Sci-Fi/Fantasy serial television shows like “BABYLON 5”, along with Mutant Enemy’s “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” and “ANGEL”. All three shows began their story arcs for each season slowly and eventually build up the story arc to a mind boggling conclusion.“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” did the same. Many fans, critics and even Marvel claimed that Season One’s slow build up and occasional breaks had more to do with allowing the season’s story arc to build up to the plot for “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER”. I say bullshit to that.

“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”, like many other television shows with twenty-two (22) episodes per season, usually took occasional breaks in order to stretch out 22 episodes within a time period of seven to eight months. This is nothing new. These breaks have been going on for many television shows for a long time. In their impatience and occasional stupidity, many forgot that. Many also seemed to have forgotten that “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” was a serial drama about government agents that work for an intelligence organization … not about superheroes and superheroines. For some reason, many fans ignored the show’s title and honestly expected the constant appearances of costumed Marvel superheroes and superheroines. Why? I have no idea. But Disney (who owns the ABC Network), Marvel and Mutant Enemy decided to heed the complaints for the sake of ratings and change the series’ style.

What did they do? Well, they introduced new characters – especially new agents – in the wake of the downfall of S.H.I.E.L.D. from the spring of 2014. How did Mutant Enemy introduce these new characters? Actually, they did not. Instead, new characters such as Alphonse “Mack” McKenzie, Lance Hunter and Isabelle Hartley had already been recruited as S.H.I.E.L.D. agents when the first episode, (2.01) “Shadows”. The episode also quickly introduced a new villain, a HYDRA official known as Daniel Whitehall, with a flashback to the past. The new characters, along with familiar characters such as Phil Coulson, Melinda May, Skye and Antoine Triplett, were quickly thrust into a new mission, which quickly morphed into part of the season’s new story arc – the recovery of an alien object known as the Obelisk. Everything about this episode seemed to hint “speed”. Missing from “Shadows” was Agent In fact,“speed” seemed to be the essence of the plotting and pacing for the first half of Season Two.

I find it ironic that many fans complained about how certain characters like Akela Amador, Chan Ho Yin and the Asgardian refugee Dr. Elliot Randolph seemed to have come and gone with the wind. Yet, they failed to realize that similar characters in Season Two did the same … or appeared in at least two to three episodes before disappearing. I refer to characters like Isabelle Hartley, Carl Creel, and Senator Christian Ward. But this did not bother me … except for their handling of Agent Amador and Senator Ward. What really bothered me was the handling of certain recurring or main characters.

There have been complaints about Mutant Enemy’s handling of its minority characters … well, its African-American characters. I never understood why it was so important for the Mike Peterson character to disappear after the Season One episode, (1.22) “Beginning of the End”. What the hell happened to him? Ten Season Two episodes have aired since and not once has the series revealed his whereabouts. Come to think of it … what happened to Akela Amador? She was imprisoned by Coulson’s team … even after they had learned that HYDRA had coerced her into pulling off several robberies on their behalf. HYDRA had released prisoners such as Raina and Ian Quinn, after the S.H.I.E.L.D. Civil War. What about Agent Amador? What happened to her? Off all the new S.H.I.E.L.D. agents introduced during Season Two, only two got the shot end of the stick. One of them was Isabelle Hartley, who was killed off in “Shadows”. The other character was Alphonso “Mack” MacKenzie, who was more or less used as some kind of therapy tool for the Leo Fitz character, before being transformed into some kind of zombie in the episode, (2.09) “…Ye Who Enter Here”. As of the season’s mid-season finale, (2.10) “What They Become”, Mack is no longer a “zombie”. But no one knows if he has fully recovered. I fear that Mack’s fate will become similar to that of the Elam Ferguson character from AMC’s “HELL ON WHEELS”.

Ruth Negga continued her role as Raina, the mysterious woman who had aligned herself with HYDRA and later, a man named Calvin Zabo who might be an Inhuman. As it turned out, Raina is also an Inhuman … like Skye. However, she underwent a physical transformation:

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And Skye … did not:
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Why? Why Raina and not Skye? Why did a character portrayed by an actress of Irish and African ancestry transformed into a non-Human form?

Finally, I come to Antoine “Trip” Triplett. The show’s “Legacy” agent, who had played a major role in the defeat of John Garrett, a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent-turned-HYDRA mole at the end of Season One, seemed to have been shoved to the background by the writers under showrunners Joss and Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen and producer Jeffrey Bell. Why? Mutant Enemy and Marvel claimed that Britt was under contract to the BET series, “BEING MARY JANE”, which meant in their eyes, they could not use him as much as they “wanted”. Hmmm … more bullshit. They were able to use a great deal of Britt in the second half of Season One. And the actor appeared in less than half of the latest season for “BEING MARY JANE”. In fact, the latter has been scheduled by BET to end in 2015. What was the point in sidelining Britt in that manner? And why did they killed off Britt’s character with some of the most contrived writing I have seen on this show in “What They Become”, without allowing him to have a major appearance in said episode? It was just disgusting to watch.Speaking of contrived writing, I encountered a good deal of it in Season Two. The writers for “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” went through of minor story arcs with the speed of a ballistic missile. I realize that Season One had its share of one-shot episodes – especially in its first half. Again, I have no problems with this. One-shot episodes were pretty common in televised serial dramas like“BUFFY” and “BABYLON 5”. But in Season Two of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”, the writers would set up a story arc with a great deal of build up and end the story arc within two to five episodes. The series ended up wasting potential characters and story arcs like Carl Creel, Jemma Simmons’ role as a S.H.I.E.L.D. mole within HYDRA, the introduction of Senator Christian Ward and the Daniel Whitehall character. Mind you, Whitehall lasted for ten episodes. Only, I had not expected him to be introduced so fast … and killed off so soon. Speaking of speed, I had no idea that the Skye character would be exposed as an Inhuman – part of a race of superhumans who had been engineered by aliens such as the Kree – so soon. Halfway into Season Two? I found this rather quick, considering that Marvel has plans to release a movie about the Inhumans in 2018, four years from now. Do they really expect“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”, with its sketchy ratings, to last that long? If so, they could have waited a little longer.One last example of the show’s fast-paced narration was its tendency to shove two or three subplots into one episode. Other television shows have done this as well. But in a serial drama format, most writers would include the main story arc and a minor subplot that had little to do with the former. Mutant Enemy’s writers did not utilize this style. In order to keep the story arc going at neck break speed, they would shove two plotlines that had a great deal to do with the main story arc into one episode. This resulted in several episodes coming off as convoluted and very confusing. Several critics have complained about this, but most viewers and critics are pretending that this is a sign of improved writing from last season. Apparently rushed storytelling is now Mutant Enemy/Marvel’s idea of writing for sci-fi serial drama. Really? Speed writing for viewers or critics with the attention span of lice?Another problem I had with Season Two of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” is the character of Grant Ward – former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and HYDRA mole. Why is he still alive? Why? I suppose Marvel and especially Mutant Enemy still want actor Brett Dalton around. Just recently, producer Jeffery Bell said the following about the character and the actor:“What we love is that Brett Dalton is this actor that brings this complexity to this guy, a lot of the way that James Marsters brought it to Spike on Buffy and Angel.”

Okay, it is official. Mutant Enemy has a hard-on for Brett Dalton. But when I read the above quote, I did not know whether to laugh or upchuck. Look … Dalton is a tolerable actor. He is pretty solid. But I CANNOT believe that Bell had the nerve to compare Dalton with the likes of James Marsters. To this day, I consider Marsters to be one of the best actors or actresses I have ever seen in a Mutant Enemy production hands down. One of the best … ever. Dalton is nowhere that good. Now, I will admit that although Spike proved to be one of my favorite television characters, I have no love for Grant Ward. I disliked Ward when he was one of the “good guys” during most of Season One. When he proved to be a HYDRA mole, my feelings for him did not change on whit. I realize that Mutant Enemy was trying to make him complex. But thanks to Dalton’s performance, I simply failed to be impressed. But my dislike of the Ward character has nothing to do with my opinion of Dalton as an actor. I also disliked the vampire character Angel, also featured in“BUFFY” and “ANGEL”. But despite my dislike, I cannot deny that actor David Boreanaz’s portrayal of the character was superb. Another actor that made a name for himself portraying a morally questionable fantasy character was Julian McMahon, who portrayed the human-demon hybrid for three seasons in “CHARMED”. Like Marsters and Boreanaz, McMahon was superb in the role, despite producer Brad Kern’s shabby handling of the character during his last year on the show. Hell, he proved to be the best actor during the show’s eight season run. I noticed something else. Ever since the premiere of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” Season Two, Brett Dalton seems hellbent upon impersonating McMahon. Why, I do not know. Brett Dalton is no Julian McMahon. He should simply give up the effort.

Also, Mutant Enemy’s efforts to retain the Grant Ward character has resulted in some seriously contrived writing. After Ward’s capture in “Beginning of the End”, new S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Phil Coulson decided to keep the former agent at the new hidden base. Why? So that he can provide the new S.H.I.E.L.D. with information on HYDRA? What could Ward possibly know? He was a low-level HYDRA mole. I doubt that John Garrett knew everything. Hell, I doubt that Garrett, who can be very manipulative, told Ward everything. Anyone with brains or common sense should have realized this. Why keep Ward around? So that Dalton can do his Julian McMahon impersonation every now and then? Then Mutant Enemy decided to hire actor Tim DeKay to portray Ward’s older brother, Senator Christian Ward. DeKay appeared in two episodes – (2.06) “A Fractured House” and (2.08) “The Things We Bury” – before his character was killed off camera by Ward. Aside from giving the writers an opportunity for Ward to escape imprisonment, what was the purpose of DeKay’s presence on the show? I cannot decide what was more wasted – the Jemma Simmons w/HYDRA mini arc, Antoine Triplett’s Season Two presence, or the use of the Senator Christian Ward character. Even when the writers finally had a chance to rid the show of Ward in the mid-season finale, “What They Become”, they kept him alive with some ridiculously contrived writing. I suspect this is Mutant Enemy and Marvel’s way of giving Ward some kind of redemption by the end of the season. If so, this will proved to be the fastest redemption arc in television history. And right now, I found myself feeling disgusted over the whole matter.

I really do not know what else to say about “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”. Other than I have washed my hands of this show? I cannot believe this is the same television series that I had fallen in love with, last year. I have to end this article before I find myself in danger of upchucking again. Dear Mutant Enemy. You have become such a disappointment to me.

“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.