Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Review by Daniel Rester
Cap is back and in fine form in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. While I loved The Avengers (2012), I haven’t been blown away by what Marvel has delivered since then in their so-called “Phase 2.” I find Iron Man 3 (2013) to be greatly flawed and overrated, while Thor: The Dark World (2013) is enjoyable but nothing game-changing. But I am pleased to say that Marvel is back on top with Soldier, an exciting and surprisingly emotional chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Since the events of the Avengers, Steve Rogers a.k.a. Captain America (Chris Evans) has been doing missions for S.H.I.E.L.D. His latest assignment finds him and Natasha Romanoff a.k.a. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) trying to take back a S.H.I.E.L.D. ship from Algerian pirates. After some circumstances, Rogers realizes that something fishy is going on with S.H.I.E.L.D. and an operation called “Project Insight.”
While digging deeper into this mystery, the Cap gains some information from Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and S.H.I.E.L.D. official Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford). He also finds a new ally in Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), an ex-paratrooper who has a few things in common with Rogers. But the person with the biggest impact on Roger’s hunt is a ghost-like assassin named The Winter Soldier (I won’t say who the actor is; try to avoid the cast list before seeing the film). To say more would spoil things, so I will just say that one should make sure to see Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) and Avengers before seeing this film; there are important tie-ins.
Soldier delivers on the razzle-dazzle we come to expect from these Marvel films by now. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo provide plenty of the big, over-the-top action moments that fit these pieces, but they also put forth a lot of grounded but thrilling gunplay; there is also a terrific car chase that pops out a bit. The visuals and sounds in the film are exceptional, as expected, and cinematographer Trent Opaloch frames a lot of the movie with wide, beautiful angles. The rousing music by Henry Jackman is a nice cherry on top to all of this.
What makes Soldier more special, though, is that it catches you off guard in a few ways. I must admit that the main story beats are extremely predictable, and they are the main flaws of the film. However, the way the Russo brothers and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely go about delivering some of the story is first-rate.
The filmmakers manage to make Soldier work as a tense political thriller as well as a superhero film. They also mix in unexpected twists and moments of human frailty and deepness, giving Soldier an emotional aspect that is sometimes lacking in the other Marvel films. Beyond the story surface, too, there is new and welcoming depth given to Fury, Romanoff, and others. A few connections (including two after-credits sequences) to other Marvel projects will also please diehard fans. All of these various pieces, along with the amazing action scenes, push Soldier into the realm of excellence. Also look for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Pulp Fiction (1994) reference that is a bonus for film buffs.
Evans is better than ever as Rogers, perfectly getting that old-school vibe that the character sports. The actor certainly has the charm and looks for the role, but he also has more emotional range than often given credit for. The interplay between him and newcomer Mackie is also a lot of fun, especially in an early scene involving Rogers creating a list of pop culture things he missed while being frozen.
Speaking of Mackie, the guy is great. He fits easily into the Marvel world and provides an entertaining sidekick character. The rest of the supporting cast is strong as well. Jackson and Johansson are given more to chew on than normal, and therefore come off better than usual; they are simply more interesting than before. And how can one deny the powers of Redford. The political thriller aspects of the film call on many 1970s characteristics of that genre. The addition of Redford, therefore, is spot-on — seeing as how he was a part of many of those famous 70s political thrillers. The actor manages to add weight to the picture while also underplaying certain key moments.
All of these actors, and the characters they play, are interesting to watch. This is also true of The Winter Soldier. This villain is simply a badass and an awesome match for Captain America; their connection later on is intriguing as well. Finally Marvel has delivered another villain aside form Loki that is more than just a cookie-cutter character (like Malekith from Thor: The Dark World) or an annoying bait-and-switch character (ahem, the Mandarin from Iron Man 3).
Soldier is lively fun from beginning to end. The film is predictable and contains some plot holes and unbelievable story moments, but for the most part it still works very well. It has also further restored my faith in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now on to Guardians of the Galaxy (due out this August) and The Avengers: Age of Ultron (due out in 2015). Hopefully those films can continue the quality.
Score: 3 ½ out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: A-).
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence, gunplay, and action throughout).
Runtime: 2 hours and 16 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: April 4th, 2014.