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Posts Tagged ‘Captain America’

Hail Hydra

April 10th, 2014 No comments

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. certainly looked like a sure thing. The first televised spin-off of the massive popular Marvel Comics film mega-franchise, centered around fan-favorite supporting character Agent Coulson, co-created by God Emperor of Geeks Joss Whedon and produced by Whedon’s close associates, at the very least it should have been a much beloved mayfly à la Firefly, and perhaps even whatever passes for a hit these days in the 500-channel TV universe.

Instead, it was arguably the biggest disappointment of the fall 2013 TV season, a dull procedural set in the periphery of the so-called “Marvel Cinematic Universe,” but refusing to engage with it in any meaningful way. Even the episode that was intended as a direct follow-up to the theatrical feature Thor: The Dark World amounted to nothing more than Coulson’s team picking up scraps of Asgardian technology. It reminded me of the old Marvel Comics series Damage Control, about the working stiffs who show up after the big superhero fight and clean up the mess. Coulson and his crew of prettily bland agents weren’t even the S.H.I.E.L.D. B-team. At best, they were the C minus-team.

Perversely, the show barely even drew upon S.H.I.E.L.D.’s decades of comics storylines, introducing a brand-new opposing faction named “Centipede” rather than the long-established terrorist organizations A.I.M. and Hydra. And many of the B-list, street level superheroes that would have been realizable on a commercial TV budget (Daredevil, Iron Fist, Power Man) were reserved for a Netflix production deal. The best that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. could manage was a D-lister named Deathlok, and it took them most of the season to introduce him.

At last came the release of the Captain America movie sequel The Winter Soldier, which involved S.H.I.E.L.D. in a big way. And it became clear why Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had been treading water. This week’s episode was set within the events of The Winter Soldier, and was a huge step up in terms of excitement and relevancy. I’m not certain it will be soon enough to help, however.

(Massive spoilers ahead for both The Winter Soldier and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Do not cross below the threshold unless you have Level 6 clearance.)

shield

So, it turned out that the franchise had been playing a long game, with S.H.I.E.L.D. fatally compromised by Hydra infiltrators from its inception. I don’t have a deep knowledge of Marvel Comics history, but it did strike me as reminiscent of the mini-series Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D., which posited that S.H.I.E.L.D., A.I.M. and Hydra were all components of an über-organization.

In The Winter Soldier, it served as an excuse for a ’70s-style conspiracy thriller and a rebuke of our modern surveillance society, with Hydra secretly manipulating world events for decades to bring humanity to the point at which they would welcome fascist domination. (It also served up something I would never, ever have expected: Robert Redford hailing Hydra.)

At the moment, it’s unclear how it will affect Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. My guess is that Coulson and company will form the backbone of a restructured, lower-profile espionage company, rooting out Hydra sleeper agents in preparation for the next big movie chapter, Avengers: Age of Ultron. At least they may finally have a purpose. Too bad that they lost most of their initial audience by the time viewers were given a reason to care.

 

 

When Captain America Throws His Mighty Shield

July 25th, 2011 No comments

I’ve always been a DC Comics kinda guy. Growing up, I preferred the square-jawed do-goodery of Superman and Green Lantern to Marvel Comics’ angsty superheroes. To this day, the sum total of Captain America, Thor and Iron Man issues I’ve read could be counted on the fingers of a single Infinity Gauntlet.

And that is what I find so frustrating about the current state of the superhero genre on film. It used to be that DC–which squats under the same corporate umbrella as Warner Bros.–enjoyed blockbuster adaptations of its books while Marvel suffered the indignities of grade-Z filmmakers.* Now DC founders, with flagship characters such as Wonder Woman and the Flash stuck in development hell, and the long-in-the-works Green Lantern feature film seen as a flop. Meanwhile, Marvel is engaged in an audacious, multi-year plan which will culminate in 2012’s The Avengers.

Some have criticized the Marvel movies for sacrificing too much of their own identities in service of the so-called “Avengers Initiative,” but I personally cannot help but be impressed with the way that the Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Captain America flicks have formed a single meta-franchise. I’m very much looking forward to next year’s all-star team-up.

In general, Marvel has been having a heck of a year at the cineplex. Thor was an entertaining summer opener which saw director Kenneth Branagh (Kenneth frickin’ Branagh!) reproduce comics artist Jack Kirby’s designs with extreme fidelity. Excellent central performances and a cool ’60s vibe made First Class arguably the second-best installment of the X-Men series. And Captain America may have been the most entertaining of them all.

Granted that Captain America was in the dead-center of my wheelhouse, what with its ’40s pulp feel and its awe-shucks heroics. I love this brand of period adventure.

Setting events during World War II was the best possible move. Not only was it faithful to the character’s idiom, it made the his intrinsic, over-the-top patriotism less risible for a modern audience. Even within the context of the story, the Captain America concept and costume was initially treated as ridiculous. It’s only Cap’s own earnestness and bravery that made it laudable.

Though I’m not much of a Marvel buff, I know enough about that particular universe to have gotten a kick out of appearances by such characters as villainous scientist Armin Zola and derby-wearing soldier “Dum Dum” Dugan.** It was a hoot to see the fictional terrorist organization Hydra in action, complete with its trademark salute, “Cut off a limb and two more shall take its place! Hail Hydra!”

Captain America wasn’t Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it was one of the most enjoyable two-fisted, Nazi-fighting escapades I’ve seen. And when Cap joins up with Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, Nick Fury, Black Widow and Hawkeye next summer, this staunch DC Comics fan will be there for opening weekend.

*The nadir was the 1994 version of The Fantastic Four. It cost a mere $1.5 million and was made for the sole purpose of retaining movie rights to the property.

**Though I mostly associate Dugan with his Godzilla-fighting days.