It's a frightening disease, one that can strike suddenly, without a whisper of warning. Even worse, there is no known cure. I know because I'm a victim. Hello, my name is Ken, and I'm suffering from Marvel fatigue.
In fact, this ailment, defined by clinicians as a bone weariness at having the relentless Marvel Cinematic Universe (their phrase, not mine) pound its formulaic product at you for film after film after film for what seems like forever, struck me when it was least appropriate: during a screening of
Briskly directed by the brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, starring the capable
When you add in a script by Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely that includes amusing self-referential lines ("If you want to say something snappy," one character says, "this would be the time") and actually references contemporary national security issues, this is one film that should be engrossing. Except it's not.
For what is frustrating about this "Captain America" is that it's saddled with the defects of its virtues. It's a product of the highest quality, but at the end of the day that's what it is: a machine-made, assembly-line product whose strengths tend to feel like items checked off a master list rather than being the result of any kind of individual creative touch. "Captain America" is everything a big budget superhero film should be — except inspired.
Though that may seem like too tall an order for comic book movies, it's not. The "Dark Knight" films of
Though Kevin Feige, Marvel's head honcho, makes a big deal of his willingness to be eclectic in his choice of directors (the Russo brothers are best known for the TV comedy series
That cinematic blueprint is religiously enforced in everything, from the required cameo by comic creator
Always included are trailers enmeshed with the end credits to gin up interest in the next Marvel venture. Each successive film has begun to feel more and more like a tease for the next one as much as a stand-alone item, making the Marvel Cinematic Universe the most expensive Saturday matinee serial ever made. Except unlike the serials, which had finite ends, the Marvel films are threatening to go on forever.
What does distinguish "Winter Soldier," as noted, is its political overlay. Captain America, being the square shooter that he is, has trouble finding his footing in a contemporary world characterized by moral relativism. And when Nick Fury shows him the details of Project Insight, a fleet of helicopter battleships that "can neutralize threats before they happen," Cap is not amused.
"You hold a gun on everyone on Earth and call it protection," he says. "This isn't freedom, this is fear." Further discussions about the morality of preemptive strikes as well as humanity's potential willingness to sacrifice freedom for security are definitely not business as usual for films like this.
Unfortunately, much of the rest of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier's" story of threats and countermeasures is by the book. Lots of name actors do their best, including the returning
What the rulers of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have done is discover and exploit a foolproof formula, one that mints money even in these uncertain times, and on one level, when you think about superhero fiascoes like
Yet it is also true that these films are getting increasingly dispiriting in their by-the-numbers sameness. Feige has said his team has new features planned out until the year 2021. Never mind the evil folks at HYDRA and their inevitably doomed plans to best the warriors of S.H.I.E.L.D.: It is Marvel that really wants to control the world, and the way things are going, they have a good shot at it.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, gunplay and action throughout
Running time: 2 hours, 16 minutes
Playing: In general release