Director: Joe and Anthony Russo
Cast: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johannson, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan
Have I Seen it Before: I saw it when it was released…
Did I Like It: …and I liked it so much that it almost, almost made Disney’s Marvel’s ABC’s Joss Whedon’s Agents of Shield(s) in its lurching first season.
Marvel’s Phase Two is experimental at its core. It doesn’t experiment with form, necessarily. Every Marvel movie is exploring already well-trod territory. They are more accurately experimenting with a sustainable model for continuing making these movies. Iron Man Three (2013) would be the one exception to this idea, as it was potentially (and now clearly) the last in a series, and they could therefore afford to make a Shane Black movie masquerading as the annual May superhero tentpole.
Thor: The Dark World (2013) and this particular film try to adopt a television model, bringing in reliable small screen directors to see if their journeymen skills can be brought to bear on a cinematically larger scale. In the case of Thor, frequent cable director Alan Taylor, and the results—while thankfully not embarrassing—do add up to a certain blandness. Here, the idea really starts to sing, as they have brought in the Russo Brothers to liven things up. At first blush, its a potentially counterintuitive idea, as they cut their teeth on multi-camera sitcoms like Arrested Development, and Happy Endings. To make the link between that work and big action movies is too much of a leap.
Except, the Russo Brothers also cut their teeth on Community. They were making big-budget spectacle at twenty-two minute stints for several years. That show was great training for this canvas, and it shows. Especially when you realize that they are the only directors from Phase II to come back and direct any more Marvel movies, Joss Whedon included.
And so, this second outing for The First Avenger operates like the bleak mix of The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), that both Cap’s story and the Marvel series (this film coming fairly close to the middle of what will eventually come to be called the Infinity Saga) as a whole needs, bringing the whole thing into stark, yet, dark relief, and still acting as a pretty passable political thriller in the process.
As the film largely works, I feel I would be remiss in my role as a critic here without bringing up a few nitpicks:
~Why is the Captain America exhibit housed in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum? Like, the one time Cap notably took the helm of an aircraft, it didn’t exactly turn out so great for him. Why not the American History museum? I mean, that seems like a really easy fix.
~Shrimpy Steve Rogers—presented here in flashbacks—still doesn’t work beyond the scope of a better-than-average photoshop effort.
~I get that it serves some manner of an emotional through-line for Cap to go get his WWII uniform before the third act gets cooking, but am I honestly supposed to believe that in the middle of trying to hide from every government agency on the planet, he takes a break to enter a government facility to steal a museum piece from an exhibit that will pointedly, almost ridiculously be one of the first places the bad guys will look?