“Winter Soldier” a solid, if bloated, sequel

By Karsten Burgstahler

In the newest sub-installment of Disney’s multi-billion dollar “Avengers” franchise “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (Rated PG-13; 136 Min.) a superb Robert Redford utters the line “Sometimes building a new world means tearing the old one down.”

Directors Joe and Anthony Russo are tasked with tearing down the world Marvel built over the last six years. The ensuing spectacle is kept mostly in check, even when it threatens to collapse like giant helicarriers falling on the Potomac.

“Soldier” picks up a few years after aliens invaded New York in “The Avengers” and the government decided to direct its efforts to keeping the homeland safe. This means the movie quickly becomes a discussion on the legality of drones and using them to take down our enemies, an effort Redford’s character Alexander Pierce is tasked with. S.H.I.E.L.D. wants to use their massive drones to keep us safe; the Cap’n can’t understand why a government would spy on its own people.

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Oh, Cap. So gullible.

This conflict sets up one of the best concepts for a sequel Marvel has ever created. With “Iron Man 3” Marvel showed a desire to deal with real-world terrorism, driving superhumans at ordinary human problems. It’s escapism, yet it really isn’t. This sort of writing gives the audience a happy ending to a problem they otherwise worry about in their day-to-day lives. Now the studio is letting two Americas clash — the idealistic war effort America of the ‘40s and the paranoia-inflicted America of today. It helps to elevate the material above its Kapow! origins.

Yet this great idea loses some of its luster in the rush to world-build for Marvel’s next “Avengers” spectacle, “Age of Ultron,” set to release next May. “Soldier” has to work as its own movie while playing along with the script Joss Whedon has already written for these characters’ next adventure. “Iron Man 3”’s ending provided Whedon a challenge because of where it left Tony Stark; the Russos clearly didn’t have as much freedom to play with the material because “Soldier” leads directly into “Ultron.” The plot spirals out of control trying to bring all these strands together around the 90-minute mark.

Marvel’s “Iron Man 2” suffered from the same fate — it became the launching pad for an “Avengers” franchise and cast its lead villain and central plot to the side in favor of drawing Tony Stark into the crossover world. Even though “Soldier” does start to get bloated the Russos skillfully blend the movie’s plot and the overall mythology together.

Of course something is bound to be lost in the blend. The intriguing idea of exploring how the Captain learns to adapt in a cynical world is the victim; by the time the movie reaches its aerial climax the quiet, darker ideas have all but vanished.

The same fate befalls the title character, a mysterious assassin who seems to be able to match wits with the Captain at every turn. To say any more about the Winter Soldier would spoil the fun, and what good would that do? The soldier functions as a henchman/convenient plot device, good enough to make audiences not realize he was short-shifted until the final blasts have settled.

“Soldier”’s shooting style doesn’t exactly aim straight either. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Because the Russos want to show how much combat has changed for the Captain since WWII, they send him on a covert operation at the film’s outset. During this sequence the Russos fall prey to cinematographer Trent Opaloch’s insistence on shaky cam.

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This style of shooting has plagued Hollywood ever since Paul Greengrass’ “Bourne” sequels, justifying it by arguing it adds to the picture’s realism. “Soldier” already exists in the ridiculous so no amount of realistic shooting is going to ground the film. The action genre will be a much better place when directors realize how ineffective this process is. The shooting, combined with Jeffrey Ford’s ADD editing style, will make viewers’ heads spin.

“Soldier” is superior to Marvel’s most recent efforts and shows the studio is willing to take some of the same risks Warner Bros. let Christopher Nolan take with his “Dark Knight” franchise. But it still stumbles over the problems the other solo Avengers have struggled with. A good ‘ole dose of patriotism works as a brief remedy but not the end-all cure.

Karsten Burgstahler can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter @kburgstahler_DE or by phone at 536-3311 ext. 254.

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