Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review
Keep both eyes open
The Russo brothers (“Community,” “Arrested Development”) accomplished what every sequel director should strive to achieve—an improvement in quality to the first entry—with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Marvel’s newest installment serves as not only a next step to 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, but also as an important, crucial chapter to the entire Marvel media universe beginning with Iron Man six years ago in 2008 and stretching all the way to network television on ABC’s “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Disney/ Marvel certainly swung for the fences for their patriotic sequel and created a triumphant film by means of escalating the conflict not unlike Christopher Nolan’s 2008 super hero sequel The Dark Knight. In fact, Captain America plays more of a central character than the main character, similar to his role in The Avengers. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury play pivotal central roles that seem to garner a similar amount of screen time. Cap (Chris Evans) only comes off as the main character because he really is the heart of the film. It’s his truth on the line.
The Russos have gone on the record throughout their press junkets and interviews that Captain America: The Winter Soldier draws significant inspiration from 70s-era espionage films like Three Days of the Condor, All the President’s Men, The French Connection, etc. They certainly meant it, too. A car chase throughout Washington D.C. in the first act certainly hearkens to Popeye weaving the streets of New York City in The French Connection. All of the lies and double-crossing brings Three Days of the Condor to mind immediately if only because of the screen presence of veteran actor/ director Robert Redford. It’s a totally self-aware Marvel movie. There’s even a cameo from a cast member of the Russo’s “Community.” We’re even “treated” to a casual name drop of a major Marvel property. The Winter Soldier is a blockbuster completely comfortable making big advancements for the colossal film franchise in which it exists while also operating as a stand-alone event. This all being said, it certainly helps to follow this film if you’re familiar with the others leading up to this one.
For an actor recently down on acting, Chris Evans (Sunshine, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) pulls off his best performance as Steve Rogers/ Captain America to date. The First Avenger of 2011 felt like too much of a Captain America movie and not enough of the Steve Rogers part of things. The Winter Soldier depicts Steve Rogers as a company man stuck in a dilemma—can he trust those closest to him? In the mean time, he’s spending his free time catching up on everything he’s missed since World War II. Steve doesn’t get much free time. There’s real heart in Evans’ performance regarding the hero, but we won’t spoil anything for those who aren’t familiar with the comic book storyline. His dilemma with S.H.I.E.L.D. and Nick Fury reveal a boy scout gone rogue—a good guy up against the ropes because of sabotage. This go-around, Cap’s skills with his vibranium shield and superior physical abilities are displayed prominently more than in the original and in The Avengers.
Scarlett Johansson plays a second of lead of sorts in the actress’ third turn as Black Widow. After touching more on her character’s past than the previous two films featuring the character, a Black Widow stand-alone film has to be coming. It sounds like there are a lot of chickens needing to roost and who wouldn’t want to see that conflict? For a character that should spend most of her time in the shadows, Black Widow serves as a lighter side to the film with most of the best lines. Her devotion to Nick Fury is key and Fury’s relationships with his subordinates/ friends plays out largely in The Winter Soldier. Samuel L. Jackson’s gets the most amount of screen time he’s ever received in a Marvel film, as well, and doesn’t disappoint. Jackson doesn’t phone this performance in like he easily could. His Fury is a man completely devoted to the greatest good by any means at his disposal. S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury is presented as a man who can probably be trusted but is never trustworthy.
Cap adds a couple more allies to his roster for his second movie. The first is Sam Wilson/ Falcon (Anthony Mackie- The Hurt Locker, Pain and Gain). Comic book fans recognize Falcon as Captain America’s sidekick who specializes in aerial maneuvers with his mechanical wings. Mackie gives a fan-favorite as the no-nonsense, focused veteran. The second is Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford). Pierce and Fury go way back, so when S.H.I.E.L.D. faces an imminent threat, Captain America seeks the council of a superior he thinks he can trust.
However, Cap also adds some new bad guys to his rogues’ gallery, and none are more memorable than the Winter Soldier himself. The Winter Soldier is Captain America’s arch-villain of the comic book world, and he’s every bit as shadowy here as on the page. Unfortunately, just about everything involving The Winter Soldier is a spoiler for those who haven’t seen the film yet, so only a little description will be found here. Sebastian Stan (“Gossip Girl”) plays a mysterious Soviet assassin code-named the Winter Soldier, a deadly killer with a sport for blood and a robotic arm. Who is he? Who hired him? The Winter Soldier poses a completely unexpected challenge for Captain America and their final confrontation in the film makes Cap choose just what type of super hero he wants to be.
Although the film had spectacular sequences of terrific CGI destruction and mayhem, the use of computer-generated stunts and action is kept at a minimum. If anything, the film only relies on CGI for the scenes involving exteriors of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarriers. The Russos are to be commended for keeping the action scenes as real-looking as possible without getting reliant on technology. An unfortunate trend in Hollywood blockbusters is a completely unnecessary dependence on CGI for any scene involving conflict with weaponry, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier features close-quartered, intimate fight sequences with terrific precision and impressive execution by the stunt men and cinematographer. Here is a film not only calling back to the 70s for plot details, but also for combat sequences. Captain America can get in a gritty street fight and not require some booming thunder effect, enormously green panic attack, or a high-pitched repulsor sound like the other Avengers. Plus, he’s good for more than just a bow and arrow.
In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Marvel Studios raised the stakes with their cinematic universe and beyond, with ripple effects sure to follow on “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” as well. The Russo brothers directed what is possibly the best Marvel Studios picture so far, escalating the stakes across the board and putting their main character as more of a central figure in a plot even bigger than maybe our hero can fathom. It doesn’t have the epic scale introduced in The Avengers and it isn’t the redemptive origin story that was the original Iron Man from 2008. However, The Winter Soldier is a movie intent on raising the stakes and heightening the game for not only Captain America, but all of Marvel’s properties.