‘Winter Soldier’ Heats Up Marvel’s Phase Two
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is in a league of its own in the never-ending Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yes, Marvel’s growing up and growing fast.
Outside of the first Iron Man movie, Marvel hasn’t made a grounded superhero film a top priority. And that’s been the distinctive dividing line between this lucrative brand and DC’s The Dark Knight franchise.
The Winter Soldier makes the daring jump into political thriller territory. Chris Evans returns as the World War II super soldier displaced from time. Even after the mega team-up in The Avengers, Captain America continues to struggle in the 21st century. The contemporary world isn’t some black-and-white serialized 30s cartoon. Over-the-top propaganda villains like The First Avenger’s Red Skull are old news.
Instead, Captain America’s biggest challenge lies within S.H.I.E.L.D., his employer tasked with domestic protection. And there are plenty of leaks within the organization. No one we’re invested in is safe. Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury isn’t. Neither is Captain America, who’s attacked time and time again by S.H.I.E.L.D. members.
The riddles of deception are throwbacks to many political thrillers of the 70s. Maybe that explains the casting of Robert Redford as higher-up alongside Jackson. But the main difference here is that this remains a superhero movie at heart. Needless to say, the superhero aspect is muted to a minimum. Captain America still has no issues whipping out his patriotic shield and tossing baddies around like rag dolls. But it’s all in the day’s work.
To be honest, it’s a shock how well-oiled Captain America: The Winter Soldier is. Anthony and Joe Russo take over in the director’s chair for Joe Johnston from the first movie. The Russos have no experience directing a big-budget action film, yet they emerge as pros. Their directing credits are highlighted by 2006’s You, Me and Dupree (not exactly Marvel resume material). So it’s certainly with open arms that the duo is coming back to direct Captain America 3 in 2016.
From the start, The Winter Soldier seemed destined to be a challenge. The First Avenger marvelously captured the pulpy side of the red, white and blue hero a few years ago. And while The Avengers remains the benchmark for Marvel, it barely touched on the uneasy transition for the character.
Outside of the moral dilemmas, Captain America isn’t bogged down in these drastic changes. The screenplay does attempt to humorous pull an Austin Powers moment out of the hat, recommending our hero check out all that he’s missed in the past 70 years. It works to some degree as juxtaposition to the seriousness of the situations.
Fortunately for Captain America, he’s not alone in this conflict. Scarlett Johansson returns as Black Widow – her best iteration of the character to date. Anthony Mackie’s solid as the Falcon, an impromptu sidekick who can fly thanks to mechanical wings. Talk about a mini Avengers.
But the most crucial component here is the addition of the Winter Soldier. Many Marvel fans already know who the Winter Soldier is and is connection to Captain America. Spoilers aside, Marvel has delivered much more than just a run-of-the-mill mysterious masked assassin. Even with such limited screen time, the Winter Soldier is a strong on-screen presence. Maybe not charismatic like Loki from Thor and The Avengers, but still a beast of a character.
Be sure to stay put for the two post-credits scenes after the actual film. The first sets up next summer’s Avengers: Age of Ultron in an explosive fashion that’s sure to delight fans. And the second, like the final scene of the Winter Soldier is a cliffhanger for Captain America 3. That’s only a two-year wait.
The Winter Soldier isn’t the best offering from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is, however, the most impressive franchise film since The Avengers. A bit too long for its own good, Captain America collides with a few minor flaws in tangential plotting.
Still, the summer movie season is already off to an explosive start. The Amazing Spider-Man 2, X-Men: Days of Future Past and Guardians of the Galaxy have to exceed insane expectations to become the top superhero movie of 2014.