Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review
Posted by Jeffrey Harris on 04.04.2014
Captain America is back as he's menaced by a phantom from his past in Captain America: The Winter Soldier! Is this the most satisfying release of Marvel Studios' Phase 2 yet or a disappointment? 411's Jeffrey Harris checks in with his full review!
Directed By: Anthony and Joe Russo Written By: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely; Based on the comics and characters created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby Runtime: 136 minutes MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, gunplay, and action throughout.
Captain America/Steve Rogers - Chris Evans Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff - Scarlett Johansson Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes - Sebastian Stan Sam Wilson/Falcon - Anthony Mackie Alexander Pierce - Robert Redford Nick Fury - Samuel L. Jackson Maria Hill - Cobie Smulders Peggy Carter - Hayley Atwell Howard Stark - Dominic Cooper Agent 13/Sharon Carter - Emily VanCamp Brock Rumlow - Frank Grillo Jasper Sitwell - Maximiliano Hernandez Senator Stern - Garry Shandling Jack Rollins - Callan Mulvey Batroc - Georges St-Pierre Museum Staff - Stan Lee
Comic book or superhero-themed movies with sequels often have an advantage because they have an easy way of breaking the trend of the dreaded movie “sequelitis.” In an adaptation with a comic book story, what comes after the origin is always much better. With an origin story, you know what has to happen. Peter Parker has to get bitten by a radioactive spider and his Uncle Ben must perish. Tony Stark has to get injured and taken hostage, and he builds a suit of armor to escape. Bruce Wayne’s parents are shot, so he trains to become a vigilante and dresses as a bat to fight crime. Since you know what has to happen, the first movies of these franchises are sometimes rather dull. The introductions and origins are almost obligatory. This is necessary to establish the characters and introduce them to the audience. Once all that’s done, all the crazy and fun stuff appears in the sequels. Captain America: The Winter Soldier definitely fits that bill.
Captain America: The First Avenger found its strength in that, despite being an origin story, it had a different premise and setting from the previous Marvel Cinematic Universe films. It was almost entirely set during the World War II era, and had the strongest romantic arc of any of the films. But, the more well known and contemporary Captain America or Steve Rogers character was the man out of time who was frozen in ice and thawed out in the present. He's man who is struggling to find his place in a world that has completely changed. The Winter Soldier finally fully encompasses all of that potential involving Captain America, at last showcasing the abilities of Steve Rogers as the original Super Soldier to its fullest.
At last year’s D23 Expo, I witnessed both the San Diego Comic-Con reel for the film and the new, exclusive D23 footage. What was shown was quite incredible. After being struck by how awesome and impressive this film turned out, two words came to mind: game changer. While previous installments of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been enjoyable, solid efforts, Captain America: The Winter Soldier seems to strive for even greater things. This is quite possibly the best Marvel film in their Phase 2 releases. And the film surpasses anything in Phase 1 outside of The Avengers--Iron Man included. Despite initial skepticism over the directing choice in the duo of Anthony and Joe Russo, whose only other feature before this was 2006’s You, Me and Dupre, along with a boatload of work on sitcoms like Community, it looks like they truly set out to make something quite special. While The Avengers and The First Avenger did have some good material for Captain America, it is here where he finally shines, and it does not disappoint. In 136 minutes, the second longest Marvel Studios release since The Avengers, it appears the story and action have been given much more time to marinate and sizzle.
After the events of The Avengers, Captain America (Evans) opted to stay with S.H.I.E.L.D. But he remains uneasy about how they do business between the clandestine operations and Director Nick Fury’s (Jackson) penchant for not being completely honest. Seeing that Cap is nearly at the end of his rope, Fury opts to reveal S.H.I.E.L.D.’s next scheme, Project Insight: a new plan involving a fleet of jacked up Helicarriers that can seemingly spot and take out the enemy from just about anywhere. However, it seems even Fury is having doubts about Project Insight, since he is unable to access the data from Project Insight’s launch satellite despite his director clearance. Fury requests his own superior, Secretary Alexander Pierce (Redford) of the World Security Council, to delay the launch of Insight so he can get to the bottom of it. Unfortunately for Fury, he’s dispatched by a phantom-like adversary, The Winter Soldier (Stan). And it’s really no big secret who he is. After being entrusted with the hacked satellite data for Project Insight, Cap is branded a fugitive by S.H.I.E.L.D. He then decides to go on the lam with Black Widow (Johansson), since her own anguish over Fury’s fate also appears to be genuine. Not knowing who to trust, and with the world’s most powerful spy organization after him, Cap must now uncover a conspiracy with darker and more malignant roots than he ever imagined.
The most satisfying aspect of this story is that, despite a lot of elements and characters at play, everything comes together very well. Elements set up in previous movies, as far back as Iron Man 2, and even from the TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., are paid off here. It’s part of what has made this undertaking of the MCU so exciting in the first place. All these films, characters, and shows exist in the same universe. Since the movie runs well over two hours, the plot is in no way rushed and finally has some room to breathe. Action sequences are more elaborate and have impressive scope and size. Captain America’s fight choreography is spectacular. Again, Anthony and Joe Russo recognize the abilities and skills a Super Soldier like Captain America should have and exploit them to their full effect. Cap's fighting skills are on full, acrobatic visual display here. He actually moves and fights even more like he does in the comics now. The action has been amped up and made edgier, but it's not too dark or grim 'n gritty. There's still an element of comic book-style fantasticism. In short, the film was very much like reading a contemporary Marvel Comics trade paperback of Ed Brubaker's run on Captain America or the writing of Matt Fraction, to a certain degree.
The issues of a person of a bygone era like Captain America confronting and coming to grips with the methods of a shady spy organization are also addressed. Conspiracy theorists will probably have a lot of fun with the direction the movie goes, but just remember…no matter how you feel about the government, this is still fiction. The wider implication the movie presents also makes for a far more interesting debate of this type of material: that super-powered individuals are the only ones who should be allowed to protect the Earth, since, well, they are better and they know better--right? Despite my worries about the background of the Russos, they don’t try to make this into a comedy. As much as I enjoy Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, it's nice not seeing him trying to hog all the spotlight, ham things up, and absorb all the energy out a room.
Evans performance as Captain America is really at his strongest here. I was won over by his portrayal in The First Avenger in his willingness to turn himself over to the role and play Steve Rogers as he should be; unlike, for example, Ryan Reynolds' woeful miscasting as Hal Jordan in Green Lantern, where he failed to capture the attitude and personality of that character. Despite Cap's cheesy, unwavering sense of righteousness, Evans still had that likable, affable nature of being “a kid from Brooklyn.” Here, Captain America or Steve Rogers and his incorruptibility is put against a sea of corruption. He also gets to create a great friendship with Sam Wilson (Mackie), a retired veteran who now counsels recovering soldiers who have returned from the battlefield. Their relationship is set up in a simple, but effective, sequence showing Steve running literal circles around Sam in Washington, DC. We also get some nice tidbits and payoff involving Steve and his old love, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), which are tremendous and poignantly done. Emily VanCamp is also briefly introduced as Agent 13, or Sharon Carter as we also know her. Her role is unfortunately minuscule. It’s more or less a small introduction with the hope that she will have a stronger presence later on. Natasha Romanoff is the other main carryover from The Avengers. As a supporting character, she gets a fair amount to do. The relationship between Widow and Cap is nicely developed without taking things too far.
While there is nothing quite as rousing or memorable as Alan Silvestri’s main theme from The First Avenger this time around, Henry Jackman did a very good job as the composer. The themes and overall ominous score were well done and compliment the movie. Early on, there’s a nice, albeit short, reference to the original Silvestri theme.
Even more interesting is how this film, unlike any other previous story, shakes up the entire status quo of the entire MCU. It will be interesting to see how far and wide this goes, and what it means for the future of the MCU, including shows such as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Hopefully, there will be no convenient lampshades in sight.
The 411: It looks like the summer has started early. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the Captain America story I've avidly awaited to see on screen for years. This film is a complete game changer for what can be done with these films, and subsequent releases will have a lot to live up to. Captain America finally gets to show off all of his enhanced, athletic abilities, and he struggles to find his way in a world where he now seems almost irrelevant. This is the single greatest release from Marvel Studios outside of The Avengers. Remember to stay through the entire credits, and until next time, Make Mine Marvel!