Movie Review – Captain America: The Winter Soldier (A Second Opinion)
As Marvel Studios continues to weave its way through sequels to their standalone franchises the recurring pattern seems to be a dip in all-around quality. The general consensus for both Iron Man sequels and Thor: The Dark World was that they had enough whiffs to deem them inferior to their predecessors. However there seemed to be more optimism surrounding the sequel to Captain America than the others when it was announced – and that left me intrigued. The original is a hit or miss 40’s throwback adventure that strongly relies on a tone from that time period. It was hurriedly put together to get Captain America involved before “The Avengers” and the movie’s cracks are evident. When I heard the sequel would be taking place in present time with one of the landmark characters from the source material my interested was solidified.
So how did they do? Well, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the best of the solo Marvel movies and their strongest effort since The Avengers. I guess they did alright.
Winter Soldier managed to rise above the rest of Marvel’s crop by being the first to tap into the “espionage genre” by involving a widespread conspiracy that pits our heroes against a former ally. It’s sleek, incredibly well paced and smart enough in both how it projects societal themes as well as what it chooses to say with them. We’ve seen social commentary from Marvel before in both “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk” but The Winter Soldier is the first movie to surround almost all of its characters with those very themes. The basic story revolves around Captain America adjusting to life after he was awakened from a near 60 year hibernation. He’s taken up a job with S.H.I.E.L.D. overseeing missions that are far too advanced for the rest of the unit. He’s a military man longing for familiarity but the landscape is changing and instead of fighting a threat to freedom he’s now fighting a faceless enemy. Rather then advancing with each victory on the new-era battlefield he only seems to ignite another handful of threats in an endless circle of deception. Those doubts he had about S.H.I.E.L.D. still linger as he really is a lost man in a new world with absolutely no one to trust. However one cataclysmic event sets in motion a massive undercover operation that threatens the very freedom of society he’s served his whole life to protect.
Chris Evans is the audience’s personal anchor to the movie and his performance is again underplayed in the reviews I’ve read. He doesn’t have the same stoic heroism as Thor or the snarky one-liners like Iron Man but he has a depth to him that’s often overshadowed, much like the character. He’s earnest, he’s real and he’s incredibly funny with pitch perfect comedic timing that works as not only continuous jabs at himself but smart-ass replies in a “PC” way. Scarlett Johansson returns as Black Widow, Fury’s right hand woman and the world’s deadliest spy with more secrets than the agency. Natasha is fleshed out even further (including her shadowy past) and her rogue qualities from the comics are presented enough without being overstated. Her character is a much-needed jolt to the universe by serving as an ally, a lone-wolf and a spunky ass-kicker all in one. She’s embodied one of the finest superheroes on the silver screen and continues to be a symbol of female empowerment in each outing. Anthony Mackie shows up as “Falcon”, an ex-military paratrooper who strikes up a strong bond with Rogers and breathes new life into his military ties. He’s proven time and time again to be a hell of an actor and his action sequences are some of the very best in the entire movie. Rounding out the principle cast are Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Redford, two titans of the industry who bring a respectability to the franchis – Redford in particular. When he shows up on screen the entire project just seems “more legit” and that aura is hard to buy without a man of that stature. Sebastian Stan stands tall as the titular Winter Soldier but he’s merely a frontal facade of Cap’s past and a new-world enemy. He’ll have plenty to do in future installments as he signed a 9 picture deal but for the time being he manages to stay quiet and steal scenes with a hulking, grim presence. It’s a stretch here so bare with me but his appearances almost takes on shades of Michael Myers at times when he’s lingering in the foreground, silent and deadly without being able to see his true intentions. When he shows up you just know something dark is about to happen.
Simply put, the action sequences in The Winter Soldier are some of the very best I’ve seen with a heavy dose of martial arts and hand to hand combat that’s brutal enough to feel real. The earnest, oftentimes gritty tone of the movie has a lot to do with how raw and nasty the brawls are on screen, as well as the decision to ramp up the bloodshed. This isn’t the typical superhero violence we’ve seen countless times before but one with a lot of brutality, death and an underlying drama mixed in. I can’t stress enough that this Marvel venture finally feels, for the very first time in their history, like a story where these characters could actually fit into the real world.
I urge anyone who was on the fence about the first Captain America or about the overabundance of superhero movies in general to check out The Winter Soldier and let it take you to places you haven’t quite been yet. There are enough ties to the Marvel Universe to have hardcore fans clamoring in their seats and it’s done in a way that doesn’t compromise the movie’s vision by any means. It’s a diabolically entertaining thriller with enough twists and turns to keep you in suspense from start to finish. The expertly choreographed action sequences have enough genuine tension for us to genuinely fear for these character’s lives in each battle. Rather than actors fighting hordes of imaginary villains that would be digitally entered later with CGI we get up close, fist flying battles that make for engaging altercations. There’s enough real-world likeliness in the script to not just say something about the state of our safety as a country but of the world as a whole, and these heroes are the ones who represent that duality. This is one of the few sequels that not just surpasses the original but winds up cementing itself as one that will have to be brought up in the “best superhero movie” conversation. Aye-Aye Captain!