Friday, March 28, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Movie Review

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is part political thriller, part Marvel movie, like Clear and Present Danger but with superheroes, and it surprisingly works. It's a fun exercise, pitting Steve Rogers' undying optimism and unparalleled virtue against the laughably lax morals of modern times. With SHIELD taking a lot more proactive approach to global security, Steve Rogers now wonders more than ever whether his morals fit in this new world order. Will Captain America compromise his ideals in the name of national security? How much cloak and dagger can a man whose word is bond take?

Those looking for superhero thrills aren't left out. Captain America is still the super soldier you met in the The First Avenger and Marvel's The Avengers, and he gets to do a lot of superheroic stuff here, much more than his previous outings. From kicking a dozen bad guys' asses all at once, to jumping out of buildings to take down planes and hellicarriers with nothing but a shield and elbow grease, you won't forget that you're watching a comic book movie. They even found a way to throw in Batroc ze freakin' Lepair in there. Batroc, people!

Even with all that said, it's probably the grittiest Marvel movie to date. Death is dealt a lot, and often, in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and the action scenes are more visceral and in-your-face. Steve Rogers, The Star-Spangled Man with a Plan, is often left a mangled, bloody mess, and the final showdown between him and the Winter Soldier is a flurry of broken bones and gunshot wounds. Pretty shocking for Marvel to bloody up their prettiest poster boy, but its an arresting visual nonetheless, making it clear that in a world of thunder gods and ironclad billionaires, Captain America has to work harder than all of them.

Speaking of working hard, Chris Evans should win an award for his performance in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. He's grown comfortably into his role as Steve Rogers/Captain America, and the result is a more fleshed-out character that you and I can finally relate to. The rest of the cast were amazing and had their own moments to shine. Scarlett Johanssen's Black Widow is more complex and even likeable, Samuel L. Jackson was his usual BAMF self, and even Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/The Falcon was a pleasant surprise. Mackie in particular was both funny and badass, getting away with a lot of witty one-liners and, despite being the only non-superhuman in Cap's team (he was basically just a well-trained Marine), played off his super-powered co-stars really well. Not to mention he had one of the most exciting action sequences in the movie! I can't wait to see where they go with his character next.

There are a lot of things to love about this movie, but there were some missed opportunities for me. One was Sebastian Stan as the Winter Soldier. For a movie bearing his name, the Winter Soldier figures very little in the overall scheme of things except for being something personal for Cap to overcome. Even then, I would have wanted the movie to explore Steve's relationship with his best friend-turned-assassin more. Which is a shame, because Stan seemed to relish his role, and the Winter Soldier has got to be the coolest comic book costume ever translated to film. The other was Robert Redford, who did his best to give some much-need gravitas to a role as pivotal as Alexander Pierce. but oftentimes he looked lost and confused in the midst of all the superheroics.

But in the end, it had all the right ingredients to create a different kind of superhero movie flavor. Captain America: The Winter Soldier stands as one of the best of Marvel's movies, second only to Marvel's The Avengers. High praise, I know, but I can't think of a way to describe this movie other than a highly entertaining action movie that, quite literally, changes everything you know about Marvel movies from here on out. Highly recommended!

My Week in Comics: All-New Ghost Rider #1

Ghost Rider is probably the most badass in the realm of comic book imagery. A dude with a flaming skull for a head and a chain for whipping bad guys with while riding a motorcycle from Hell would make any comic book fanboy blush. But this is Marvel NOW!, and the age of Ketch and Blaze has come and gone...and who the Spirit of Vengeance has chosen to replace them may surprise you!

All-New Ghost Rider #1 is exactly what it says. Gone are Danny Ketch or Johnny Blaze and their motorcycles. In their place is a new character named Robbie Reyes, a mechanic with a need for speed and who drives a, *gasp!*, muscle car! Joining illegal street racing so he and his little brother can move out of the slums of LA and to a better life, Robbie bites off more than he can chew...and cue the Spirit of Vengeance and a lot of pain!

Granted, any drastic change to an established character can make any comic book fan nervous, but writer Felipe Smith thankfully knows how to shake things up the right way. The character of Robbie Reyes certainly feels heroic, with a sense of justice and right that doesn't fade despite living in one of the meanest parts of Los Angeles. He lives for something, particularly his handicapped little brother, and the way Robbie dotes on him and tries his best to protect him really tugs at the heart strings. Which makes Robbie's transformation into the Ghost Rider something of a "f--k yeah" moment, when he finally has the power to protect the people he loves. I love characters like these, Smith knows how to write Robbie's plight in a way that doesn't sound corny at all.

And man, dat art.  Artist Tradd Moore's style is glorious. It's slick and turbo-charged, with an energy that pops off the page whether characters are just talking or setting fire to the streets with breakneck speed in souped-up cars.  Speaking of which, Moore shines in the issue's climax, where Robbie participates in a high-octane, albeit illegal, street race. Moore hits you with lots of creatively-designed panels that let you feel the rush of speed with every gear change and the thrill of every tight corner. I love creative visuals like these, and if I was judging this book on art alone, this would have gotten the perfect grade and then some.

If there's anything that could knock points off of this ish, it's the fact that this reads less of a debut of the all-new Ghost Rider and more of a debut of Robbie Reyes, the character. One can't help but feel Felipe Smith is "writing for the trade", so to speak, and issue #1 reads more like the first 10 minutes of a Ghost Rider movie. It's a badass 10 minutes, for sure, but you expect more Ghost Rider for your buck at the price point they're selling this. But what we do have is some much-needed character building, and I'm more than okay with that.

All-New Ghost Rider #1 may not have come out of the gate blazing, but it wasn't here to just rock our faces wanted to make us care. To care about the Nth guy possessed by the Spirit of Vengeance, to care about what he does with the powers of hellfire given at his disposal. And for a first issue, that's more than enough. This gets a 4 out of 5.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Figma Amazing Spider-Man Figure Review

What do you look for in a Spider-Man figure? Spectacular sculpt? Amazing articulation? Superior accessories? You're in luck, because Max Factory's Figma line has got your back.  Check out my review of Max Factory's first foray into the Marvel Universe in the form of Figma Spider-Man!

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