REVIEW: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

2 05 2016

At its core, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is very much a political thriller. The film concluded production around the time of the Edward Snowden leaks, so any correlation between the two would have been primarily atmospheric in the editing bay. But the nods of screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely to the kind of political unrest and institutional mistrust of the 1970s feels totally applicable to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s SHIELD and Hydra, themselves proxies for the present day surveillance state.

The good news for audiences is that this kind of smart throwback is attached to a Marvel movie. The bad news, though, is that the movie still has to be a “Marvel movie.”

Every time the film starts developing its ideas or delving into the ramifications, it has to start hitting the predictable comic book movie beats. The need to have a big action set piece every 25-30 minutes ultimately becomes oppressive and counterproductive to the film’s intelligent ambitions. Though the sequel bears the subtitle “Civil War,” the name seems as applicable to that film’s content as it does to the form of “The Winter Soldier.”

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo struggle against the Marvel formula to interesting and more thoroughly entertaining effects. They fail to break the mold, however. The real auteur of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is Kevin Feige, the company’s president. What is commercial will likely continue to prevail over what is artistic or iconoclastic. Looking at the numbers, sadly, can anyone blame him? B-2stars

REVIEW: The Purge: Anarchy

18 07 2014

Purge AnarchyWhen I was 6 years old, I visited my grandparents’ house while they were riveted to CSPAN coverage of the growing scandal embroiling then-President Bill Clinton.  Curious about what could possibly be so interesting, I asked everyone I came across who Monica Lewinsky was and what Clinton had done.

Just because I knew vague terms relating to what was happening in the headlines did not mean I was qualified to talk intelligently about political issues.  The same is true of “The Purge: Anarchy,” the sequel to last summer’s surprise horror hit.  This film, which went from studio greenlight to the multiplex in little over a year, tries to fool you into thinking it has some intellectual to say about contemporary society.

In reality, though, its social commentary isn’t half as deep as the ridiculous plot holes that mire the proceedings.  If the premise – all crime becomes legal for one night to ensure harmony for the other 364 – felt absurdly simple in “The Purge,” imagine a film where the studio puts the writer on such a time and money crunch that there’s no real time to think it through.  That’s “The Purge: Anarchy” in a nutshell.

Writer/director James DeMonaco really runs with the spirit of 2011, creating a film that would make many an Occupy member giddy with its vitriol directed towards the one percent.  He hints at tackling gun violence, economic inequality, and corporate control of government, but he’s incapable of forming a coherent thought about any of them.

Perhaps most tellingly of how facile “The Purge: Anarchy” really is, DeMonaco completely collapses the issue of class conflict into race war.  The rich are all white, and the poor are almost entirely black (and are led by a Samuel L. Jackson impersonator).  While race is undeniably a large part of discussions of social status, it cannot account for it entirely.  By discounting all other factors, DeMonaco squanders a chance to get his audience thinking about pressing questions.

It’s not likely they would do so, anyways, given how ridiculously the rest of the film plays out.  The proletariat protagonists are all too simple to elicit sympathy or our worry for their survival.  The rich villains, in DeMonaco’s rush to indict them, turn out to be little more than parodic figures.  The storyline does nothing to expand up on the original; in fact, “The Purge: Anarchy” really only serves to dumb down the future franchise so the films can be churned out like Big Macs.  C2stars