It's only once every few years the public is treated to a Marvel movie experience. Okay, so it's more often than that, like twice a year, or maybe three at most. What? There are four Marvel movies in 2014? Well, maybe it isn't that special. Nevertheless, those of us who grew up leafing through Punisher War Journals and Spectacular Spider-Man comics anticipate Marvel openings like Christmas Day. This Friday, Captain America is the one base jumping down your chimney in the sequel to 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the ninth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and fans won't be disappointed. Remember those hilarious Hulk punches in The Avengers that everyone loved? Well, Marvel learned from those and Captain 2 is full of them. It's a non-stop slugfest, the only difference is it's Cap doling out the beatings en masse, not the big green guy. I can't say the movie will surprise you with brilliant writing, but it's easily the one to see this weekend.
The Winter Soldier
Three years after being unfrozen, Steve Rogers (Evans) is in D.C. and working with superspy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. but he's finding normal life to be a challenge and he doesn't exactly agree with the agency's philosophy of shoot first, ask questions later. Public Director Nick Fury (Jackson) tries to reign Cap in, but he's a stallion that can't be tamed. It's a good thing because S.H.I.E.L.D. is ambushed from within and no one can trust anyone. Cap does though, enlisting the help of fellow Avenger Natasha Romanoff (Johansson) and new friend Sam Wilson (Mackie) to investigate what's going down. He soon finds old faces once buried coming back to haunt him. Although Cap 2 retreats to formula in the latter half, getting there is a lot of fun. The humor is sharp (unlike the cheesiness of last year's Thor: The Dark World) and Evans is great as the title hero, staying grounded while punching everyone across the room along the way. See it.
Jude Law stars as a recently paroled British gangster who sets out to collect the money he's been owed for 12 years. He just has to battle his worst enemy to get it: himself. Directed by Richard Shepard (The Matador) and produced by Jeremy Thomas (Sexy Beast), Dom Hemingway has some talent behind it, but is an empty film. The heart of the story is the damaged relationship between Dom and his estranged daughter (Clarke), but it seems thrown in. What the filmmakers are chiefly concerned with is getting laughs out of the raunchy performances of Law and his cohorts. It's the latest in a long line of U.K. comedies starring violent men that have tried to duplicate the success of films like Trainspotting, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and N.E.D.S. Skip it.
Nymphomaniac: Volume II
If writer/director Lars Von Trier's Nymphomaniac was Star Wars, Vol. I would be A New Hope and Vol. II would be The Empire Strikes Back. Vol. I explores Joe's (Gainsbourg) burgeoning sexual disorder, but Vol. II shows how it engulfs her life and leads to her being found bloody and beaten in the street. It's a darker journey than the first film, but no less introspective. Von Trier doesn't simply make movies at his whimsy. He's interested in the human condition and Nymphomaniac, while sensationally-titled, isn't some lackadaisical ruse designed to put sex onscreen. It's the story of one woman. Her tale just happens to be wildly explicit. See it.
Under the Skin
From director Jonathan Glazer, Under the Skin is a haunting atmospheric thriller starring Scarlett Johansson as ravenous alien who preys on young men. What's marked Glazer as a exceptional talent throughout his career is his relentless interest in the surreal. He injects his films with visuals you've never seen and painstakingly crafts every frame. His work is frequently among the best of any given year, but he doesn't make many movies. That's all the more reason to embrace Under the Skin. The trailer alone will startle you. Plus, Johansson, for all her underrated talent, may be at her best here. She goes from blank unfeeling alien to charming seductress without a hitch and sports a spot-on British accent. Also, lest we forget, her performance spawned one of the best memes of last year. See it.