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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Sometimes it's the writing and dialogue that brings us in to TV shows. Other times, it's the actors themselves.
Dr. Gregory House: House, M.D.
Hugh Laurie imbued the anti-social House with more layers than the thickest onion. He also gave nearly every man out there an excuse to explain to their significant other why they hadn't shaved in three days: "Well, you love that Hugh Laurie scruff..."
Walter White: Breaking Bad
It's still hard to believe that Bryan Cranston, who has been a genius in showing the transformation in White from good to evil played the hapless dad on Malcolm in the Middle. His work during the last episodes of this show has been nothing short of a master class in acting. People are on the edge of their seat to see what happens with this druglord.
Tony Soprano: The Sopranos
Rest in peace, James Gandolfini. Your work as Tony Soprano was some of the best acting seen on TV. Your portrayal of the head of a Mafia cartel who juggles both business and home life was a mix of fury and pain (both personal and meting it out on others).
Omar: The Wire
One of the best characters on TV in the past decade, a thug with a strict code who also happened to lead a lifestyle that didn't mesh with his tough-guy exterior. It's a shame he went out like he did - shot in a convenience store.
Don Draper: Mad Men
Draper, a man who is not who he says he is, is played to perfection by Jon Hamm. It's a good thing Thomas Jane passed over the role. A philandering husband with no sense of loyalty would be hard to like, but the suave Madison Avenue ad man pulls it off. It's going to be interesting to see what happens to him during the final season.
Frank Pembleton: Homicide: Life On the Streets
Andre Braugher's work as Pembleton, a tortured man whose dedication to justice came at the expense of everything else was near perfect. His seething intensity in the interrogation room (aka "the box") was a sight to behold and Braugher was mesmerizing in every line he spoke. He brillantly handled his character having a stroke as well.
Dr. Mark Greene: ER
Anthony Edwards played Greene as the anti-House - a doctor who cared. He also showed how a doctor's personal life can spill over into his professional life, especially when he got attacked in the bathroom. His death from a brain tumor remains one of the saddest moments on any show.
Dana Scully: The X-Files
Gillian Anderson was much more than a pretty face to play alongside David Duchovny's Mulder. She had brains and skepticism to his almost childlike willingness to believe everything.
Dexter Morgan: Dexter
A sympathetic serial killer? Michael C. Hall is able to show someone devoid of real emotion as someone we can root for. It's too bad that this show's final season is also the same one as Breaking Bad.
Vic Mackey: The Shield
Michael Chiklis was far from The Commish when he portrayed this utterly corrupt cop that still had the tiniest shred of conscience buried inside of him despite everything. He first thought he was getting results, no matter what, but that soon spiraled into doing things like murdering a new member of your own squad and other things like that. Mackey lived life brutally.
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The good, bad and the ugly on the tube this past week:
"ER"'s familiar farewell
I don't usually criticize ER. Usually, I don't have to. But Thursday night's episode, in which Eriq La Salle said goodbye to the show, was just a bit too similar to another classic ER farewell, which cheapened La Salle's closing moments.
In 1999, when George Clooney parted ways, his character, Dr. Doug Ross, was speaking with Anthony Edwards' Dr. Mark Greene alongside the Chicago River. A few words were said and Clooney was history.
This past Thursday, just before the screen faded to black, La Salle's Dr. Peter Benton said some words to his former apprentice, Noah Wyle's Dr. John Carter, alongside...the Chicago River. Then Benton was history.
It beats riding off into the sunset, but....
WB going to the "Dogs"
What? WB cancelled Men, Women & Dogs? How could they?
Well, they did. And no, I'm none too disappointed. After all, it did come in at #111 a couple times in the Nielsens. Actually, it wouldn't hurt the Frog Network to clear out some more of its Sunday lineup.
Late night fight persists
Well, we're through with week five of the Oprah/Letterman dispute. She simply won't let him on her show. He's more than willing to have her as a guest on The Late Show, but she's resolute. It's quite amusing watching Dave adding page after page in his nightly "Oprah Log" segment--in which he jots down his thoughts on the situation--but come on already, Oprah: just for five minutes, let the man have a seat next to you.
Ironically, it would probably be Oprah's highest-rated show in months.
Compared to 2000, what ad-supported cable network posted the highest gains in viewership in both kids and adults this year? Disney? Nickelodeon? Animal Planet?
Nope: it's Cartoon Network, which masterfully altered its programming this year to cater to all demographics. If you haven't caught their Adult Swim block of mature programming on both Sunday and Thursday nights, give it a look. Very good stuff.
She's just telling it like it is.
Gillian Anderson spoke publicly this past week about her thoughts on this season of The X-Files, addressing the show's plummeting ratings. Did she defend the series that made her a star? Not a bit. Instead, she said she wants the show--not extra-terrestrials--to disappear at the end of the spring season.