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Film Review – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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Captain America (Chris Evans), Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson and new recruit Falcon (Anthony Mackie) face a new foe in the form of the Winter Soldier as terrorist organisation Hydra rears its ugly head in the most unlikely of places.

Another week, another Marvel superhero flick. The genre is walking a very well worn path by this point and many are starting to feel a little bit numb to its formula. Captain America: The Winter Soldier could well have been the straw that broke this series’ back, but fortunately there’s enough new and interesting in there to ensure Marvel’s stock remains as high as ever.

Captain America: The First Avenger, Cap’s origin story, took place in World War II, but naturally (considering what happened at the end of that film and in Avengers Assemble) we’re now in a modern day setting. And we have modern day themes as well. The Winter Soldier examines themes of privacy, intrusion, drones, and other similar ideas that feel incredibly relevant when you take a glance at the news of today.

The problem with having a modern day setting is that it removes one of the key elements that made the first film work: the period World War II setting. That’s not to say this film doesn’t work, but it feels a little less unique.

However, despite its current themes and setting, the film actually feels more akin to a 1970s spy or espionage thriller, or even a Connery/Moore era James Bond film at times. Stick the Cap in a tuxedo and you’ve got yourself a Bond film. Apart from the guy who has massive metal wings and can fly everywhere, obviously.

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That would be Sam Wilson, or Falcon (played by Anthony Mackie), who’s one of the new characters introduced in The Winter Soldier. Falcon is a decent addition and along with the inclusion of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow as a main character completes an interesting and dynamic central trio.

Then there’s the Winter Soldier himself as the film’s central villain (or is he?). One aspect of the past few Marvel films where they’ve dropped the ball is with their villains, in that they just aren’t that villainous. Both Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World featured very weak villains, but they’ve upped the game somewhat here. The Winter Soldier is both menacing and also has an air of mystery surrounding him which adds up to a much more threatening villain than we’ve seen previously.

Much of The Winter Soldier is actually much slower paced and plot heavy than you’d expect from a Marvel film and this plays very much in its favour, although younger viewers may not appreciate this as much. However, true to form everything goes ballistic in the final third and we get the obligatory 20 minute action scene with everything being blown to smithereens. Obviously, with superhero films, this formula is the natural one to follow, but it would have been nice to stray from this for a change.

Whilst The Winter Soldier could, and perhaps should, have been the point where we tire of Marvel superhero films, it’s actually one of the stronger entries in the whole franchise that should see him have more equal footing alongside his super-peers when it comes to next year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Pros

  • The Winter Soldier is an excellent villain
  • Interesting and more involved plot
  • Dynamic central trio of heroes

Cons

  • Final third a little too formulaic
  • Loses some of its identity with shift in time period from the first film

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Django Unchained

Django UnchainedWhilst Lincoln examines the subject of slavery from a historical point of view, Django Unchained comes at it with a much more bombastic, satirical approach. But would you expect anything less from Quentin Tarantino, the man who has a penchant for the elaborate and whose last film, the superb Inglorious Basterds, rewrote World War II with Adolf Hitler being machine-gunned down in a movie theatre?

Django Unchained has a linear, single-story narrative, which is somewhat of a departure for Tarantino, and tells the tale of freed slave Django (Jamie Foxx) who teams up with bounty hunter Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) to free his wife from the clutches of vile plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

It’s difficult to pigeon hole any of Tarantino’s movies and this one is no exception. At face value it seems like a western, but even Tarantino himself doesn’t refer to it as that, instead calling it a “southern”. Despite that, there’s plenty more at play here, as is Tarantino’s inclination to beg, borrow and steal from just about every corner of the movie world; at the heart of the film is part buddy movie, part love story.

The staple Tarantino elements are all there: over the top violence, contemporary soundtrack, and oodles of witty dialogue. However, none of that dialogue would mean anything without some stellar performances to pull it off, and there are plenty of those here.

Christoph Waltz is, once again, imperious, his knack for making the grittiest of dialogue sound like beautiful poetry is a real joy to behold. Samuel L Jackson also shows that given the right material he can own a part unlike any other as the equally hilarious and abhorrent slave Steven. It’s Leo Dicaprio, however, who really stands out. Calvin Candie marks the first time DiCaprio has played the bad guy and he does it with true menace and complete and utter conviction. Jamie Foxx on the other hand as the titular Django doesn’t quite have the same screen presence as his co-stars. Too often he’s overshadowed and doesn’t have the conviction and bite the role requires.

One thing that the film does suffer from is a running time that’s about 30 minutes too long. There simply isn’t enough story there to warrant such length and there are a number of scenes which wouldn’t have been missed if they’d been left on the cutting room floor. There is a much neater, more succinct film in there somewhere but Tarantino seems to allow a little too much self-indulgence at times.

The theme of slavery getting the Tarantino treatment may not sit right with some and this is indeed thin ice the director is walking at times (casual use of the ‘N-word’ is rife throughout), but he never falls through it. Above all things, Django Unchained is a hell of a lot of fun and shows a further willingness to explore serious subject matter but in the only way he knows how.

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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