Weekend Watchlist | Better the Second Time

By The Pitt News Staff

Our streaming recommendations this week focus on sequels and later seasons better than the first in the series. Sometimes, good things are worth waiting for! 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Disney +) // Diana Velasquez, Senior Staff Writer

As the president and founder of the Captain America fan club, I will concede that Chris Evans’ first outing as the iconic super soldier in 2011’s “Captain America: The First Avenger,” while a solid superhero movie, is not one of the MCU’s best outings. It’s a good movie, a historical beat combined with a shirtless Chris Evans and some campy band music — very much in line with some ol’ American propaganda. So not everyone’s favorite. I understand your misgivings. So I present to you its sequel, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” and the best Marvel movie of all time.

“The Winter Soldier” revolves around Cap’s transition to the modern world where he has hitched his horse to S.H.I.E.L.D., the CIA-esque government agency founded by his lost love Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). But the government surveillance of the modern world, very much rooted in post-9/11 tendencies, is at odds with Steve’s earnest and straight-forward way of waging his wars. And when an old enemy from his war days resurfaces from the underbelly of S.H.I.E.L.D. Steve Rogers, along with Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and a newly featured Sam Wilson as the Falcon (Anthony Mackie) have to reckon with what heinous crimes S.H.I.E.L.D. has committed against the world in the past few decades, including against one of Steve’s oldest and closest friends.

I’ve seen this movie so many times I could and have recited the script from memory. There are so many poignant themes written into its script, extended but not limited to the treatment of war veterans, government surveillance, the morality of double-agents and its impact on the psyche and the forgiveness of loved ones. I cry every time I watch it, because it makes some really good points on morality. Steve Rogers is an old-fashioned man — of course he is — but he, like all of us, has had to change and transform himself to survive in unfamiliar situations. But in doing so you don’t have to compromise your most important righteous values. In fact, they are what you need most.

The Dark Knight Trilogy (Amazon Prime) // Lucas DiBlasi, Senior Staff Writer

Widely viewed as one of the best trilogies of all time, Christopher Nolan’s reboot of the Batman movies is quite good from start to finish, but gets dramatically better over time. In fact, I didn’t even know there was a first movie until recently, mostly due to the overwhelming success of the second two, “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises.” The first movie, “Batman Begins,” is a necessary origin story and isn’t that bad, but it pales in comparison to the glory of the latter two. “Batman Begins” was positively received by critics and set the stage for Nolan’s gritty, darkly thematic sequels, but I honestly wouldn’t recommend that people go back and watch it unless they’re die-hard Batman fans.

Don’t get me wrong, “Batman Begins” was an enjoyable movie, but it can’t possibly compare to the glory of Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker or Tom Hardy’s performance as one of the creepiest-sounding villains of all time, Bane. Additionally, only the latter movies filmed parts in Pittsburgh, and the correlation between filming in Pittsburgh and high-quality movies isn’t a coincidence. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the first one, go ahead and treat yourself to a viewing (or rewatching) of the second two Dark Knight Trilogy movies.

High School Musical 3: Senior Year (Disney +) // Kaitlyn Nuebel, Staff Writer

“High School Musical 3: Senior Year,” the last and, without a doubt, best of the High School Musical trilogy, was the most anticipated movie of my childhood. The more I think about how to describe the High School Musical series the less I know how. Either you saw it in elementary school and the movies make perfect sense, or you watched it as an adult and nothing about it makes sense at all. But at its core, the series follows a group of attractive teenagers singing and dancing their way through the halls of their overly funded public high school while dealing with anxieties about fitting in and managing their extracurriculars.

I could talk about how the third installment of the High School Musical series is better than the first two because of its crisp cinematography, well-written music or smooth dancing that is just about as professional as anything you’d find on Broadway. Or, I can tell what you really want to know, which is that by the time “High School Musical 3: Senior Year” came out, Zac Efron, who plays basketball star Troy Bolton, looked like he went through puberty for a second time. The movie opens with a sweaty closeup of Troy’s forehead as he hypes up his basketball teammates in slow motion, and the rest of it gets better from there. As a kid this is what I thought my high school time would look like. Now that I graduated, I watch “High School Musical 3: Senior Year” to remind me of the experience I wish I had.

Aliens (Prime Video) // Beatrice McDermott, Staff Writer

“Aliens,” one of the greatest movie sequels of all time, was almost never made. After the release of the sci-fi horror “Alien” in 1979, director James Cameron called it “almost the perfect movie,” claiming a sequel could never do the original justice. Even Sigourney Weaver, who plays the heroic main character, Ellen Ripley, turned down several opportunities to star in a sequel. Thankfully, a delay with “The Terminator” inspired Cameron to finish his script for “Aliens,” and the rest is history. 

The sequel takes place 57 years in the future, with Ellen Ripley waking up from stasis to learn that the alien-infested exomoon, responsible for the death of her entire crew in “Alien,” has been developed into a terraforming colony — “it’s free real estate,” right? Back on the exomoon, things aren’t going too well, and the colonists have learned the hard way that aliens like to use humans as egg incubators. After the rescue team is attacked by — you guessed it — more aliens, Ripley and Newt, a young girl who survived the massacre, are stranded on the exomoon. There’s an epic battle between Ripley and the alien queen, who’s determined to protect her eggs — just as Ripley is determined to protect Newt.

The themes of loss and motherhood, compared to the shock-value chestburster horrors in “Alien,” help transform “Aliens” from a bloody horror movie into something more visceral and compelling. Also, the focus on Ripley’s character finally gives Weaver’s impeccable acting skills the recognition they deserve. Overall, “Aliens” combines suspense and character development far more effectively than the original film, proving that the only thing better than one alien is an entire colony of aliens.