This Review Has Zero Spoilers
The new Captain America is a lot like a Bourne movie, so if those are your thing, I can confirm that this is indeed a feast of shakey-cam fight scenes and official-looking people tersely explaining things. The plot moves quickly, so if you can’t follow along, just assume that anyone sneering like Snidely Whiplash is about to turn evil and anyone making glib small talk is probably a good guy.
Captain America is a fun character, and Chris Evans plays him with just the right mix of gee whiz sincerity and winky charm. Not to mention he has those bicep veins that make it look like a giant is trying to smuggle penises in his t-shirt. It’s a shame that such a likable actor with such penisy arms is stuck in such a bland, charmless movie. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is so dry and procedural that it feels like you’re watching Law and Order: Special Beefcakes Edition. Its ADHD plot requires so much exposition that it’s less like watching a movie than having a movie breathlessly explained to you.
It starts off promisingly enough, with the newly-unfrozen Cap checking his to-do list of things he needs to know in order to understand the 21st century – a nice, lighthearted scene utilizing the same superhero-out-of-water formula that worked so well in both Thor movies. But it’s a misdirect, and the film quickly devolves into a charmless cycle of one supposedly portentous reveal after the next, where a character with no recognizable personality had turned evil and back again, then a shakey cam fight sequence followed by someone explaining why the kryptonite u-joint algorithm in space sector four was going to set S.H.I.E.L.D. back centuries unless Cap could get the nuclear uvulator back from the Romulans and jam it into the allspark hyperdrive in time to reverse the polarity of the space-time continuum and– FOR THE LOVE OF GOD STOP DIAGRAMMING UNNECESSARILY CONVOLUTED MACGUFFINS!
Just as I was hoping they’d skip to the next fight scene, the next fight scene would actually start, and it would be just as bloodless and unfun as the exposition, a mish-mash of reverse angle close-ups that offer little more than CLANG CLANG outcome (to be fair, the clang sounds were fantastic).
The plot and the fight scenes are actually a related problem. A shakey-cam fight sequence doesn’t allow you the ability to actually see what’s happening, it’s just a couple quick swipes and then a smash cut to the result – one guy recoiling from a hard body shot or whatever. You lose all sense of spacial awareness and choreography, and the focus is all on the result, the “what” of what just happened. The “how” of it is all just blurs and clangs. In Winter Soldier, Blur-blur-outcome is exactly how the plot functions as well. Something happens way too fast and chaotically for you to follow it, so someone helpfully shows up two seconds later to explain it, usually with a touch screen.
Thing is, I don’t care about the “what.” It’s a superhero movie. The “what” is the same every damned time. A giant mechanical thing threatens the Earth, a buff guy punches it out of the sky, the end. I go in knowing that, because I want to see the “how.” Marvel has been pretty good at it so far, realizing that the joy of a superhero movie is the dance and the charm of it, the slapstick of the Hulk slamming Loki around the room by his feet in The Avengers, or the over-the-top comedy of Thor 2. The fun of it isn’t the obtuse machinations of our national security apparatus, or “intense” fight scenes made up of a series of grunts and punches and thumps that are SO BADASS, BRO.
A Marvel movie hasn’t been this hamstrung by a feeling of “to be continued” since Iron Man 2. Black Widow has a dark secret of some kind! Only we don’t get to find out what it actually is until the next movie, so she basically plays “glib chick” in this one. (Also, we’re told that she’s both a former KGB operative and was born in 1984. How does that work? Was she in the KGB from age one, until the USSR collapsed when she was six?) In another reveal, we learn that one character we don’t know anything about has actually been this OTHER character we don’t know anything about THE ENTIRE TIME! DUNT DUNT DUNNN…
I tend to like superhero movies best that have an interesting villain – Dr. Octopus, The Mandarin. Despite being named after one, Captain America: The Winter Soldier has four or five villains who have maybe a half a personality between them. “The Winter Soldier” basically shows up for the last 10 minutes to tease the next movie, and oh hey, did you know he has a metal arm? He does. It’s strong. There’s another villain trapped inside a computer, who’s present only to explain the plot. And then there’s Robert Redford in a suit, playing an evil suit. The visual manifestation of his evilness? Him talking about being evil. A lot.
Captain America, who, even on a good day is no Robert Downey with rocket hands, desperately needs someone, anyone slightly interesting to play with. Instead we get constant, pointless plot twists, fight scenes filmed badly, and a series of references. Oh my God, it’s that chick from that show! And would you look at that, she’s explaining a thing that happened!
I’ve seen worse superhero movies, but never one this boring. I’m told it has two post-credits scenes, which I didn’t stick around for. Why bother? I already spent two hours watching teasers for future projects.
Vince Mancini is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. You can find more of his work on FilmDrunk, the Uproxx network, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.