Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What is Wrong with CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER? Oh, a few things...

With the new AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON movie coming out this weekend, I thought it would be a good time to ask the question: What is wrong with CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER?

What isn't wrong with it? I'll answer the latter first, the former later.

As usual, Hollywood churns out generally entertaining stuff.  The "Captain America" sequel is definitely a blast and is very entertaining and for that reason, in my opinion, is even more insidious as it manages to include quite a bit of character development without upsetting it's ridiculously break-neck pacing.  It helps that the first "Captain America" film did an amazing job of adapting the original comic's premise for the big screen, so we are ready to like this film.

The first film was paced so well that there was essentially no aspect of the movie that was given short shrift.  Story, character, editing, effects, music, it was all nearly perfect.  The sequel, however, manages to sell everyone short except for Cap and Black Widow.

Again, on the surface, it seems like the perfect movie.  It opens with Cap meeting a young veteran while jogging.  It's pretty much a perfect sequence and makes for a good character dynamic for later, when Cap needs a second teammate (not sure why he didn't just call Tony Stark or Bruce Banner or Thor--well, Thor probably doesn't have a mobile phone, but you get my point).  Likewise, the character moments Cap and Natasha share are really great.  Two competent people dealing with what their competence doesn't prepare them for: real life.  It's a really nice dynamic and super rare to see.  When is the last time you saw a male and female character of any competence level have a non-sexual relationship in movies or TV these days?   And this one was even based on mutual respect.

I should also say that the score is utterly amazing.  It's totally creepy and almost mind-bending compared to most scores done for action movies.  This music has moments where it screams at you: SOMETHING IS WRONG and it's wonderful.  Listen to the score by itself and you'll see what I mean.  It's one of my favorites.  Henry Jackman deserved an Oscar for it, in my opinion.

So, that's pretty much what worked.  Now for what didn't.  Remember, this is a spoiler-rich zone.

First, the Story.

As the story progresses, we learn that SHIELD, an 80 year-old government organization, has been utterly infiltrated by HYDRA.


So, why start the story now?  Why not show various points in SHIELD history where and how key agents were replaced with HYDRA agents, or have Cap slowly uncover the truth of how the infiltration happened?  Instead of actually letting us see the mystery unravel, the film just tells us:

"HYDRA has infiltrated SHIELD! AAAA!"

This is a violation of one of the oldest rules of storytelling: show, don't tell.

It also reminds me of the thing that always makes me a little sad about the Marvel Universe movies--that they aren't all TV series.  Doing the Marvel Universe as several TV series would allow for the kind of deep and involved storytelling that we, the original comic book readers, got to experience when reading the source material.  Stretching the story over the span of SHIELD's existence (and over several episodes) would allow the story universe to feel much more intricate and developed (Unless we're talking about the DAREDEVIL series on Netflix, but that's fodder for another post).

Instead, it feels like we're being told everything we need to know as Cap and pals race to the next plot point.  It's really frustrating for guys like me, who know how the intrigue originally unfolded.  Hardest of all, we know how much better it could be if the movie just took its time more, like it's predecessor.

Second, the characters.

OK, as stated above, Cap and Natasha/Black Widow are fine.  Love them.  Sadly, Falcon gets character development but only as an archetype and not an actual person.  He's caring, skilled and loyal.  Those are all great for making the story go, but not much for the audience to really know this guy.  Plus he's the "token black guy" in the movie and is treated as that.  I'll get to Fury in a second.

I don't mind that this veteran guy Cap randomly met one day while jogging happens to be part of the Falcon project, but it does seem a little convenient.  Lucky for Cap (and the plot) that Falcon's not secretly an agent of HYDRA (though it would have been cool if Falcon had found out about the Hydra plot and only went jogging that day to connect with Cap).

So, yes, Fury is black, but he wasn't originally, so his character was fleshed out already, which is fine, except for one thing:  the movie Nick Fury is an abject coward, compared to the comic Nick Fury.

Yeah, that's right, Nick Fury is a Coward in this Movie.

First off, he's not the WWII war hero that Fury was in the comic.  In fact, I'm not entirely sure what wars movie-Fury is a veteran of.  We find out that Robert Redford's character is the one who chose Fury to head SHIELD, but SHIELD has been around much longer than Redford's character has been.  So, this Fury, the black Fury, hasn't actually been as fleshed out as the white Fury from the comic who was, essentially, the greatest soldier who ever lived (why they don't just stick to the guy in the comic but have a black guy play him is beyond me).

Instead, we get a Nick Fury who, when he is cornered by gunmen on the street, cowers in his bullet-proof SUV.  He's THE GUY WHO RUNS SHIELD and his SUV's best features are disabled in seconds.  Does he grab a shotgun and go all NICK-FURY on their asses?  No, he just cowers in his soccer-mom mobile and keeps begging it to save him.  It was the opposite of of inspiring.  It was the opposite of heroic.  It was the opposite of what Nick Fury in the comic would do.  Hell, the comic book Nick Fury would happily get shot over allowing himself to get penned in, like Movie-Nick Fury did.

If that isn't enough, moments before this scene goes down, we see him discover that SHIELD's computer system thinks he gave it an order he knows he did not.  Rather than do some detective work, immediately attempting to find out who forged his password (or faked his identity or whatever), he stupidly hops in his SUV and goes for a ride.  Shouldn't he secretly investigate while not letting anyone know he knows something is up?  Movie-Nick Fury seems pretty stupid to me.

Protip for anyone who witnesses evidence of a criminal conspiracy: DON'T act like you know it exists.  The bad guys will notice you've noticed and send gunmen after you on your drive home from work.  You're welcome.

What's even worse is that before that, we learn Fury wants to keep all of humanity in line with a fleet of mini-Death Stars that will rove the planet, raining fire down on anyone SHIELD doesn't like.  This premise is rightfully challenged when Cap first learns of it from Fury, himself.  Of course, it should have been challenged by anyone involved in the script-development process--not to mention anyone else is Fury's immediate sphere who has their morals still intact.  I mean, come on, who would think turning the Earth into a planet-wide police state would be a good thing?  (I mean, aside from Dick Cheney.)

Are the hover carriers in the comic?  Sure.  But Fury in the comic is a moral guy.  He's not going to use his firepower willy-nilly to play revenge games on behalf of anyone, like Movie-Fury seems to want to.  There are big threats in the comic universe and Comic-Fury is not waging war against Al Qaeda or whomever else Movie-Fury is waging war against.   Come to think of it--who else are bad guys in the Marvel Cinematic Universe aside from the aliens in the "Avengers" movie, Loki and the Frost Giants in the "Thor" movies and the random bad guys that show up in the "Iron Man" films?  None of those guys are trying to take over the world or even cause mischief on a global level.  So, what the hell is Fury doing with all this weaponry and his helicarrier fleet in this movie?  He's a madman with the power to dominate the Earth!

I'm starting to understand the plotline of the SHIELD TV show much better looking at the behavior of Movie-Fury.  I wouldn't be trusting Coulson, either.

Third, the climax.

When the story finally comes together, we discover that Movie-Fury should never have created such an arsenal in the first place (no kidding, REALLY?). Almost instantly, Fury caves and lets his World Order Enforcement Fleet be destroyed.  When the story fully resolves, Cap lets Fury go free.

What the hell is that??  Fury put together a World Order Enforcement Fleet with plans to hold every human on Earth in line with it.  This man is a war criminal who should be locked up and never let out.  He built all this stuff in secret in the first place, who's to say he doesn't have another World Order Enforcement Fleet hiding in some other underwater lair?

Just consider his thought process:

"I'm Nick Fury and I am going to build and control a giant fleet of aircraft that can enforce my will around the globe!"

Seriously, that's a HUGE moral lapse right there--well worse than Bill Clinton sleeping with an intern or Watergate, and he gets a European vacation for it?  Clinton got impeached and Nixon was forced to resign, meanwhile, Movie-Fury is probably out their building himself a new army to dominate the world with again.  It made sense for Comic-Fury to have a helicarrier fleet--Doctor Doom, the Skrulls, the Skree, and plenty more global-sized enemies threatened Earth.  But in the Marvel movies, there just isn't much point to having your own personal revenge fleet.


In the end, I need to point out that I have the same problem with CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER that I had with AVENGERS. This problem was that our heroes are so incompetent they almost let the bad guys win.  In this film, they are completely oblivious to HYDRA agents all around them.  How can they be so stupid as to let these guys completely destroy SHIELD from the inside?  I mean, talk about utter incompetence!  This is exactly the opposite of what I LOVED about CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER.  Cap in the first film was a stable, competent hero up against a legitimate threat.  In this, our heroes are kind of morons who didn't notice their top secret super organization being completely compromised--another reason these guys should not be trusted with their own revenge fleet of mini-Death Stars!!

The way to do this right is to have the good guys be totally competent but still have the bad guys be be more competent.

Sadly, the MARVEL'S AGENTS OF SHIELD TV series handles HYDRA's infiltration of SHIELD the same way as the movie and does zero good at filling in the gaping blanks as to how so many agents of SHIELD could all have been so stupid as to allow HYDRA to infiltrate so much of SHIELD.

So, to fix this film, I'd say restructure the story so that we can see how HYDRA managed to do it.  We don't need to see all of it, just a couple examples will do.  I don't even think the story absolutely needs to be stretched over SHIELD's entire history, though, that's how I'd do it.  How interesting and fun would it have been to see SHIELD after Cap "died"?  We could see how HYDRA could never have infiltrated if only Cap was still around.

I'd also have included more character moments like the jogging scene or like most of the first "Captain America" movie.  Also, stick to having Movie-Fury doing things that Comic-Fury would do.  None of this world domination stuff.  It's about defending freedom, not about enforcing it.

AND NO FURY COWERING IN HIS CAR!!  Man, the more I think about that the more it annoys me.  Normal people yell at their car--not Nick Fury!  He's a badass!  Not a whiner!

Finally, and this is one thing I didn't mention above, have the climax gimmick make sense.  The movie has our heroes replace three server blades with their own server blades so the computers aboard the three carriers can't sync with SHIELD's computer system.  Really, all they have to do is stop the syncing from happening.  The three replacement blades are just so the three carriers can be forced to crash--I think--honestly, I'm not sure.  The point is, you just need them to not sync to the main system.  They can be safely landed by each individual member of Cap's team if need be.  Instead. the three blades are swapped and they all crash into the Potomac or SHIELD HQ or where ever the third one crashed.

Good thing the writers didn't let them crash into any Washington DC monuments, or the White House or the nearby neighborhoods of regular folks like you and me...

And, of course, more quiet moments to let us learn more about the characters and to breathe.  If I never see another wall-to-wall excitement film I will die a happy man.

Was CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER entertaining?  Sure.  But you have to admit, if they did it my way it would be better.

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