For Reel

Captain America: Civil War (2016)
May 14, 2016, 12:12 pm
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Director(s): Joe & Anthony Russo
2.5 Stars
Captain America Civil WarThe test of a good Marvel film has become how well it can balance the studio’s desire to sell the next two or three movies in the franchise. Whereas Avengers: Age of Ultron rushed new characters to the screen and pigeonholed references to the purple-faced big bad promised in Infinity War, Captain America: The Winter Soldier made significant plot advancements that seemed just as essential to the self-contained narrative of the film as they were to the franchise at large. If Captain America: Civil War undoubtedly has its moments, it shows Marvel at its weakest in striking this balance. As enjoyable as it is to see a well-realized Spider-Man on screen, little would change without his appearance—the same goes for Black Panther, whose subplot is introduced only to give audiences a taste of what to anticipate in his own standalone feature. The film positioned as The Empire Strikes Back of The Avengers series pits its darkest story threads against the need for marketing future stars—the two agendas are in conflict if only because everything outside of the Steve Rogers vs. Tony Stark conflict cheapens the tragedy of it. Losing the middle hour of the picture might have deprived audiences of the airport scene, but it would have made the drama tighter and ultimately more emotionally impactful. As it is, this is a lot of noise and gimmicks, and if the tangents keep it from the dreariness of the DC universe, the storytelling is becoming inept.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
April 17, 2014, 2:19 am
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Director(s): Anthony & Joe Russo
4 Stars
Captain America - The Winter SoldierHollywood has been favoring brooding superheroes ever since the success of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. It comes as some surprise, then, that the most spirited and jingoistic character of the bunch has given the comic book genre its most provocative series. Whereas the first Captain America film questioned the role of propaganda and the dangers of nationalism, this second installment places the Cap (Chris Evans) in the present day in order to discuss 21st century geopolitical ethics. What makes this interesting is the purity of our hero’s code–the most old-fashioned thing about Cap is that he believes in right and wrong, whereas modernity is very much defined by moral shades of grey. That a product of the 1940’s is so opposed to this country’s surveillance and military tactics is a declaration that America has failed on the promises that it made to itself a generation ago. Beyond the attempts to be politically subversive, perhaps the best thing this installment has going for it is Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), who up until now has been a forgettable addition to Marvel’s behemoth franchise. She’s witty, intelligent, and not as gratuitously sexualized as she has been in previous appearances. In fact, the friendship between the Cap and Black Widow seems fairly shocking in the world of this type of assembly-line, corporate entertainment–though there is the occasional moment of sexual tension, it is first and foremost a business relationship. In fact, a running joke sees Black Widow suggesting that Cap ask out a number of women–a pattern which suggests that screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely are poking fun at the expectation that their hero needs a present romantic interest (his old flame from the first installment (Peggy Atwell) only appears in one scene).