Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier (4.25/5)
Marvel Studios is a filmmaking behemoth that has every other studio trying to emulate its cinematic blueprint. With movies slotted nearly five years in advance, the heads at Marvel Studio have a clear path to success, and the filmgoing public is clearly supportive of their massive initiative. The problem with Marvel’s approach, at least in my mind, is their dedication to concocting a world constantly building to their mega film: The Avengers. The Avengers, to its credit, is an absorbing, thrilling, and funny blockbuster, but the films leading up to this cash cow are woefully bland. In the wake of The Avengers scorching box office records, Marvel’s second phase of films have been just as boring as the first bunch. Outside of the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel’s real cinematic gambit, the studio seemed content with regurgitating powerless superhero films. Mercifully, The Winter Soldier escapes the studio’s suffocating grasp, and is a fantastic summer ride exploding with possibilities. Picking up a few years after The Avengers, our patriotic superhero Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is adjusting to a contemporary life while foiling the disheartening plans of evildoers. As is the case with any cinematic hero, a benevolent juggernaut appears in the form of a masked bionic man known simply as the Winter Soldier, an assassin hell-bent on gaining control of three heavily armed aircraft harriers dedicated to national security.
Captain America and his anti-thesis battle in some of the summer’s most breathtakingly choreographed action sequences, the end battle is a brutal doozy, but the film’s crown jewel is its insistence on delivering a story built around palpable paranoia and surprising double crosses. Helmed by first time filmmakers Joe and Anthony Russo, directors who’ve etched their place in Hollywood by directing many episodes of Community and Arrested Development, The Winter Soldier delivers a level of intelligent intensity in between moments of brawny destruction, a notion that seems almost impossible given the directors’ background. Even more to the point, The Winter Soldier is the first time a Marvel superhero shows up in a film incorporating contemporary political issues. From political ruses to a power-hungry government seeking national security by any means necessary, The Winter Soldier wrestles with a multitude of elements that most summer tent poles avoid at all costs. In many ways, The Winter Soldier reminds me of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. I don’t think it’s nearly as good as Nolan’s vision, but The Winter Soldier isn’t a film interested in repeating the soulless efforts of its blockbuster predecessors. Rather, it’s an engaging piece of pop filmmaking that carefully veers in and out of territories most superhero films refuse to explore.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (3/5)
My opinion regarding The Amazing Spider-Man, Sony’s attempt to reinvigorate the very franchise it stalled on its own accord, was tepid at best. The chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone was pitch perfect, but the film faltered because it didn’t offer a new perspective on Spider-Man’s canon. If anything, it simply repeated history under the shallow promise of an untold story. Nonetheless, the film made a decent amount of money, and inevitably here is its sequel. The results aren’t pretty as The Amazing Spider-Man 2 suffers from an overstuffed script unsure of what direction it really wants to go. Amplifying the script’s indecision is the studio’s thirst for an Avengers-esque “team up” film, using this film as a launching pad for a Sinister Six film down the line. Once again, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) investigates the disappearance of his father, while his penchant for fighting crime outweighs his faltering romance with Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone). Eventually Peter’s detective work leads him to Oscorp, a company that has recently seen a shift in power as Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), one of Peter’s long lost best friends according to a well-placed montage, takes the reigns after his CEO father’s death. As Peter juggles love and a contrived friendship, his red and blue alter ego battles with Electro (Jamie Foxx), an unintentionally hilarious social vagrant mutated into a bad guy by electric eels.
So, there’s a lot going on here, little of which is actually given adequate time to grow. Peter’s relationship with Gwen Stacy is lazily constructed, so much so the screenplay completely gives up on the dramatic roots it constructed in the first film. Electro and Harry as characters are insultingly underwritten, especially Electro, whose backstory cribs heavily off Jim Carrey’s Riddler in Batman Forever. DeHaan, for as good as he is, simply can’t transform Harry Osborn into anything but a whiny tyrant in need of a spanking. The most jarring aspect of the film is its spastic tone, which suggests that director Marc Webb forgot how to tell the story, or a lot of the story was left on the editing room floor. Seeing as how the studio seemingly had their fingerprints all over this film, I’m assuming the latter occurred. Nonetheless, the film’s emotional ending is horribly botched. The event that occurs is jarring, largely due to the goodwill established by our romantic leads, but it’s completely voided by a last second narration that’s cheap and gutless. Considering how many characters and elements are in play, we should’ve seen this coming; the film had no choice but to buckle under its own weight. Mind you, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is visually stimulating, and it features a handful of promising scenes, but that’s not enough for us to get caught in its web.