Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Director: Joe Johnston

Cast: Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Dominic Cooper, Neal McDonough, Derek Luke, Stanley Tucci, Samuel L. Jackson, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan

Screenplay: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

124 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action.

 

I personally felt like the biggest risk of the early days of the MCU was Captain America (Chris Evans, Gifted, Playing It Cool). As a character, he ran the risk of being the goody boy with too many morals and stances to be an interesting or layered character. I wasn’t concerned with Iron Man or The Incredible Hulk. I even thought Thor has a better chance of success. It was Captain America, especially with Evans leading as the character. I’d seen him do good work, but I didn’t see him as Cap. I’m glad I was wrong.

In 1942, the villainous Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Mortal Engines) has just acquired the Tesseract, a weapon of the gods. With it he plans to turn the tide of the war and change the world forever. In America, Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci, Big Night, Nomis) plans to do the same with a weapon of his own: a Super-Soldier serum. He selects Steve Rogers (Evans), a physical weakling with a big heart and mind and an interest to help people. Now, Rogers is ready to end the war and take down Schmidt before he masters the Tesseract and unleashes its unlimited power.

Captain America: The First Avenger is a sign that the MCU is making films that have a similar flavor but make conscious tonal decisions. The previous film, Thor, was made as a Shakespearean superhero film, complete with Kenneth Branagh as a director. The First Avenger is a period serial film in the vein of The Rocketeer or The Phantom, an adventure film with a noted director, Joe Johnston (October Sky, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms) at the lead.

Chris Evans does great work as Captain America. He completely surprised me. With the aid of CGI, he performs quite well as pre-Cap Steve Rogers. He is somehow able to convey dialogue that could appear cheesy do-gooder lines with purpose and meaning. He is dedicated. As Captain America, it is his stance that drives the story forward. It is his convictions to best friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan, Destroyer, We Have Always Lived in the Castle) and to his country.

Hayley Atwell (The Duchess, Christopher Robin) is also quite good as Peggy Carter, who assists with the Super-Soldier program and develops a strong connection to Rogers. Their chemistry is sizzling and it holds the whole film together. She played the character with a physical toughness matching the Cap’s and conveyed strength. She isn’t a damsel in distress but an equal.

Marvel struggled with villains a lot but their focus on hero development was so strong, many seemed to forgive. Unfortunately, Red Skull was just not very compelling here. He could have twirled his own mustache if he had one. With an actor of Hugo Weaving’s caliber, a compelling villain should have been easier, and Red Skull is serviceable in moving the plot and arc of the MCU in this film, but that’s about it.

Joe Johnston created a 1940s Marvel movie and it works pretty damn well, even as the weakest in the Captain America trilogy. Chris Evans gets a great start in his tenure as Steve Rogers, and his relationship with Peggy Carter ties the film to something real and tangible. The action is fun and eye-popping and the wide array of supporting players are fun. It struggles with a villain but not with its musical score, very American muster type of music. Overall, this risk paid off quite well.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, click here.

For my review of Louis Letterier’s The Incredible Hulk, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, click here.

For my review of Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: Civil War, click here.

For my review of Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, click here.

For my review of Jon Watts’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, click here.

For my review of Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Avengers: Infinity War, click here.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

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Director: Joss Whedon

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Anthony Mackie, Hayley Atwell, Idris Elba, Stellan Skarsgard, James Spader, Samuel L. Jackson

Screenplay: Joss Whedon

141 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and for some suggestive content.  

2012’s The Avengers was something of an anomaly. A film which combined several superhero franchises into one mega-franchise shared universe successfully…that doesn’t happen. But with writer/director Joss Whedon (TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Much Ado About Nothing) at the helm, it did. And it was good. Billion-dollars good. It jumpstarted Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and continued a winning franchise for years to come. Now, we see if the official sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron, can continue that tradition.

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The Avengers have been looking for an end to the villains before they start. When billionaire genius Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., The Judge, Chef) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo, Shutter Island, The Normal Heart) create Ultron (James Spader, TV’s Boston Legal, Lincoln), an artificially intelligent being created to be Earth’s mightiest defense system, but Ultron quickly realizes that the biggest threats to the world are humans and decides to do away with them. Now, the Avengers must assemble to defeat Ultron, who has allied himself with two very special twins: Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kick-Ass, Godzilla) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen, Martha May Marcy Marlene, Oldboy).

Avengers: Age of Ultron had a bunch of set-ups. The biggest flaw comes from realizing that it has very little payoff. The entire film felt like its function was to tie up the loose ends of Phase 2 and start unpacking the storylines to Phase 3. Was it entertaining? Mostly, yes. But was it good? I really don’t know. I liked a lot of this film but I was scratching my head at times wondering why certain events were kept in the film while so many other moments were kept out. The film has Whedon’s classic dialogue, and its characters are further fleshed out, but the film felt like too many puzzles pieces from too many different puzzles that just won’t fit together.

As far as performances go, the films newcomers are pretty great additions to the shared universe, specifically James Spader’s menacing Ultron and the Vision, played by Paul Bettany (A Beautiful Mind, Mortdecai) in a new role. The film also features a plethora of previously introduced characters back in the fray, like James Rhodes (Don Cheadle, TV’s House of Lies, Crash) and Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie, Million Dollar Baby, Black or White). The returning Avengers cast have all grown closer and you can feel the comradery when needed. The Hulk and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, Lost in Translation, Lucy) in particular have grown much closer since we last saw them together.

There are some particularly great sequences here, such as the moment when we are introduced to mind control due to Wanda’s abilities. We get a chance to dive into these characters’ psyches a bit further Joss Whedon even plays with our expectations that this film is going to be exactly like the previous film, opting to give more important screen time to Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker, Kill the Messenger). We also get our first look at Hulkbuster (named Project Veronica, as a play on Betty & Veronica, the Betty being Bruce’s previous love interest from The Incredible Hulk).

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Avengers: Age of Utron is the first Marvel film that absolutely cries out for an extended cut. There is just too much missing here, and its noticeable. There are numerous plot threads that don’t get the resolution they need. The film is explosively entertaining, but perhaps the most noticeably flawed Marvel film yet.  

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe  

So what did you think of Avengers: Age of Ultron? Did it assemble a perfect viewing experience or leave you wanting a different Vision of the superhero team? Let me know!  

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk, click here.

For my review of Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

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Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Cast: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson

Screenplay: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

136 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, gunplay and action throughout.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects

 

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a powerhouse that needn’t even be tested right now. After DC/Warner Bros. release their own cinematic universe lineup to follow last year’s Man of Steel, Marvel Studios unleashed their Phase 3 plans involving more films from Thor, Captain America, Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Avengers, along with a bunch of new properties that will likely destroy most other contenders. With all this news, it is tough to focus on specific individual films, which is a shame, because Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the perfect Marvel movie, as it not only tells a compelling story that works as both a genre film and a superhero movie, and it also stands alone while fueling plot threads for multiple avenues for Marvel to take on in future productions.

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The Winter Soldier follows Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, Snowpiercer, What’s Your Number?) as he continues to adjust to life in the present, working for S.H.I.E.L.D. with Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson, Lost in Translation, Lucy) under the tutelage of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction, RoboCop). Meanwhile, a plot to attack S.H.I.E.L.D. from within is unveiled and the addition of new foe The Winter Soldier adds multiple new threats to Cap. Rogers is going to have to use new help from Sam Wilson aka Falcon (Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker, Runner Runner) and fellow agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders, TV’s How I Met Your Mother, The Lego Movie) to take down the Winter Soldier and save S.H.I.E.L.D.

This movie was awesome. It felt like a separate film much more attuned to 70s espionage and political thrillers than a superhero comic book adaptation. New to the Marvel Directors Club, Anthony and Joe Russo (You, Me, and Dupree) saw the film through a unique lens and decided to forgo CG in favor of practical effects whenever possible (and it shows). The cinematography is engaging and the visual literally POP off the screen (even in 2D). The pacing is perfect. I never once found myself reaching for my phone.

We also get some incredible performances from new Marvel family members Frank Grillo (Warrior, The Purge: Anarchy), Anthony Mackie, and Emily VanCamp (TV’s Revenge, Carriers) as Brock Rumlow, Sam Wilson, and Kate, respectively.

I needed to take a moment to talk about Robert Redford (Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, All is Lost). He just knocks his role out of the park. He plays a very important character, Alexander Pierce, the man in the big office of S.H.I.E.L.D. and he just nails it. For a man without a ton of screentime, Redford makes this film official, and I loved every minute of it.

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In short, Captain America: The Winter Soldier would be a great movie even without all the superheroics. It would be a great mystery on that alone. Add in all the Marvel greats that make this franchise what it is and you have a recipe for not only a great installment (easily among the high points in this franchise) but a damn great time at the movies. Better get two tubs of popcorn, because this popcorn flick is something not to miss!

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

So what did you think of Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Did you suit up or defect? Let me know!

 

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

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