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Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

(2014)
14 days ago via Rotten Tomatoes

The superhero genre begins its run this year with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the third film in Phase 2 of The Avengers. Iron Man and Thor have had their go, so now it's the American hero's turn. The Hulk, however, won't be getting a sequel anytime soon, at least not until after Avengers: Age of Ultron. Instead, the last pre-Avengers 2 film is going to Guardians of the Galaxy.

However, this sequel does things a little differently than the previous three sequels in the franchise. While the Iron Man and Thor sequels were their own films that revolved around their individual characters, The Winter Soldier has the most connections to the ginormous blockbuster with the involvement of S.H.I.E.L.D. Black Widow, Nick Fury and even the politicians from The Avengers make an appearance.

The plot takes place two years after the events of The Avengers. While Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is trying to catch up with everything in today's world since he got defrosted, he goes on missions for S.H.I.E.L.D. However, while his most recent mission was a success, he is shocked when he discovers the organization's true motives over the mission. But things take a turn for the worse when an assassination attempt is made on Nick Fury's (Samuel L. Jackson) life and there appears to be corruption within S.H.I.E.L.D. Seeing that he was no longer safe, Rogers goes on the run with help from Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) as they try to discover the man behind this plot.

The Winter Soldier is a good old fashioned superhero movie. It was fast paced, plenty of fun and it doesn't get too serious. It manages to flow naturally and manages to not go a little overblown at some points. The action sequences are also plenty of fun. A lot of the action in the film is more grounded and don't use lots of CGI except for during battles that involve being shot at by ships.

There is plenty of character development for our hero. We get some idea of how Steve Rogers tries to become accustomed to how much the world had changed in the past seventy years. At points, it's treated with a sense of humor (like keeping a written list of things to do), but there are also times when it shows how he tries to deal with how much has changed and the things he missed out on. A scene where Rogers meets with an elderly Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell, under prosthetics) and hearing a counseling session are examples of this.

The Winter Soldier also attempts to deal with the theme of political corruption. Not everyone inside S.H.I.E.L.D. is trustworthy. While the questions it presents does make for an interesting watch, it doesn't handle it on a large and unpredictable scale like Game of Thrones did. On the famous TV show, almost no one was fully trustworthy, and it was difficult to tell who those people were until it was too late ("The Rains of Castamere," anyone?). But here, we are shown too soon who was behind everything instead of surprising us.

Another weakness is how it handles the second title character, The Winter Soldier. While he wasn't a terrible villain (he was actually kind of badass), he was rather underdeveloped. The identity of his character would have presented the opportunity to have a villain who was more personal towards the hero. This was handled well in films like Batman Begins (Batman & Ra's al Ghul), Spider-Man (Spider-Man & Green Goblin) and Iron Man (Iron Man & Obadiah Stane), but here, little is done with that.

Like with the previous two post-Avengers films, there are two credits scenes, one a couple minutes in and one after sitting through the whole scroll. The first one will introduce us to characters who will come into play in next summer's Avengers: Age of Ultron. The second one is usually only played for laughs, but this one deals with the possible development of a villain.

The performances in this film are quite good. Chris Evans gives his best as a man who tries to deal with a new lifestyle and how much the government has changed while keeping his sense of honor and nobility. Scarlett Johansson shares some really good chemistry with him without it having to go the romantic route (you don't have to worry, Hawkeye). Anthony Mackie pulls in a good performance as Sam and the friendship between him and Rogers was believable. Samuel L. Jackson, who was mostly stuck with being a cameo appearance in the past, gets a role about as large as in The Avengers. Robert Redford and Hayley Atwell bring in solid performances as well.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the best out of Phase 2 thus far, though I don't consider that a large statement. It's certainly more enjoyable than Thor: The Dark World, but it's only marginally better than Iron Man 3. There are still plenty of superhero films on the way this year with The Amazing Spider-Man 2, X-Men: Days of Future Past and Guardians of the Galaxy. But with that being said, The Winter Soldier is an enjoyable blockbuster that has come before the summer season has even started.

Muppets Most Wanted

Muppets Most Wanted

(2014)
28 days ago via Rotten Tomatoes

The Muppets has been a part of the childhoods of many people around the world. But while I enjoy the Muppets, I may be among some of those who wasn't too big on them when I was a child. I've seen a couple of their movies, but that's mostly it. I was more into the Disney classics. But recently, I've been wanting to check out more of the famous puppets seeing as I quite liked 2011's The Muppets.

After more than a decade where The Muppets had mostly faded from the world, they came out of retirement back in late 2011. The Muppets was a really good family fun movie that played on the nostalgia that it brought back the childhood of most Muppet fans. Along with having some good fun and jokes, the story was heartwarming as we see where the Muppets were in the present day, their getting back together and becoming a family again.

Since The Muppets was a critical and commercial success, more movies were going to be made. Even though they might turn out cash grabs, I would much rather have films based on popular icons from before the 21st century than anything that we usually see on kid's channels these days. The newest addition, Muppets Most Wanted, lacks the heart that its predecessor had, but it makes up for it by being really good fun.

The plot starts right where its predecessor left off. After having got back together, the Muppets try to decide what kind of movie to do next. On suggestion, they decide to do a heist caper film. The group goes on a tour around the world under Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) despite Kermit's reluctance. But things turn for the worse when Kermit gets mistaken for Constantine, a dangerous criminal mastermind, and is put behind bars. Meanwhile, Constantine takes his place so the others wouldn't question the frog's absence. While they are convinced that Constantine is Kermit, the Muppets' newest member, Walter, is suspicious of his intentions.

As a movie meant to be enjoyed by family audiences, Muppets Most Wanted delivers. The songs are really catchy. The opening number, "We're Doing a Sequel," was a great way to start the film. As soon as they started singing this song, I knew that I was going to be in for a good time. "I'm Number One" brings out how Constantine likes to consider himself superior to his partner. "The Big House" was song pretty well by Tina Fey and the other prisoners. "I'll Get You What You Want" was funny as Constantine tries to act affectionate towards Mrs. Piggy. "Something So Right" shows the conflict that Mrs. Piggy faces over a life-changing decision as she looks to Celine Dion. The other songs, though, don't really impress that much.

There were some inconsistencies, however. Constantine sounds nothing like Kermit, which would have given the Muppets a dead give away that the frog wasn't Kermit. While it's possible to buy the "he has a cold" excuse for a while, his strange behavior should have raised suspicion. The only ones who really even suspect him are Walter and Animal. Another thing is that there were times where Constantine and his partner could have been caught in there crimes but they aren't when there is possible evidence that could lead back to them (ever hear of fingerprints?).

The characters are as fun as they've always been to watch. Kermit the Frog, Mrs. Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, Animal and the others get plenty of time to shine. However, Walter has much less presence here than in his previous role. In The Muppets, his character played a large role in bringing the Muppets back together. But being reduced to a supporting character and the absence of Jason Segel and Amy Adams made him less of a character.

As with other Muppet films, there is plenty of human cameos to go around. While they aren't given anything substantial to do, like with the voice cast for The LEGO Movie, the cast seems to be having a lot of fun being in a Muppets movie. While Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey and Ty Burrell are given extended roles, there's plenty of other famous names. Cameos include Celine Dion, Lady Gaga, Zach Galifianakis, Tom Hiddleston and Chloe Moretz Grace.

If you want a good time at the movies that the whole family can enjoy, Muppets Most Wanted fits the bill. It's not quite as impressive as its predecessor, but it's just as fun. The Muppets have been a marvel to children around the world. This is a movie that will have you smiling as you watch the crazy stuff that the puppets get into.

Divergent

Divergent

(2014)
29 days ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Divergent is another one of the new books that studios are trying to adapt into a blockbuster franchise. There will be two more attempts to start with The Giver and The Maze Runner coming in the post-summer season and then onto The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I.

After four attempts at making a book franchise in which only one barely managed to get a sequel (The Mortal Instruments), you'd think that this would be another box office bomb. However, unlike the previous takes at adapting books to the big screen besides The Hunger Games and The Hobbit, Divergent actually has a good shot at being the start of a new trilogy (or four movies if they go the route Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games took). A sequel was already planned before Divergent even hit theaters. Which would mean that either they haven't learned anything after three box office failures, or they are confidant that Divergent will be a success. But it looks like the odds are in its favor.

The story takes place in the distant future set in Chicago. With a post-apocalyptic setting, the city is divided into three "factions:" Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (peaceful), Candor (honesty), Dauntless (bravery), and Erudite (intelligence). Each year, teenagers aged sixteen take a test that will decide which faction they are best suited for, though they can decide themselves which one they may go into.

The main character is Beatrice "Tris" Prior (Shailene Woodley). She is the daughter Andrew and Natalie Prior (Tony Goldwyn and Ashley Judd), who are both important figures in Abnegation. Like others her age, she takes the test. But unlike the others, she actually turns out to be a "Divergent," someone who shows aptitude in more than one faction. Since Divergents are put to death upon discovery, she keeps this secret. At the ceremony, she chooses to join the Dauntless. While she does make a few friends there like Four (Theo James) and Christina (Zoe Kravitz), she is also has enemies out of Peter (Miles Teller) and Eric (Jai Courtney), while Erudite leader Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet) takes an interest in her abilities.

Divergent is similar to The Hunger Games, but it has its differences and the plot and characters aren't quite as compelling. There is less action in Divergent than its parent, but it does have some impressive sequences like a flight through Chicago and the test sequences that take place within Tris's mind. The effects work is also good, with the apocalyptic look of Chicago being well realized.

The political overtones are downplayed when compared to how they were handled in The Hunger Games. The districts had different kinds of social statuses. The Capitol also had a very strong control over the districts as they force teenagers into an environment where it is survival of the fittest. But here, that seems to be a bit muddled. We are also never told how Chicago, over even the rest of the world, came to be where it is now. While we get looks at the factions of Abnegation and Dauntless, the other three have yet to be explored.

But it does make up for it some by doing the "survival of the fittest" idea in a different way. Whenever a person joins a faction, they have to prove themselves in order to officially be a member of the faction. If you pass all the necessary tests, you become a part of the group. Otherwise, you either become factionless (the equivalent of homelessness) or die trying. This is something that can be explored upon more in the upcoming two sequels.

The cast mostly consists of actors who haven't reached mainstream status. The only high profile actresses here are Kate Winslet and Ashley Judd, but they're presence is limited to supporting roles. While Tris will never reach the status of Katniss Everdeen, Shailene Woodley gives a really good performance as the lead character. Even though she left the role of Mary Jane Watson, this could be the role that will give her a larger audience. Theo James brings in some good support as Four and shares good chemistry with Woodley. The rest of the cast does what they can, but they don't stand out as much, with plenty of them being underdeveloped, although not quite on the level that Ender's Game handled its supporting characters.

If you can get past its similarities to The Hunger Games and if you were unsatisfied with previous book adaptations, Divergent might serve you better. It manages to be engaging at times and it thrives on the strength of Shailene Woodley's performance and premise. While I can't believe that a movie as terrible as The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is getting a sequel, I welcome Divergent's next installment, Insurgent.

Christopher's Badges

Intel Hollywood Star Program (July 2012 - December 2012)
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