Another healthy dose of enormous and entertaining action make this a fun film to watch in spite of its mostly lazy writing (see Wanda and Pietro’s weak antagonist motivations–and Ultron’s, for that matter–and correspondingly cheap turn; the half-baked Hawkeye development; the far-fetched and only vaguely explained bad guy antics), with the aid of one well-timed bit of self-awareness: “The city’s flying, we’re fighting an army of robots, and I have a bow and arrow. None of this makes sense.”
As Steve Rogers struggles to embrace his role in the modern world, he teams up with a fellow Avenger and S.H.I.E.L.D agent, Black Widow, to battle a new threat from history: an assassin known as the Winter Soldier. (IMDb)
Certainly more ambitious than the original, though not perfect: The titular character is given hints of nuance (“What makes you happy?” “I don’t know”), as is the mysterious Fury (finally) but both remain underdeveloped; The Winter Soldier is a formidable opponent and the SHIELD internal drama adds some complexity to the antagonism, but both the villain reveal and the Hydra twist feel far-fetched and a little dumb. Above criticism though, is the fantastic action choreography found throughout.
When Dr. Jane Foster gets cursed with a powerful entity known as the Aether, Thor is heralded of the cosmic event known as the Convergence and the genocidal Dark Elves. (IMDb)
Another predictable plot with a still insufferably lame Jane in the still mostly cheesy CGI fantasy land of Asgard (the funeral scene being a beautiful exception) is iced with enough good stuff to elevate it above its predecessor. There’s better self-aware humour (see the hammer hang on the coat rack; Thor on the subway), a pretty cool–if far-fetched–final action sequence, and engaging relational development between Thor and Loki (regrettably reversed during a stupid final-seconds twist).
Here we see our hero at his most anxious and out of control (see his panic attacks, bedside suit scare) but also his most focused and angry (see his workshop insomnia, challenge to the Mandarin); at his most technologically dazzling and powerful (see his army of suits in a great final action scene), but also back to his most humble creative roots (“I’m The Mechanic”). This strong climactic characterization, coupled with a brilliant turn (x2) by Kingsley makes for the best film in the MCU so far.
After a scattered first act, the film picks up as the Avengers gather; clashing egos (along with the welcome addition of Ruffalo’s mellow Banner) and growing feelings of distrust keep the dream-team motif grounded (though the Thor-Iron Man fight with Loki watching was dumb) while a jaw-dropping final action sequence (deftly managing to give each hero their shining moments) brings it to its apex of feel-good entertainment. A tantalizing epilogue and perfect after-credits scene end things well.
Steve Rogers, a rejected military soldier transforms into Captain America after taking a dose of a “Super-Soldier serum”. But being Captain America comes at a price as he attempts to take down a war monger and a terrorist organization. (IMDb)
The small (literally) beginnings of our hero (even post-serum, with his initial stint as a propaganda star) are uniquely compelling, and along with its gritty WWII setting, help create a welcome down-to-earth vibe for the first act. What follows is more of a mixed bag, with the villain throwing in some cheesy sci-fi, and the fantastic action sequences starting to ring a little hollow after he is never allowed any victory. A completely unexplained deus ex machina doesn’t end things well.
The powerful but arrogant god Thor is cast out of Asgard to live amongst humans in Midgard (Earth), where he soon becomes one of their finest defenders. (IMDb)
It’s a little hard to get past the two wildly contrasting worlds, especially when the futuristic-space-viking one is saturated with CGI and cheesy costumes (though Elba’s gatekeeper intrigues). Story-wise, a decent arrogant-hero-humbled premise headed by the charming hunk Hemsworth (the supporting characters are largely forgettable) is weighed down by a cliche jealous brother/father’s approval sub-plot in space and a dull romance on earth (Portman’s strong scientist Jane feels cheapened here).
The good outweighs the bad in this sequel: The “new” Rhodey is meh, but the rough and reserved Vanko and the annoying Hammer are each uniquely entertaining villains. A messy script fumbles its multiple plot threads (the requisite Avengers teasers don’t help), but Stark’s increasing ego and decreasing health, along with his government clashes and sinister copycats remain intriguing, if neglected. Finally, the robot-loaded climax feels weak, but the racetrack action mid-way through is great.