Film Review: Captain America – The Winter Soldier

A decent toss from the Marvel Cap, but it feels more like a midseason episode than a standalone feature film.


A polished and structured entry into the popular Superhero film genre, Captain America: The Winter Soldier suggests that the Marvel phases are reaching the peak of the Bel Curve and are beginning to rely on their own internal structure more than a single entry can handle.  Though it possesses a brilliantly chosen tone and performances which raise the bar, the film dilutes its suspense with a secret everyone knew and stakes that flounder on their own.

The Winter Soldier brings Captain America out of the war to end all wars, and drops him straight into the drama of the Cold War.  Starting two years after the events of Avengers, Steve Rogers (Evans) struggles to find purpose in his efforts as he questions his trust of Nick Fury and SHIELD.  Just as his doubts reach a head, a mysterious assassin from the East arises and threatens to take down the whole establishment.  Rogers becomes a fugitive of his own organization when a meeting with Defense Secretary Alexander Pierce (Redford) goes south.  Trust and loyalty are tested as the Captain and Black Widow (Johansson) go on the run to discover the identity of the Winter Soldier and the source of the discord in SHIELD’s ranks.

Born with one of the most open secrets in Superhero movies to date, this film fails to bring normal audiences on a mysterious journey of discovering who the villain is.  The wonderful tension and build up of the political drama forming at SHIELD is dampened by the clunky exposition needed to set up a reveal most came into the film knowing – comic book fan or otherwise.  Further, without the extended reach of this narrative into other films and the Agents of SHIELD television series, the stakes fall rapidly as they become self-contained, leaving the film in the superhero tar pit of knowing the hero will win.

However, the decision to lift the Captain out of his greatest generation and drop him into the suspense of Cold War trust issues and modern day surveillance worries was a brilliant move.  Capitalizing on current technology concerns, the film smartly keeps the Captain in his element while allowing for some Revisionist questions to be asked of the hero organization. Redford gives a wonderful performance, perfectly cast to lend the film credit towards that era’s suspenseful tone.  Further, the integration of Anthony Mackie as the Falcon was tactfully handled and felt organic to the narrative.

Yet, this film ultimately leaves the impression of being episode two in a miniseries, only part of a larger narrative being spelled out as the Marvel Phases.  While a structurally sound film with good performances and decent writing, one cannot help but doubt that it would matter much without its ties to other franchises and mediums, making this reviewer wonder how many people came for the Captain and how many only for the post-credits stingers?



Film Review: Only Lovers Left Alive

Supplanting agelessness for teen angst, Only Lovers Left Alive acts as a perfect counterpoint to the myriad mindless vampire flicks of late.


Timelessness and addiction permeate this well thought out, intelligent vampire film by self-diagnostic hipster Jim Jarmusch.  Grunge movement mentalities blend with a renaissance of High Art references, clashing and melding wonderfully into a sharp critique of the pop art modern world. Moodiness suits this cultured, romantic bloodsucker flick in a way only Jarmusch could provide.

Only Lovers revolves (literally at times) around the hero couple – Adam (Hiddleston) and Eve (Swinton).  The two ageless lovers – born of a pre-Tudor era and transformed into pleasingly pale, aloof vampires – now reside apart, the former in economicly stricken Detroit, the latter in the back alleys of Tangiers.  Adam’s underground music has sparked a cult following, and though his musical credentials spread throughout history, the tedium of eternal life sets in and leaves him despondent.  His most recent suicidal thoughts reunite the couple and the two seek a purpose for going on, all transpiring in his ramshackle house littered with historied artifacts and mechanical alchemy.

Rarely has such a film produced such a titillating aroma to the scholarly curiosities while avoiding the elitist pratfall of condescending didacticism.  Constantly evoking works of literary and musical masters long sunk in history’s mires – for example, the attention drawn to authors as Eve packs her trunk – the effect is tempered both by the aloofness of characters who would have truly experienced them in their prime, and by the respectful attitude of the writers to reference them without stooping to exposition.  Only Lovers demands intellectual excellence from the audience, rather than permitting them to be sucked dry by countless vacuous sparkly vampires.

Rarer still does one find such fantastic chemistry between romantic leads in this genre of film.  Swinton emits a Galadriel-ian grace of form and movement, whose gaunt face belies the deep craving she embraces for life.  The way she interacts with Adam reveals a researched and carefully nuanced performance that shows Swinton is at the top of her game.  And Hiddleston rises to the occasion, matching her deeply embodied character pound for angsty pound.  This dark and depressed melody master feels earned, as Hiddleston taps into the surely foreign idea of others taking credit for his work.  His sulking Adam feels both immediately relatable and infinitely distant in a beautiful performance by the Thor spotlight-stealer.  Backed by fantastic performances from secondary performers John Hurt, Jeffrey Wright, and Anton Yelchin (Mia Wasikowska’s over-eager sister comes off as over-acting a drama-tic role), the cast elevates the film – a staple of Jarmusch’s endeavors.

Overall, Only Lovers Left Alive presents a wonderful balance of darkness and shadow, eternity and temporary, cultured poise and animalistic impetus. Exhibiting incredible execution of well-written characters by actors proving their talent, combined with haunting cinematography and lighting, and wrapped up in a brooding score to match, this film demonstrates a mastery of narrative and aesthetic cohesion few filmmakers can replicate.