So, who do you trust? And how do you know if you’ve made the right choice? With this central conundrum the new Captain America movie is a feisty, old-fashioned thriller, highlighted by the presence of uber-conspiracy actor Robert Redford (The Candidate, All the President’s Men).
From the beginning we are, literally (yes, I know, but it’s true, in this case), up and running. The set up is brilliant with the fluid running, endurance, and achingly good-hearted exchanges between Cap and a new friend, Falcon. Soon we dive into the cynical manipulations that all expect from the secret services, and we, the knowing audience in a post-Snowden world can feel trust issues leaking from every action.
“Captain America” always makes me a feel a touch queasy. It’s the chest pumping name. However, the naked patriotism is derived from two 20th Century world wars where simple choices were entirely logical; the movie is dealing with raw material that were created around those times. But the Captain America of the Sixties’ comics, and now, the modern movie makers must contend with a more complex world: urban environments are packed with diverse cultures and the debate between town and country is tortured by difference. It’s easy to forget that in the West we’re all immigrants, descendants of multiple invaders: the Celts, Saxons, Vikings, Visigoths, Indo-Europeans. Ultimately we all came from Africa. So, now, if you want to be patriotic, popular entertainment has to be careful: stick to the values of the people, not the governments or its security services and don’t focus on skin colour or gender or religion. And beware of a government that represents its people too willfully.
Thankfully, this movie manages to subvert the baggage of Captain America’s name, and go for what we all want – honesty, decency – and does it with decisive clarity. The plot focuses on this conflict of perspectives, a battle between different versions of ‘doing the right thing’, on behalf of others.
The movie has its faults but it’s a rip-roaring adventure from start to finish. The emotional sub-plots add depth and never get in the way of the action. And while I can’t say that any plot resolve surprised me (I’m not sure that’s why we go to a film like this), it’s a thrilling ride. Black Widow’s flirty joshing with Cap about girlfriends was neat without being cheesy, and Falcon’s running gag “to the left” also added to the character development without hitting too hard.
Of course, there is a lot of hitting hard in this movie, probably too much, but again, it is that kind of movie. Elsewhere I’ve been critical of Man of Steel‘s final third which was overrun by far, far too much exaggerated building crashing, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier strayed into this territory a few times, but the reason Cap wins is not just that he’s a superhero with immense strength, it’s his values that win him friends and colleagues, that make people respect him, and his occasional human weakness (he doesn’t need Kryptonite to incapacitate him) truly brings us to his side. There are several great moments in the film: at the beginning we see Cap landing, racing through and swiftly depatching dozens of armed opponents. The marvel is the incredible, fluid sprinting, like floating across water. Also, it’s worth saying, almost every scene with Scarlet Johansson, including a devious reveal towards the end, brings warmth and humanity to what might have been an excessively violent film without her.
Similarly, Anthony Mackie’s Falcon determined modesty makes him a winner in every scene. Of course, the flying is the best, when he takes off for the first time I wanted to cheer (I didn’t. Too embarrassing at my age) There’s also some nice interplay between old and new, bringing the best of the old (the Harley Davidson) and allowing nostalgia to have its wicked way with the treachery of new technologies. There’s a poignant scene where Cap is taken to the deepest underground chamber where he sees for the first time, the vast arsenal of SHIELD, with its superior warplanes and ultimate firepower, but rather than be impressed he questions the validity of those who can control such power. Then he visits the Smithsonian where the simple aircraft of the first and second world wars hang on thin cables, from a Golden age of simpler choices. It’s an obvious message but worth offering in our own world of realpolitick.
All the main characters bring strong performances, including Sam Jackson acting beyond his usual gravitas, and an unexpected turn from Robert Redford as the delusional senator.
Oh, and the shield. It is a scintillating part of Caps’ body, but a brilliant character in its own right with the irony of the shield vs SHIELD not lost on any of us: in a game of authenticity, is it the man-made titanium, or the corrupted secret service that rings most true?
The Marvel universe continues to expand, offering the unique perspectives of individual characters and their worlds, while allowing for acute intersections. Captain America’s action is a long way from Thor’s The Dark World, but they move in the same gigantic space.
There are some good links to the previous movies, without overdoing it, with mentions of the devastation of New York during The Avengers battle and Senator Pierce obliging Nick Fury to send Iron Man to his niece’s party. Of course, there are several links forward, with mention of Stephen Strange, and two post title snippets which propel us into the next phase of the Marvel Universe. We see the twins, (Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch), imprisoned and mad, and Loki’s sceptre, linking us to the Guardians of the Galaxy movie later this year, with its infinity Gem, and the next Avengers movie: Age of Ultron.
So intrigue abounds, and after all the excitement, we can look forward to ever more fantastic entertainment…
Ratings (out of five stars)
Entertainment value: ****
Story rating: ****
So, the overall rating is: A trusty ****
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