Stars and Stripes!! A Super Captain Murica, The Enemy is Us

Summer popcorn movies are hereby put on notice to get crack-a-lackin. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is every rousing, whup-ass thing you want in an escapist adventure. And an additional hint of depth under the dazzle? A little bit.

A superhero should always battle a foe as powerful as he is. Otherwise, there’s no competition. Sounds masochistic? Well, if you look at the history of superhero films, few of them have villains who pop as memorably as their blocky-chested men in capes. There’s Heath Ledger‘s Joker, of course (the leering granddaddy of psychotic bad guys), and also Jack Nicholson‘s Joker, and Tom Hiddleston‘s Loki. Beyond that, the landscape is thick with low-camp cartoons, such as Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor, boilerplate CGI treachery, or villains who simply didn’t cut it. In that light, the creators of Captain America: The Winter ­Soldier have brought off something fresh and bold: They have taken Captain America (Chris Evans), the engagingly square strongman from the flag-waving ‘40s (yes, he’s gorgeous, ladies and gents), and planted him in the black-ops cynicism of the present day, where the ­villain isn’t some over-the-top mastermind, but, in fact, the very military-industrial complex he’s out to defend. He now faces an ominously faceless evil.

Early on, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the embattled director of S.H.I.E.L.D., dispatches Steve Rogers, aka. Captain America, and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), aka. Black Widow, on a mission to rescue a naval ship overtaken by pirates. But he also plays the two against each other, and it turns out that it’s Nick himself who’s under siege. In his armored, hooked up SUV, he’s attacked by shadow forces that want to militarize the world and make ­spying as common as breathing. Sound like anything you’ve read recently? Hmm..

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the first superhero film since the terrorist-inflected The Dark Knight that plugs you right into what’s happening now. Told in enjoyably blunt, heavy-duty strokes, the movie doesn’t try for the artistry of The Dark Knight, but rather it’s action-fantasy prose, not poetry. Yet there’s a hell-bent vitality to its paranoia. When the Capt., is surrounded by government officials on an elevator, and he realizes that none of them are on his side, the fight scene that follows isn’t just brutally exciting. It expresses the film’s theme: that you can’t trust anyone in a society that wants to control everyone and everything.

Chris Evans, once again makes our hero a compellingly pensive, furrowed-browed demigod. He moves very quickly, like a reincarnation of Bruce Lee with bionically enhanced aggression, but Evans lets us see how the forces Captain America is up against are weighing him down. It helps to have Robert Redford on hand, wittily cast as a CIA-spirited S.H.I.E.L.D. leader — a cutthroat in a suit who drily understands the mathematics of power. Scarlett Johansson makes Natasha a fast-and-furious flirt, Anthony Mackie (as Falcon) spars nicely with Evans, and Sebastian Stan puts Steve’s old pal Bucky Barnes through a chilling transformation. The film is a bit long, and its token ­references to the other Avengers are just a forced attempt to join it to a ”larger” story. Yet the film has the zing and purpose that last summer’s Man of Steel lacked, with a sky-high climax that’s a real dazzler. What works here is setting up Captain America in a ­battle against… well, America. That’s the way to turn a super-square into an awesome antihero.


Noah: A Biblical Floodfest Mostly Running Aground

If anyone remembers it correctly, the story of Noah is a pretty brief one. For one, a lot gets packed into the section of Genesis, all leading up to the mother of all Old Testament climaxes: the flood. Still, there’s hardly enough material there to keep going for a little over two hours. So going in to Darren Aronofsky‘s Noah, the idea of certain storytelling embellishments being made was a given. Not speaking for the audiences as to whether they will be happy with those changes, but that is another story.

In an unpredictable career that’s alternated between telling stories on a small canvas (Pi, Requiem For a Dream, The Wrestler) and a larger one (The Fountain, Black Swan), Aronofsky has always been an audacious and idiosyncratic filmmaker. With all the past ones, Noah is his broadest canvas yet. And it ends up being a schizophrenic experience. On one hand, it’s a remarkably earnest and heartfelt Bible parable, not unlike Martin Scorsese’s darkly pieces. It contains a handful of gut-wrenching small-scale moments, like Noah’s decision to spare his grandchildren from sacrifice, that are so powerful they’ll make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and salute. On the other, though, it’s an excessively flashy Tinseltown spectacle tarted up with all the eye candy that a nine-figure price tag can buy. It’s as if Aronofsky had so many resources at his disposal, he couldn’t help but give in to the sin of cinematic gluttony. These two competing impulses seem to be battling for Aronofsky’s filmmaking soul. And the result is a disappointing draw.

Aronofsky’s wisest move was casting Russell Crowe as Noah. As one of the last descendants of the peaceful line of Seth, Noah is a faithful husband to Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and a loving father of Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman), Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll), and the adopted Ila (Emma Watson). He’s the rare pious man in a god-forsaken world of wickedness lorded over by the evil offspring of Cain (led by Ray Winstone). And Crowe plays this virtuous ascetic with a fiery, half-mad intensity and moral weight he hasn’t shown in a very long time — maybe since Gladiator. The problem is that Aronofsky seems to be less interested in his flesh-and-blood characters than the fantastical CGI ones, such as, a strange, trippy race of fallen-angel stone creatures called Watchers who look like gigantic piles of smoldering charcoal Transformers and speak with the growly voices of Frank Langella and Nick Nolte. Plainly ridiculous.

As the film begins, Noah has a vision of a serpent and an apple and humanity drowning in a watery death. He senses that this is a prophecy. That the Creator is going to destroy the world and wash away all of the wicked. Before that hard rain comes, though, Noah and his righteous family must prepare. So the ark is built with the help of the Watchers, and the animals are gathered in a computer-generated sequence. Meanwhile, Shem couples off with Ila, the devilish Ham is seduced by Tubal-Cain, and Jopheth…well, it’s Jopheth.

It’s difficult to reduce the fire-and-brimstone wrath of God to a third-act Hollywood money shot, but when the flood comes it’s an event of haunting beauty. The family holes up inside the ark that’s being tossed like a cork, while the heathens outside howl and scream in anguish. Such is the price to cleanse humanity of its trespasses and start over. Noah is a movie about big ideas (environmentalism, heavenly obedience versus earthly love) and even bigger directorial ambitions. But, in the end, it was also a disappointment. Maybe not one of Biblical proportions, but a disappointment nonetheless.



Hey MMC (Midnight Movie Crew) fans,

It certainly has been a long time since anything’s been posted. Due to some difficulties, everything was stalled.

But not to worry, MMC is officially back in action with NEW staff!! Especially with all that’s coming out this year.

Thanks again for your support towards MMC!!