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Old 04-03-2014, 11:13 PM   #1
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Default 12 Reasons Captain America Makes The Best Standalone Marvel Movies

Although the main draw of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is the Avengers, there needs to be entertaining standalone films that are more than just filler for audiences waiting for Joss Whedon assemble the gang. Thankfully they’ve been delivering, with a string of hits that more than justify themselves next to the New York-threatening team-up.

The latest of these, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, is here and continues the good work of Iron Man Three and Thor: The Dark World, marking out the MCU as an increasingly unique approach to the superhero genre. Bringing man-out-of-time Steve Rogers back to the leading man status, it’s one of Marvel’s most mature films and certainly their most tensely plotted.

The film is so good, in fact, it’s probably the best Marvel standalone movie we’ve got so far. With a cast of characters who all get their moment without distracting from its titular hero, it’s a high mark that the rest of the year’s blockbusters should aim for.

2011’s The First Avenger was likewise a strong, if more romp-y, film that really embraced the character’s legacy (he’s been a stalwart of Marvel longer than Spider-Man and the X-Men). All of which leads us to this conclusion; Captain America makes the best standalone Marvel movies. Don’t believe us? Here’s twelve reasons why.

12. They Have Distinct Styles

Even though it’s been a fully fledged drama for nigh on fifteen years now, superhero flicks still follow a very rigid type; their plotting is just a redressing of the typical good guy-bad guy blockbuster plot. You can get crime-epics like The Dark Knight or allegorical twists like X2, but they’re really exceptions to the rule.

This effect is only compounded when a film is part of a strict brand. Yet within the confines of what makes up a Marvel movie, Captain America’s outings manage stand out; the two we’ve had so far have both felt incredibly distinct, reminiscent of completely different genres of cinema.

The First Avenger was a kinda-war movie, although it also flirted close to the adventure stylings of Indiana Jones, while The Winter Soldier probably cast Robert Redford purely on the back of him starring in Three Days Of The Condor, a quintessential seventies thriller, just to push that conspiracy feel.

Maybe it’s because Steve Rogers isn’t as dominating a personality, meaning he fits better into multiple types, but not only are his movies the most distinct in tone, they’re the only Marvel films to seriously attempt it; the closest is Kenneth Brannagh’s stab at Shakespearing things up with Thor, but that wasn’t very prevalent.

11. His Movies Lead The Universe Into The Avengers

With the thrill of all the heroes on screen together still pretty fresh and coming at the end of the studio’s story Phases, the Avengers movies are the focal points of the series, marking the biggest shift in the universe. Which puts a lot of pressure (and potential) on the films that precede them.

While Guardians Of The Galaxy is technically the film preceding Avengers: Age Of Ultron, it looks set to be a little more separated from the Earth-bound events, meaning narratively The Winter Soldier is the final piece of set-up. Not only does this allow Cap to cover any distance the films earlier in the Phase slacked on, it means the events of the film carry a greater weight; The First Avenger gave us a couple of hours with the tesseract and The Winter Soldier leveled the playing field ready for Ultron.

It’s scheduling convenience that has allowed this trend to emerge, but it’s very believable part of Cap’s appeal comes from where he sits in the release plan. We’ll just have to see how coming in the middle of Phase III affects Captain America 3 come 2016.

10. An Element Of Vulnerability

Man Of Steel’s fighting grew old for many after the novelty of finding out what happens when an unstoppable force meets an easily destructible object wore off. For action to thrill rather than just being a controlled demolition there needs to be an element of vulnerability; a chance the hero may not make it through. Which in the confines of a type of film where the heroes survival is confirmed is tricky.

To do it right requires some clear strengths and weaknesses of the hero; a tangible threat and the presence of hope. Now which Marvel hero does that?

Not Iron Man. His suits are Mjölnir-proof unless the plot needs them damaged, while the percentage of power left is always a delightfully inaccurate reading. Thor faces the same problems as Superman, needing a non-physical threat to weaken him (which makes the action often superfluous). And it’s such a problem with Hulk that he’s been stuck in the ensemble movies (for now).

Oh, so it’s Captain America, what a surprise. He’s the only Marvel hero where the dangers of falling from great height or being riddled with bullets are a constant threat and not just plot-convenient.

9. The Love Interests Don’t Overstay Their Welcome

The heroes love interest is a trope that, like super-power villains, isn’t actually necessary in crafting a good story (along with super-powered villains). Not resigned to one genre, but blockbusters in general, whenever a film with a twist on the cliché comes along (we thank you, Christopher Nolan) it’s refreshing.

But we’ll settle with merely downplaying it. In The First Avenger Peggy was given actual character, which helped, but what made her palatable was that Steve (and the film) wasn’t as bothered with her as he was with best bro Bucky. That’s nothing compared to what The Winter Soldier pulls though. In the comics the sister of Peggy, the implication is that Agent 13, tasked with keeping an eye on an time-adjusting Cap, is a granddaughter/niece to the original’s romance. But instead of bigging that up the film keeps her story permanently on the back-burner (probably because a sequel was highly likely), sowing seeds of romance instead of going for love at first sight.

Compare this with Tony Stark’s inconsistent relationship with Pepper Potts or the unbelievably contrived Jane Foster (played by contractual force by a reluctant Natalie Portman) and it’s a nice change of pace.

8. CGI-Lite Action

It’s a given in modern blockbusters that your finale will be a CGI extravaganza. There needs to be that money shot that sticks in people’s memories/caps off a spoilerific trailer. But in addition to the race-against-the-clock finale (when isn’t it?) there’s going to be a series of smaller-scale action that builds excitement and also push the plot along. It’s simple formula.

Because it takes less to be a threat to Cap and the wider cast of characters his stories employ, the general action doesn’t need to be as overblown. So while the finale of his films are massive (The Winter Soldier in particular), the earlier action can be a little more reigned in and, gasp, light on CGI.

Which all serves to make things feel that little bit more real; we say it a lot, but audience’s eyes are pretty good at picking up when they’re being lied to. So when a real person is punching another real person, it’s going to get your adrenaline pumping a little faster and that bit involved in the events on screen.

Not being nigh on invunerable (i.e. a God or requiring a suit of armour to fight) is unique to Cap in the MCU, so that gives him a distinct advantage.

7. Chris Evans Plays Against Type

When bringing a superhero from page to screen, the casting can make or break a film. Balancing pleasing fans and creating an accessible story for everyone else in is task many (Daredevil, Catwoman spring to mind) have totally mucked up before. It’s therefore an easy solution to go for an actor whose back catalogue is already in sync with the hero at hand.

Jack Nicholson, who has made a career out of being a bit of a psycho, was perfect fit for Tim Burton’s Joker and delivered an impressive performance. Heath Ledger, Frankie Vali cover-er and gay cowboy, caused fan uproar when he was cast as the Clown Prince of Crime, but ended up actually bettering dependable Jack. Sometimes not being an obvious choice benefits a character because they have to, well, act.

So while Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark (his biggest role post-rehab) and Chris Hemsworth as Thor (whose James Hunt in F1 adrenaline-pumper Rush is essentially an Asgardian substitute, albeit with added swearing) are obvious choices, the ones who get the most from their role are ones who aren’t in familiar territory. In the years leading up to The First Avenger Chris Evans had fallen into a lot of supporting roles that had him be either (intentional) unlikable or a bit of a fop; he had to work to become Cap.

6. The Writers Have To Work To Make Cap’ Bearable

Easy subjects can lead to less effort being required and subsequently lazy writing. And to make Captain America into a blockbuster with the capabilities of denting the worldwide box office is no easy task. His very name will put off whole countries (and did, with The First Avenger being the original’s full title in some territories), while even those with some appreciation of American culture could easily find his induced flag waving a little sickening.

Even though the comic character has moved on from his WWII propaganda days, it’s still a spectre on his reputation, meaning the stories need to work to make sure they appeal as stories, rather than just being a backdrop to the character.

Prompting the question of just what’s in a name, his standalone films have worked hard to keep that one-sided viewpoint from happening. The first film presented the initial character as a piece of propaganda, having the Cap of the forties comics and the in-world Steve Rogers made clearly distinct. The Winter Soldier likewise keeps thing global, not going any more into Americana than any other blockbuster (impressive given the Washington D.C. setting).

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Old 04-03-2014, 11:13 PM   #2
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Default Re: 12 Reasons Captain America Makes The Best Standalone Marvel Movies

5. The Laughs Are Restrained

Since conception the Marvel Cinematic Universe has had a humour to it not shared by other super-franchises. Robert Downey Jr.’s casting as Tony Stark was essential to the success of Iron Man, presenting a wit often absent from his darker DC cousins. But it didn’t become a mainstay of the series until Joss Whedon got hold of The Avengers and made good on the juicy dialogue potential they promised.

You can’t blame Marvel for not looking back from this direction – its duds have been the much more dour affairs – but sometimes it can lessen the effect of serious moments or betray the tension of the life threatening events unfolding. Iron Man Three was an action comedy in the vein of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and that worked great, but it shouldn’t be the general rule.

Constant laughs, if mishandled, can make even serious topics a joke. Which is why Captain America’s films – which are lighter on the laughs – feel grander when they actually aren’t that much bigger in scope. It’s not something intrinsic to Cap’s character to be humourless, but he doesn’t lend himself as much to the very film-friendly comedy of a pompous hero.

4. S.H.I.E.L.D. (And Everything That Comes With It)

Although in the preceding fifty years (and beyond) of Marvel Comics all of the Avengers have worked closely with S.H.I.E.L.D. at one time or another, the character (pre-Civil War) who has been most linked with the Division is Cap. A minor presence in The First Avenger, we’re more concerned with their impact in The Winter Soldier.

Introduced to the MCU in Iron Man (where for some reason they haven’t, at any point in their fifty year history, decided to use an acronym), they (and H.Y.D.R.A.) are some of the series’ most unique elements (at least when compared to the current offerings of other franchises), so naturally the film that uses them most will end up being the most unique. Which is what The Winter Soldier does with gusto, having its conspiracy plot double as a logical excuse for why the other Avengers can’t simply turn up to save the day.

Then there’s Nick Fury. Again, in more than just Captain America, we’re closer to Samuel L. Jackson’s director when we’re closer to S.H.I.E.L.D. And anything that brings us closer to Sam Jackson has to be pretty awesome.

3. There’s Genuine Emotion

Although you don’t really go to a MCU movie for moving character moments, if it can deliver in that area then all the more power to Kevin Feige. At the moment there’s only been two moments in the franchise where a situation has genuinely pulled on our heart-strings. And both come courtesy of Steve Rogers.

The First Avenger ended with Rogers waking up in a time he has no comprehension of. Initially in an ill thought-out facsimile of the ‘40s, he’s then thrust into a bright and bustling Times Square. And among this his thoughts immediately go to his crush Peggy; “I just… I had a date.” Likewise, The Winter Soldier pays off two films worth of development in beautifully-scored fashion with the near-silent realisation of Bucky that Cap may be speaking the truth, saving the guy he’s meant to kill from death by falling helicarrier.

In both cases the respective directors take a gamble on the audience’s emotional investment and it pays off. Few other Marvel films try and when they do it’s often very throwaway (Thor’s mother, for example).

2. They Expand Other Characters Too

Universe building is the only way to do a superhero franchise nowadays. Which would be fine, if the studios pushing it knew what they we doing.

Instead we have Sony spending more time on Spider-Man’s marketable villains than the hero’s journey and DC trying to run before they can walk. As the trend-setters, Marvel have done a lot better, keeping fans excited with threads running in the background of their movies, but they’re still not fully mastering the game. Outside of post-credit stings there’s generally not that much effort put into pushing anything other than the story at hand forward; the easter eggs are cool, but those sort of winks appear in all comic book movies.

Except when we’re watching Steve Rogers. Partly as a culmination of S.H.I.E.L.D. links and the films’ release positioning, his two outings have added weight to other characters. Tony Stark’s family has had a massive expansion in both films, with The Winter Soldier insinuating his parents were killed by H.Y.D.R.A., while Black Widow, Nick Fury and co. all came out of the second film having actually changed.

Of course, it’s a big leap to start developing heroes outside of their starring movies, but Captain America is leading the charge.

1. He’s A Relatable Hero

Boil down the formula and there’s essentially two ways to make a good superhero; be relatable to the audience or look cool. Batman remains popular because he fits both, while Superman, who only half-fills the two requirements, relies on reinvention to work.

The notion of being relatable is, at least as Stan Lee would have it, thanks to the success of Spider-Man. Certainly a cool hero (even though it will undoubtedly be disappointing, doesn’t The Amazing Spider-Man 2 look awesome?), the comics were as concerned with Peter Parker’s teenage years as they were with his web-slinging.

Out of the MCU Avengers, Captain America is most certainly the most relatable. In a small part thanks to the lack of patriotism making him less aloof, the big influence is that his origin resonates with so many; to become a strong, tall hero who manages to still maintain his integrity is what many people wish to see as they grow up. By contrast, Tony Stark has no audience-relatable tragedy like Batman, making Iron Man more of a character study.

Superheroes are wish fulfilment, but in the MCU Cap’s the only one who actually started out as an everyday man, making him that little bit more special.

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