Army Intelligence?

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WARNING: SPOILERS 

It’s been three years since Captain America: The First Avenger and we’ve had a number of other huge Marvel movies since (Avengers (Assemble), Thor: The Dark World, The Wolverine and Iron Man 3). So audiences have been trained to expect bigger and more bombastic Marvel studio efforts. The first Captain America film was enjoyable, albeit a little cheesy in places and felt like an extended trailer for the Avengers (Assemble). Fast-forward three years and the film-makers can jump right in. Captain America: The Winter Soldier pits Steve Rogers, Nick Fury and the Scarlet Widow against a threat that seems to have come straight out of the Cold War: Russian assassin the Winter Soldier, who may or may not be Cap’s old friend Bucky Barnes. In a nod to Seventies classics like Three Days Of The Condor and All The President’s Men, the film introduces Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce, the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. The Winter Soldier also brings in Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson aka The Falcon. They do manage to introduce a feeling of paranoia straight out of the Cold War, upsetting the status quo and questioning who the audience can really trust. Scarlett Johansson returns as Natasha Romanoff/ Black Widow and her role here is much more satisfying than her previous appearance and Samuel Jackson’s Fury has far more to do here than in any other Marvel film to date. There are some nice touches, with Redford adding a little bit of gravitas and Johansson is less wooden and more likeable here. But it does outstay its welcome with a running time of two and a quarter hours, the 3D is totally pointless, The Falcon just doesn’t work here and the plot isn’t as ingenious or well-conceived as the films it nods to. The obligatory sting at the end feels short and a little bit pointless. However, for fans of Marvel movies, Captain America: The Winter Soldier delivers an entertaining cinematic ride, channelling the comics with no little aplomb and panache. Even former Captain America scribe Ed Brubaker gets a small, blink-and- you’ll-miss-it cameo, which adds a little fun to the mix.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier is guaranteed to have a steel grip on the box office when it opens both in the UK (out now) and US (4th April) and while it’s not perfect by any means, it is a film with its heart in the right place…

Remembering Bill Baker

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Over the years, we have lost people who have written for the magazine. Sadly it’s a bit of an occupational hazard. But we have never lost anyone who has also been a close friend. Bill Baker wrote a number of articles for TRIPWIRE, including interviews with Jim Lee and J Michael Straczynski. He hadn’t contributed to the magazine since before the Annual launched in 2007. He died back at the end of February this year and I admit that I have been putting off writing something about his passing because subconsciously perhaps if I wrote something, it would be admitting that he is no longer around.  So apologies if this entry is a little longer and a little more maudlin than what you are used to seeing here. I first met Bill at San Diego Comic Con way back in 1999. It was while we were both loitering at a publisher’s table, I can’t remember which one. It was the first US show I had been to but we just got chatting and we instantly clicked. There are a number of other people who cover comics with intelligence and putting them into the correct cultural context but Bill had a very sharp mind. He was able to bring something new to his coverage of whatever he wrote about. We would see each other at San Diego and then when we both stopped attending that show, we would catch up at other shows like New York Comic Con. We would speak once a week and I would use him as a sounding board sometimes and he would also fill me in on what was happening with him. What is so sad about his untimely passing is that he was about to sort himself out and relocate from his rather bleak location in Michigan to somewhere where he would be closer to the action. His loss is a great one for journalism and for coverage of comics as sadly the internet has meant that we are now drowning in a torrent of ill-conceived and bland corporate coverage, written by people with a poor command of English grammar, who are not interested in putting things into a cultural context. Comic sites, by and large, and there are exceptions like Tom Spurgeon’s Comics Reporter and Milt Griepp’s ICV2, are run by fanboys unable to really grasp the bigger issues at play here. Bill Baker was a real journalist, interested in highlighting those creators and creations who weren’t getting the coverage they deserved on other sites and in other places. He was ambitious, erudite and he had a very good heart. He will be missed, both on a personal and a professional level. Goodbye, my fellow journalist…
Here’s a photo that our mutual friend, Paul Michael Kane, took of Bill…

Just doesn’t Add Up

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Every time Terry Gilliam releases a new film, there is an initial burst of interest. He is a very inconsistent director and out of the 19 films he has helmed, only a few can be called classics. The Zero Theorem, his first film since 2009’s Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus, which was overshadowed by the death of its star Heath Ledger, is another sci-fi film. Qohen Leth (played by a shaven-headed Christoph Waltz) is a computer programmer looking for the meaning of life, living in a dystopian city. His bosses meanwhile are bent on distracting his quest by sending the gorgeous Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry) and annoying teenager Bob (played by Lucas Hedges) to divert his attention. Matt Damon has a small part as his boss, Management. The Zero Theorem does throw up a few interesting questions for the audience and Waltz is excellent as the befuddled Leth but like most of Gilliam’s films, it is frustrating with themes mentioned but not sufficiently explored. It bows under the weight of its own ambition and while there are some admirable moments, it is ultimately a very unsatisfying film. He is working on The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, a project he has already tried to make before and it would be nice to think that he could rein in his more indulgent foibles to make something that is cohesive and dramatically satisfying. If you like Terry Gilliam, then you should see The Zero Theorem but it’s not going to win over any new fans for him…

All Greek To Me?

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In 2006, adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300 was a surprise hit, making $200m at the US box office. So after a long gap, we have 300: Rise of An Empire, a follow-up which is also set at the same time as the first film. Greek general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) leads the battle against the invading forces of  the Persian navy, led by their god-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his crazed general, Artemisia (Eva Green). Despite the fact that the Greeks are outnumbered, thanks to some canny tactics they manage to acquit themselves impressively in their first sea battle. 300 Rise of An Empire, like the first film, is visually impressive with Israeli director Noam Murro making a striking feature debut thanks to some arresting CGI, some exciting action sequences and good-looking costumes and ships. However, like its predecessor, the plot is pretty thin and characters are fairly nonexistent. So if you enjoyed the first one, then you’ll get something out of this film but if it wasn’t for you, then as this is basically more of the same, then it won’t appeal. 300: Rise of An Empire is a visceral film that you enjoy while the ride lasts but it doesn’t make any lasting impact once you’ve left the cinema…