Review: 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' is Marvel's Best to Date
by Jeremy Kirk
April 4, 2014
It's high time comic book movies gave us something serious and incredible. Who am I kidding? Marvel is doing it and doing it well, hitting a steady stride of peaks and valleys on their way to the next big cataclysmic movie event, The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Before we get there though, we have the second adventure of America’s favorite patriot, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier is an exceptional stopping point along the way. Hungry for a cool, conspiracy theory mystery? It’s here. Got a hankering for awesome, big budget, heavy-hitting, and high-flying excitement that barely lets up? We've got that. Ready for - yes, we keep saying this - the best Marvel movie yet? Captain America: The Winter Soldier stakes that claim too.
Onto that cool, conspiracy theory mystery. It's two years after the events in The Avengers, two years after Steve Rogers, super soldier extraordinaire played by Chris Evans, has been thawed out of his icy hibernation. Thanks to the former, Rogers isn't entirely sure he trusts or is still comfortable working for the secret government agency, S.H.I.E.L.D. That discomfort grows stronger when Rogers' latest assignment, rescuing a S.H.I.E.L.D. seas vessel from a group of pirates, appears to be more than just a simple rescue.
It's not long before Rogers uncovers plans S.H.I.E.L.D. has called Project Insight, turning three of their Helicarriers into floating, eye-in-the-sky security systems with instant judge, jury, and executioner capabilities on board. It's not much longer after that before an attempt is made on the life of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), an attack from a mysterious, Russian assassin known as The Winter Soldier. Rogers goes on the lam, digging even deeper into S.H.I.E.L.D.'s secrets and working towards avenging the attack on Fury's life with the aid of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and a former paratrooper struggling with PTSD (Anthony Mackie). Don't worry, though, he gets a cool superhero look and name before long.
That's one thing you notice while watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier, everyone is a comic book character at this stage of the game. Marvel has done an incredible job expanding their cinematic universe with each, new movie, building the characters right along with the world in which they inhabit. Like the ever-expanding Star Wars universe, it takes some time keeping the minor roles separate, but The Winter Soldier serves as a testament to how good screenwriting can pack the load of information and heaps of characters found in the comic books into the film tightly and accessibly.
It's also a testament to how big-budget blockbusters can still keep us at the edge of our seat based on story and suspense. The Winter Soldier plays like your typical, comic book mystery. Explosive characters travel from point to point, collecting information about their potential enemies while the big reveal of the mystery has pretty much already happened in the audience's mind.
The Winter Soldier doesn't bring giant twists that will shake the Marvel world to its core. In fact, much of what serves as "mystery" in this film is fairly easily predicted, the true identity of The Winter Soldier being one of those. This is especially the case if you have even a rudimentary knowledge of Captain America's universe. Nonetheless, the screenwriting team here keep every plot point, every detail about their characters, and, yes, every reveal in the highest regard. Even if something is predictable, Captain America: The Winter Soldier handles it in the most earnest of ways.
That's not to say that's how you need to be viewing the film, though. It does strive for something more than surface-level entertainment, but entertaining its audience seems to be where Marvel strives effortlessly. Amidst the minor twists and conspiracy theory suspense, the action sequences of The Winter Soldier come at us left and right. The pacing of the film's action, like the attacks that come from the Winter Soldier character, grows to relentless levels with everyone from Fury to Black Widow to Cap himself front and center when it all goes down. It's comic book-level excitement, with giant masses of metal falling out of the sky and insane waves of violence threatening our superheroes.
The nature in which the directors, Anthony and Joe Russo, shoot the action is very grounded, though, more in tune with the film's Man Vs. Big Brother story arc. Even when Mackie's ex-paratrooper steps in front of his metallic wings and starts calling himself Falcon, the film holds a certain level of reality in the way it all works.
That reality is aided by the performances, Evans having come into his own as a perfect balance of extraordinary actor and handsome A-lister long ago. In just a few years, Evans and Captain America have grown in so may ways, almost threatening to strip the title of "Leader" away from Robert Downey Jr./Tony Stark/Iron Man. They're all the same guy, anyway, right? Evans is charismatic, but not in an egotistical way, and his believability with both serious dramatic sequences and awesome action bits alike is the very reason he's vying for that title. It's a series of performances that make you wish he'd stick around this role for years to come, but, alas, that's another disappointment to discuss another day.
Thankfully, the people who won't be going anywhere for a while are still working at an incredibly impressive level. Johansson and Jackson have achieved an undeniable level of comfort in their respective roles, and you start to wonder if that idea for a S.H.I.E.L.D. spinoff movie isn't such a bad idea. Mackie is great as both Sam Wilson and Falcon. Even Frank Grillo as a badass S.H.I.E.L.D. operative gets a few character moments. The biggest casting shocker here, though, is Robert Redford as the corporate head of the espionage agency. He's more than solid, clearly giving more of a shit about these Helicarriers than he did that boat in All is Lost.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier also brings a ton of cameos to the table, another trademark of these epic-budgeted, comic book extravaganzas. The film never questions what it is, never tries to be anything different. But the conspiracy story at hand and the amazing adventure that gets wrapped up around it reach unquestionable levels of excitement. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is just the latest stopping point while Marvel builds to its next, billion-dollar idea, but the studio has perfected their technique of both working towards the future while still caring about the present. Ultron can wait. The Winter Soldier isn't done kicking ass yet.
Jeremy's Rating: 9 out of 10
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