Noah and Winter Soldier duke it out in the box office

Noah: Two at a time, please

Photos courtesy of sciencefiction.com and theresurgence.com

noah

Adapting Biblical stories is a tricky undertaking. Stray too far from the text and you’re liable to offend devout Christians (à la Last Temptation of Christ), but stay too true to it and you’re likely to turn off a secular audience. Noah attempts to split the difference of these two marketing needs and the result is mixed, but never less than fascinating.

For those rusty on their Bible studies, the film opens with the reminder that after Adam and Eve were banished from paradise the world fell into darkness. This was exacerbated by their son Cain killing his brother Abel, leaving their remaining son Seth and his lineage as the final vestige of goodness and potential redemption for man. Noah (Russell Crowe) and his family are the last of that lineage trying to survive in a world God (always referred to quaintly as “The Creator”) has all but abandoned.

The world of Noah is ugly and brutal. It captures what a world fallen from the grace of God might be like: an ash-covered ruin somewhere between a post-apocalyptic world and the most impoverished elements of Game of Thrones’ Westeros. It is easy to see why God would want to “cleanse things” and begin anew. God sends Noah a vision (through trippy, surreal dreams) forewarning him of an all-consuming flood and tasks him with building an ark to rebuild life once the flood passes.

The film cleaves nicely into two segments of before and after the flood. Pre-flood is an epic action-adventure where Noah, his family and a number of fallen angels called Watchers (rock creatures that are a mix of Ents and Ray Harryhausen miniatures) must build the ark while fighting off the leader of the other humans, Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), and his followers. Post-flood, the film turns into something starkly different. This segment is pitched somewhere between a claustrophobic chamber drama and a bleak, white-knuckle horror film, reminiscent of The Shining.

The gender politics of Noah are biblically reductive. Women’s roles in this world are to give birth to children and be good wives and mothers. On the one hand, it feels dubious to modern eyes, and yet it feels true to a world and a time where survival and self-preservation were paramount. I’m not trying to forgive the film’s faults, but the film’s mixed nature comes, in part, from embracing its time and setting. This is a miserable, unforgiving place.

Darren Aronofsky’s direction and Matthew Libatique’s cinematography create a number of remarkable sequences, most notably a scene that shows God creating the universe. In gorgeous, hypnotic tableaus, the film crafts scenes of Terrence Malick-like transcendence.

Within the basic narrative of the Bible story, Aronofsky finds ways to make a story that has the basic contours of what we know but also digs deeper and takes numerous liberties. Among these, Aronofsky seems to have little interest in making his protagonist likable or sympathetic. Noah does a number of unforgivable, atrocious things throughout the film, and it is gut-wrenching to see the film take the unstated moral quandaries of the Bible story and turn them into the agonizing focus of the film.

Noah is a bruising, bloated action epic that often seems to have little concern with how either of its intended audiences will receive it. But though Noah is flawed and, at times, problematic, it’s far too idiosyncratic and strange to be denied viewing.

Captain America: Soaring above the rest

By Jay Bickford ‘17 | Staff Writer

captain america

Winter Soldier might be the best superhero movie since The Avengers. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts.

Normally, these individual Marvel hero films exist in their own little world. Iron Man 3 affected nobody’s character but Iron Man. Thor: Dark World had little to do with anybody outside Thor’s family. Captain America: Winter Soldier affects the entire Marvel movie universe, so if you are a fan of the franchise, this is a must-see film. Props to the executives for stuffing in world-shattering developments in a non-Avengers movie. It will be interesting to see how these developments affect the upcoming team-up.

Beyond the larger implications of the film’s plot, the movie itself is one of the most interesting in the Marvel canon. Dealing with a Captain America searching for what America really means in a very different country than the one he fought for in World War II, it confronts new-age amorality with good, old-fashioned, “Greatest Generation” boy-scouting. The plot gets a little ridiculous telling a grand conspiracy story, but for the most part, it stays pretty tight, if while albeit, cluttered in a narrative sense.

The action in the film is some of the best that Marvel has ever done. Though if you go in with a rational mind, asking how so much destruction could go unnoticed somehow, you will not find an answer. When the action scenes come around, they are what we are used to: super-destructive and over-the-top. Tons of fun, but not the same level of thought put into the plot. For “dumb” action scenes, they are really well done, and the effects team behind the movie needs a raise.

The writing is par for the course, with the wit and banter that’s been present in every film since Iron Man making up the majority of dialog. The characters interact in a natural way, and nothing feels forced until close to the end, when a major twist necessitates major character shifts for it to work.

What is great is that this film is not just about the eponymous Captain, but just as much about Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, who gets a lot of fleshing-out and becomes a much more complete character than she has been in the past. The same cannot be said for the titular Winter Soldier, who gets some interesting development, but is mostly an afterthought for most of the film.

Overall, the film is a terrific effort, and a very important film for Marvel fans to see. It’s largest flaw is how rooted it is in the franchise – it is not a very good entry point if you know nothing about the universe – but if you’ve seen Avengers and plan on seeing Avengers 2, you absolutely need to see The Winter Soldier.

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