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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Pre-production on The First Avenger: Captain America is moving into high gear, with director Joe Johnston expected to soon reveal the name of the actor who will ingest the Super Serum and battle the Nazi scourge in the superhero's World War II-set origin story, which is slated to hit theaters in July of 2011.
At a press conference last weekend for The Wolfman, the troubled horror flick he guided to completion after landing its vacated directing job just two weeks before shooting, Johnston dismissed concerns that Marvel Comics' famously patriotic superhero might be played by — gasp — a foreigner (say, Aussie Sam Worthington, for example). Johnston stated that he was "absolutely" commited to casting a Yank in the role, adding, “I don’t think we could make the film without an American playing the part.”
But while the actor playing Captain America will almost certainly be an American citizen, he may not necessarily be a famous one; Johnston is unsinterested in A-listers. “I’m looking for a complete unknown,” he declared, putting to rest various dubious reports that had pitched everyone from Leonardo DiCaprio to Will Smith for the role. “I hope it’ll be somebody that we discover, and who has never been in [anything]. Well, he’s probably been in something, but you won’t know who he is. You won’t recognize him. And we’ll surround him with more prominent names.”
Of course, “unknown” is a relative term, one that provides fuel for endless debate among members of the fanboy community. Are we talking Chris Pine-level unknown, Brandon Routh-level unknown, or Matt Salinger-level unknown? Recent reports seem to land somewhere in the middle, with Ryan McPartlin (Captain Awesome from TV’s Chuck) and Cam Gigandet (Twilight, The Unborn) among the names being mentioned as leading candidates for the potentially star-making gig.
Presumably, whoever eventually receives the nod will have undergone an extensive vetting process to verify his credentials as a genuine, full-blooded American (but not too American — sorry, Adam Beach), lest the production find itself besieged by the comic-book equivalent of the “Birthers” movement.
Interestingly, there apears to be considerably less pressure from German citizens for Johnston to choose a suitably Teutonic actor for the role of Red Skull, Captain American’s crimson-domed Nazi nemesis. However, some of the more optimistic fans of the comic harbor the vain hope that Austrian star Christoph Waltz, recently nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as Gestapo fiend Hanz Landa in Inglourious Basterds, might eschew typecasting concerns and sign on to portray an even more cartoonish Third Reich villain.
The supporting players of The First Avenger: Captain America are slowly coming into focus as well, with CHUD recently confirming that The Invaders, a second-tier, international supergroup of B-list Marvel heroes like Silver Scorpion, Union Jack, and Bucky, will figure prominently in the film.