Skip to main content

This isn’t freedom. This is fear.


Trailers
Captain America: The Winter Soldier

The perceived “Avengers effect” whereby individual Marvel superhero properties are expected to get a box office boost from the goodwill and increased exposure of that mega hit, got an easy vindication when Iron Man Three sailed past the previous two installments.  Indeed, it doubled Iron Man 2’s worldwide gross.

But Downey Jr’s Tony Stark was already twice as successful as Marvel’s other fledgling superheroes, and the combination of his witty delivery and Joss Whedon’s post-modern dialogue was central to the appeal of Avengers. It should be no surprise that Iron Man Three did well, because it would have coasted to success on its star’s charm anyway. What differentiated it (controversially, perhaps with some fans) was that it ploughed its own distinct furrow. It wasn’t content to offer the lazy option of the big, better, more forgettable sequel that was Iron Man 2. Instead it chose not to follow the standard superhero formula and embraced a plot that included, well, you know, a plot. There were major twists, and Stark was kept out of his suit for the majority of the running time (a studio-friendly decision, since for some reason they think the public are paying to see the actor not the masked superhero, but one that worked). They threw in an annoying kid who, shockingly, wasn’t annoying. Shane Black was allowed to come in and shake things up a bit, and he did so in a wholly good way.

One might expect Edgar Wright’s Ant Man to work on similar lines, as it is informed by (relatively) auteurist instincts. Who knows what Guardians of the Galaxy will turn out like (I’m hesitant as James Gunn has yet to really “wow” me). But Thor and Captain America have an uphill struggle to make themselves distinctive and attractive as solo properties, particularly as both were approached in a (then) rather half-arsed budget-sensitive manner. I was extremely sceptical of Kenneth Branagh tackling a big Hollywood movie. I well remember the unintentional hilarity of Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. He couldn’t even keep that steadicam from overacting in his big screen version of Hamlet. But he delivered an entertaining, undemanding movie. It may have owed a little too much to Masters of the Universe, and it played everything very safe, but it was okay. The sequel comes with the promise of more of the Asgard Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige and co were reluctant to indulge too much first time out (lest it alienate). It also ropes in Game of Thrones director Alan Taylor, as if to say, “This will be a grittier fantasy epic”. But I’ve seen the trailer a couple of times and I can’t remember anything distinctive about it. Not the plot (Loki must team up with Thor; well no one could have seen that coming), not the action (there are some big battles, surprisingly), not the performances (Chris Eccleston is in there, under a pile of prosthetics and pointy ears). It might well be very good (but my expectations are middling), I’m sure it will at least be entertaining. But it sells nothing but formula. There’s nothing to make you think they’ve come up with something different. More than bigger, better, (possibly) more boring.

Which brings me to Captain America: The Winter Soldier. If I had some good will towards Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger left me mostly indifferent. It was all rather underwhelming. I had little familiarity with the character, other than that his name was not the most advisable one for a superhero in the current global environment. Fish out of water, or time, stories are a reliable standard, from Adam Adamant Lives! To… Thor. The problem was at least partly Joe Johnston, one of those safe-pair-of-hands journeymen who can be trusted not to mess up a Jurassic Park movie but who will also be in no danger of pulling off something more impressive than Spielberg. He’s bland and, true to course, he made a bland Captain America movie. It never built up a head of steam, failed to make the action involving. It just kind of sat there.

And Chris Evans is a charismatic guy; pretty much everything he did previously showed this (including the best part of the poxy Fantastic Four duology, Johnny Storm). But as Cap he becomes a block of wood. He even looks pallid and anaemic. Aside from Downey, Evans represents Marvel’s most obviously crowd-pleasing pick for a franchise king. But they put him in a vehicle that works against all his best qualities. Evans should be quick, sparky and irreverent. Cap is slow, bulky and staid. You can see Evans having to work against giving the character’s (few) witty lines a bounce. His personality fizzles out in the role.

I’m not sure that has really changed in the sequel. But, on the evidence of the new trailer, other aspects appear to have been given the kick in the pants that Thor: The Dark World lacks. Screenplay writers Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus contributed both the previous Cap and The Dark World screenplays. They also adapted all three Narnia movies. Perhaps not the most illustrious of CVs, although my understanding is that the Winter Soldier plot they’re basing their script on is a good one. What is most arresting (and of course a trailer can be cut to suggest qualities that are not in the finished movie; The Counselor appears to be the latest example of just such a let-down) is the flourish directors Anthony and Joe Russo have brought to the table. Known for their work on comedies, including Arrested Development and Community on TV, they had an early “up and coming” vibe with well-cast heist flick Welcome to Collinwood about a decade ago, but nothing suggesting a facility for massive mayhem. So this looks like one of those cost-effective chances that has paid off for Marvel (just as plumping for Jon Favreau paid of with the first Iron Man). The images suggest a keen grasp of framing and staging, from the lift fight to the car flip, to the crash and burn hellicarrier to the final shot of the Winter Soldier catching Cap’s shield.

I’m less than sold on Scarlet Johansson’s Black Widow. This may just be sour grapes at Emily Blunt losing out on the part, or it may just be that nothing has been done to make the character distinctive or interesting (other than put Johnansson in tight-fitting catsuits).

But the rest of the trailer content struck a chord, as it echoes the Russos’ previous comments that they wanted to combine the Captain with the trappings of a ‘70s conspiracy thriller. The vibe of the trailer suggests Cap’s traditional American values are pitted against a world where threats are neutralised before they even happen, and where  “to build a better world sometimes means tearing the old one down”. The Captain’s response is a head butt to a USA where pre-emptive strikes and drone attacks are an integral to the modern military machine. “I though the punishment usually came after the crime” he chastises. Appropriately, and picking up from the uneasy authoritarian vibe of their previous depiction(s), SHIELD is a force not to be trusted, an encapsulation of governmental propensity to act unmonitored and unanswerable to higher authorities. Might this be the first Marvel movie with a serious and graspable commentary? Well, Robert Redford shows up, Condor himself, so you’d have though some kind of carrot attracted him (I doubt that it was the thought he would once have been an ideal Captain). I expect the whole thing will devolve into unfettered explosiveness during the final act, but this looks like it might also have some bite. 


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Our very strength incites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict... breeds catastrophe.

The MCU Ranked Worst to Best

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Stupid adult hands!

Shazam! (2019)
(SPOILERS) Shazam! is exactly the kind of movie I hoped it would be, funny, scary (for kids, at least), smart and delightfully dumb… until the final act. What takes place there isn’t a complete bummer, but right now, it does pretty much kill any interest I have in a sequel.

I have discovered the great ray that first brought life into the world.

Frankenstein (1931)
(SPOILERS) To what extent do Universal’s horror classics deserved to be labelled classics? They’re from the classical Hollywood period, certainly, but they aren’t unassailable titans that can’t be bettered – well unless you were Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan trying to fashion a Dark Universe with zero ingenuity. And except maybe for the sequel to the second feature in their lexicon. Frankenstein is revered for several classic scenes, boasts two mesmerising performances, and looks terrific thanks to Arthur Edeson’s cinematography, but there’s also sizeable streak of stodginess within its seventy minutes.

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

Only an idiot sees the simple beauty of life.

Forrest Gump (1994)
(SPOILERS) There was a time when I’d have made a case for, if not greatness, then Forrest Gump’s unjust dismissal from conversations regarding its merits. To an extent, I still would. Just not nearly so fervently. There’s simply too much going on in the picture to conclude that the manner in which it has generally been received is the end of the story. Tarantino, magnanimous in the face of Oscar defeat, wasn’t entirely wrong when he suggested to Robert Zemeckis that his was a, effectively, subversive movie. Its problem, however, is that it wants to have its cake and eat it.

Do not mention the Tiptoe Man ever again.

Glass (2019)
(SPOILERS) If nothing else, one has to admire M Night Shyamalan’s willingness to plough ahead regardless with his straight-faced storytelling, taking him into areas that encourage outright rejection or merciless ridicule, with all the concomitant charges of hubris. Reactions to Glass have been mixed at best, but mostly more characteristic of the period he plummeted from his must-see, twist-master pedestal (during the period of The Village and The Happening), which is to say quite scornful. And yet, this is very clearly the story he wanted to tell, so if he undercuts audience expectations and leaves them dissatisfied, it’s most definitely not a result of miscalculation on his part. For my part, while I’d been prepared for a disappointment on the basis of the critical response, I came away very much enjoying the movie, by and large.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…