Which Marvel movie did I see again? The sequel to “Captain America”? Oh yeah … there was a lot of fighting … and Robert Redford? Maybe? If I’m not careful, I may shrug too vehemently and dislocate my shoulders.
It’s all a bit of a gray blur of government conspiracy subtext and shield hurling, but I’ll do my best. The basic premise is that our nation’s blue-eyed humanized bald eagle (played by Chris Evans) has continued to adjust to the 21st century post-“Avengers.” Other than sharing his preference for contemporary cuisine, however, we hardly see any of his ‘40s mentality clashing with modern technology or lingo. Guess he’s got it all figured out? There goes a massive amount of potential for humor.
One instance of century discrepancy does pop up, however. Samuel L. Jackson is back and fabulously snarky as ever as Colonel Nick Fury, and in one scene he takes the Cap to a top secret S.H.I.E.L.D. warehouse of weaponized “helicarrier” ships, and tells him of a new project in which the privacy of Americans may be breached. Captain America with his old-school naiveté is less than convinced of the morality of such a scheme. Later on, we’re introduced to the director of this new project, played by Robert Redford. I couldn’t help recalling his involvement in “All the President’s Men” as an investigative journalist for the Watergate scandal. The modern relevancy in government parallelism was not lost on me; I just couldn’t have cared less. Frankly, yes, all superhero movies should address current issues. Do they have to resemble Bourne movies to do so, though?
Fighting ensues, with oodles of PG-13 shaky-cam hand-to-hand combat (anyone else miss good ol’ fashioned gunplay?). The Captain’s an able enough star, but it’s his partner in heroics, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), who steals the show. She’s clever and agile, packing the best punches in the film all with tact and expertise. The script subtly addresses the skeletons in her closet, and if we fail to get a Black Widow movie exposing her undoubtedly awesome past, I will take a cue from the assassin herself and head to Hollywood armed and dangerous.
The first “Captain America” film, which came out two years ago, took place in the 1940s. In the 1940s, going to the movies cost only twenty cents — about three bucks if you account for inflation. (If you listen closely, you can almost hear the bank account of this broke college student weeping with decade envy.) But pricing aside, a trip to the movie theater was something very different in the 1940s from what it is today. It was a predictable experience.
In the 1940s, a person could shell out a relatively small sum of money and stroll into a theater, not expecting any particular movie but knowing that they were for in for a familiar experience. They could walk into the middle of a film and within five minutes know what was happening. I feel like I can do the same thing with these new, tonally identical Marvel movies.
They’re getting old, but audiences don’t care. They keep paying for these cookie cutter superhero flicks. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” topped box office sales, and it’s already grossed almost $500 million. But it’s nothing we haven’t seen before.
Sure, the premise is relevant to this modern age of WikiLeaks and public uncertainty regarding government privacy probing, and the movie is not bad; in fact, it does a whole lot right. But I just didn’t care. I didn’t care about Captain America because he barely made a dent in my mind as a distinctive superhero, and the stakes have been positioned exactly where they were in this movie so many times before in recent films that I just didn’t care. I’m bored! I’m bored.
Who remembers Sam Raimi’s “Spider-man” movies? The first two (we don’t talk about the third) were great. Remember their distinctive camp? Their silliness? For me, that worked because they understood that Spider-Man is a silly, smart-alec teen, and so injected his essence into the overall look and tone of the films. It really worked! Christopher Nolan got it right, too for his “Dark Knight” trilogy: he developed a particular look and tone for Batman that worked with the brooding dark-clad superhero’s character. (Even though he did go too far with the third film. I don’t talk about the third.)
Each superhero has a distinctive feel, but when these distinct identities are laid aside in favor of generic big-budget production design and a tone that has proven to bring in the big bucks, we get 1940s walk-in-theater-get-predictability cinematic experiences. I suppose it all largely depends on what you want from movies: Do you want a predictable, good superhero movie in theaters every Friday date night that you can depend upon? Or do you want uniqueness? Ingenuity? I’m personally waiting for something inspiring enough to motivate the everyday citizen to do good and get excited about doing so.