Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Rated PG-13, 136 minutes)
Captain America is back in Marvel’s best standalone film since the original Iron Man: I would even say that this film rivals The Avengers, a movie that I believe is overrated. However, though it is the clear best film from Marvel’s Phase II, it still suffers from some pitfalls that have hindered previous entries. With that said, I was able to see this movie at the Alamo Drafthouse and it was billed as a double feature with Captain America: The First Avenger; and by seeing both films together, one could clearly see the improvement over the original, as well as, the growth of the Marvel films in a few short years.
First and foremost, Chris Evans has really blended into the Captain America role; though he did an adequate job in the original, his naïve all American charm felt forced. In the sequel, he still has this charm because without it he would not be Steve Rogers, but they add a layer of doubt that humanizes the character. And with this doubt comes a darker Marvel movie, but though this film is not as bleak as the recent trend of Superhero flicks, it still is the darkest Marvel entry to date. And this works because the idealistic charm and slapstick comedy is too prevalent in some of Marvel’s films. However, not every superhero movie needs to be like The Dark Knight; Captain America: The Winter Soldier finds the right blend of comedy and drama, which improves upon the cheesiness of The Avengers and Thor.
With that said, this entry improves on the story of Captain America and it gives the hero his most personal journey to date. For those who do not know, I will not give away the identity of The Winter Soldier; but this villain and the organization he works for represent a very relevant real-life threat that people face everyday. Without giving too much away, Captain America attempts to preserve the public’s freedom and privacy in a very policed society: which is a pertinent issue after the NSA scandal. But this relevancy is why people will be engrossed by the story; and though there is so much going on that sometimes plot details could be missed, the villains’ ideology is never muddled. I myself drifted off once or twice during the 136-minute runtime: it certainly suffers from occasional lulls during the non-action scenes. But overall, I was never overly confused and once the movie started moving, it kept a crisp pace.
And the reason it keeps this crisp pace is because of the amazing action set pieces throughout. The debut directors, the Russo brothers, really have an eye for directing action. And even though it suffers from the occasional shaky cam, the brothers express a frantic style that can adapt to different situations: for instance, the one on one fight scenes feel personal even when they cut away or back from other sequences. And even though Captain America has super powers, the audience feels like Rogers is in peril: the claustrophobic elevator fight scene shows that the Captain is almost human. Also, all the action feels more gritty and down to earth than the original: which is due to the better looking CGI and the grander scale.
It feels like this Superhero movie is influenced by gritty war movies, which is different than the serial influence of the first one. And even though I really liked the action of The First Avenger, it never got passed the serial fakeness, but again that was its intention. Yes, one can say that The Winter Soldier joins the latest trend of gritty realism, however, where movies like Man of Steel fail, Captain America succeeds by never losing its identity: no matter how dark The Winter Soldier got, it still is a fun ride. With that said, there is one problem that I had with the action; though the overall score from Henry Jackman is above average, there are a few moments where the lack of music hinders the action. For instance, an eye pleasing highway chase sequence suffers from being oddly quiet; yet, this is a small grievance and it did not take anything away from the movie or that specific scene.
Now, even though I am not a fan of The Avengers movie I respect how they wrote for the ensemble cast: even side characters like Nick Fury, Agent Coulson, and Maria Hill are given thoroughly written characters. Meanwhile the standalone films like The First Avenger, Iron Man 3, and Thor have side characters that are one-note creations. However, the main supporting characters of Captain America: The Winter Soldier are fleshed out and entertaining: particularly Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Anthony Mackie’s Falcon.
With that said, this is the closest thing the public will get to a Black Widow movie or to a Marvel buddy cop film; Scarlett Johansson is in eighty percent of this and she is given a lot more to do than previous entries. Her fight scenes are exciting, but the sexual tension that is felt between Captain America and Black Widow is a highlight because of the chemistry between Evans and Johansson. And Mackie’s Falcon is one of the better sidekicks in Marvel’s flicks: I am sorry but Rhodey aka War Machine is an average character at best. While Sam Wilson (Falcon) has a tragic cliché-ridden back-story, he still adds an ‘everyman’ quality that humanizes him, especially when he performs death-defying stunts.
But the main attraction is the subtitle of the movie: the Winter Soldier. Again, I will not reveal who he is, but he adds an extra layer to the Captain America storyline. He is enthralling to watch and the emotionless way he commits acts of atrocity is quite frightening. He is the first real foe that physically threatened a Marvel superhero; yes, he is a one-minded killing machine, but his skills separate him from the average desperado. He makes the previous Marvel villains feel innocuous and is such a calamitous force that I wanted him in the movie more: especially in act II, where he is not seen for what feels like a long period of time. But the sequel has so much going on that it would have been impossible to put the Winter Soldier anywhere else. And even though Captain’s antagonist is not as personable as Loki or a Joker-type, he makes up for it with sheer brute force, which makes him the scariest Marvel villain to date.
Now, it is important to point out that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is still a flawed movie. For instance, the plot at times is extremely predictable; the audience will be able to see the twists ‘from miles away,’ which has been a common problem with Marvel movies. The plot twists are almost distractingly bad, however, it is forgivable with how much fun the overall product is. On top of this, the people who are ‘pulling the Winter Soldier’s strings’ are not that menacing and the fact that he is controlled by these characters ‘sort of’ takes away from his mystique. But again, these are small gripes with an overall enjoyable product. And the ending of this flick, makes me really want to see Avengers: Age of Ultron because this movie drastically changes the Marvel universe; which is a bold choice, but also, a smart one because Marvel needed to ‘shake things up’ in order to keep it interesting. On top of this, Captain America: The Winter Soldier has one of the best mid credit scenes I have ever seen, which only furthered my excitement for The Avengers sequel.
All in all, this is the most fun I had with a Marvel movie in a long time. Chris Evans finally looks like he is comfortable as Steve Rogers, meanwhile other side characters get center stage in a movie packed to the brim with epic action and an enticing story. On top of this, the Marvel cinematic universe is forever changed by this storyline, which actually makes me excited for what is next: an emotion that was waning after Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World.