REVIEW: Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Produced by: Kevin Feige
Screenplay by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Edited by: Jeffrey Ford, Matthew Schmidt
Cinematography by: Trent Opaloch
Music by: Henry Jackman
Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson, Hayley Atwell, George St-Pierre, Maximiliano Hernández
Based on the Marvel comics by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
While The First Avenger set off all sorts of alarms in my head while it was in production, nothing could’ve been further from the truth when it came to its direct sequel, The Winter Soldier. Sure, the film was being helmed by the untested duo of brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, who had previously been better known for their work in comedy TV in shows like Arrested Development and Community, but Marvel Studios had earned my trust by this point. Having just come off of the incredible first Avengers, the fantastic Iron Man 3, and the lesser but still completely enjoyable Thor: The Dark World, I was ready for their return to a standalone film starring the hero who managed to surprise me most in the first wave and trust them to do what was right for the franchise.
And, man, did they ever deliver…
Some time has passed since Steve Rogers was found frozen, thawed out, and joined the Avengers in saving the world from being overthrown by alien forces. So what’s a soldier out of time to do? Why, continue in his duties as a good American soldier should, of course! Captain America is now fully functioning as a member of S.H.I.E.L.D., working alongside Natasha Romanoff on special missions under the authority of S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury. The modern world is proving to be a fascinating thing for Steve, but it’s not without its drawbacks, the biggest of which is that the country’s sense of civil liberties isn’t quite what it used to be, and the line between what’s right and wrong doesn’t seem nearly as clear as it was during World War II. Technology has enabled governments to spy on its own people, and S.H.I.E.L.D. has bought in fully with its latest arsenal of gadgets and weaponry. Power being what it is, corruption soon follows. Captain America soon finds himself in the crosshairs of not only the country he once fought to protect, but also a mysterious figure called the Winter Soldier, a seemingly unstoppable assassin who has been sent out to end Cap and what few allies he has left.
Right off the bat, The Winter Soldier feels completely different from the much more colorful and lighthearted film that was the first Captain America. In fact, it feels like nothing else in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with the Russo brothers borrowing a lot from pessimistic ‘70s political thrillers and using this juxtaposition in setting and tone to make a surprisingly political statement about how far this country has come in embracing technology in the name of national security at the expense of civil liberties and due process. This is by far one of the darkest and most topical films Marvel has output, and it’s also much more brutally violent, too, albeit without ever going so over-the-top into overwhelming grim-and-gritty territory. It’s pushing the PG-13 limit without ever feeling like it’s borderline R-rated for its violence. The film still has plenty of humor and lighthearted moments throughout, and Captain America remains a shining beacon of hope and decency, but the stakes have definitely been raised, both in terms of the danger and the emotional impact. I’m not lying – there are a few times in this movie where you may tear up a bit!
Chris Evans, as ever, continues to be phenomenal as Captain America, bringing that endearing, stalwart heroism necessary for the character while also bringing with him a bit of weariness after having to make so many adjustments to the modern world and everything that’s happening around him. I also loved the partnerships he forms with Black Widow and newcomer and fellow veteran Sam Wilson, a.k.a. Falcon. Evans and Johansson work very well together, and I very much appreciate the fact that the movie did not feel obligated to turn Natasha into anything more than a professional partner and close friend to Cap, turning the film into a sort of buddy chase film than a will-they-won’t-they romance. In Wilson, Cap not only has a fellow soldier who knows the ordeals of having to struggle with the shock of coming from one world with completely different rules and coming back into another, but also a modern soldier who carries on the legacy of Cap’s altruism and willingness to do what’s right against the odds. (Plus, that wing suit thing is totally cool!)
The film also boasts an excellent supporting cast, with both Samuel L. Jackson and Cobie Smulders returning to their respective roles of Nick Fury and Maria Hill and finally getting to show us why these two are such badass characters. Robert Redford also joins the MCU as Alexander Pierce, who heads up the World Security Council and is the mastermind behind the extreme surveillance program S.H.I.E.L.D. is carrying out. Redford is an unexpected but welcome addition to the roster of renowned actors whom Marvel has managed to snag, and I rather liked his pragmatic approach to playing the role. The Winter Soldier character is also one of Marvel’s admittedly few standout antagonists, with a really great design and a chilling performance from the actor. I won’t spoil anything for anyone who doesn’t know much about the character.
The Winter Soldier has become the standard by which most of Marvel’s future films will be measured and is arguably still their best film ever. Fan service abounds throughout the film, and yet it never gets in the way of the story at hand – they’re just little Easter eggs to make everyone smile with acknowledgement and anticipation. The story is thrilling and exciting and feels like there’s the potential for characters to actually not make it out unscathed or even alive by the end, but because this is a Captain America film, you also leave the movie knowing that there’s always a better path. (Hell, I keep saying that I’m going to vote for Captain America this election, and, at this point, I’m not certain how much of a joke that is.) The characters are all very well written and performed by the cast, and the film even looks phenomenal visually – there’s a thing that happens with Captain America’s costume later on that is just so symbolically fantastic, the whole film shifts with it, and I absolutely loved that they did this. There’s really no wondering why the Russos were given the reigns to Civil War and the next Avengers films – The Winter Soldier is not only the best Marvel film, not just one of the best superhero films ever made, but a damn excellent film in its own right, too.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 5 / 5