PatchMan Revisits: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Well…this is kind of awkward. Technically, I have in fact already reviewed this one during this blog’s much younger days. But this is a re-visitation, so regardless of prior coverage I’m not really breaking the pattern. What makes this awkward though is not the ‘repetition’ of my subject matter. What makes this awkward is at the time I first reviewed The Amazing Spider-Man 2…I kind of gave it four stars. Out of five. For…reasons? I must’ve had some! Can’t think what they were now, but I must have had some! So, in some ways, rounding off this ‘Road to Homecoming’ series comes with something of a sense of dutiful atonement. Don’t get me wrong, I never feel remotely obligated to toe the line of opinion consensus about any given film (to which my La La Land review should attest). I stand by the fact that I enjoyed this film at the time, and still do (albeit in a different fashion). This is just me, looking in a three-year-old mirror and thinking…”what on earth were you talking about?”

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Spider-Man’s days as a wanted vigilante are done, as New York warmly embraces its crime-fighting champion. As Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), although now graduating from high school, life is more consistent. Deeply conflicted between his love for Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and the promise he made to keep himself out of her life for her own safety, Peter faces an uncertain future. But as the return of his childhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) precipitates the emergence of new threats, including the maniacal and godlike ‘Electro’ (Jamie Foxx), Peter comes to realize a deeper web that binds both his enemies and his own past: Oscorp.

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It’s impressive really that even though this franchise was rebooted a mere five years after the Sam Raimi trilogy, it not only ends up making most of the exact same mistakes, but somehow makes them to an even greater extent, and in addition to a whole heap of missteps of its own. Packed to the gunnels with bad guys, disjointed storytelling, playing fast-and-loose with plotlines, outright laughable creative decisions and ultimately torpedoing an entire studio-planned franchise in one fell swoop. Oh. And so. Much. Product placement. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is, effectively, a two-hour commercial. Whether its flaunting Sony products and properties like its QVC, or drawing a map to establish budding sequels, spinoffs and crossovers in the franchise’s pipeline, the film is perhaps the earliest modern example of a studio getting entirely too ahead of itself and sacrificing the best interests of the film that audiences came to see. Granted, Marvel Studios has recently ventured more into this territory of catering to ‘the bigger picture’ and receives comparatively sparse criticism for it, but that’s been earned through a lot of origin story legwork and sequel-baiting that never really takes the audience for granted. Also, they rarely hit you over the head with it quite as hard as is done here. The result: like Spider-Man 3, there’s enough material to justify at least two separate films crammed into one, and it’s a messy fit.

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This isn’t to say the film is unwatchable. A number of its elements are actually a step up from its predecessor, both in substance and spectacle. Peter and Gwen’s troubled love affair reaps the benefits of its then-actual couple co-stars, by far the most believable of any romantic pairing in superhero cinema. The experience director Marc Webb gained from the first film shows especially in the film’s action, easy to follow but much more visually dynamic, and boasts a couple of standout sequences such as Spidey saving civilians from a blast of Electro’s energy and a Goblin battle climax which comic book purists have good reason to hail. The film even takes the step of providing a genuinely interesting twist concerning how Peter got his powers, the final piece in the Oscorp puzzle. The rest of the conspiracy premise may be half-baked and predictable, and makes for much of the film’s misplaced prioritization of sequel seeding, but it nevertheless offers a nugget of fresh interpretation of the Spider-Man mythos. Lastly, he may be utterly shoehorned in and provides no real contribution to the film whatsoever, but Paul Giamatti is just so wonderfully hammy in his cameo as Russian brute ‘The Rhino’. Like Stanley Tucci, he is never (or at least, very rarely) unenjoyable.

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For its sporadic saving graces, however, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is all in a tangle. Foxx is completely underserved by his material as the film’s zap-happy central antagonist, often laughably so, and despite a gradual slide into madness that outshines anything we got from James Franco, there’s little satisfying payoff to DeHaan’s Harry. The opposite couldn’t be more true of Garfield and Stone in their roles, the former nailing Spidey’s everyman charisma and a (somewhat) more mature Peter whilst the later continues to be a love interest who actually accomplishes things outside of her relationship. Less a cohesive story than a conveyor belt of scenes littered with signs pointing in all different directions towards then-upcoming additions to the then-Spideyverse, it’s small wonder that the film performed considerably below expectations and ironically undid single-handedly all the plans it took the time to lay down. It’s not often that its deemed necessary and appropriate to effectively erase a blockbuster from existence, but with Sony’s subsequent licensing deal with Marvel Studios, this was certainly one of those occasions.

Quality: 2/5

Entertainment: 3/5

Final Score: 2.5/5

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PatchMan Revisits: Spider-Man 2

Superhero films have been around for a long time now, and there’s little sign of them going away anytime soon (for better or worse). But when their time is up and the genre goes the way of the spaghetti western or the Hollywood musical, an elite few may very well be spared the brush of audience fatigue for the fundamental reason that they transcend the genre. The Dark Knight (2008). Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). Wonder Woman (2017). The mere mention of any one of these titles is a hallowed reference in film-goer circles, and Spider-Man 2 (2004) has had a seat at this illustrious table from day one.

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With two jobs, his university studies, rent, and taking on all of New York’s criminals as the masked vigilante Spider-Man, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) has never had a fuller plate. To add to his worries, his beloved Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) is in financial difficulty, his best friend Harry Osborn (James Franco) wants revenge for the death of his father, and the love of his life – Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) – has found another man. Stretched to his limit, Peter may have to decide whether being Spider-Man can be a part of his life at all, a decision complicated with the emergence of New York’s greatest menace yet: Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina)

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It’s all-too rare for a sequel to better its predecessor, and Spider-Man 2 also adds this exclusive club card to its hands. Director Sam Raimi takes literally everything that was great about the character’s 2002 debut, ups the ante, gives us more, and continuously plays with our expectations. The balancing act the film pulls off in showcasing each and every one of Peter’s struggles is nothing short of remarkable, even just in terms of storytelling clarity. Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee has always emphasised how the central idea was a superhero with actual, relatable problems, and Raimi demonstrates his understanding of this from the very first scene. Peter loses his pizza delivery job for lateness, even after delivering the pizza via webswinging (a minor, but no less glorious sequence). J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons in a now-iconic performance), editor of The Daily Bugle, pays Peter peanuts for Spider-Man photos which Jameson uses for his wallcrawler witch-hunt front pages. Even his birthday money from Aunt May is quickly snatched away by his grubby landlord.

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The film meticulously lays out everything Peter grapples with throughout the film, gradually building up the mountain of grievances for which Peter has his alter-ego to thank, until it’s big decision time. Can Peter Parker and Spider-Man truly coexist? Like the film’s predecessor and its contemporaries, Spider-Man 2 could have easily been overly angst-ridden, but even the ‘angst’ here isn’t so much angst as legitimately adult problems, and the execution of these dilemmas is done with just as much humour as gravitas. Raimi knows precisely where to sprinkle the jokes at Peter’s expense, and likewise at Spider-Man’s. How the film deals with Peter and MJ’s scenes together especially highlights a more mature take on the proceedings than the first film, with the script shedding much of its former corniness in favour of dialogue that actually sounds like two adults talking.

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Spider-Man 2 crafts for itself a superb antagonist in the form of Molina’s brilliant, tragedy-struck Dr. Otto Octavius. It’s surprising that truly great villains in superhero cinema are few and far between, when the solution seems so often to be simply allowing them some substantial non-evildoing screen time.  Our main villain here spends over half an hour of the film as a normal man, a brilliant and virtuous scientist who Peter sees as a mentor, and whose downfall and manipulation by artificial intelligence ‘tentacles’ of his own creation packs an extra emotional punch into Spider-Man’s already-spectacular battles with him. The Green Goblin’s brand of evil may have been deliciously wicked, but Doctor Octopus’ twisted morality and obsession is ultimately more nourishing, and Molina carries the role with hypnotic flair and true gravitas.

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Perhaps Spider-Man 2’s greatest feat is the fact that whilst it’s Peter’s story first, every one of its main characters is given a journey, and the film follows their journeys from beginning to end in effortless fashion. Whether its Aunt May’s money worries, or MJ pursuit of love and success, worlds collide, circle each other, break apart, and it all makes complete and cohesive emotional sense. Harry’s slide into his obsession with vengeance makes for a dark reflection of the film’s central theme of choices and consequences, and by the film’s cliff-hanger end to his arc our appetite is thoroughly whetted for his personal resolution.

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Brimming with unmistakeable adoration for the source material, Raimi delivered a sequel that’s just as much emotional drama as superhero, defying all expectations and continuing to stand the test of time as an intelligent, insightful, masterful blockbuster.

Quality: 5/5

Entertainment: 5/5

Final Score: 5/5

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PatchMan Revisits: Spider-Man

It started as a whisper. A growing chorus of violins with bows scuttling across strings, met swiftly by a rising percussive patter. A sound more evocative of a spider on its web composer Danny Elfman could have hardly produced, and Sam Raimi’s Spidey trilogy owes much of its swinging and soaring personality to his musical accompaniment. Before 2002, Raimi was a director renowned by audiences of horror and thriller cinema, but entirely untested in summer blockbusters. For superhero cinema, it was a time where ‘angst’ was studio gospel, with everything from The Shadow (1994) and Steel (1997) to Spawn (1997) and Blade (1998) trying (and failing) to usurp the throne of Tim Burton’s Batman (1989). Needless to say, things needed a shake-up, and suddenly Raimi’s childhood-borne passion for Marvel Comics’ figurehead web-slinger almost single-handedly propelled him into the driver’s seat of one of the most anticipated superhero cinematic debuts in history. $140m budget. $822m at the box office. a trilogy quickly set in stone. People talk about how much of a gamble Iron Man (2008) was with its then-notorious star, a similarly untested director and a second-tier superhero. They forget that trailblazing has been Spider-Man’s territory for far longer.

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High school outcast Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) knows only three things: science, Flash Thompson’s bullying, and his unrequited love for Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). When he is bitten by a radioactive spider, Peter finds himself imbued with phenomenal abilities, but his initial efforts to profit off them results in tragic loss, and the hard-learned lesson that with great power comes great responsibility. Becoming the superhero ‘Spider-Man’, Peter vows to protect the people of New York from harm, a crusade which the ruthless and powerful Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) quickly puts to the test.

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It’s easy to forget amidst all the memorable cartoonish-ness of the Raimi films – awestruck citizens, every second of J.K. Simmons, a climax featuring New Yorkers helping ol’ webhead by throwing things at Goblin – that in many ways Spider-Man qualifies as fundamentally angst-ridden. Heartache, tragedy, impossible decisions, the weight of the world suddenly bearing down on Peter’s shoulders, it would have been very easy for this film to have slipped into a maelstrom of moping and mourning. What sets the film apart from its contemporaries is how although it honours a due amount of introspection, it never forgets Spidey’s all-important sense of fun. Peter Parker may be a troubled teen, but once the mask is on he’s a high-flying, wall-crawling wonder.

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Like all truly great origin stories, the film excels in capturing not only his transition from one to the other, but in how he finds himself having to actively balance both identities. Take his first webswing: his Uncle Ben freshly murdered by a common criminal, Peter is emboldened through donning his mask to give chase to the killer, but jumping off a rooftop web-in-hand is still a moment where the film allows a pause for Peter to fully realize his literal leap of faith. When Spider-Man saves Mary Jane from a gang of thugs – prompting the now-iconic upside-down kiss – his face isn’t just half-covered for practical reasons. He is truly equal-parts Peter Parker and Spider-Man, and it’s by sticking to this fine balance that the film demonstrates its deep understanding for the material. It’s also the exact reason for how Spider-Man breaks the ‘angst-y’ obsession of its day, fostering a union between euphoria and intensity.

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Spider-Man’s neighbourhood in the Marvel Universe has always been especially rich material thanks to its pantheon of characters, and this film pays a fitting tribute to this quality through its cast. Dunst, though in action largely just a damsel, is nonetheless a distinctive presence, as is James Franco’s beleaguered best friend to Peter; Harry Osborn. Rosemary Harris makes for a relentlessly endearing Aunt May, even if she is saddled with much of the film’s philosophical exposition, and what time Peter has with his Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) nevertheless boasts a strong chemistry amounting to a tangible sense of loss.

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But like all great superhero features, ultimately the film is a tug-of-war between Maguire and Dafoe. Dafoe’s Goblin may be as over the top as his glider-riding wardrobe, but every second of him is a treat, and Raimi’s horror background shines through especially in the film’s antagonist-centric moments. And whilst Maguire may have since gone down in comic-book movie history as ‘the crying Spidey’, he’s simply conveying the earnestness of Raimi’s interpretation of this mythos. There’s no mistaking his inner turmoil, nor the extent to which his physical mask provides an emotional one. Peter Parker is just a good kid thrust into an unpredictable life, and Maguire brings it all home.

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By today’s standards, Spider-Man may not be an especially innovative entry into the genre beyond its special effects, but there’s more than enough packed into its runtime to make for a thoroughly enjoyable and immersive experience fifteen years later. ‘With great power, comes great responsibility’, and the film makes sure its audience understands this to the letter.

Quality: 4/5

Entertainment: 4/5

Final Score: 4/5

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Wonder Woman

Diana, princess of the Amazons – a race of immortal warrior women created to protect humanity by Zeus himself – has trained her whole life to become the greatest fighter of her people. When US pilot Steve Trevor crash lands on the shores of Themyscira in 1918, the hidden island paradise of the Amazons, she learns of the Great War that has been raging across the world and sets out to bring an end to the fighting the only way she knows how: by destroying the god of war himself, Ares.

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It’s easy to just describe Wonder Woman as a midpoint between Captain America: The First Avenger, for its period setting, and the mythological roots and sprinkled fish-out-of-water humour of Thor. A fair enough description, if all you’re really looking at are the aesthetics. Wonder Woman, taken in its entirety, is perhaps one of the most unique and awe-inspiring films to have ever come out of the comic book genre. Rarely has a film of its kind demonstrated such an unyielding commitment to substantiating the hero’s journey, and such defiantly patient storytelling in a bazaar of relentlessly quick-fire, breakneck-speed blockbusters. This is a film that breaks the spell of cinematic bloodlust and craving for carnage that has beset this genre for so long (not that Wonder Woman is without its exceptional action set-pieces), and brings the focus back down to earth, to a person who just wants to help people however possible. Director Patty Jenkins has hit it out of the park.

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Gal Gadot has now entrenched herself as the definitive Wonder Woman of our time. Her performance is nothing short of sensational, embodying not only every aspect of Diana’s personality but every step of her maturing process to a flawless degree. Diana is woman, and warrior, and both define her just as much as each other without compensation or compromise. Her relationships with her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and aunt/mentor General Antiope (Robin Wright) are especially integral in establishing this balance. Arguably more so than most origin stories, Wonder Woman lives or dies on the calibre of its star performer, and so this film truly belongs go Gadot. Chris Pine also is on standout form as the daring and honourable Steve Trevor, charismatic as ever but here imbued with a quiet, war-weary cynicism for his fellow man that clashes with his fundamental faith in humanity. If performance-wise the film belongs to Gadot, then character-wise the film almost belongs to Steve for precisely this conviction that provides the film’s fundamental lesson: that between love and war, there’s trust. (A think-piece by the Nerdist’s Alicia Lutes explores this more fully that’s well worth a read).

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What criticisms can be made of Wonder Woman are largely nit-picky: at times, the film can feel somewhat overly weighted-down, so determined to ‘get it right’ that it perhaps overspends time and energy on what really should be minor considerations, an overlong boat scene meant to establish Diana and Steve’s dynamic when alone for example. Also in that regard, perhaps too often dialogue veers into excessive explaining territory, rather than letting performances and actions speak for themselves (a pitfall of the film’s climax especially). The only shortcoming of the film’s spectacular action sequences (truly unleashing the power of Wonder Woman) is a mild overindulgence of slow-motion that can likely be blamed on Zack Snyder’s input, and a case can be made for somewhat subpar CGI in these instances. The greatest misstep of all? An attempt at sleight-of-hand with Ares’ earthly identity that falls short of a ‘twist’, but still delivers a memorable payoff.

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Context, so often, is everything. What we make of something depends almost always on not just the thing itself alone, but on ourselves at the point in time we experience it. The brightest, funniest, warmest film in the world cannot guarantee that someone watching it on a dark, terrible, cold day will laugh or smile. To say that Wonder Woman arrives with an abundance of context is to say the least. Stuttered, intensely divisive efforts to establish a shared cinematic universe of DC’s most iconic superheroes. An ongoing international wave of feminism, acting as both umbrella and lightning rod for a plethora of social issues, met with both enthusiastic support and evermore combative opposition.

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Should any of this remotely impact the Wonder Woman watching experience, when so many superhero origin films have come and gone in baggage-free luxury? Absolutely not. But like Diana herself discovers upon leaving Themyscira’s waters, the world is not what it should be. Nevertheless, she persists, and the result is a superhero film that earns its place in the league of Richard Donner’s Superman and Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. From the moment Diana steps out into No Man’s Land, to a final shot that we can hope will serve as a rallying symbol for cinema of the future, Wonder Woman sheds all considerations of its context, and in doing so becomes timeless.

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Quality: 4.5/5

Entertainment: 4/5

Final Score: 4.5/5

Captain America: Civil War

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“We are all people trying to do the right thing”. Not the most soundbite-y statement on record, but in this instance it wasn’t superheroes Steve Rogers or Tony Stark who said it, but the very real FBI Director James Comey. Speaking recently amidst the agency’s intense federal court battle against Apple Inc. over a ‘master key’ for circumventing data encryption, the Director made sure to air a few other such sound-bites; “there are no absolutes in American life…there are costs to this new world”. He was right. And he was wrong. It was a case that caught the world’s attention, a seminal moment and a hot-button issue for our time, Fight Night: Round One – National Security vs. Personal Privacy. Marvel Studios’ latest epic may not be the most qualified to wade into such politically stormy waters, but that doesn’t stop it from deliberately, intelligently engaging with this conversation, and treating it as the serious issue that it is. It’s #TeamCap vs. #TeamIronMan. Hero versus hero. Friend against friend. “We are all people trying to do the right thing”. ‘Captain America: Civil War’ has the brains and the balls to ask, “…are we?”

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The Avengers have protected the world for four years, but every battle has left death and devastation in its wake. After a disastrous battle in Nigeria, the United Nations moves to impose a system of oversight against Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. With Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) leading those willing to comply, and Captain America (Chris Evans) championing their right to operate freely, the team descends into all-out war, a war that only intensifies with the re-emergence of the latter’s old war buddy-turned-brainwashed assassin (Sebastian Stan)

There simply isn’t another way of saying this; this film is Marvel’s ‘The Dark Knight’. This unprecedented franchise that was born back in 2008 with ‘Iron Man’, found its feet with ‘The Avengers’ in 2012, and has since been navigating its own sense of adolescence, has now truly reached adulthood. If superhero films were outlawed tomorrow (perish the thought), then the genre could not ask for a finer last hurrah. How is it that good? What makes this one so special, what sets it above cinema’s relentless plethora of live-action comic books? Because at its heart is the very same issue over which Apple Inc. and the FBI locked horns, the same question that has raged throughout our post-9/11 world: when liberty and justice come into conflict, how can the triumph of one not be dangerously detrimental to the other? The film masterfully balances both sides of the argument, carefully fleshing out every one of its extensive cast of characters and what motivates them to choose the side that they do, guaranteeing that whichever side you may root for going into the film, you will have changed your mind at least once by the end.

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The Marvel Cinematic Universe has always specialized in great character development, and here and now all that carefully crafted characterization pays off enormously. There’s a reason a lot of people have taken to calling this ‘Avengers 2.5’, considering the sheer number of heroes entering the fray (Thor and Hulk being the only exceptions), not to mention the seismic debut of two instant heavyweights: Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), and Spider-Man (Tom Holland), both of whom steal so many scenes that any self-respecting crime-fighter would get on their case. Quite literally every single character has at least one moment of substance. Be they a partisan devotee like War Machine (Don Cheadle) or Falcon (Anthony Mackie), a wavering wildcard like Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) or just having their friend’s back like Spidey or Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), no one is even remotely surplus to requirement, and not one performance lets the side down. Even the film’s background antagonist, the mysterious and manipulative Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl), somewhat breaks Marvel’s pattern of lacklustre villains, although his manipulations themselves at times are a little glossed over and more scattered plot contrivances than anything else.

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For all its spectacle, star power and subtext though, make no mistake. This is unequivocally a ‘Captain America’ story, an identity it earns and retains by never losing focus on what drives everything: Rogers’ relationships with friend-turned-enemy Tony Stark, and old friend-turned-enemy-turned-friend-again Bucky Barnes. The chemistry here is second-to-none, and it shows with every plea to the other’s senses and every punch thrown. But as much as they all clearly want to build bridges, the widening ideological gulf outpaces them, and their fighting is all the more bitter because of it. Deserving of special mention is Robert Downey Jr., who delivers easily the best performance of his Iron Man career, possibly of his acting career full stop. The MCU has never shied away from giving its heroes deep character flaws, and Downey Jr. continues to prove there is no wannabe do-gooder more flawed than Iron Man.

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‘Civil War’ is the MCU at its best, its brightest, its darkest, its most gloriously fun and its most arrestingly serious. Frankly, it’s a struggle to even process the fact that a film like this can even exist, that it works as well as it does, and that it can resonate so profoundly with the state of our world today. Iron Man may have started this whole thing off, but Captain America has become the real heart of this grand story, a story that here draws to a close, for now. It’s not just a spectacularly entertaining kickoff to the blockbuster season, it’s an incredibly important piece of cinema, a film I think we all genuinely need right now. The number of people these days fretting that the world is spinning out of control, countries split down the middle over referendums and elections, elites too numerous to mention flagrantly enjoying zero accountability for their actions. In fifty years time, this film will be looked back on as one of the stories most telling of our times, unable to proffer solutions, but placing a reassuring hand on the shoulder saying simply ‘you’re not alone’.

Quality: 4.5/5

Entertainment: 5/5

Final Score: 5/5

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2

So, a little bit of context before I get into discussing this film, my personal history with Spider-Man. Socially introverted and awkward as my early teens were, I was never hugely into comic books, but the little I did invest in them was the direct result of my seeing the first ‘Spider-Man’ film back in 2002, directed by Sam Raimi. I barely knew anything about the guy, his powers, his story, the villains, the love interests, anything, but watching Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker taking on Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin was the coolest thing I’d seen at the time since Darth Maul v. Obi-Wan and Qui Gon in ‘The Phantom Menace’, and so that was my gateway to superhero stories. I still didn’t become a huge comic book reader, but when I did pick up an issue it was always Spidey, and being 11 or 12 at the time naturally I made an attempt at my own comic book. And that is the first and last time I will ever make mention of that little endeavour. And when ‘Spider-Man 2’ came out, yeah that was fun too, although I still missed Goblin as the villain, but you can imagine how much I fanboyed from that little teaser at the end where Harry Osborn finds his father’s lair. Goblin’s coming back! So much for me to look forward to, massive personal hype!

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And then we got ‘Spider-Man 3’…my god. What the hell happened? Sandman? Completely doing over the whole Uncle Ben’s killer thing?! VENOM ONLY SHOWING UP AT THE END?! Oh yeah, and Harry is only Goblin in like one scene before losing his WHOLE memory and turning good in the end! ‘Spider-Man 3’, my first experience of great cinema betrayal. Everything I’d been anxiously awaiting for three years, just done so wrong. Too many villains, all done poorly, a completely bland love triangle thrown in for no reason, those astonishingly awful ‘emo-Peter’ dance scenes…you get it, I didn’t like that film.

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Then after just five years, Spidey gets a reboot in 2012 with ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’. Whole new start, whole new cast, storyline, everything. Andrew Garfield donned the red-and-blue mesh mask, Mary Jane was out and Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacey was in, and the result was ok. Rhys Ifans’ reptilian foe for the new webslinger’s debut was just about decent enough, even if it did copy a few elements from Dafoe’s original Goblin (yes that’s the standard by which I hold all supervillains, him or The Joker). The rest of the film, I guess it was more faithful to the comics than the other trilogy and Garfield was a very good webhead. Wise-cracking, way more gymnastic, not quite as much the ‘nerd’ as Maguire though so I never took his whole heartthrob problems that seriously. Honestly, his Peter Parker I found to be kinda a dick! Seriously, you’re gonna end the film with Parker WILLINGLY BREAKING A PROMISE HE MADE TO A DYING MAN?! I don’t care if he had just saved the city from a Nazi-KKK alliance trying to set off an atomic bomb, IF YOU DO THAT THEN YOU ARE NOT SOMEONE FOR KIDS TO LOOK UP TO! Wow actually looking back on it I have a few Spidey-related rants, sorry!

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Which brings us to today, and Garfield and co.’s second outing in what is apparently set to become the ‘Spidey Cinematic Universe’ (watch out MCU…). Three villains again (because that worked so well last time…), more exploring Peter and Gwen’s relationship, really the best part about the first film given the chemistry of our two leads and the fact these films have been helmed by ‘500 Days of Summer’ director Marc Webb, and to its credit an intriguing broader mystery concerning Peter’s parents and the sinister goings on at Oscorp. This is ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’.

 

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For Spider-Man, life is good. New York City loves him, and his heroics are rewarded with every swing. For Peter Parker, life is complicated, juggling his personal life as a high school student with his secret vigilante responsibilities, and when it comes to Gwen Stacey his balancing becomes especially precarious. Questions about his parents remain unanswered, in particular the work his father was doing for Oscorp Industries, but in his pursuit of the truth Peter finds both himself and the city bombarded with devastating new threats. Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), an electrical engineer, is reborn as the dangerously insane Electro, Alexsei ‘The Rhino’ Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti) tears up the streets, and the return of Peter’s childhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane Dehaan) all point to one unifying fact; Oscorp has big plans, for itself, for the city, and for Spider-Man.

 

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 Before I delve into any substantive commentary on the film itself, I need to get one thing off my chest and on the page before anything else; Sony, you cheeky, slippery, calculating fiend. If you’re going to base your entire marketing strategy around three villains…you need THREE VILLAINS. I’m not even going to dance around this point with clever language, I’m just going to say this upfront. The Rhino is not an antagonist in this film. He just isn’t, unless you stretch the definition to apply to anyone and everyone who so much as throws a spanner at Spidey as he swings by. Being an antagonist means you pose an actual threat to the protagonist. It means you present the ‘hero’ with some sort of problem or conflict that actually tests them, that probes their limitations and forces them to undergo some kind of journey that will enable them to ultimately triumph. About five minutes of screen time to kick the film off in the beginning, and what can’t have been more than a three minute encore at the end, and he doesn’t even get the big bad suit of destruction until the latter. Rhino is not an antagonist in this film, so GET HIM OFF THOSE PROMOTIONAL POSTERS you wily band of attention-seeking coyotes. Don’t get me wrong, I know Rhino is basically just a thug, and Paul Giamatti clearly has fun in the part, but he literally contributes nothing more to the story than would a bunch of falling debris. You may read this and bemoan me for spoilers and whatnot, but once you see this film you really won’t think I’ve spoiled anything. You can’t spoil something that doesn’t really add anything anyway. Sorry I just hate it when film marketing like that basically lies.

 

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“Not everyone gets a happy ending”

‘When Enemies Unite’. That’s been the main tagline of this film, and like I said the promotional material has really stressed the gallery of rogues on show this time around, getting more attention than Spider-Man himself! The webslinger’s list of formidable foes has always been perhaps the lengthiest of any superhero, even for a comic book character, and what with Marvel monopolizing the genre with generally protagonist-centric productions, it’s a commendable decision on Sony’s part to try and give their own cinematic universe a distinctively antagonist-orientated identity. With plans for further expansions in the franchise set to include spinoffs featuring fan-favourite Venom and The Sinister Six (think The Avengers, but evil, and all just wanting to kill Spidey), how this will fare against the well-established Marvel juggernaut should be an interesting clash whatever the outcome, and if Sony’s treatment of villains in ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ is any sign of what to expect in the future then we’ve got some excellent baddies in store.

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What makes a truly great villain? Is it just how they look, their abilities, their weapons and tech? Is it their backstories, or lack thereof? What’s the secret to why we love the Joker so much, or Loki, or Darth Vader? It’s the extent to which their very existence forces us to look at the hero in a different way, how far they are able to raise new questions and challenges for the hero to answer and overcome however they can. What is the Joker’s ultimate appeal, if not the fact that he is the absolute inversion of Batman, and presents the Dark Knight with an ominous look at what could happen if he were to ever stray from his thin moral code? If Anakin Skywalker was meant to be the Chosen One once, how can Luke truly believe that the same potential for evil isn’t within him too like a genetic disease? This is what makes a great villain, and by far this film’s greatest strength is its handling of just these issues. Oscorp is the unifying factor for Spider-Man’s enemies on the surface, but underneath it all they are connected by something far more meaningful; the question of what happens when Spider-Man cannot be the hero. Electro starts out as hopeless and hapless nobody Max Dillon, resentfully accepting of his invisibility to the world before Spider-Man one day saves his life, only to then lose himself again in a desperate obsession with the webslinger that will only lead to bitter disappointment…a disappointment that levels Times Square. He cannot be saved from himself, and that’s something Spider-Man doesn’t know how to handle. The return of Peter’s childhood friend Harry Osborn further highlights the power Spider-Man must be responsible for, and when Harry beseeches him for help he knows he can’t give as either Peter Parker or Spider-Man, his impotency births yet another demon bent on plaguing him. Not since we first saw Uncle Ben die in Raimi’s 2002 original has the distinctive mantra of ‘with great power, comes great responsibility’ been so keenly felt and appreciated. This film takes that old renowned gospel truth in Spidey lore and gives it a fresh layer of colouring, with Spider-Man realizing his responsibilities aren’t necessarily limited to his own power, but applicable to the power of his foes.

 

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“You’re Spider-Man, and I love that. But I love Peter Parker more”

 As stated, by far the best part of the first film was the relationship between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey, and the romance and emotional core of the film they provide is definitely kicked into a solidly satisfying second round of ‘it’s complicated’ drama. If ‘joint performance in a superhero film’ were a fair measurement for celebrity relationships then it would be safe to say that Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are still keeping the sparks flying thick and fast between them off the set, their in-character chemistry even better than before and making for many of the film’s emotionally weightier scenes. What the Raimi trilogy achieved through constantly hammering in Peter Parker’s angst and sorrow with scenes of Maguire crying or lingering shots of his puppy-dog eyes in the middle of a street, this film covers with a simple, subtle but no less effective shot of Peter’s bedroom ‘wall of conspiracy’ including a post-it note with the words ‘do I have to lose you too?’ beneath a picture of him and Gwen together. Tiny moments, precious instances, that’s all it takes to communicate what the stakes are for Peter at the end of the day. Balancing his ordinary life with his vigilante one is more than simply a question of time allocation. His decisions have consequences, and the powerlessness he is forced to confront by his enemies makes it that much more serious that he retain what power he can over his own affairs.

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Also as stated, by far the worst part of the first film was Peter’s ultimately total abandonment of the promise he made Gwen’s dying father, swearing he would protect her by distancing himself from her only to then sit directly behind her in class and mutter that promises you can’t keep ‘are the best kind’. Perhaps director Webb and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman went online at some point in the last two years and saw for themselves the general grumblings over that little mishap, because it’s fair to say that amends are made this time around what with Peter finding himself routinely haunted by ghostly visions of Captain George Stacey’s cold disapproval, visions that play havoc with his guilt and actually draw upon last film’s closing blunder as a source of internal conflict. Peter loves Gwen absolutely, but does he love her enough to give her the protection she truly needs? Does he love her enough to force her away? Ultimately, these are the questions that he must answer in grappling with both sides of his life, a choice between being the hero and keeping her safe, or being ordinary Peter Parker and selfishly keeping her loved. So far as the Peter-Gwen relationship goes, this film is the stuff the established Spidey fans have dreamed of, and packs a good amount of laughs and warmth to put a smile on any average cinemagoer’s face.

 

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“We have plans for you”

Just what is Sony’s game plan? Outside of the aforementioned super villain team-up spinoff somewhere down the line, it’s still rather difficult to say. I don’t need to go on again about how much of a game changer the Marvel Cinematic Universe is to the genre and the wider industry, and it’s pretty safe to say that they are far enough ahead of the game that they don’t need to seriously worry about contenders for a good while. That being said, Sony certainly has the makings of a cinematic universe potentially as compelling and colourful, with a wealth of exciting villains to throw at Spidey, as well as more domestic dramas and relationship problems and possibilities than a combined episode of ‘Desperate Housewives’, ‘Made in Chelsea’ and ‘Eastenders’, yet two films down now it’s still hard to get a sense of much clear and confident direction with regards to the ‘bigger picture’. Film 1 kicked things off with opening up questions about the nature of Peter Parker’s parents and their disappearance, a subplot that may have tailed off into little more than an uninformative post-credits scene between then-antagonist Dr. Curt Connors and the mysterious ‘man in the hat’, but returns with a vengeance now. Really, so far as the mysteries of film 1 go, film 2 seems to polish them all of very satisfyingly, which therefore begs the question of ‘what next?’ A frankly genius twist to the ‘secret origin’ of Spider-Man really wraps up the conspiracy elements of both films perfectly, as well as lays the foundations for the rise of webhead’s greatest enemy, but what are the implications for the franchise going forward? There is certainly a distinct sense that everything we see in each of these films is merely part of the whole, but whereas instalments in the MCU tend to feel like carefully-crafted and securely structured chapters in a grand novella, these films have more the vibe of building blocks in a Jenga tower. They’re definitely going for something bigger and better, but at times it seems as if their focus is so determinedly on that end goal that they forget to reinforce their own infrastructure as they go. This doesn’t detract from the film’s entertainment value for both the casual viewer and dedicated fans, but it does deprive us of an assuring sense of there being a thought-out purpose at work. You’ll leave the cinema going ‘that was a great film’, not ‘that was a great film, I can’t wait to see what happens next!’

 

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 “I like to think Spider-Man gives people hope”

 Andrew Garfield is Spider-Man. There is absolutely no questioning that anymore. He has the physique, wiry yet sturdy, he has the voice, he has exactly the right sense of humour and comic-timing. Few other comic characters have been brought to life so exactly, so definitively. Garfield’s got the angst, he’s got the earnestness, he’s got the depth. He just is Spider-Man, and you are sure to come away from this film convinced at least of that much, especially with the redesigned costume that at last gives the feeling that Spidey has actually leapt out of the comic book pages and into the screen. Andrew Garfield is not so much Peter Parker, in that the film does little to get across such sides to his character as the fact that he’s a whizz kid and socially awkward, instead making Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacey the real brains to his brawn and re-characterizing him as being distinctly more adept in the fields of social interaction and romance. That aside, Garfield’s performance certainly proves that he’s upped his game, making particularly potent moments throughout the film pack that extra emotional punch to the audience’s gut, and providing the perfect face for Spider-Man at a time when what he can’t do is more the focus than what he can do.

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Peter: “I didn’t get a love vibe last night, I got more of a ‘want to kill me’ vibe” 

Gwen: “That’s kinda what it’s like to love you”

Emma Stone’s performance as the headstrong, brainy, ballsy love of Peter’s life was easily the best thing about film 1, and she returns here every bit the definitive Gwen Stacey. Absolutely nailing the struggle of her own character in addition to Peter’s, because of Peter’s, having to deal with his guilt and the prospect of her ambitions and dreams coming into conflict with what she knows makes her happy in the here and now, Stone makes sure we understand that anyone would be beyond lucky to have a woman like her Gwen. In a film so steeped in the idea of responsibility, it is she who effectively embodies the idea of consequence, though that doesn’t mean she simply surrenders her fate to the actions of others. The superhero genre, indeed the film industry in general, would be doing extremely well if it had more characters like Gwen, and performances like Emma Stone’s.

 

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“I just wanted everybody to see me…”

 If his Django wasn’t a raw, chilling, electric enough performance for you, Jamie Foxx goes all out as the film’s centrepiece psychopath, Electro. Exactly what sends the formerly mild-mannered and timid Max Dillon over the edge following his accidental transformation in an Oscorp electric eels tank has been the subject of some debate amongst fans and internet commenters, with some trailers hinting at it being the result of Spider-Man forgetting his name, others more suggestive of his being shot at by police snipers. In the end, the tipping point is actually far simpler, and has a much greater impact on our understanding of him as a character. Simply put, he loses his spotlight. His skin aglow, electricity spurting from his limbs, he looks around and sees that every screen in Times Square shows his face, the first time in his life that he feels like he truly exists to other people. Then Spider-Man arrives on the scene, and he feels plunged back into obscurity as all the attention shifts to the webslinger. Jealousy is no longer the green-eyed monster, but the blue-skinned being. “You’re selfish…” Max snarls at the hero he had convinced himself until earlier that day was a true friend. To everyone else in the scene, it’s the tiniest possible trigger. To us, having seen who Max is and where he comes from, we cannot help but empathize even as he begins to take his revenge. The filmmakers and VFX artists clearly relished in their work on bringing his power to life, from the borderline horrific imagery of Max’s accident and aftermath to the use of his abilities, to his final costume. Max spent his life being ignored and forgotten, but you will remember Electro before he is through. Foxx makes sure of that, as well as never letting his demonic side stray too far from the desire that fuels it all at his core; the desire to be wanted, to be needed. He also has by far the best theme music, keep an ear out for those chilling distorted whispers representing the voices in Max’s head.

 

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 “We, literally, can change the world”

As much as Foxx’s Electro may take centre stage for most of the film, Dane Dehaan’s gradual slide into desperation and insanity as Harry Osborn is the true source of menace in this film, and clear indication that his casting was based on his performance in 2012 ‘found footage’ super power feature ‘Chronicle’. Assuming control of Oscorp following the death of his father Norman, a cameo appearance from a sickly-green and sharp-nailed Chris Cooper, Dehaan’s Harry gradually finds himself starting down a very dark path as the result of torments from both within and without, torments that drive him further and further towards dangerous, psychopathic desperation in the form of an alliance with a semi-incapacitated Electro, and his own final acquisition of a prototype military suit and glider which provides another scene of startlingly disturbing imagery and visuals. We must not look at goblin men…

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So how does this stack up in the annals of Spider-Man cinematic history? Raimi’s ‘Spider-Man 2’ seems to be the general standard of excellence so far as this goes, what with it’s comprehensive look at Peter Parker’s struggles both as Spidey and in normal life, and the fantastic foe that was Doc Ock. This being also the second outing of such a franchise, can the same be said now? Not quite, but it’s not far off. The action and set pieces do exactly what they should in a sequel, offering us bigger and better moments and visuals to feast our eyes and ears on, the solemn duty of any self-respecting blockbuster. The acting talent all round can only be described as a marked improvement on something that was already at least pretty solid, and characters left right and centre are a joy to watch both individually and in their interactions with each other, their paths interweaving in such a fashion that generally the feel is quite organic. Perhaps the best thing of all about this film though? It shows that when it comes to telling a Spider-Man story, it can still throw a few surprises your way, be they pleasant or simply inspired.

Quality: 3/5

Entertainment: 4/5

Averaged Out: 4/5

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Patchman

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

You know you’re a Marvel film fan when you know to treat the end credits as but a short intermission, a chance to breathe in the wake of the franchise’s latest rollercoaster ride, before being sent on your way with a tantalizing taste of where the tracks are going next. Iron Man’s first silver-screen outing back in 2008 got the ball rolling, a post-credits cameo marking Samuel L. Jackson’s debut as the cyclopean spymaster Nick Fury (the ‘M’ to Tony Stark’s 007). You know what, I’m gonna link in the scene right here, take a look for yourselves:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2oKUsna2yvA

One tiny little scene, not even a minute long, but with one name and one line, the Marvel Cinematic Universe had its big bang. A franchise truly unprecedented in moviemaking history, each release both a solid story in its own right and a contributory chapter to a vaster narrative, each with its own little post-credits add-on to cement everything together and lay the foundations for events to come. We’ve seen rage-monsters wreck New York, fake-terrorists, gods and brothers locked in an almost-Shakespearean enmity and an alien invasion finally bring together Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Nine installments down the line, Marvel is still keeping things fresh, fun, fast and furious. Enter Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

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Super soldier Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), known to the world as Captain America, continues to adjust to life in the present day after having been frozen beneath the Arctic since World War II. Working for S.H.I.E.L.D, the secret organization under the directorship of Nick Fury, Rogers struggles to reconcile his understanding of right and wrong with today’s morally complex world, a struggle that is compounded when an attack on Fury himself suggests a conspiracy is at work from inside S.H.I.E.L.D’s ranks. Aided by fellow-Avenger Natasha Romanoff, aka. Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) and befriending veteran Sam ‘The Falcon’ Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Captain America finds himself fighting an enemy from his own past, returning to plague the present: The Winter Soldier.

 

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Romanoff: “Doing anything fun Saturday night?”

Rogers: “Well all the other members of my barbershop quartet are dead, so, not really”

Phase 2 of the MCU has wisely kept its sequels largely refocused on the separate stories of its lead characters, exploring the respective impacts on their lives of a post-Avengers timeline, and a reasonably winning formula it has proved with 2013’s ‘Iron Man 3’ and ‘Thor: The Dark World’. Here, the film certainly sets itself up along similar lines, and is in many ways much more of a direct sequel to the Captain’s first outing in 2011 than you might expect. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo, best known for their TV work on comedy series like ‘Community’ and ‘Arrested Development’, firmly expand their repertoire of genres by imbuing what could easily have been just another action-adventure blockbuster with a strong and enticing sense of intrigue, drama and thrill you’d more typically associate with the exploits of Jason Bourne than the Star-Spangled Man. No doubt a particular key to this effect is the way the filmmakers approach the underlying conflict of old vs. new, an accomplishment perhaps best illustrated by their subtlety when it comes to expressing Rogers’ feelings of displacement. A lesser director could have just hammered home the point that ‘he’s a man out of time’ through comedic character miscommunications or conflicting social expectations, all simply reemphasizing the same basic effect. The Russo brothers don’t make that point, they make you feel that point. The Captain visits the abandoned army facility that served as his training camp during the war, and you understand his sense of isolation and loss. He makes a list of cultural things he’s missed over the years, and you realize just how much he’s missed, and how earnestly he wants to feel he belongs again. There are elements of the ‘fish-out-of-water’ story, but watching that fish flail this time isn’t so funny as it is solemn, sincere, and surprisingly human.

 

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“This isn’t freedom. This is fear”

Much has been said of the film as a surprisingly hardball piece of political commentary. Whilst not an altogether unprecedented element in the franchise (‘Iron Man 2’s light exploration of the potential for an arms race, and the Captain’s own wartime efforts a thinly veiled satire of propaganda), nothing in the MCU to date has addressed anything of such relevance quite so directly as is done here with the issue of America’s hold on the global balance of power. “I thought the punishment usually came after the crime”, Rogers quips when learning of S.H.I.E.L.D’s heavily proactive mandate as a global peacekeeper/enforcer, Fury retorting how “S.H.I.E.L.D takes the world as it is, not as we’d like it to be”. In today’s world, where the ethics of drone strikes are hotly debated yet used no less prolifically, where surveillance has become so extensive and integral to daily life, law and order (especially in developed countries), and all of which we have assimilated as necessary evils into our consensus on what ‘freedom’ is, just what is there for Captain America to champion? How greatly has the world compromised on the very beliefs he once fought for? Has it all been worth it, and do we even fully realize the cost? All these questions and more come to bear on the narrative throughout, from the smaller moments fleshing out the conspiratorial atmosphere to the no-holds-barred open conflict. Indeed, the fact that Rogers utilizes his trademark vibranium shield as a weapon just as much as a protective tool can be taken as a fitting symbol of the political questions explored under the surface; defensive action vs. offensive action, where is the line drawn? It’s a vastly more complex and morally grey world Rogers is coming to terms with, and always the presence of the Winter Soldier provides a disconcerting reflection of the Captain’s devotion to duty, the specter of the fate that awaits him should he ever surrender his idealistic convictions.

 

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“If they’re shooting at you, they’re bad”

High-octane thriller though it might be, this is a superhero flick, and the promise of large-scale mayhem that goes with that fully delivers by far the biggest action sequences of Phase 2 to date. “It’s like Avengers 1.5”, Mackie remarks pretty astutely of the film’s combat and carnage production values. The return of flying aircraft carrier technology makes for some colossal climactic visuals, and battles in the streets offer up fast-paced, frenzied face-offs with bazookas, bombs, guns and knives coming at characters from all angles. George St. Pierre, in real life an actual mixed martial artist and three-time Welterweight Champion of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, makes for some outstanding physical verisimilitude as French-Algerian mercenary Batroc, and the filmmakers really show off what he can do in a wonderfully choreographed hand-to-hand fight scene with the Captain himself. Johansson’s Black Widow and Mackie’s Falcon further provide their own stunning and delightfully inventive displays of combative prowess, but come the inevitable-yet-nonetheless anticipated brawls between Rogers and the Winter Soldier, it’s an electrifying duel of completely equal skillsets. It’s surprising to think that despite eight films preceding this, we’ve actually had relatively little in the way of a thoroughly satisfying one-on-one punch-up (the best prior example to my mind being Hulk vs. Abomination back in 2008), but here it’s not much of an exaggeration to compare their confrontations to the likes of The Matrix’s Neo vs. Agent Smith or Pirates of the Caribbean’s Jack Sparrow vs. Barbossa, the nearest thing the MCU has given us yet to a Jedi lightsaber battle. In addition, for anyone and everyone in the know as to the Winter Soldier’s true identity, it just makes their second-act tussle all the more tense as that very revelation becomes set to be revealed to the Captain.

 

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“The price of freedom is high, and it’s a price I’m willing to pay”

Ever since Christopher Nolan’s ‘Batman Begins’ in 2005, a game-changing reboot that led to a pantheon of dark and gritty reinventions of well-known characters in cinema, ‘troubled’ and ‘flawed’ have been the go-to characterizations for big blockbuster lead characters. The trend has by no means gone away today, and so it’s all the more refreshing that in Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers we get a guy who is quite simply good. Rogers isn’t a man ‘haunted’ by past tragedy or misdeed. Any conflict and turmoil he may experience within cannot be said to actually come from within, but is simply the effect of his external environment. As superheroes in recent years go, this is a guy who’s actually pretty sincerely happy with who he is, someone you feel like you would actually look up to as a person. Evans has received some mild and scattered criticism for his portrayal of the character as being uninteresting, that the ‘goody-two-shoes’ act is less relatable, outdated even. Yes, Rogers is a consistently good guy, that’s who he is, that’s what he made of himself in his own time and that’s what he’s going to continue making of himself in the present. What does that really say though, that he really is an unbearably ‘perfect angel’, or just that his plain decency is all the more pronounced by his distinctly murkier new-millennium environment? However you answer that may well say more about your character than his. Evans was a perfect choice for the role from the outset, and he continues to bring the Captain to live with all the strength of character and virtue he deserves and needs when faced with the problems of today’s world.

 

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“Are you ready? For the world to see you as you really are?”

One of the many unexpected bonuses in ‘The Avengers’ was the brief insight into the history of Natasha Romanoff, the highly trained spy/assassin codenamed The Black Widow. Here, not so much ‘sidekick’ as a fully-fledged comrade, Romanoff’s character continues to be fleshed out amidst the chaos and conspiracy, and every step of the way Scarlet Johansson excels in every department. If ‘Casino Royale’ had featured the first female James Bond, Johansson’s Romanoff would have been it. Cool, calm and collected in even the hottest of situations, it hits home all the more just how serious and sinister things are getting when even the Black Widow needs to take a few minutes to process it all. Every bit the partner Rogers needs to get him to grips with how things are and ground him from his forlorn nostalgia, an experienced killer faintly opening her mind to the possibility that her future isn’t and shouldn’t necessarily be dictated by her past, Johansson is inarguably one of the film’s greatest strengths. With ‘Avengers 2’ supposedly planning to expand further on her character specifically, is it really so outrageous to hope for a film of her own come Phase 3?

 

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“I never said I was a pilot”

If his demeanor on the red carpet at the film’s LA premiere is anything to go by, Mackie seems like a pretty cool guy who knows something pretty cool when it comes his way, and Sam Wilson’s military alias as ‘The Falcon’ is very cool. Aiding Captain America on a world-saving mission would be most likely to either utterly faze or over-enthuse anyone, but Wilson takes it all in his stride (indeed his casual acceptance of Rogers as a living anachronism makes for one of their earliest bonding moments), or ‘glide’ as the case may be. His getup, a pair of retractable wings built into a jet pack, with guns. Tell me that isn’t cool, and tell me Wilson doesn’t know exactly how cool it is. Mackie clearly revels in this role, providing Evans’ Rogers with a sense of ‘brothers-in-arms’ and trust he hasn’t felt fully and sincerely since the company of his renowned Howling Commandos. Wilson isn’t all quips, quick-wits and wings though, the film taking substantial time to establish his history as both a veteran and as a PTSD councilor, a smaller but no less effective illustration of the side-effects of US military proactivity nowadays. Here too, Mackie turns out a solid effort of bringing sincerity and solemnity to the role of a man who’s a soldier first, and an awesome flying superhero second. If Rogers should ever decide to hand over his shield, Wilson would be one hell of a candidate to carry it on.

 

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“You need to keep both eyes open”

Samuel L. Jackson really can’t do wrong. He’s been in a few misfires, sure, and one or two very dirty bombs, but nothing can faze his talent and sheer being, so nothing can stop him. CA:TWS marks his sixth appearance as the ultimate espionage badass Director Nick Fury (not counting a brief cameo in the MCU’s spinoff television series ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D’), and he’s in for a very different ride this time around. We’ve seen Fury as the mysterious spymaster, we’ve seen him as a faintly Machiavellian guide, as a mentor, a commander and a fellow soldier. When the man who was arguably the epicenter of Phase 1’s ‘Avengers Initiative’ is suddenly at tremendous risk, you know the MCU is really shaking things up. Whether or not they go so far as to ‘pull a Ned Stark’, you’ll have to find out for yourselves. Samuel L. Jackson is the Nick Fury, so much so that animated series featuring the character are now basing their portrayal on him. I need say nothing more, except keep your eyes peeled for perhaps the best Pulp Fiction reference ever made in a film.

 

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“To build a better world, sometimes means tearing the old one down. And that makes enemies”

So much has been said of Robert Redford in this picture that I’m not gonna hammer it all in again. His casting in part a nod to his reputation in the 1970s for thrillers the likes of ‘Three Days of the Condor’, Redford’s senior S.H.I.E.L.D leader Alexander Pierce exudes political charm and charisma, as well as provides a greater insight into the actual structural composition of S.H.I.E.L.D that has formerly maintained a great level of ambiguity as to how it organizes itself. Steve Rogers thought Fury’s motives and actions were hard enough to understand, but Pierce is a whole other level, and therein lies the source of much of the film’s intrigue.

 

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“Most of the intelligence community doesn’t believe he exists. The ones that do call him the Winter Soldier. He’s a ghost, you’ll never find him…”

“He’s fast… strong… and has a metal arm…”

There’s little to be said about the eponymous threat the film pits against Captain America without giving the game away, but in avoiding spoilers it’s oddly appropriate to be complicit in maintaining his mystery. For being a character whose name is in the title, the Winter Soldier has a surprisingly limited screen time, and is treated with surprisingly restrained flair. There is no grand entrance, no establishing of any particular ‘rivalry’ or ‘competitiveness’ with Rogers, no ‘monologuing’. The Winter Soldier simply appears into the story practically out of nowhere, and every entrance is handled just as suddenly and unexpectedly as an encounter with a ghost. Part of me actually started thinking about Javier Bardem’s acclaimed Chi-gurh in ‘No Country for Old Men’, that sense of the villain being but a force of nature simply being aimed at the protagonists by something greater. Despite the limitations though, Sebastian Stan makes a very fitting casting choice for the role, his eyes blazing with the Winter Soldier’s sheer drive for his mission, equal parts unsettling menace and sobering tragedy. The rest is classified.

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Nine films down, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe is showing absolutely no signs of entropy. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a breathtaking and thoroughly compelling thrill ride from the very start, and by the time credits roll the MCU has dealt itself a serious game-changing development that is sure to have far-reaching implications for its other contributory franchises, not to mention advancing things only considerably for next year’s grand reunion in ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’. Captain America is completely out of his comfort zone, and he’s more than welcome to stay.

 Quality: 5/5

Entertainment: 4/5

Averaged Out: 4.5/5

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(P.S. For fans of TV’s ‘Community’, you’re in for a serious treat)