Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2013)
Film review #378
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
SYNOPSIS: When S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury is assassinated, Steve Rogers (Captain America) is on the trail of those responsible, but he is told to trust noone. As he investigates, he finds a shocking discovery that goes right to the heart of S.H.I.E.L.D. itself…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a 2013 superhero film that forms part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The film starts off with Captain America in the thick of a mission to rescue hostages from a S.H.I.E.L.D. ship. There’s plenty of fluid action that provides a strong opening for the film that requires no knowledge of the characters, and eases into the story in a fun and exciting way. The plot takes on a number of twists and turns as S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury is seemingly assassinated and Captain America must investigate S.H.I.E.L.D. itself with the help of Black Widow. The film mixes layers of action, espionage and intrigue as it unravels the conspiracy surrounding S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s a strong story that will keep viewers engaged, as well as exploring the character of Captain America and elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is a fine balance to give each of these elements the right amount of focus, but the film largely succeeds in doing so. If I were to pick an issue with the story, I would say that there’s a bit of a conflict between the film being self-contained and its part in the larger cinematic universe, insofar as the revelations about S.H.I.E.L.D. should have significant ramifications, but it seems they are more or less curtailed by the end in order to keep the film self-contained with a distinct resolution. Overall though, the story is fairly strong.
Captain America as a character is a soldier, a leader and a hero, and I think all of those aspects to him are given a good amount of development. How he relates to those around him and what his part is in protecting and inspiring them is something he has to constantly work through as the film progresses. The supporting cast of Black Widow and Nick Fury also get ample screen time in order to develop their characters and play a significant role in the story. The “winter soldier” also has ties to Captain America, and with everything else going on, it feels like there could have been more done with his character, but this instead seems to have been postponed in order to be dealt with in a sequel. Villains typically get short-changed in these films, as they are almost entirely self-contained in the film and do not get referenced outside of it. Pearce, the villain here, is a bit more interesting, and has particular relations with a number of characters. He doesn’t have any particular superpowers, so he’s more of a mastermind, with the winter soldier handling the action parts of the villainy. Sam Wilson, a veteran soldier, also has an interesting character arc which gives Captain America a bit of a grounding as he interacts with the soldiers without superpowers who go to war. A lot of characters, but again it’s all handled fairly well.
The style and effects in the film are just about what you would expect from these Marvel films. There are no surprises, but it has a good budget, and keeps things consistent. The fight scenes are well choreographed, and highlight the strengths of the characters. There’s nothing overwhelmingly special about the film, but it has a lot of content that pushes and develops characters in new directions and explores new facets of their characters. Like with most Marvel films it’s not going to re-define the genre, but it shows a marked improvement on earlier sequels in the MCU (Iron Man, Thor) by focusing a little more on interesting character development, varied villains and weaving a stronger story around the heroes.
3 Giant Men (1973)
Film review #364
Director: T. Fikret Uçak
SYNOPSIS: A smuggling gang led by Spider-man is stealing precious artefacts in Turkey and selling them for huge profits in the U.S. The Turkish authorities call in Captain America and Mexican wrestler Santo in order to defeat Spider-man and stop the smuggling ring.
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: 3 Giant Men (3 Dev Adam) is a 1973 Turkish superhero film. The film centres around Captain America and Mexican wrestler Santo trying to stop a smuggling ring headed by Spider-man (or “the Spider” as he is called in the film). It may strike you from this summary that this is a completely bizarre concept for a film, and makes very little sense considering the characters themselves, but we’ll get on to that later. First, the story begins with a woman being caught by Spider-man’s gang and being killed by having a boat’s propeller reversed into her face (offscreen anyway, signified by the spraying of what looks like tomato ketchup onto the legs of a witness). With this smuggling gang stealing and killing all over the place, the Turkish authorities call in Captain America and Mexican wrestler Santo in order to stop the gang. The story unfolds without any surprising or complex elements; the premise is laid out at the beginning and it’s followed through until the end without interruption. The story reminds me of classic movie serials, which consisted in a lot of this constant back and forth of fight scenes, car chases, and investigating.
Okay let’s talk about the characters: first, Turkish cinema around this time is infamous for using characters and footage from other properties without permission, and I’m pretty sure this is another example of that. When the police chief first meets Captain America, he remarks how good his Turkish is for an American…except it is plain to see that he is not American, he is played by a Turkish actor, who consequentially does not resemble Captain America in any way. I wonder how much Turkish audiences in 1973 would be familiar with American superheroes, and since it is probably very little, I suppose they could get away with just doing whatever they wanted with the characters. The Mexican wrestler Santo is an original character for the film, and puts on his wrestler mask and cape whenever he needs to fight some bad guys. At one point he is seen wearing a native American jacket, which is a bit odd if he is Mexican, and I wonder if the filmmakers were just conflating the two out of laziness and/or ignorance. Spider-man being the villain is probably the oddest character of the film, as he is one of the most innocent and naive of any superhero. Here, however, he is portrayed as a ruthless murder, who stabs multiple people, tortures them and at one point sends some rats down a ridiculous contraption to eat someone’s eyes out. Perhaps the most bizarre part of his character is when Captain America is explaining that Spider-man cannot stand people who dress up in costumes (such as Captain America), and he will automatically attack them on sight. How does that work? Is he jealous that his ill-fitting suit is upstaged by other costumes? I assume it’s that. Either way, “The Spider” is a ruthless villain with absolutely no connection to the original character, Also his huge eyebrows are a major distraction…
I can’t quite figure out who this film is meant to be for: the superhero characters might make you think it is a more family-oriented, as the original characters would have been, but the all the brutal deaths and torture (even though it is mostly off-screen) is definitely not family viewing. Couple that with the semi-nudity and stripper scenes and you’re definitely looking at a film intended for adults. The film as you might expect is a very low budget affair, with cheap sets, costumes and props being the norm throughout. Again, it reminds me of the classic movie serials, which used a limited amount of sets and props to keep costs low. There are some surprisingly good points though: Captain America’s suit looks pretty well done (in contrast to Spider-man’s green and red suit, which as mentioned does not fit well), and the fight scenes are quite decently choreographed, although clumsily edited in parts. At the end, the fight between Captain America and Spider-man gets incredibly ridiculous, with Captain America killing off Spider-man in a number of silly ways, only for him to reappear around a corner, and the fight carry on somewhere else. I assume they are all body doubles, but with this film it’s hard to tell what logic it subscribes to from one scene to the next. This film is ridiculous: it’s portrayal of it’s characters is completely at odds with the source material, the story is fairly basic, and is filled with odd scenes that make no sense (what was the deal with the puppet scene?). The film also crams in some raunchy scenes and gory violence that makes it feel like the film is just throwing all sorts into the picture without any consideration for a consistent tone. In the end though, you’re never going to take this film that seriously, and it’s worth a watch just to see how bad it is, and you’ll certainly get a laugh out of how cheap and silly it all is.
The Avengers (2012)
Film review #337
dir. Joss Whedon
SYNOPSIS: While S.H.I.E.L.D. is performing experiments on an object known as the tesseract, a potential source of unlimited energy, it is stolen by Loki, a demi-god who wishes to use it’s power to subjugate the human race. Nick Fury, the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., assembles a team of heroes to counter this new threat to Earth, but first they must learn to work together before they can take on Loki…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: The Avengers (or Marvel’s The Avengers or Marvel Avengers Assemble) is a 2012 superhero film that is the culmination of the first series of films establishing the marvel cinematic universe. The previous films mostly dealt with the origins of the characters, while also providing hints about how they will fit into the wider universe. This film has the aim of bringing all these different superheroes together, with their own unique presence, powers, and personalities, and devising a way for them to work together as a team. It is certainly an ambitious project to cross-over all these different worlds and stories, requires a balance to get right with regards to using each character effectively.
The film starts off showing the S.H.I.E.L.D. agency conducting experiments on an object called “the tesseract”, which played a part in the Captain America film and briefly shown in the Thor film. They are trying to harness its power to produce a limitless source of energy. It suddenly springs to life and opens up a portal through which Loki, the antagonist from Thor, emerges. He takes control of the minds of a number of personnel, and escapes the facility with the tesseract. Nick Fury, the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., recognises the severity of the situation, and calls upon the various heroes to track down Loki and the tesseract. The film introduces each of the characters individually, so they are each explored on their own terms and their personal motivations are established firmly. The story structure is fairly standard, with a clear three-act structure that flows as you would expect, but there’s plenty of humour, action and story packed into them that the film nevertheless gives you everything you need. With a runtime of nearly two and a half hours, it’s a long one, but every scene is worthwhile in some way, and it could have probably got away with being even longer because there is so much potential with these characters and setting.
The characters have already been established through the previous films, primarily dealing with their origins and motivations that make them heroes. Even if you haven’t seen all of them, you get a pretty good idea of who they are and what drives the. Captain America comes across a heroic soldier who comes up with a strategy for battle, Iron Man/Stark is the guy with the resources who deflects criticism with his humour. Banner/The Hulk is the smarts who is also an unpredictable element, and Thor is a demi-God out to stop his Brother. Black Widow/Romanoff and Hawkeye/Barton did not have their own films, but appeared in the others so they are somewhat established, but Romanoff especially gets a lot to do in the film to firmly develop her role in the group. Each of the heroes is a big personality, so initially have a hard time finding their feet working together in a group, and it’s fun watching everything come together. The death of agent Coulson, who played a big part in bringing everyone together, is an emotional scene that gives everyone motivation to work with each other, and gives the team a unifying purpose. I think the only character that could have done with more development is Loki, whose motivations are a bit muddled, and his role in a larger scheme is left very ambiguous. In one sense, it works because Loki has a specific goal (to rule Earth) and is a simple one so that the heroes can do what they do best and stop him without too many complications. Loki being used by a bigger evil is also obviously meant to set up future films, but I felt like it could have done with being a bit more clearer. But again theres a flip side, as developing this background more may have distracted from Loki being a focal point and a credible villain, so there’s a fine balancing act that is being struck here. As a standout performance, I enjoyed the portrayal of Bruce Banner/The Hulk as a skittish scientist who everyone also has to be really careful around so he doesn’t transform and pulverise them.
Even though the story is quite simple, the film as a whole is certainly not lacking in ambition and scope. The final battle covers a significant portion of Manhattan, with a full-scale alien invasion tearing through skyscrapers and the streets of New York City. Superheroes in NYC again is hardly a novel phenomenon (which the film itself pokes fun at with a Stan Lee cameo), but perhaps that’s very much intentional: The Avengers is not attempting to differentiate itself from other superhero films by trying something new and different, but by outdoing every other film in the genre on its home turf; taking all these established tropes and concepts and executing them in such a way that no other film could compete. In short, it becomes the definitive superhero film. The level of destruction is unparalleled, the production makes it feel like a comic book film full of colour and dynamic shots and poses, and there’s some gloriously over-the-tops moments while also retaining plenty of humanity. The film does have some faults as I mentioned, and doesn’t push the envelope in terms of finding a new angle to develop or evolve the genre, but it is an ambitious project that pays off through balancing a colourful cast of characters with large-scale action and an interweaving of stories to create an entertaining tapestry that solidifies itself as the apex of the genre.