Film and drama

Screen Themes — The Lego movie vs Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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This week, entertainment editor John Turnbull reviews two movies that by all rights should be awful, but somehow manage to beat the odds and be pretty damned entertaining…

The Lego Movie

Here are five movies based on toys, along with their Rotten Tomatoes rating. Masters of the Universe, based on the action figure (18%); Battleship, based on the board game (34%); GI Joe, based on the action figure (35%); Dungeons and Dragons, based on the role-playing game (10%); and Transformers, based on the action figure (57%). 

When Transformers is the best in a list of anything, that isn’t a good sign.

Despite all of this, I walked into The Lego Movie cautiously optimistic. The trailers looked good, if a little chaotic, and the cast included some quality voice actors. Most importantly, the movie includes Batman as one of the main characters, voiced by G.O.B. from Arrested Development.

In case you didn’t pick it up from the trailer, The Lego Movie tells the story of an ordinary guy named Emmet who is mistakenly picked as The Special. Voiced by rising star Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy). Emmet is a happy yet gormless drone, obeying every instruction to the letter and humming his favourite tune ‘Everything is Awesome’.

Inspired by blind seer Vitruvius (voiced by Morgan Freeman), Emmet sets out on a quest to stop Lord Business (Will Ferrell) and his robotic minions, led by the great Liam Neeson as Good Cop/Bad Cop. Accompanying Emmet on his quest are the free sprited Wyldstyle (voiced by Elizabeth Banks), and Will Arnett’s hilarious Batman, who only builds using black Lego blocks (or sometimes dark grey).

It’s somewhat remarkable that The Lego Movie has a coherent plot at all, but all the more so that in the third act it takes an unexpected turn that adds a layer of emotional resonance not seen in an animated movie since the first ten minutes of Up!.

I’m not going to spoil it, but suffice to say this is a movie that speaks to adults as much as it does to kids.

There is so much going on in The Lego Movie that you can’t really take everything in on the first viewing.

Almost everything in the movie is made up of Lego bricks, from the clouds, to the water, to the floating titles that announce which particular Lego world the characters currently inhabit. There are a multitude of sight gags, fired at such a rapid pace that it almost becomes overwhelming.

The council of elders is a particular highlight, with Lego luminaries from Abraham Lincoln, to C3PO, Milhouse and Michelangelo (both the painter and the Ninja Turtle). Gold.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

In case you’re unfamiliar with the Marvel universe, here’s a quick summary of Captain America.

Back in the 1940s, a sickly young man named Steve Rogers wanted to join the army. Because he was pure of heart, he was chosen for the Super Soldier program, pumped full of drugs and became Captain America. Then he fell into the Arctic ice and was frozen for fifty or so years, defrosted and then became leader of The Avengers. He doesn’t have super-powers as such, just the strength and endurance of an Olympic level athlete.

The first Captain America movie – The First Avenger – came out back in 2011, with a bulked up Chris Evans playing the titular Captain and go-to bad guy Hugo Weaving as the villainous Red Skull. Evans played a vulnerable yet resolute Cap, a man out of time bound by his loyalty to his country. It was a moderate success at the box office, but more importantly kicked off the Marvel series of films that would build to The Avengers, one of the highest grossing comic book movies of all time (global receipts of $1.5 billion.)

Less than three years later, we have a sequel, evidence of Marvel’s commitment to releasing at least one film per year, using marquee franchises to launch lesser-known characters. Joining Cap in this outing we have Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow (returning from The Avengers) and Anthony Mackie’s Falcon, a faintly ridiculous character in the comics given a remarkably cool film makeover. Also returning is Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, who plays a central role in the movie and even slips in a subtle reference to Pulp Fiction.

The bad guy this time around is the mysterious Winter Soldier, a near-unstoppable warrior with ties to Captain America’s past. Played by Gossip Girl alumnus Sebastian Stan, the Winter Soldier is a fair opponent for the Captain, particularly when former good guys S.H.I.E.L.D. turn rogue and try to take over the world or something. Honestly, that part wasn’t really well explained.

In terms of comic book movies, I’d put The Winter Solider in my top 10. Better than Thor or any of the Hulk movies, way better than Green Lantern or Green Hornet, but not quite as good as The Avengers or Dark Knight Returns.

As ever, there is a post credits easter egg for those who can be bothered hanging around, but to be honest it’s not really worth the wait — unless you’re a big enough comic geek to know who Baron von Strucker is.

The Verdict

Here we have two movies that should have sucked — a comic book sequel about a whitebread xenophobe with a shield, and a film based on those annoying pointy things that parents stand on in the middle of the night.

Instead, you’ve got another in the line of highly entertaining Marvel movies on the road to Avengers 2, and a frankly awesome animated movie about believing in yourself and questioning authority.  

If you’re thinking of taking kids The Lego Movie is a better option, as The Winter Soldier is pretty violent at times and spends a little too long wading in the murky waters of international politics.

Taking this into account, both movies are more than worth a watch and deserve to make a lot of money at the box office — it’s good to see that both of them are putting a biblical beatdown on Russell Crowe’s Noah

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