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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Winter Is Coming For ‘Captain America’ (Movie Review)



Captain America: The Winter Soldier:  4 out of 5

Nick Fury:  You need to keep both eyes open.

Captain America really has his work cut out for him.  Along with being a man who now lives in modern times after being frozen for several decades, he is also an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. performing intense field work, a devotee to untangling a web of international conspiracies if it means keeping his country safe, and the target of a secret assassin who may or may not share history with Cap.  It is a very good thing that Marvel Studios has a lot more confidence in how to make these movies work at this point, because even with all the trouble the piles up towards the end of the supremely entertaining Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the film never stops being an entertaining and action-packed delight.




This film picks up some time after the events of The Avengers.  Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is now working for S.H.I.E.L.D. and living in Washington D.C.  Rogers is still adjusting to modern times, but he is good at his work, which involves kicking butt and bantering with Agent Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson).  The big trouble seems to be coming from within this time around, as Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) clues Rogers in on secret intel that could get the both of them and anyone that Fury holds in higher regard killed.  Soon, Rogers is tasked with lying low and only trusting a few others, including Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), a war veteran better known as Falcon.  Captain America and his crew will have to do all they can to stop the threats that may or may not have originated from within their own backyard.

It can be weird to try and balance how much to reveal about the plotting of these Marvel movies these days, given how spoiler conscious the world is, even though the superhero films are based around well-known comics.  The title of this movie is essentially a spoiler within itself, given the nature of who the Winter Soldier actually is, even if that aspect actually has the least impact from a truly affecting standpoint.  With all of that said, there is a lot of fun to be found in how these popular Marvel character story arcs get translated into films, as ‘The Winter Soldier’ has a very involved plot that finds a way to balance the superhero heroics with the mechanics of an espionage thriller.  If ‘The First Avenger’ was more Indiana Jones than this film leans more on the side of a James Bond flick.


From the start of production, ‘The Winter Soldier’ has always been said to be rooted in the spirit of 60s/70s spy fiction, which applies right down to the casting of Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce, a senior S.H.I.E.L.D. official.  This film definitely has a lot of fun playing in that world in a way that makes a good argument for how interesting the world of Captain America can be, if it keeps shuffling through different action sub-genres.  I enjoy the character of Thor well enough, but I do not expect to see him doing any detective work anytime soon, no matter how hard he may press on suspects with a hammer.  With Cap, I do find a lot of intrigue in watching a guy with sensibilities rooted in an earnest idea of liberty going up against those bent on disrupting the way of life through.  The film may be obvious in what it is trying to say on a thematic level, but comic book movies do not tend to rely on subtlety, especially with potentially huge audiences showing up for them.

Where ‘The Winter Soldier’ really succeeds is in its comfort to be a fun action movie, based around its core characters.  Directors Anthony and Joe Russo have stepped up from the world of television (the duo is responsible for directing many episodes of Community and Arrested Development, among other TV comedies) and into the realm of big-budget studio filmmaking.  They have succeeded in spectacular fashion, as their exceptional comedic timing has proven to be a fine fit for the construction coherent action set pieces.  While Joe Johnston brought his ol’ fashion action sensibilities to a period film that happened to involve a superhero in ‘The First Avenger’, the Russo brothers rely on an involving sense of fluidity to balance the rapid pacing and editing of their action sequences, which are simply awesome to watch.  


The opening action sequence is very grounded in terms of what we are watching, even if it involves a man with skills that allow him to be much faster and stronger than everyone around him.  A car chase relies on a series of reveals that up the stakes more and more.  There is one particular fight sequence that is maybe the most visceral fight yet seen in one of these Marvel Studios films.  The final set piece is certainly on par with the expansive amount of action found in the finale of Iron Man 3 and it is the involvement of the well-utilized ensemble cast that makes it so engaging.

Chris Evans is great here.  As Steve Rogers, you get a great sense of what difficulties this man has gone through, given his status as a fish out of water.  Evans only had moments to toy with this notion in The Avengers, but everything I loved about his character in ‘The First Avenger’ (formerly my favorite standalone MCU film) is back in full force here and expanded on for the better.  The whole cast really delivers.  Scarlett Johansson does terrific work as Black Widow, as she is allowed be to a confident female side character that does not need to serve as a love interest, but rather a person who shares tremendous chemistry with Evans, while getting involved in plenty of her own action.  Anthony Mackie is a wonderful addition to this universe, as he also has great chemistry with Evans, while stealing scenes, based on some fun scripting for him.  Samuel L. Jackson finally gets a lot to chew on as well, as Nick Fury has plenty to do in this Marvel adventure and is allowed to really dig into the character.


While I am sure the Russo brothers and others may have had plenty of input as well, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely really nailed the character interplay that makes this film so strong as far as keeping most of these characters involved and feeling important, save for some that are merely being setup for events in the future (see Emily Van Camp as Agent Sharon Carter), yet not in the way of things.  It does not hurt to see true emotion coming out of these characters as well, given an early scene featuring Cap and an old friend or even the subtle glances given, based on how certain characters see others.  These aspects all lead to why the actual Winter Soldier portion of the storyline rang a bit hollow.

Understandably, getting to one of Captain America’s more popular storylines is a good way to keep up interest.  Still, The Winter Soldier storyline may have some heavy ramifications in the comics, but it is more or less an added-on element here.  Make no mistake, as an adversary, the Winter Soldier is a tough sonuvabitch and the action sequences involving him are sure to show him as a Terminator-like nemesis that is not going to be stopped very easily.  That said, while not for lack of trying as far as performances are concerned, the impact of his appearance is not as affecting as this movie wants it to be.  There is a revelation that could be shocking for some, but there is so much to enjoy in the plot mechanics already that it makes me wonder how much more effective he could have been, if we knew less about him in this film and would go on to learn more in the inevitable third installment, tightening up this film in the process.


This aspect is not much of a setback though, as Captain America: The Winter Soldier is still an out-an-out great spectacle of a film.  If the Iron Man films work best as the screwball comedic adventures of Tony Stark and the Thor films work best at exploring the family dynamic between Thor, Loki, and Oden, then Captain America is able to get by due to Steve’s earnestness making him a charismatic figure audiences should be happy to stand behind.  It does not hurt at all that the film is packed with solid performances, well-staged action, some fine scripting, and a storyline that will leave a big impact on future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Keeping this film in mind though, the Star Spangled man is sure to please audiences everywhere, as it is a truly rousing feature.

Steve Rogers:  Before we get started, does anyone want to get out?



Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS4.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com.

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