Movie Review: Captain America – The Winter Soldier

What a time to go to the movies.

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Starring:
Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L Jackson
Director:
Anthony & Joe Russo (Welcome to Collinwood, You, Me & Dupree)
Rating: M
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My feelings on the first Captain America film were mixed. I thought it had an exciting and well-executed first half that unfortunately turned into a straightforward, by-the-numbers superhero baddie chase by the end. The film failed to make me care about the Captain the way I did about Iron Man or even Thor. The “straight man” shtick that has defined the character throughout his long existence just didn’t resonate with me in that first film, as cool as his promotional scenes/song were, though I know others might have felt differently. Once The Avengers came along, however, I understood his appeal. In the context of a rather dysfunctional superhero team, Cap’s level head and idealistic focus on what needed to be done made him a tangibly purposeful character who redeemed his allies just by being there. So writing him into the corruption-addled centre of what is essentially a 1970s-style political thriller, complete with Robert Redford, is actually a really good idea as it turns out.

That’s right; Captain America: The Winter Soldier is an espionage thriller. It seems we have moved beyond the days when superhero movies were merely vanilla action films with flashy costumes – now Marvel Studios seems to be leading the charge with a suite of offerings that straddle more traditional and diverse genre lines (see the remarkably Star Warsesque fantasy opera tone of the Thor movies, or the oddball sci fi comedy stylings of the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy). Direct references to the ’70s abound, a few of which might have seemed heavy-handed in a different movie. But here they just work, likely because the nature of the Captain America franchise already requires its audience to accept that the character can exist in near-identical form in two different time periods.

Like in the best spy movies, trust is a rare and precious commodity for Chris Evans‘ Steve Rogers and his S.H.I.E.L.D. allies in The Winter Soldier – in short, everyone has an agenda and those agendas don’t exactly line up neatly with the first avenger’s upstanding moral code. When the plot of the film kicks off with the revelation of a S.H.I.E.L.D. security plan designed to pre-empt major threats before they come to fruition, our hero takes exception and is forced into a state of self-doubt regarding the relevance of his definitive world view in the 21st century. Then something big happens (big not only for this movie, but for the entire Marvel cinematic universe) and Captain America suddenly becomes more relevant than ever. And more badass.

Yes, the Captain and his trusty shield get a real workout in The Winter Soldier, and the action is grittier and more personal than any of the Marvel Studios movies have yet seen. It isn’t on the same level as The Raid 2 – nothing is, really – but it sure is impressive. There are some real standout hand-to-hand combat scenes, which is refreshing to admit considering the action highlights of most superhero movies tend to involves fantastical powers and gigantic set-pieces. Given that directors Anthony and Joe Russo are most famous for directing episodes of Community, it’s more than a little surprising. The titular Winter Soldier, a mysterious (unless you’re a comic book fan) villain that propels some big plot points, is particularly fun and even scary to watch, as is the Captain’s new sidekick, the winged ex-soldier Falcon (Anthony Mackie, who played an oddly similar character in The Hurt Locker).

Falcon is an instantly likeable support character whose developing friendship with Cap adds to the standing of both heroes, but there are more highlights to be found in the rest of the main cast as well. Samuel L Jackson‘s Nick Fury has never been more believably human, while Scarlett Johansson gets a huge amount of both screen time and story focus as Black Widow. Regardless of what you thought about her in Iron Man 2 and The Avengers, if you don’t warm to her after this movie you likely never will. Redford‘s key role in the plot couldn’t have gone to a more fitting actor. He understandably dominates the screen during most of his scenes.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a very good movie that is hard to fault, but if I had to point out one flaw (aside from its inability to match The Raid 2 on action, which isn’t really its fault) it is that the film offers so much to viewers who are already entrenched in the Marvel cinematic universe that a significant piece of its appeal is lost if you’ve never seen the likes of The Avengersthe Iron Man/Thor films and of course the first Captain America. Don’t get me wrong; it’s an admirable spy thriller/action flick on its own, but it certainly packs significantly greater reward for those who have been paying attention.

All up, it’s definitely a winner, and my favourite non-Avengers Marvel film yet. See it.

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THE VERDICT

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Good:
Elevates the protagonist, grounded action style, meaty supporting roles, game-changing plot
Bad:
Weaker as a standalone film
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4.5 VsI N C R E D I B L E

One response to this post.

  1. Such a fun movie that does take a bit of a pause when it decides to pay attention to its confusing plot. However, after awhile, everything gets back to normal and a whole lot more entertaining. Good review.

    Reply

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