Category Archives: Captain America The Winter Soldier

‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ takes us out there

guardians infinity stone

A lot of people are saying “Guardians of the Galaxy” is this generation’s “Star Wars.” I’m not sure that’s the case, or that anything could be this generation’s “Star Wars.” Some people forget just what a game-changer “Star Wars” and, two years earlier, “Jaws,” were. Those two movies solidified summertime as a time for big-screen escapist fare and proved that people would pay to see it.

Others say that “Guardians” is this generation’s “The Last Starfighter” but I think that’s selling “Guardians” short. As fond as my memories of “Starfighter” are, I think “Guardians” is a better movie.

So what role does “Guardians” fill?

Roles, really.

First of all, it’s a really good summer movie. It’s good-natured and funny and full of action.

Secondly, it’s a sure-footed next milestone in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Although it only slyly references the quest for the Infinity Stones – the sources of power that will, almost certainly lead Thanos to Earth in the third “Avengers” movie, probably in 2018 – it keeps that subplot to the first three phases of Marvel movies in moviegoers’ minds.

Thirdly, it expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Here’s how:

The comics published by Marvel in the past half-century-plus have covered a lot of territory, literally and figuratively speaking.

There’s the street-level superheroes, like Spider-Man and Daredevil, dealing with maniacal villains and street punks alike. The non-Marvel Cinematic Universe “Spider-Man” movies and Marvel’s upcoming Netflix series like “Daredevil” map out this world. (They’re the Marvel counterparts of Batman, for you DC lovers out there.)

There’s the global superheroes, like the Avengers, who have the power to face threats to the entire world. The non-MCU heroes like “Fantastic Four” also fall into this category, as does DC’s Superman and Justice League.

What “Guardians” does is give Marvel Studios a beachhead in the cosmic universe where the comic books have played for a half-century.

There’s always been some crossover among all these Marvel realms, such as when Galactus, devourer of worlds, shows up and is tackled by the FF. Cosmic threat comes to global heroes.
But quite often, the links between the cosmic and Earth-based heroes have been only tenuous. Captain Marvel or the Silver Surfer or Warlock show up and fight and eventually team up with the FF or the Avengers to face a menace like the Kree-Skrull War, but by the end of the story, things are back to a Marvel status quo and the Avengers are dealing with Earth-based villains like Doctor Doom.

“Guardians” plunges us headlong into that cosmic Marvel universe with only occasional looks back at Earth.

I won’t recap the plot I’m sure you’re familiar with by now or even go on and on with my thoughts about “Guardians.” Director James Gunn had made a fun, “Star Wars”-ian adventure pitting an unlikely band of heroes against evil forces. Along the way, the movie introduces, more smoothly than most would have thought possible, fantastic creatures like Rocket Racoon, a small but ferocious animal with a pitiable past and a love of big guns, and Groot, a walking, talking (well, a little) tree creature. Space raccoon and gentle plant-based giant you say? Sure, why not. It’s a testament to Gunn’s handling of the characters and plot of “Guardians” that what the characters are matter less than who they are.

If you remember, Thanos, Marvel’s go-to cosmic bad guy, showed up at the end of “The Avengers” to take credit for pitting an invading alien army against Earth and grin at the thought of courting death.

Thanos wants the Tesseract – the Cosmic Cube in the comics – that the Red Skull wielded in “Captain America” and Loki sought in “The Avengers.” Along with the Aether, the cosmic power from “Thor: The Dark World,” and other Infinity Stones, Thanos can make the Infinity Gauntlet, a weapon of unimaginable power. It’s a certainty that will be the major plot point of the third “Avengers” movie.

One of the most amusing things about “Guardians” is that much of the history and power of the Infinity Stones is laid out midway through the movie … but to the protagonists and antagonists of “Guardians,” who don’t even know as much as Captain America and Iron Man about the importance of the Stones but know a thing to keep away from bad guys when they see one.

So the collected Guardians, led by the effortlessly charming Chris Pratt as Peter Quill, take on Ronan, an upstart ally of Thanos, in an effort to keep a handle on their particular Infinity Stone and keep it away from Thanos.

It’s an effort that will continue for another four years before the contest for the Stones pits Avengers – and likely other allies – against Thanos in the third Avengers movie, which will likely act as capper to the first three phases of big-screen Marvel.

“Guardians” is so much fun, so funny, so charming, that it carries all the responsibility of furthering the over-arching plot of big-screen Marvel as if it were a feather. Despite its many accomplishments, that might be the movie’s handiest achievement.

By the way, I wanted to mention Marvel’s other comic-book universes, besides street-level, global and cosmic playgrounds, because the big-screen Marvel universe will no doubt incorporate them as well.

(I won’t get into a couple of lesser-known Marvel comic book universes here because, frankly, I don’t think we’ll see big-screen versions of Marvel’s romance and western comic worlds anytime soon.)

We’re all but certain to see Marvel’s mystical and horror universes come into play in movies before long, perhaps in a combined venture.

The studio has already named a director for its “Dr. Strange” movie, about a physician who became a master of the mystic arts and fought supernatural creatures. It’ll be interesting to see who the studio picks to play the part because Strange could be as much of an anchor for ongoing Marvel movies as Robert Downey Jr. has been as Tony Stark.

A “Strange” movie would not only introduce the mystical and supernatural Marvel universes to the big screen but could encompass the company’s long history of horror characters, some of whom regularly cross paths with heroes like Spider-Man (I’m looking at you, Moebius the Living Vampire) but operate in a realm that ranges from the dark corners of the Earth to other dimensions. It’s a world of magic – already explained in the “Thor” movies as simply science that humans can’t understand – and wild creatures.

If the idea seems strange to you, consider how strange a space raccoon and a talking tree might have seemed before this record-breaking opening weekend for “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

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‘Arrow,’ ‘SHIELD’ look to finish strong

arrow ravager city of blood

I’m not one of those fans that has to declare a victor in the war between Marvel and DC. They’re both doing well – if very differently – in particular areas outside comics, including live-action movies and TV and animation.

Marvel’s big-screen universe is firing on all cylinders through a timetable that, if we’re to believe a recent interview with mastermind Kevin Feige, is loosely planned through 2028. The producers of Marvel movie outliers like the “Spider-Man” and “X-Men” series are trying to build their own universes, although that could be a challenge. I still wish we’d see the universes combined on screen someday.

As for DC, Warner Bros. is flat-out struggling to build a cohesive movie universe. The “Man of Steel” sequel featuring Batman – with Wonder Woman and Cyborg and possibly other characters in supporting roles – could be cool or it could fall as flat as “Green Lantern.” And DC has just announced that director Zach Snyder will follow the “Man of Steel” sequel with a “Justice League” movie.

DC’s plans feel a little rushed, with none of the universe-building that Marvel has engaged in with its “Avengers” lead-ins and follow-ups. But maybe it’ll turn out nifty.

On TV, there’s no question that “Arrow,” the second-season CW adaptation of Green Arrow, is the best superhero series ever.

And over on ABC, “Agents of SHIELD” – after a first half of this debut season that felt like wheel-spinning or slow burn, depending on how charitable you might be – is building to what might be a genuinely thrilling climax.

Both series have three episodes left this season. Here are some thoughts:

“Arrow”: After setting up Slade (Deathstroke) Wilson as the good-guy-turned-bad-guy this season, the series has let Slade run rampant on Oliver Queen and his city, family and team. Last week’s episode ended with Slade killing Oliver’s mother, Moira, in a cruel mirror to the “choice” Oliver was given by Ivo on the island.

What we want to see: More DC characters – including Ravager, pictured above, who appears in “City of Blood,” the next episode – more twists, more peril, more return visits from past favorites and more triumph for Team Arrow.

What we don’t want to see: An easy way out for anybody.

agents of shield nothing personal

“SHIELD”: Spinning off events in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “SHIELD” finds itself in a world where SHIELD itself is in shambles. The agents are on the run, striking back at enemy organization HYDRA and building alliances. All the while, they’re dealing with the treacherous Agent Ward, who has turned out to be a HYDRA agent and has been killing SHIELD agents right and left.

What we want to see: Well, we already know Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) returns in this week’s episode, “Nothing Personal,” and Samuel L. Jackson is supposed to return as Nick Fury in “Beginning of the End,” the season finale set for May 13. So we’re getting return visits from some favorites. We also want more revelations, including more big-picture tie-ins to the movie universe.

What we don’t want to see: The redemption of Agent Ward. We want him and Agent Garrett (the great Bill Paxton) to continue as our favorite HYDRA turncoats into the second season.

The longterm big picture for both series – if “SHIELD” returns for a second season – could be fantastic. “SHIELD” will be building toward the May 2015 premiere of “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

And although it’s unlikely, it’s possible Warners will tie “Arrow” to its big-screen franchise in some way. Warners could do a whole lot worse – and likely will – if it ignores the universe created for the small screen.

 

1970s poster flashback: ‘Coffy’

Coffy pam grier poster

A while back I was inspired to begin this recurring look at the poster art of 1970s movies after seeing the throwback-style poster for “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

Movies don’t get any groovier than “Coffy,” the 1973 blaxploitation flick starring Pam Grier in the title role. And the poster does justice to the movie’s storyline.

After her younger sister is hooked on drugs, Coffy, a nurse, sets out to kill as many drug dealers as possible.

It’s a pretty straightforward plot.

If you’ve never looked at it, check out the oddly-written Wikipedia page for the movie, complete with plot recap.

“Coffy uses her sexuality to seduce her would-be killers,” indeed.

And good lord, what an impression Grier made on a lot of us.

pam-grier

See what I mean?

Hail Hydra! You know the drill

hail hydra steranko

If you saw “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” you know (spoilers) that Marvel’s longtime super-science, super-evil group Hydra plans a big role.

And you know that “Hail Hydra” is the special password members of Hydra have used since the first “Cap” movie.

Of course, “Hail Hydra” has been around in the comics as long as Hydra has been around, and in the movies  it’s never been used more effectively than when Garry Shandling’s corrupt senator whispers it in corrupt SHIELD agent Jasper Sitwell’s ear.

So the exchange almost immediately inspired a host of Internet memes.

hail hydra lost in translation

This is the first one I saw.

hail hydra bush cheney

This one is great.

hail hydra godfather

And this one.

hail hydra bert and ernie

Can’t top this one.

 

‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ one of Marvel’s best

captain america the winter soldier illus

There’s been a lot of talk about “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” – which I’m going to refer to by some shorter title from here on out – being a game changer for Marvel Studios and its big-screen cinematic universe.

And it is, in a way. Marvel, through co-directors Joe and Anthony Russo, seem prepared to start making changes in the on-screen universe they’ve established.

That risk-taking is only one of the elements that makes “Winter Soldier” feel like we’re now seeing events play out in a living, breathing, changing universe, one that changes a little bit more after the events of every Marvel movie.

I’ll be throwing in some spoilers later in this review, but I’ll warn you first. And I’ll be acknowledging that a big rumor I had speculated about a few weeks ago was wrong, wrong, wrong.

“Winter Soldier” almost feels like more of a “SHIELD” movie or sequel to “The Avengers” than a sequel to “Captain America,” and that’s appropriate. Steve Rogers, who “died” near the end of the first movie, only to be thawed out and revived and  eventually teamed up with Iron Man, Hulk and Thor in “The Avengers” two years ago, has gone to work for SHIELD, the super-spy agency led by Nick Fury. Cap (Chris Evans, again charming and low-key and a straight-arrow without being a parody of a paragon of virtue) is working alongside Natasha, the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) on SHIELD ops.

A nighttime raid on a ship at sea ably demonstrates not only Cap’s, Natasha’s and their SHIELD team’s lethal effectiveness but the twisty-turny nature of the work they do. While Steve is there to rescue hostages, Natasha is there to retrieve information from a SHIELD computer on board. (I’m going to have to see the movie a second time to figure out exactly why Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, with more to do here than usual) knew he could find this info on the ship.)

So while Steve is frustrated at Fury’s duplicitousness – and Natasha’s too, frankly – he’s otherwise adjusting well to the modern world. He’s got a list of pop-culture and historical milestones to catch up on – “Star Wars” is included, as is the moon landing – and he’s befriended Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), a fellow veteran who is a VA counselor.

As Cap tries to tell the bad guys from the good guys – aside from his helpful suggestion to Sam that the bad guys will be the ones shooting at them – we’re introduced to Alexander Pierce (Robert freakin’ Redford), a Cabinet-level official who oversees SHIELD.

Before too long, it’s obvious that things are not what they seem with several characters and SHIELD is not the organization Steve would like for it to be. In fact, it’s the organization he and Tony Stark worried about in “The Avengers.” The organization that is experimenting with technology developed by HYDRA and the Red Skull in the first “Cap” movie.

The great part about the Captain America character, as created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in 1941, and revived by Kirby and Stan Lee in 1964, is that he’s a man out of time, that his values are unchanging. He’s not a stick-in-the-mud and he’s not a priss. He kills because he’s a soldier, but he won’t kill if someone, even an enemy, can be saved.

The greatest test for Steve is saving the character he shares the movie’s title with. The Winter Soldier is a nearly-unstoppable killing machine, sent out by Hydra to usher in the bloody carnage that leads to a new world order. He’s played by Sebastian Stan, of course, who played Steve’s lifelong friend, James “Bucky” Barnes, in the first “Cap” movie. Here – as in the comics – Bucky, returned from the dead, is a merciless, brainwashed assassin. Once Steve knows who he is, the question becomes, how can he save Bucky instead of killing him?

“Winter Soldier” is two and half hours long, more or less, but never feels that long. Some reviews have declared it’s better than “The Avengers,” but I’m not sure I agree. It is one of the best Marvel movies, no doubt.

This isn’t surprising, considering the nature of the movie and the genre, but “Winter Soldier” feels especially brutal. There’s less Iron Man-style repulsor ray action and less Thor “hammer down” fighting here. This is hard, bone-crunching, hand-to-hand combat with fists and knives. There’s a lot of gunplay and vehicular mayhem. It never feels as callous as the combat scenes in “Man of Steel,” but if you’re sensitive to the idea of this kind of stuff … well, what were you expecting?

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is one of the best of the Marvel movies. It’s a big story about the fight against murderous political ambitions but at the same time a more personal story about trust: Which people and institutions deserve your respect and your trust? For the Marvel movie universe, “Winter Soldier” definitively answers that question.

Okay, spoilers from here on out.

Ready?

Easter eggs are some of our favorite things about these movies, and “Winter Soldier” had plenty of them.
Not only do Tony Stark, Bruce Banner and other major characters get name-dropped – you would expect that – but there’s at least one reference to a major Marvel character to come. Stephen Strange is named as an enemy of Hydra. Why Doctor Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme, would be taking on this organization is not quite clear, but it was, I hope, a nice foreshadowing of a movie that’s been rumored to be in development.

Toby Jones’ appearance – in an altered form – as Zola, the Skull’s scientific minion, is a treat. It’s such a substantial role that it doesn’t really qualify as an Easter egg, but what the heck. I’ll include it anyway.

I’m sure that on repeated viewings I’ll see more of these, but there’s apparently a quick reference to Stark Tower – the geographic focus of the battle in “The Avengers” – as one of the locations chosen for Pierce’s doomsday scenario attacks. I’m guessing that other locations, glimpsed briefly onscreen, would also offer up some goodies.

How great was it to see Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter? I hope her “Agent Carter” series happens. Seeing her helping form SHIELD in the 1950s would be so much fun. And throw in some Howling Commandos, too.

A lot of sites, including this one, speculated that Redford’s Alexander Pierce was secretly the Red Skull. While I was a little disappointed he was not, thinking it over for a few hours, I’m glad that Pierce was nothing more than a Hydra agent, a politically and morally compromised mad man whose plan for implementing a new world order admittedly rivaled the Skull’s for its viciousness.

Marvel’s weekly TV series, “Agents of SHIELD,” has been building, slowly, to the events that occur in “Winter Soldier.” But how “Agents of SHIELD” operates for the rest of this season and, possibly, next, considering that SHIELD itself is a discredited and defunct as a spy agency, will be interesting to see. Keep in mind, the show will have to avoid stepping on storylines that future Marvel movies might take up.

The trailers for “Winter Soldier” made us think that Redford’s SHIELD honcho was talking to Cap when he was telling him he had “shaped the century.” He was not. Obviously.

There’s something so cool about the montage, set to Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man,” near the end of the movie. We see Steve and Sam and Fury but we also see Maria Hill and Sharon Carter and damned if it all doesn’t feel just right.

The first end-credits scene feels like the most puzzling one yet in a Marvel movie for viewers who don’t know the context. As most have already noted, it introduces characters we’re going to see in next summer’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” including “The Twins,” Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, and Hydra leader Baron Von Strucker. While there’s mention of Hydra, the arch-villain organization of the movie, there’s nary a familiar character in sight. It seems like Marvel has enough confidence in us to let us figure out what’s going on.

The second end-credits scene is directly tied to the movie and to future “Cap” movies, perhaps. Bucky’s return after decades and his stint filling in for Steve as Cap are familiar to comics readers. Speculation recently that Bucky actor Sebastian Stan is signed for nine Marvel movies – so as many as seven more from this point – and the fact that Evans currently has only three more movies in his contract – two “Avengers” movies and a “Cap” movie – suggests that Marvel’s long game might follow the comics storyline.

 

 

1970s poster flashback: ‘Dillinger’

dillinger warren oates poster

Excuse the lack of posts lately. It’s been a week, I’ll tell you that.

Last week when I posted the “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” 1970s-style poster here, I noted that it was a throwback to an entire era of cool movie posters.

winter soldier 70s poster paolo rivera

Here’s the “Winter Soldier” poster, of course.

dillinger warren oates poster

Here (and above) is the poster for “Dillinger,” a 1973 classic.

“Dillinger” was directed by John Milius, writer of such classic screenplays as the original “Conan” and “Red Dawn.”

“Dillinger” starred Warren Oates, a great character actor, as John Dillinger, the Depression-era bank robber.

“Dillinger” is remembered as a classic of its kind. And what a supporting cast: Ben Johnson, Harry Dean Stanton, Richard Dreyfuss (as Baby Face Nelson!) Geoffrey Lewis, Steve Kanaly (of “Dallas”), Frank McRae and so many others.

And it’s got a cool poster too.