Let’s see now: he can jump out of a plane without a parachute. And he can knock the stuffing out of nine marauding bad guys in a small elevator in less time than it takes to make a strawberry smoothie. Armed with just his shield, he can bring down an attacking jet helicopter all by himself.
Not bad for a guy who is 95. Not bad at all. But then he’s had a lot of rest.
I can’t say that “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is the most fun I’ve ever had at a Marvel Comics CGI fest. But I can honestly say that I’ve never had more fun at a Marvel Comics movie than I had at this one – not at an “Avengers” movie or a hip Jon Favreau “Iron Man” movie either.
And no small part of that is that the ratio of CGI to old-school stunts, fights and shoot-ups is considerably lower than it often is. I’m not saying there isn’t a ton of CGI in this thing – of course an army of computer animators was involved; it’s a Marvel Comics movie for pity’s sake. But it’s the wild fight scenes and crazy swooping stunts and squib-gobbling bullet riddling special effects that make it as much fun as it is. In other words, this is a Marvel CGI movie with bloodlines to a James Bond or “Die Hard” movie.
And along with it, the script is full of good, droll wisecracks and has an unusually tantalizing ’40s serial take on the standard-issue bad guys intent on world domination and the return of social order uber alles.
As long as total candor’s involved, I need to mention that one member of this team of scriptwriters – Christopher Markus (his partner is Stephen H. McFeely) – is a family friend whom I’ve known since he was a funny kid at St. Joe’s.
I could, quite frankly, have done without a bit of techno soldier-speak in the first hour, not to mention the movie’s slightly off-putting way of assuming that every audience member has a crazed fan’s avid memory of exactly where we left off last time around with Captain America.
The movie begins a bit too much in the middle for some of us slower learners and lip-readers and non-fanboys out in the audience. But once all systems are go, it’s a great deal of fun, as much from the writers’ keyboards as any place else.
I promise I’m not burying the lead here, too, but I’d certainly be remiss if I didn’t hasten to add at this point that Scarlett Johansson makes a great superhero sideback as Natasha. The biggest news of all: Robert Redford, in his 77th year on earth, has finally decided to stop being so all-fired timid and cautious as an actor and start doing things on screen he should have done 20 or 30 years ago when he got himself stuck in Romantic Hero and Crusading Idealist gear.
Now that his movie romancing days have ended, he can spend whole films fighting bad weather at sea (see the astonishing “All is Lost”) and being the sort of all-American fascist who’s happy to see 20 million carefully selected people dead for the sake of the security of 7 billion. “To build a better world sometimes means tearing the old one down,” he says full of Redford rectitude now used in a brand new way on screen. (Earlier, his character kind of tipped his hand a bit by telling a member of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s World Security Council “I don’t care about one boat, I care about the fleet.”)
Even block-headedly heroic Charlton Heston knew how good a villain he’d make – see him play Cardinal Richelieu in Richard Lester’s Musketeers movies. It’s high time Redford played smarter as an actor.
The diabolically clever trick of these Captain America movies is that they’ve taken an old superhero of World War II fantasies – an ultimate soldier now in red, white and blue tights armed with nothing but a shield – and, through comic-style scientific hocus pocus turned him into a hugely sympathetic floundering fish out of water, played by the engagingly human Chris Evans.
He makes for a nice movie center when you’ve got him in the middle of Johansson as the beauteous, acrobatic and smoky-voiced Natasha, Samuel L. Jackson as the rakish, cynical, one-eyed head of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Anthony Mackie as the Captain’s new flying buddy, Falcon, a sort of Recovery movement Icarus too smart to fly into the sun.
Nor are they the only merry cast featured in this “Captain America” movie. Would you believe a delicious walk-on by the always eloquently whiny Garry Shandling and a major role for a now-mature Jenny Agutter, who first registered with some size in the movie world as a naked teen in Nicolas Roeg’s visionary masterpiece “Walkabout?”
That’s the secret with these Marvel Comic fantasias. All the splendid CGI in the world, for instance, isn’t going to get a leaden Thor movie (the original, for instance) off the ground if it’s – to steal a wonderful Southern rural locution I heard once – dumber than a barrel of hair.
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is so much smarter than it needed to be – and so much more excitingly filmed in traditional big action-adventure style by veteran TV brothers Anthony and Joe Russo that it’s awfully smart stuff for the kind of movie that it is.
“What makes you happy?” someone asks Captain America at one point.
“I don’t know” says the chronologically adrift 95-year-old superhero who looks as if he’s in his 20s.
What made me popcorn movie happy, I confess without shame, was “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”