My Week in Movies – April 10th

The cineplex is getting crowded as we kick off the summer movie season (which gets farther from the actual start of summer every year) with a truly great superhero movie and some not-as-great sidekicks.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Captain America: The Winter Soldier was on my Ten Most Anticipated Films of 2014, and that level of anticipation had me worried I was setting myself up for a disappointment. This Cap film picks up after the Battle of New York; in Washington DC with Steve Rogers is running laps around war veteran Sam Wilson. The two bro-bond until Black Widow swings by, informing Cap of a mission to re-take a S.H.I.E.L.D. ship carrying “weapons.” (Hint: not weapons… something much more sinister…) Cap and Widow kick some pirate ass, rescue everyone on board, and head back to headquarters (the Triskellion), where Steve learns about Project Insight. Our hero from another time is none too pleased with the idea of three helicarriers circling the globe with the firepower and the mission to kill tens of thousands based on predictive profiling. When Nick Fury, spurred by Steve’s doubts, begins to panic, the Winter Soldier neutralizes him, framing Steve for the job. As Cap and Widow flee from S.H.I.E.L.D., they enter a world where no one can be trusted, one very different from the paternalistic “Trust In Coulson” Marvel films we’ve seen in the past.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a great follow-up to Joe Johnston’s Rocketeer-like nostalgia trip and it continues to push the Marvel Cinematic Universe forward in fascinating directions. On the whole, the plot is decent but the cacophonous ending needed some work. The cast is good and the obvious tie-ins with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. were nice call-outs to that shows (dwindling) audience and not harmful to the film if you didn’t catch them. I was ever-so-slightly disappointed with the film’s treatment of Falcon (the alter-ego of Wilson) who respects his lap-running partner so much that he sort of sublimates his identity so he can fit comfortably beneath Cap’s red, white, and blue shield. But they made some good revisions to the character and he never needs to be saved by the hero. He’s not just some sidekick the filmmakers can imperil to up the hero’s cred, which is markedly a good thing. Hopefully, his high-profile in this film, and Anthony Mackie’s great work, pushes Marvel to continue to diversify their super-powered lineup.

Grade: A

3 Days to Kill

I waited a fair bit to see 3 Days to Kill in theaters and, to be honest, I probably could have skipped the film altogether. Kevin Costner (who’s having a “moment”) plays an older, experienced CIA operative who is, after a failed mission, diagnosed with brain cancer that has spread to his lungs. Amber Heard plays the assassin who uses that diagnosis as leverage – she orders him to kill an enemy leader who has a dirty bomb for sale. If he completes his mission, there’s a cure waiting for him.

Sound simple enough? Well, the movie is all over the place. The plot is average at best. Heard’s character makes little sense and at times even loses her sex appeal (which, frankly, should not be possible). Costner is trying so so so hard to be Liam Neeson-lite and it just does not work, even though he’s teamed up here with Luc Besson, the man who, with Taken, kicked off the badass-Neeson career arc. Co-written by Besson and directed by McG, 3 Days to Kill captures none of the pure-adrenline clarity of Taken; the script, directing and editing are an absolute mess. I’m not sure what they thought they had here but, ultimately, it wasn’t much.

Grade: D-

Noah

I went into Noah expecting, based on marketing that catered to a religious audience, a pretty rote but faithful take on the biblical story. Instead, what I got was a visually stunning, very heavily “interpreted” expansion of the third chapter of Genesis. I guess I should have expected all that considering the director, Darren Aronofsky; in all his previous films that I’ve seen, I’ve noticed he’s not one to sit back and adapt, and he’s certainly going to go for some hallucinogenic spectacle. So you’ll need to excuse me if I walked out of the theater more than a little disappointed, mostly because, as dull as a faithful take on the Noah material may seem, it’s what I’d hoped to see. It took a bit but I have come around on this movie after initially feeling extremely let down. I do still have my gripes, Ham was disappointing as a character, Japheth was completely unnecessary, and Shem was present but useless. But the other four actors (Russell Crowe, Ray Winstone, Jennifer Connelly, and Emma Watson) were truly outstanding. If I examine Noah like I would a movie about Hercules or Achilles, I can admit I find Aronofsky’s questioning and his visual style thought-provoking and beautiful. But I still have difficulty separating it from my faith.

Grade: B-

Need for Speed

Need for Speed is the second genuinely awful movie I watched this week. There’s not much novel about this film. The plot is so tried and true, I recited exactly what would happen over the next forty minutes just from one conversation: a street racer goes to jail after the death of his ex-girlfriend’s brother. Upon getting out of jail, the hero racer (played by Aaron Paul) rounds up his old crew and plots his public (read: very criminal) revenge on the fiancé of said ex-girlfriend, who was responsible for the accident that killed the brother.

The best thing about this movie is probably (okay definitely) the car stunts, yet I think I’d prefer to just watch any movie from the Fast and Furious franchise before returning to this film. In those films, the plot, the acting, the stunts, it’s all playing at another level from what Need for Speed (yes, based on the video game franchise) does. Really hope they weren’t planning a sequel to this one.

Grade: D-

Two good movies and two bad ones. I wish it had been a better week since I spent so much of it in a theater seat, but hey that is part of the deal when you increase the quantity of movies you see.