Sunday 30 March 2014

Captain America By Markus & McFeely

It's getting embarrassing, all these movies based on Marvel comics. It used to be that I could dismiss at least half of them as junk. Now, to my chagrin, every one is a winner. It makes me seem like I have no critical faculties left. But I prefer the thesis that the films are simply getting better. More specifically, they're getting better written.

Captain America: the Winter Soldier is overlong and has some dull patches, but it's really good. The writing is excellent and even the bits of the movie that shouldn't work — the overblown action scene at the beginning, the obligatory car chase — do work. In fact, this film features the first car chase in years which actually had me engaged. I might even have been on the edge of my seat, but I'm reluctant to admit that.
On top of that, one of the three big surprises in the script did surprise me. Completely. That's a hell of a good result. 

The only thing I really didn't like was the wonderful Scarlett Johansson being portrayed as a redhead. (Ironically enough.) Plus the character she plays, Black Widow, is a total bust as a superhero. Her special power? She shoots people with guns. Awe inspiring.

Speaking of which, the gun battles were exceptional. If you were ever caught up in something like that in real life it would be a terrifying, unforgettable, almost hallucinatory experience. Whereas gunfights in movies are a big yawn. Yet the set piece on the freeway in this one actually caught a whiff of how frightening and extraordinary such violence would really be. It crackled with fear and brutality.

It's the sort of sequence that James Cameron, at his best, can deliver magnificently. I still remember seeing the first Terminator movie. There had never been a shootout like that in the history of cinema. And Captain America: the Winter Soldier, for a few seconds, put me in mind of it. No small achievement.

This film was written by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (note that ampersand) who wrote the Narnia trilogy, the first Captain America picture and the recent excellent Thor movie. It was based on comics written by Ed Brubaker. The directors were Joe Russo and Anthony Russo, who previously worked in television comedy, and a lot of credit must go to them, too.

If only the film makers had taken another leaf from James Cameron's book. When he was making Titanic he'd originally included a subplot about a stolen diamond which involved a chase and guns and shooting. But when he was completing the film he realised that this was just a silly distraction from the main thrust of the story — the tragic sinking of the ship. So he cut it.

In keeping with a general tendency among Hollywood blockbusters, Captain America: the Winter Soldier is overloaded with action — bloated almost to the point of torpor — and it doesn't quite know when to quit. It could do with some Cameron-style cuts. But it's nonetheless clever, engrossing, thrilling and brilliantly made.

Will these fine Marvel movies never stop?

(Image credits: All pictures from Ace Show Biz.)

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