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Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

The elevator scene.

There is nowhere in the Marvel Universe – movies or comic books – that I’d rather be less than in this elevator. I’d rather be sat next to the Kidney Lady on a city bus in Cleveland, 1977, than in this elevator.

Years ago, a fellow I knew got up after the second song at a Roxy Music concert. He said after watching Phil Manzanera play the end of “Ladytron,” he got his money’s worth. That’s how I feel about this movie. It doesn’t matter how many things blow up or how many buildings get knocked down after this. It’s Cap and those dozen men in that glass box a third of the way through the film. Boy freaking howdy, did I ever get my money’s worth.

As for the rest, I think it’s the best Marvel movie by a mile. Kind of bittersweet to watch it the weekend after Chris Evans announced he was stepping down as Cap, because Captain America is my favorite Marvel superhero and I am so pleased and thrilled with the job Evans did bringing him to life.

Joining Evans this time out, there’s Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson as usual. Sebastian Stan returns as Bucky, now the brainwashed Winter Soldier, and Anthony Mackie debuts as Cap’s best friend and partner Sam Wilson, the Falcon. Also returning are Hayley Atwell as the now ninety-odd year-old Peggy Carter, and Toby Jones as Arnim Zola.

Before we got started, I showed our son what Zola looked like in Jack Kirby’s comics. Marvel thoughtfully collected Kirby’s mid-seventies run of Captain America and the Falcon across three volumes, and they are some crazy, wild, freaked-out comics. You should definitely visit your neighborhood comic shop and buy those. Turning Zola into a supercomputer that has a nice wink to old readers with his camera above his face-monitor left me in heaven when I first saw this.

And of course, there’s Robert Redford. You can imagine the wheels turning in the directors’ heads as they started putting this story together and realized that Redford, more than arguably any other possible choice, was the name they needed for this part. Alexander Pierce is a terrific villain.

It all adds up to my favorite Marvel movie. Not much else to add, other than the kid loved it too, of course. It demands repeat viewings more than any of the others, and if you don’t finish this movie without wanting to watch Redford in Three Days of the Condor, something must be wrong with you. Not really one for our kid quite yet, of course, but one day.

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Agent Carter 1.8 – Valediction

Well, this was just tremendously entertaining! I’m so impressed by how much plot they cram into these forty minute episodes, and I really enjoyed the villains. We’ve been watching one character who goes by the unlikely name “Dottie Underwood” and who is a product of the same program that would later develop the Black Widow. Her cover identity is that of an all-American sweetheart of a girl with big blue eyes and a line in “gee golly gosh, officer, was I speeding?” dialogue. She’s played by Bridget Regan, who has starred in several American dramas of the last decade, including a fantasy series called Legend of the Seeker and TNT’s The Last Ship.

“Dottie” finally gets a great climactic fight scene with Agent Carter in this episode, and I’m afraid that it ends in what I’m seeing lately is a Hollywood-approved way to end these sorts of scraps: by having the villainous female miscalculate a lunge and crash through a window. This made a little sense in, say, an eighties show like MacGyver, because it just wouldn’t do to have Richard Dean Anderson exchange punches with the female villain of the week, so he needs to stand in front of a window and let her screw up her way to death. That shouldn’t happen in this program, though. Happily, “Dottie” loses a lot of blood from the fall, but she gets away, and I suspect we’ll see her again in season two.

Also, I didn’t mention him very much before because I wasn’t sure where they were going with him, but the fellow we’ve known as Dr. Ivchenko, with the mind control powers, is actually Johann Fennhoff, a character from the comics usually called Dr. Faustus. He’s played by British actor Ralph Brown and has just been wonderfully entertaining. Another quibble, though: the heroes make their standard action program “we need to win this thing for Chief Dooley and Agent Krzemenski” speeches, referencing the characters who died in earlier installments, but they don’t spare any thoughts for poor Agent Yauch, who Fennhoff hypnotized and talked to death in episode six. I guess nobody in the office really liked him.

Unlike “Dottie,” Fennhoff is captured, thanks to an ingenious solution improvised by Daniel, and is seen at the end in a delightful tag scene – wearing his new proto-Lecter headgear to prevent him talking anybody else to death – with his new cellmate, Arnim Zola, who you might remember from the first Captain America movie. It’s a shame that the 1940s end of the Marvel Universe has such a small rogues gallery, but it was great seeing Toby Jones again. (See, there’s another reason they should have done so much more with Cap and the Howling Commandos!)

I was impressed by how well everything tied together, and impressed by the photography, lighting, and costumes, and impressed by Hayley Atwell as Peggy. She’s a really interesting character – although fun isn’t the right word for her, I’m afraid – and I was pleased by the reward that she and her friend Angie get to share in the end. She also gets to be the one to decide what will happen with the vial of Captain America’s blood. It was a very entertaining production from start to finish, and I’m curious what the producers came up with for her next story.

We’ll take a break from this show, but we will start watching season two in about three weeks. Stay tuned!

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Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

You know, I like Captain America’s first movie, but I don’t love it. It’s tough to completely embrace because there’s so much more to this story that time doesn’t allow us to see, but I want to so much. Everything works just fine until we meet the Howling Commandos. Then it’s into a montage of action scenes because this movie’s already gone for about eighty minutes and we still have several weeks of sneak attacks and missions behind enemy lines between where we are and the big climax.

It’s so unfair. Why aren’t there ten Howling Commandos movies here? I’ll settle for a ten episode TV series. Six. Two TV movies and a package of deleted scenes? They cast all these perfect actors as Cap’s team! I actually remember Dum Dum Dugan best from my own childhood as the starring part in Marvel’s silly Godzilla comic book, which I adored even despite the artwork that I didn’t like, and there is an actor named Neal McDonough who looks like the character came right off the page. There’s not nearly enough with these guys.

So what else? Joe Johnston directed this, and he also made the wonderful Rocketeer and Jumanji – and that idiotic Wolfman movie with Anthony Hopkins, but nobody’s perfect – and it’s just a tremendously fun period piece. Captain America vaulted over every other Marvel superhero to become my favorite once it finally clicked and I fell in love with Jack Kirby’s comics with the character. (Weirdly, I didn’t like Kirby at all when I was little.) Chris Evans just cemented the deal for me. He’s just perfect in the part. I really appreciate how he’s made this character resonate. Even on Twitter, the actor embodies everything that Captain America stands for.

Tommy Lee Jones effortlessly steals every scene he’s in, and Hayley Atwell is terrific fun as Agent Peggy Carter – about whom, much more later this summer – and it’s got a pair of great villains in Hugo Weaving and Toby Jones. I like the concept of the Red Skull, a villain so hateful and horrible that even all the other Marvel supervillains hate him. I don’t like how there’s a get-out clause for him in this movie, that possibly the Tesseract/Cosmic Cube/Space Stone teleported him into the future so he might one day reappear to fight again. I hope not. I’m happier with him being a period villain only!

This also has the first appearance of Sebastian Stan’s character Bucky, who’ll end up turning the Marvel Universe upside down a few films later. Of course, all my childhood, Bucky was dead – and, because kid sidekicks were the worst thing in the universe when you’re thirteen or so, we were glad of it – so I was pretty surprised to learn, a couple of years before this movie, that they’d brought Bucky back as the Winter Soldier. Unpleasantly surprised, I should say. I was playing a miniatures game, Heroclix, at the time, when one of the other players at the shop explained this new-to-me character once he had a piece and thought that was the most idiotic thing I’d ever heard. I did win an important tournament for that expansion and snagged a super-rare prize with him, but grudgingly. So all credit to Sebastian Stan for taking a character I could not possibly care less about and making him so darn watchable. But some of that comes later, I guess.

Well, if you think I’m nitpicky about the way I write about these movies, you should see our son. He tells us that this is his favorite of the first five, but it needed one more explosion. The scene where Cap rescues the 400 soldiers from Hydra’s prison camp was his favorite part of the film, which I thought was interesting because it’s almost always the very end of the movie that thrills him most. But then again, this climax has Cap and Peggy being mushy over the radio to each other. He probably didn’t want to admit to any tears.

But all the action scenes had him hopping. He adored this movie and didn’t need too many explanations, although we did pause it to clarify what Hydra was up to after the Red Skull kills the three Nazi officials who visit his bunker to sneer at him, and also to explain Cap’s turn as an onstage propaganda hero to sell war bonds. Not like today’s children have many opportunities to learn what war bonds are!

And that’s another thing: they should have actually made one of those cheesy black and white shorts that Cap was making in the last half of 1942. That would have been so fun. So far my Marvel wishlist is a Sif and the Warriors Three feature, a ten-week Howling Commandos TV series, and a twelve-minute Captain America Punches Der Fuhrer’s Face short, like they’d run after the newsreel and the cartoon before the movie. Why does ABC keep making more Agents of SHIELD instead of what’s really important here?

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