By Akshay Seth, Managing Arts Editor
Published April 10, 2014
Now, the article about a pair of “Arrested Development” directors who pulled off arguably the best Marvel extravaganza since Papa Joss stormed theaters with “The Avengers” two years ago.
'Captain America: The Winter Soldier'
Rave and Quality 16
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No one really knows who the Russo Brothers are — partly because they’ve been left holding dead chickens in the wreckage of some truly horrendous crashes such as NBC’s “Animal Hospital,” though mostly because television directors don’t get no shit basking in the shadow of those culty followings show runners are able to retain. But it’s time the two get the credit they deserve because in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” they’ve crafted a tense ’70s-inspired political thriller masquerading in red white and blue tights.
Every carefully constructed fight sequence or blow-shit-up turn of events in the film never steals the stage from a much bigger, more meaningful picture balanced around intriguing assertions on government. The film barrels along, banking on a squeaky-clean story that, uncharacteristic of recent Marvel fare, isn’t anything to write home about in terms of sheer quotability. There aren’t too many scream-out-the-window-on-the-car-ride-home memorable phrases in the script (unless you count “he’s fast … strong … and has a metal arm”), yet the larger themes at work behind the scenes are intriguing enough to hold our attention — just because we’ve never seen them used to color in a gargantuan tentpole franchise.
Propping up every major development in the plot is a central, simple question about whether or not authority deserves trust. In “The Winter Soldier,” that authority is S.H.I.E.L.D, launching a brand new initiative called Project Insight geared through tricked out killer satellites with the ability to preemptively gauge “terrorist DNA” and eliminate it. At the center of the “Minority Report”-like program is Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford, “All Is Lost”), a high-ranking government official with mysterious ties to the Cap’s past and a purring, deadly sense of entitlement. It doesn’t hurt that his personal henchman is a world-class assassin with a mechanical arm.
Robby Reds revels in the role, taking every opportunity to hurl underhanded, passive aggressive remarks at Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, “RoboCop”), but the movie belongs to Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson, whose on-screen chemistry — propelled by the contrast in Cap’s modest, “Golden Generation” sensibilities and the Black Widow’s utter badassery — has always been the most underrated part of the Avengers saga (“have you kissed anyone since 1945?”).
Plenty of comic book story arcs have been built around asking questions about established authority, but “The Winter Soldier” takes it to the next level because its central character’s most intriguing quality is his unyielding loyalty. Sure, he’s pumped up full of steroids and has the physical capabilities of most roided out Olympic athletes, but let’s face it, I don’t give a shit who’s taking them — steroids are boring. Steve Rogers’s real superpower is his faith in country, and like in any other superhero film, what guides the narrative is how far it’s pushed.
Part of me never really understood how Steve Rogers aka Captain America aka Captain Popsicle aka Probably The Best Ultimate Frisbee Player Ever could keep differentiating between ‘Murica and America. Before the Internet, it made sense — Amelia Earhart was still around; people thought smoking was good for you; no one was picketing at funerals. Now, most of us have at least a few asswarts in our lives who, on a weekly basis, think Facebook is the perfect medium to call Obama a mass murderer before composing Snapchat stories about enthralling trips to Starbucks. Things have changed, but the Star Spangled Avenger is still chucking that shield however far those steroid-bloated muscles let him.
“The Winter Soldier” is a direct, worthwhile message warning against the perils of big government, delivered with the airtight fluidity of a cleanly executed episode of television. It seals bloated seams in the Avengers franchise. It doesn’t cater to sloppy pandering, and glides through a slew of well-coordinated, memorable actions sequences.
The Cap is back. The weekend is here. So do yourself a favor and head over to Rave or Quality 16 — if not for a shield-hurling good time, then just to watch Samuel L. Jackson curse at Robby Reds.