As we continue on into Marvel Studios stage 2 of the Marvel cinematic universe things are just getting better. The post Avengers films have been solid so far. Iron Man 3 was entertaining, even though it divided fans with its portrayal of The Mandarin. Thor: The Dark World built on the foundation of the first outing and delivered. Now, it’s Captain America’s turn. Could Cap deliver? Joe Johnston’s movie worked well with the character in the World War 2 setting, but how would things fare as Cap was brought into the modern age?
As it turns out, quite well, indeed.
This time around, Anthony and Joe Russo (You, Me, and Dupree) take over the directorial reins. At first glance, they might not seem to be the best choices to do so, but in the end they did well enough to be signed on for Cap’s third feature. Helping the directors succeed is a great cast, with Chris Evans returning as Steve Rogers/Captain America, Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanov/Black Widow, Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill, and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. Newcomers to the cast were great additions- Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/Falcon made for a great sidekick, and Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce made for a good counterpart to Jackson’s Fury. The script was great as well, being penned by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (both wrote Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor: The Dark World) and using the concept of the Winter Soldier from Ed Brubaker’s great run in the comics. Brubaker’s take on Captain America placed greater emphasis on the espionage and mystery elements along with incorporating the superhero aspects of the character, and it worked to fantastic effect. This was carried over into Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which is part superhero flick, part mystery, and part spy thriller. The result is one of the more intricately plotted comic book movies to date.
The plot, which I won’t divulge much of here, centers around the appearance of a new menace in a familiar guise. Events conspire to pair up the morally ambiguous Black Widow with the straight laced Captain America, and the two play off each other quite well. Johansson and Evans have a great chemistry together, and the interplay between them always feels natural and never forced. The movie does reflect some real world concerns of security and people’s freedom, and just how much freedom needs to be sacrificed in order to remain secure from a world whose threats are not always from a rival nation but from various ideological groups that are not above using terrorism to get their point across. Steve Rogers comes from a simpler time, being part of the “Greatest Generation”, those who fought in the First and Second World Wars against dictatorial regimes, and generally sees things in more of a black and white perspective. Natasha comes from a greyer background, having worked with the KGB in the waning days of the Cold War before coming over to S.H.I.E.L.D. The two perspectives work in questioning the morality of placing security over individual freedom, and just how far should any agency or government go in sacrificing one for the other. It adds a deeper layer to the whole “good versus evil” theme found in most comic book movies.
Out of this shadowy background of plots and plans to keep the world safe from terror and those who would use it comes the fearsome threat that is the Winter Soldier. Fans of the comics will know immediately who this is, and most who have followed the Marvel movies should pick up on it easily enough. For those who may be surprised, I’ll leave the identity out of this review, as the reveal is nicely done. The Winter Soldier is more than a match for Captain America, with a cybernetic arm and leg, giving him great strength and mobility in hand to hand combat. The Winter Soldier is also highly proficient with weapons, and uses them to great effect in wreaking havoc. The fight scenes between Cap and the Winter Soldier are well staged, giving the movie a feel akin to the Bourne series of action/spy thrillers.
Mackie’s Falcon also has some nicely staged action sequences of his own, and proves to be a capable and likeable sidekick. Again, there is the weaving of the real world with the cinematic universe, as Sam Wilson works with returning vets from Iraq and Afghanistan dealing with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). The scene where Steve walks in on a session with Wilson and some vets was short, but had some impact. The stress the returning vets feel in one way mirrors that of Rogers, as he struggles to survive in the modern world here things aren’t always as clear as he thought them to be during his time as a soldier in the Second World War. It added a nice little human element to the proceedings in the midst of the super-heroics. The Falcon does provide some humor as well, and his suit is well designed and looks realistic enough. Speaking of humor, we get a bit in the obligatory Stan Lee cameo, as well as Natasha’s repeated attempts at trying to get Cap to date someone. Those scenes work nicely, at times injecting some levity during intense action scenes.
The film has some nice twists and turns during its 136 minute running time, which never feels long and always engages the viewer, even in the quieter moments between the action packed set pieces. The visual effects are on full display in the movie’s final act, and are thrilling to behold. It all leads up to an interesting set up for the next installments in the Marvel cinematic universe. As always with Marvel movies, there are scenes within the credits, one coming early on and the other playing after all of the credits have rolled. Both are well worth staying in your seat for.
In all, Captain America: The Winter Soldier kicks off the summer movie season (which generally begins in May) a bit early, and it does so in an awesome fashion. The movie is well acted and plotted, with twists and turns and plenty of thrills. With this movie we get a nice combination of familiar elements and new, and it adds a depth not often found in comic book films with its topical references to real life political situations. It has me excited to see where Marvel Studios will take us next, and is one fans will want to see play out on the big screen. Get out and see this.
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