After taking a brief break for “The Martian,” it’s time to continue on with the Marvel blog-a-thon. 🙂 This week we have two of my favorite Marvel films: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.” “The Winter Soldier” turned out to be a true game-changer for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and “Guardians of the Galaxy” was an underdog blockbuster starring relatively unknown comic book characters that are now favorites for many fans. These were both in the top three in my original ranking of the Marvel films and are both *this close* to beating out my No. 1 favorite, “Iron Man.”
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is not just a good Marvel movie or even just a good superhero movie. It’s a good movie, period. I love how the film makers have blended the action, superhero and political thriller genres and also completely changed the way we view S.H.I.E.L.D. The film raises several thought-provoking questions about how much freedom we should sacrifice for the sake of security and how to keep secret intelligence agencies accountable when we ask them to operate in the shadows.
Chris Evans is excellent, once again, as Steve Rogers/Captain America, who is still struggling to adjust to life in a new time. As he sees more of the world, he grows less idealistic, and less trusting of the agency he works for. Marvel made the wise decision to pair him up with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) for this movie. The two have amazing chemistry, and the film has fun playing with their flirty dynamic. I actually wish Marvel had kept exploring this, but more on that when I get to “Age of Ultron”…
I thought the film’s “big twist” was brilliant. The fact Hydra has infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. and has been slowly undermining the organization for years felt genuinely shocking. This gave a definite boost to the spin-off TV show “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” I also liked the villains in this film, who are some of Marvel’s better antagonists. Robert Redford plays a powerful S.H.I.E.L.D. official who’s secretly working to advance Hydra’s agenda. The scary thing about this character is that he’s absolutely believable. We live in an era where we trust our politicians less and less, and their motives aren’t always clear. I’m also glad they brought back the Cap’s friend Bucky Barnes, who’s now a brainwashed assassin called the Winter Soldier. Bucky’s story is heartbreaking; he’s been abused and experimented on, and he no longer recognizes his best friend.
Another interesting thing about this film is that even though we know who the heroes are, sometimes they make morally questionable decisions. I don’t know why I didn’t catch this during the first few times I watched this movie, but I finally noticed it was actually Nick Fury who hired the pirates that hijacked the S.H.I.E.L.D. vessel at the beginning of the film. Fury arranged for the hostages to be rescued, but were their lives still in danger? Was this a morally justifiable action because it resulted in the recovery of important information? Where do we draw the moral line in espionage anyway?
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” seems to get better every time I watch it, even though I already know the major plot twists. I’m really excited for “Captain America: Civil War,” which also appears to delve into some complicated philosophical questions.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
“Guardians of the Galaxy” was a big risk for Marvel, and there was some concern that this movie — which stars a talking, trigger-happy raccoon and a friendly walking tree — would be too quirky for general audiences. However, I think the film ended up succeeding because by this point, people trust the Marvel brand. The studio has built up quite a bit of goodwill within its fanbase, and viewers were willing to take a chance on this one. Marvel also did a good job marketing the movie without spoiling too many surprises; since many people weren’t familiar with the characters from the original comics, the trailer introduced us to them via a prison line-up and let us know this would be a fun, off-beat and action-packed film.
For me, the best part of “Guardians of the Galaxy” is the characters, a group of lovable loners who begin the film as reluctant partners and end it as friends. Chris Pratt leads the team as Peter Quill (who calls himself “Star-Lord”), a con man who was kidnapped from Earth as a child. Previously best known for his role on “Parks and Recreation,” Pratt has great comic timing and proved he can carry a blockbuster film (and also appears to be a nice guy in real life). Zoe Saldana is an assassin named Gamora who has turned on her adopted father, Thanos, and Dave Bautista is Drax the Destroyer, a man who has lost his family and is seeking revenge on the man who killed them. The surprise fan favorites of the movie are the talking raccoon and the walking tree, Rocket and Groot, voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, respectively. Cooper does a great job bringing Rocket to life, making the other characters (and the viewers) respect him. And even though Groot can say only three words — “I am Groot” — Vin Diesel actually gives the character quite a bit of expression, changing the tone of his voice to communicate different moods.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” is, at its heart, a good old-fashioned space opera. It’s a bit like “Indiana Jones” meets the original “Star Wars” series, with a dash of Marvel flair thrown in. The final space battle was great fun, and the film makers do a good job creating a believable, fully-realized world. And no review of “Guardians” would be complete without mentioning the soundtrack. I’m not sure who came up with the idea to fill the soundtrack with songs from the ‘60s and ‘70s (Peter Quill has a mix-tape filled with these songs that his mother gave him), but it was brilliant and it works perfectly. The film also has a great score by Tyler Bates, and it’s one of my favorite Marvel themes.
If I had to pick out the film’s weakness, I would have to say that its main villain, Ronan, doesn’t really stand out. However, I actually don’t mind this too much because the five main characters have such big personalities that having a stronger, more distinctive villain might have distracted from those characters. The first “Guardians” movie is all about introducing us to these great characters; hopefully the sequel will have them facing a stronger, more complex villain.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” is a fun movie with plenty of lighthearted quips, but what I love about it is that it also has quite a bit of emotional weight. All the other characters in the movie see the Guardians as misfits and rejects that don’t really fit in anywhere. However, by the end of the movie they’ve become heroes, because they’re willing to stand up and risk their lives to save the galaxy. I like the film’s message that it’s okay to be quirky and that even if you don’t seem to fit in with “everyone else,” you still have an important place in society.
Well, the Marvel blog-a-thon is drawing to a close, and next up will be the final two Marvel films: “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Ant-Man.” I only got to watch “Age of Ultron” once in theaters and I still haven’t completely decided what I think about it, so I’m looking forward to seeing it again.