Is Scarlett Johansson a hero or villain? This week, she’s both: The actress does double duty, saving the world in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and consuming it in Under the Skin.
Which performance reigns supreme? Plus, is Jude Law‘s crime caper Dom Hemingway going to steal your heart?
Here’s what to see and what to skip in theaters this weekend.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
With pirates on the seas, weapons in the skies and a raging liberty vs. security debate, The Winter Soldier should feel unsettlingly familiar. Gone are the aliens and the Tesseract, as this latest outing in the Avengers universe takes a domestic route, focusing on the inner workings of S.H.I.E.L.D., the federal government and even Capt. Steve Rogers’s (Chris Evans) personal life. In other words, it looks a lot like home.
It still doesn’t feel particularly homey for Rogers, though, who’s trying to catch up on life after a 70-year deep freeze. The Captain may not admit to being a lonely dude, but he sure looks it. That’s probably why he makes friends with fellow vet Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) as they take morning runs around the National Mall in D.C. (at slightly different paces). He could use a date too, as Agent Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) points out while they’re on a covert operation to rescue passengers on a S.H.I.E.L.D. vessel captured by pirates.
But before Rogers can even get around to asking out that neighbor, someone tries to take out S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in a brazen midday attack on the streets of the nation s capital. Before you can say “scapegoat,” Steve and Natasha are on the run, S.H.I.E.L.D. is in disarray and a spooky assassin known as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) is on the hunt.
The action set pieces are, as usual, visually thrilling. Disney doesn t disappoint with the money they put on the screen, from the opening take down of the pirates to the mega-battle in the end. And the story, about what we re willing to allow our government to know and to do to “keep us safe” couldn’t be more timely. But the strength of this franchise always has rested on the shoulders of its endlessly appealing characters and the actors who so vividly portray them.
Frankly, Evans doesn’t get enough love as Captain America, the funny, conflicted hero who still wants to believe in the patriotic ideals of his youth, but who now knows they were never that simple. He s engaging and charming, riffing with Johansson as the Captain struggles not to be the morally compromised Boris to her Natasha. Robert Redford adds nice dimension as Alexander Pierce, a militaristic S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who liaises with foreign governments, while Mackie’s Wilson swoops in to help save the day in a clever, surprising way. (You old-school fans know all about it, but let’s not spoil it for the newbies.) Oh, and by now everyone should know to stick around after the credits. There are not one but two bonus scenes.
Under the Skin
Scarlett Johansson is a busy woman these days, as she slithers into the skin of Laura, an alien in director Jonathan Glazer’s moody, sci-fi thriller. Laura looks for all the world like a hot brunette on the prowl for a date in Scotland. In truth, she’s just hungry. With a flirty come-on she lures men (some of whom are not actors) into her nondescript white van, takes them back to her lair, and consumes them … somehow. With scant dialogue, long stretches where little happens, and what feels like a strict moral code never to explain anything, Under the Skin can be hard to follow. But it’s still powerful.
Start with Johansson’s performance. It is by turns frighteningly blank as Laura looks for prey, coquettish when she finds it and feral in her pursuit of it. But the film is every bit as brutal as she is, with one scene on a beach turning absolutely devastating. Eventually, Laura becomes curious about her diet, setting out to learn more about us, with shocking results. Even if the beginning of the film takes a while to grab you, the ending won’t let you go.
The brilliant opening monologue, in which Dom Hemingway (Jude Law) declaims the glories of his manhood while receiving sexual favors behind bars, is a clue that this is not your standard crime comedy. In fact, as Dom hits up his old crime boss (Demién Bichir) to get paid for keeping his yap shut behind bars, the movie only gets more insane. And then, unfortunately, it freezes in its tracks. That’s because Dom Hemingway suddenly morphs into a family drama, in which the mutton-chopped thug tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter (Emilia Clarke from Game of Thrones). The mushy stuff is a downer, but fear not – the film eventually rejoins Dom and his shady cohorts for a bit more fun, and gives Law one of the most daring, audacious roles of his career.