REVIEW: Captain America in a 1970s spy movie

Captain America: The Winter Soldier's poster

Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s poster

Minor spoilers

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is Marvel Studio’s take on a 1970s-style spy movie: dark and more than a little paranoid.

For the most part, it works. Put another way: It’s probably not a coincidence that Robert Redford, star of Three Days of The Condor, plays a prominent role in the film.

In this case, Redford has traded in his role of the semi-naïve lead (held down here by Chris Evans’s Cap) for the Max Von Sydow part.

For the uninitiated, 1970s spy movies had a much darker take the bulk of their 1960s counterparts, which tended to be escapist, led by the James Bond series produced by Eon Productions.

The ’70s were a time of real-life scandals involving the CIA and FBI and a U.S. president (Richard Nixon) forced to resign from office. Lest anybody miss this connection, the new Captain America film includes a long shot of SHIELD’s Washington headquarters where the Watergate apartments can be seen in the background.

To get a flavor of 1970s spy/political thrillers, consider this: Another of the era’s movies of note was 1974’s The Parallax View. It featured Warren Beatty as a reporter who investigates a conspiracy to assassinate political candidates. As a reviewer wrote at the time, Parallax is like having Cary Grant fall off Mount Rushmore at the end of 1959’s North By Northwest.

In translating ’70s style spy movies for the 21st century, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo offers a bit of something for everyone. For those who’ve watched the Marvel-produced films that began with 2008’s Iron Man, a lot of what you thought you knew has been turned on its head. But for newcomers, you don’t need to know all the background.

Suffice to say that Cap, the living legend of World War II (as he was billed during a 1960s comic book revival), has a lot of trouble figuring out who his friends and enemies are. Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury keeps things from him as does Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. Meanwhile, Redford’s Alexander Pierce hovers, much like Van Sydow did in 1975’s Condor movie.

Fans of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series particularly may appreciate the 2014 movie’s main plot. Without giving too much away (except for hard core U.N.C.L.E. fans), it’s as if the villain’s plot in the first episode of the dark fourth season had succeeded, except it occurred a long time ago.

Put yet another way: this Cap movie realizes the potential of the notion the Bond movies had with the villainous organization Quantum in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

The Russos clearly like shaky cam, but viewers can keep track of what’s going on. At 136 minutes, the movie is a trifle long, but generally satisfying, except for those who hate comic book-based movies under any circumstances.

Be warned: there are *two* epilogue scenes that take place during the end titles. The first is a teaser for 2015’s The Avengers 2. The other is a teaser for Cap 3, which currently is scheduled for May 2016, opposite Warner Bros.’s Superman-Batman movie.

If Cap 3 is as good as Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Warner Bros. executives may want to reconsider that Superman-Batman release date. GRADE: B-Plus.

Movie producer Dino De Laurentiis, maker of the schlock and the serious, dies at 91

Movie producer Dino De Laurentiis, who boasted a body of work that emcompassed the schlocky and the serious, has died at 91. Here’s an excerpt of of the obituary on The New York Times’s Web site by Dave Kehr:

Mr. De Laurentiis’s career dated to prewar Italy, and he worked in a wide range of styles and genres. His long filmography has several important titles of the early Italian New Wave, including the international success “Bitter Rice” (1949), whose star, Silvana Mangano, became Mr. De Laurentiis’s first wife; two important films by Federico Fellini (“La Strada,” 1954, and “Nights of Cabiria,” 1957); and the film that many critics regard as David Lynch’s best work (“Blue Velvet,” 1986). But Mr. De Laurentiis never turned his nose up at unabashed popular entertainments like Sergio Corbucci’s “Goliath and the Vampires” (1961), Roger Vadim’s “Barbarella” (1968) and Richard Fleischer’s “Mandingo” (1975) — several of which hold up better today than some of Mr. De Laurentiis’s more respectable productions.

We note his passing here because given such a prolific career, he of course would have spy movies at some point. One of them, 1966’s Kiss The Girls and Make Them Die, is of interest to Bond fans. Not only was it one of the many movies produced to cash in on 1960s spy popularity, it seems to have a lot elements in common with the 1979 007 film Moonraker. There’s even been speculation it was “inspiration” for Moonraker. At the very least, the film seemed to make better use of its Brazilian locations than the later Bond movie. Here’s the start of the film, which starred Mike Connors a year before he began Mannix:

Nine years later, De Laurentiis “presented” (but didn’t have an actual producer credit) Three Days of the Condor, a much more serious, darker film starring Robert Redford that reflected the jaded post-Watergate 1970s.