Like-minded 40 year old comic book nerds may disagree, but as of this moment, there has never been a Marvel comic book superhero movie newer than Captain America: The Winter Soldier, AKA Mr. Clean vs. Arm Guy. It’s the newest one ever! I defy you to name one Marvel movie more new than this one. Iron Man 3? No way! That was last summer! The Avengers? I didn’t even have a blog when that thing came out. The one with that other guy where stuff blows up? Almost, but nope! It’s Cap’n Happy vs. Bucky Boy all the way! More impressive still, Mucho Gusto, El Capitan isn’t just the newest Marvel comic book movie, it’s the newest Marvel movie, full stop, period, end of sentence, I rest my case.
So it’s got that going for it.
What it ain’t got going for it is anything else. It is, by any sane standards, a lousy movie. Fortunately for Marvel, comic book movie fans are anything but sane. When it comes to all things superheroes, their opinions are deliciously malleable, a fact Marvel’s marketing team has made grand use of.
Anyone who’s been paying any attention to effects juggernauts knows the line: Marvel is a genius company reinventing the very concept of the blockbuster franchise, while the other studios languish, desperate in their sad attempts to cobble together a line of superhero products—er, pictures—that anyone wants to see.
Marvel impressario Kevin Feige recently said he’s got superhero movies mapped out through 2028. Think on that a moment. No studio head in the history of movies has made a claim half that loony. Looniest of all is that he might pull it off. In the olden days of, I don’t know, six years ago, we’d have said, “Ah, but mayhap this superhero fad will run its course, as genre fads always do, and a new one will take its place.” We can say this no longer, for a perfect storm has arisen. A perfectly awful storm.
It’s like this: studios feel safest making huge movies for audiences that already exist. They’re desperate to adapt books, plays, comics, video games, board games, fortune cookie fortunes, Montgomery Ward catalogues, anything and everything. What’s new are three convergent factors arising over the past decade: 1) nerds have become cool, and they are obsessive crazy maniacs. They will eat up product faster than you can make it, so long as you cater to their nerd ways; 2) nerds are ascendant not only in the culture of consumption, but as creators, i.e. the oppressed nerd kids of the ‘80s have grown up, they’re running studios, they’re making the blockbusters, they’re writing the reviews; and 3) superhero comics, though but one aspect of nerdom, contain an infinite supply not only of characters to mine, but of pre-written story-lines to adapt.
Movie studios will never run out of superheroes. They will never run out of stories. They merely have to pick and choose which ones to use and when. That’s all Feige has done with his prognostificatin’. Pick and choose ‘em, line ‘em up, crank ‘em out. What about audience fatigue? Will we grow bored of superhero movies? It doesn’t matter. In the old days, if three genre movies opened in a given year and two of them tanked, the genre was deemed dead. But if superhero movies are the only summer effects flicks, then only superhero movies will be hits, and more of them is all anyone will make. Better yet, knowing in advance that this is the plan, for the first time ever studios can plot out their schedules for years to come. We’ve hit the tipping point, folks. The future of effects movies has been written. So sit back, relax, and slit your fucking wrists.
Meanwhile, Cap’n Slappy’s Funtime Adventure Movie. You’ve really got to hand it to Marvel’s marketing team on this one. I haven’t read a single piece of news about this movie, not since it was announced all the way through to every single published review, that hasn’t included what Marvel claims is its inspiration: ‘70s paranoid political movies like Marathon Man, The Parallax View, and Three Days of The Condor. Why, Three Days star Robert Redford is even in Cap’n A and The Holes! It must be true.
You see, comic book movies aren’t just about CGI blobs bouncing off of one another and blowing shit up. They can be about anything, in any genre. This one happens to be a paranoia-laced ‘70s spy thriller.
Or says absolutely everyone who has ever written anything at all about this movie for the past two years.
Guess what? Cap’n A has as much in common with The Parallax View as Star Wars has with My Dinner With Andre. It’d be like saying March of The Penguins was inspired by Triumph of The Will.
Is there intrigue and paranoia? No. There isn’t. There’s a mind-numbingly simple plot delivered so slowly and with such lack of finesse that for the hour it takes you to stop saying, “Why am I watching this?” it feels Byzantine.
Apparently having the eye-patching wearing head of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), say “Trust no one” before getting shot by mysterious evil people is enough to hurl this movie into the ‘70s. Trust no one? How about trust no one except for the stars of the movie? Because everyone you think is a good guy is a good guy. The bad guy is just the other famous actor (hint: he was in Three Days of The Condor), the one who tells a touching story about the uselessness of diplomacy, and swears that the three monstrous, gravity defying warships in the sky will only kill the bad people.
The entire movie consists of CGI blobs bouncing around and blowing shit up. You know why? BECAUSE IT’S A COMIC BOOK MOVIE. If you like that sort of thing, great. This one’s for you. But enough with the “It’s a ‘70s spy movie pretending to be a comic book movie” line.
Who the hell came up with Captain America, anyway? It’s like someone said, “I love Superman, but he’s so complex, with so many shades of grey to his character. If only there was a simpler version, but one still impervious to harm.”
I’m told that in the first movie the good Captain (Chris Evans) is injected with some kind of superserum making him superstrong. Okay. Fine. But it also turns him into a rubber ball? He leaps from a tall building and lands on the pavement unharmed, bouncing to his feet. He bails out of an airplane into the ocean and pops out like a cork. He jumps from a motorcycle onto a futuristic fighter jet, then blows it up by hand. Why am I supposed to care about this guy?
And yes, I know this is a comic book movie with zero realism, but if a bad guy is firing a thousand rounds from a machine gun at the Captain, and the Captain is blocking those rounds with a shield held in front of his upper body while running directly at the bad guy, am I allowed to say, “Hey! Asshat! Shoot his feet!”? Or is that being too nitpicky?
Then again, maybe his feet are famously bullet proof. I’m not up on my Marvel Comics lore.
What Marvel wants is to have its cake and eat it too. It wants to make an absurd comic book movie while at the same saying it’s “real,” like The French Connection. You can’t have it both ways, Marvel. Cap’n A is a silly comic book, all the way through.
It’s not even that. It’s a boring comic book. The characters are boring, especially the Captain, the villians are boring, the story is boring, told with no pacing at all, and aside from little in-jokes and name-dropping (“Get me Iron Man for my little girl’s birthday party”), it’s utterly humorless. Scarlett Johansson, as Black Widow, has one defining character trait: she’s very serious. She’s not bad, but she’s given nothing to work with.
It’s directed by Anthony and Joe Russo. They have few credits before this movie. It shows. The action scenes are a mess. Typical spastic editing clouds every fight. It’s a lot of running and jumping and kicking and punching. And then there’s this guy (Anthony Mackie) with robot jet wings who flies around for awhile . You know, just like Warren Beatty in The Parallax View, when he leaps off of Seattle’s Space Needle, sprouts wings, and flies to the moon. Love that scene!
Am I being too hard on this thing? Mostly it’s just boring. A flat-line of a movie. The simple story is made needlessly confusing, rendering it absurd (the bit with a bad guy saved to ‘70s era computer tape, his reels collecting dust in a secret underground lair, is especially gobsmacking). And its message, that we should distrust too much government intrusion in our lives, could not be more leaden in its delivery.
Superhero movies continue to suffer from being movies. What works on the pages of comic books rarely translates to the screen. Part of the problem is that budgets for these things are in the stratosphere. If you’re spending 200 million on a superhero movie, it can’t be a ‘70s political thriller. It’s going to be an action-driven, effects-laden monster. If studios like Marvel truly want to pursue the idea of putting men in tights into different kinds of movies, they’re going to need to make some that aren’t summer tentpoles.
Call me crazy, and you will, but I enjoyed the rousingly stupid Thor 2 far more than American Man Meets The Sundance Kid. Thor 2 understands that it’s a story about an impossibly dopey supergod in hot pants, and acts accordingly. As for the Captain, his movie pretends to be what it’s not, undercutting anything that might have been fun about it, leaving nothing but a dismally grey, lethargic slog peopled by clichés.