Captain America: The Winter Soldier is filled — and I mean jam-packed — with genre-bending, action-heavy, sportily tense and relentlessly sinuous, sky-high-concept and maniacally bonkers stuff. Polygonal mayhem that aims, and impressively so, to top the Marvel lot in ideas, deconstructing every thriller staple from government corruption to talking computers to odd couple agents gone rogue. But oddly enough, the moment in the Cap sequel that I find most arresting several weeks after seeing the film is our peaceful reunion with Steve Rogers, trotting merrily around the Washington Monument as the sun rises on our nation's capital.
The scene is shot from far overhead, a low pulse/high spirits Chris Evans reduced to a shapeless blur as he repeatedly (but politely!) laps fellow jogger and veteran Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie)... and yet it might be the closest we feel to Cap throughout the movie.
The Winter Soldier has a lot to worry about in the delivery of its content. Managing a plot as ambitious and multifaceted as its own, with themes as grand as the scope of the American mentality — as represented by Steve Rogers, raised in the good old days of gee-golly-jingoism — it doesn't always have the faculties to devote to humanizing its central troupe. Cap isn't left hollow, but his battles with the dark cloud of contemporary skepticism play more like an intriguing Socratic discussion than an emotional arc. Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow, a character who ran circles around her Avengers co-players in flavor, feels a bit shortchanged in that department here (in her closest thing to a starring role yet, no less).
Mackie's Falcon, a regular joe who is roped into the calamity thanks largely to his willingness to chat with a fellow runner — a rare skill, honestly — is less of a problem. He doesn't have much to do, but he does it all well enough. Dynamic though he may be, Mackie keeps things bridled as Cap's ad-hoc sidekick, playing up the along-for-the-ride shtick rather than going full (or even half) superhero. We might want more from him, knowing just how fun he can be, but it's a sating dose. The real hunger is for more in the way of Black Widow, Cap, and — perhaps most of all — the titular villain.
Still, these palpable holes pierce through a film that gets plenty right. As elegantly as Joe Johnston did the Spielberg thing back in 2011, Joe and Anthony Russo take on the ballots of post-innocence. They aren't afraid to get wild and weird, taking The Winter Soldier through valleys that feel unprecedented in superhero cinema. We're grateful for the invention here — for Robert Redford's buttoned-up Tom Clancy villain, for the directors' aggressive tunneling through a wide underworld of subterranean corruption, and especially for one scene in an army bunker that amounts to the most charmingly bats**t crazy reveal in any Marvel movie yet. We might be most grateful, though, for a new take on Nick Fury; here, the franchise gives Samuel L. Jackson his best material by a mile.
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But in the absence of definitive work done in our heroing couple, a pair rich in fibers but relegated to broad strokes and easy quips in this turn, most of it amounts to a fairly good spy thriller, not an ace-in-the-whole neo-superhero masterpiece... which, justly or otherwise, is what we've come to expect and demand from these things.
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Top Story: Studios Hold Back Screenings Despite Early Oscar Date
With the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences pushing the date of its annual Oscar ceremony up a month to Feb. 29, many speculated the usual rush of year-end Oscar hopefuls would also plow ahead. But it hasn't. One of the main reasons for changing the date was to cut down on Oscar campaigning and perhaps alleviate the tidal wave of films that floods the month of December. But according to The Hollywood Reporter, no videocassettes or DVDs have gone out to Academy members yet and most studios still aren't screening their hopefuls until November. With nomination ballots due back at Academy headquarters by Jan. 17, it is still an awfully close call for Academy members to sample all of this year's Oscar hopefuls. Some studios have gotten a head start on the competition, however, including Focus Features, which has already held guild screenings of Sofia Coppola's Lost In Translation, and Miramax Films, which has started inviting Academy members to screenings of some of City of God, The Barbarian Invasions, Dirty Pretty Things, The Magdalene Sisters and The Station Agent.
Magazine: Affleck's Gambling Led to Breakup
Bennifer update: The latest issue of US Weekly, which hits newsstands Friday, cites Ben Affleck's fondness for gambling, the media frenzy surrounding their planned wedding, and his mother, Chris, as some of the reasons why the actor ended his 21-month romance with Jennifer Lopez. US also claims Affleck's Vancouver stripper romp was not to blame for the breakup but said it may be part of the actor's master plan: The magazine points out that Affleck told Playboy in 1999 that he is prone to creating some incident in order to get out of a bad relationship. The magazine notes, however, that the breakup may not be permanent.
Is There a Mole in the Survivor Camp?
The Antigua-based bookie, BetWWTS.com, decided Thursday not to take bets on CBS' Survivor: Pearl Islands after suspicions that someone who knows the winner is spreading inside information. Simon Noble, the company's CEO, told the Associated Press that in the past few days, they took more than 15 bets on the same contestant, all from people who lived near each other in Vancouver, British Columbia. In the past, the company rarely did any action with Survivor before the show aired. "If we get five bets (before the game), I'd be stunned," Noble said. "Nobody can relate to any of the contestants or develop a strong opinion."
TV Acad Hands Out Generous Gift Bags
Gift bags given annually to presenters of the Emmy awards, described by the TV academy as a "generous thank you," are worth a whopping $30,000 this year, according to organizers. The goodies, according to Reuters, include a private dinner party, resort and spa visits, a portable DVD player, a year's worth of cosmetics, a watch, a cell phone and some chocolate. The bags will be distributed to presenters during Emmy rehearsals to be held the day before the ceremony. Presenters also will receive a mattress. The 55th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, airing on Fox, will be held Sunday at the Shrine Auditorium.
MGM Not Into "Star Salaries"
MGM's Chief Executive Alex Yemenidjian said Thursday Hollywood's most expensive stars are not always worth the money they charge, Reuters reports. At a financial presentation, Yemenidjian was asked whether he saw the trend of ultra-high salaries for some top stars continuing. "I don't think it is possible for any single studio to control that," he said. "We're always wary about opening the trades and reading that someone has agreed to pay $25 million." But Yemenidjian admitted that the studio unintentionally created another high-ticket star with its 2001 hit Legally Blonde starring Reese Witherspoon. "We created our own monster with that one," he joked.
Man Crashes Car While Singing Timberlake Tune
John L. Nunes, of Winston, Ore., told police Thursday he crashed his car after a bee flew into his mouth while he was singing along with Justin Timberlake's "Rock Your Body" on the radio. Douglas County Sheriff's spokeswoman Pam Frank told the AP Nunes, 19, was trying to get rid of the bee or yellowjacket when his car hit a tree. He was taken by ambulance to Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg after his car went down a 15-foot embankment. "I kind of panicked and went off the road," Nunes said Wednesday. "I had to get a stitch in my tongue, and I got a gash on my left ankle." He added that the tongue injury was from his teeth, not the bee.
Paul McCartney in Ruckus Near Blaine's Glass Box
Police are investigating an early morning scuffle involving Paul McCartney near magician David Blaine's starvation stunt at Tower Bridge in London. According to Reuters, a photographer for the Evening Standard newspaper said he was hit after he tried to take a photograph of the former Beatle, who had gone to see Blaine's attempt at spending 44 days without food suspended in a glass box above the River Thames. McCartney's spokesman confirmed the musician had been to see Blaine, but added, "Reports that this was a fracas ... are highly exaggerated."
Role Call: Jackie Collins Makes a Return to the Big Screen
Jackie Collins is returning to the big screen with a project for the first time since the late 1970s. Variety reports the best-selling author will develop the romantic comedy Fish out of Water for Anonymous Content and Focus Features. The story will focus on a young woman from the Midwest who comes to Hollywood to marry a studio mogul and finds herself in rich-and-famous central but unexpectedly falls in love with the caterer.