Captain America: The Winter Soldier

"This isn't freedom, this is fear."

I’ve been looking forward to this more than any other Marvel movie. Yes, that includes The Avengers.

The Winter Soldier arc is one of my absolute favourite comic book storylines of all time. After Captain America: The First Avenger came out I hoped and prayed that the producers would be smart and adapt this storyline for the sequel. When it was finally announced that the sequel would indeed take inspiration from Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s original story (a Cold War spy thriller masquerading as a superhero adventure) my excitement soon gave way to concern. That story is just so good it would be impossible for this film to live up to my ridiculously high expectations.

I was wrong.

I bloody loved this film. I will even go so far as to say that it is my favourite Marvel movie to date. I enjoyed it more than The Avengers and you all know how much I loved The Avengers. The Winter Soldier has everything you could possibly want from a summer blockbuster - a smart script that actually makes you think (this is the most topical movie Marvel have ever made), strong characters you care about and action scenes that leave you breathless. Admittedly, many of the film's twists and turns aren't that shocking. I’d already guessed most of them after the first trailer came out. It is testament to how good this film is that this isn't really an issue.

Taking a leaf out of James Cameron’s book, this sequel switches genres from WWII adventure flick to conspiracy thriller. While the studio has tried to sell this as a multimillion dollar tribute to conspiracy films from the '70s like The Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor, The Winter Soldier feels more like a greatest hits package for the entire espionage genre. The Winter Soldier's story is right out of The Manchurian Candidate. The Washington setting recalls All the President’s Men and any number of Tom Clancy novels. And there is something very Person of Interest about the villain's scheme.

Directors Joe and Anthony Russo proved that they could produce great action scenes with Community’s minuscule budget, so it comes as no surprise that when handed a truck full of cash they knocked it out of the park. The Winter Soldier has some of the best actions scenes yet seen in a Marvel. With the exception of the grand finale (which is still ace), the brothers keep the action grounded, eschewing CGI in favour of good old fashioned practical effects and stunt work. Standouts include Cap’s brutal tussle in a packed elevator and Nick Fury being chased through the streets of Washington in his battered S.H.I.E.L.D. SUV.

Chris Evans continues to impress in the lead role, easily finding the lonely soul within the human flag as he struggles to find his place in the morally murky world of post-Watergate, post-9/11 America. In another’s hands, this character could easily be insufferably corny, but in Evan’s he is like a sad little puppy. You just want to hug him. One of the great things about Steve as a character is that he is a genuine team player. He's not one to hog the limelight. This allows the supporting cast more room to shine, particularly Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson. Emily VanCamp was the only one who felt underused, but I imagine she'll have an expanded role in Captain America 3.


The standout performance, however, comes from Scarlett Johansson. It’s nice to see all the great work done on her character by Joss Whedon isn't going to waste. This film is as much Natasha’s story as it is Steve’s. She is here as his partner and equal, not his sidekick (that role goes to Falcon). And it is a relief that the film doesn't try to force a romance between the two of them (Natasha spends most of the film trying to set Steve up with others). There are one or two tender moments, but they work more to strengthen the growing friendship between these troubled souls, who are just trying to find their place in this world. The film on the whole is surprisingly romance free, a first for a solo Marvel.

The film benefits from a pair of effective antagonists, an area where recent superhero films have struggled. I’ve seen others complain that the Winter Soldier himself lacks personality. That is the whole point. The Winter Soldier is not meant to be scheming mastermind like Lex Luthor, a charming trickster like Loki or a colourful anarchist like the Joker. He is the Terminator, a relentless, unstoppable force to reckoned with. He is someone who has had every trace of their individuality stripped away, leaving behind nothing but a ruthless killing machine. Elsewhere, Robert Redford - who would’ve made for an ideal Steve Rogers in his youth - puts that twinkly eyed charm to sinister use as S.H.I.E.L.D. boss Alexander Pierce.

Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World dealt with the fallout from The Avengers and how the events of that film affect the respective heroes. The Winter Soldier is all about setting the stage for what comes next. Not just Avengers: Age of Ultron, but for the entire Marvel cinematic universe as a whole, including the likes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the potential Peggy Carter series that is in the pipeline. The events of this film are going to have widespread repercussions for all our heroes.

Stars and Stripes

--One cameo was, to put it in words only a select few will understand, very cool cool cool.

--Steve’s list of things to catch up on changes depending on which country you see the film in. Here’s the American version:


And here is the British one:


--I'm not afraid to admit that Steve's brief reunion with the elderly Peggy Carter had me in tears.

--Done being in every TV show made in the last ten years, Alan Dale has obviously now moved on to showing up in all the film franchises. I expect to see him in the next Star Wars film.

--As with all Marvel movies, you shouldn’t leave once the credits start to roll. The mid-credits scene was directed by Joss Whedon and acts as a mini prequel for Age of Ultron.

--A certain sorcerer supreme was mentioned at one point. Does that mean a solo movie isn't too far off? Can't we have a Black Widow movie first?

Natasha: "You do anything fun Saturday night?"
Steve: "Well, all the guys in my barbershop quartet are dead. So no, not really."

Sam: "You're a lot heavier than you look."
Steve: "I had a big breakfast."

Natasha: "Hey fellas, either of one of you know where the Smithsonian is? I'm here to pick up a fossil."
Steven: "That's hilarious."

Four out of four Vibranium shields.

The comment thread for this movie review is a spoiler free-for-all. You may spoil anything in Captain America: The Winter Soldier or any other Marvel film that has been released. You may also spoil any events from the TV show Agents of SHIELD.

8 comments:

mazephoenix said...

Haven't seen it yet..but a Doctor Strange movie? I've waited so long for one. Please make it so. Since the one with Del Toro at the helm didn't happen I assumed all hope was lost.
Black Widow can be in it too.

CrazyCris said...

I saw this last weekend (we got it early in Spain for once, YAY!) and LOVED IT!!! :o)

I didn't notice enough of Steve's "catch-up" list to remember if there were any other differences in the Spanish version, all I could see was "Star Wars/Trek", that brought a huge smile to my face! :D

Oh, and since no one in Spain would know what a barber shop quartet is, it was dubbed to "my gospel group". Although how on earth anyone with any knowledge of musical culture and history would possibly think Steve Rogers in the '40s was in a Gospel group is beyond me! :p

I was also happy to see Steve and Natasha as friends, not attempt at forced romance there. But Emily VanCamp felt too pushy for me... She stuck out like a sore thumb, not sure why. Perhaps 'cause I kept expecting Victoria Greyson to show up in a gorgeous dress and face off with her?

Now I'm really curious to see how this will impact Agents of SHIELD!!!

And I think Marvel has been doing an amazing job weaving their whole tapestry together... I had a few thoughts about it on my blog if you're interested:
Random Movie Ramblings

CrazyCris said...

Did you stay to see the OTHER extra scene at the very end of the credits? I thought it was a nice touch! That one looked more like a set-up for Captain America 3.

J.D. Balthazar said...

I loved this movie, and I totally agree that it is one of the best, if not the best Marvel film to date. Don't get me wrong, I love the Avengers, but this one was perhaps more my style. It was darker, and maybe even more impactful than the Avengers. At the very least it made me like both the Captain and Black Widow quite a bit more.

I loved the Falcon, and the Winter Solider, and what they did with Fury. I thought the action was amazing, and it was different throughout. From car chases to that in-air battle. Wow. I want those wings.

More than that, were all the little moments and details. I can't wait to look in detail at those close ups of the targets. Anthony Stark was the obvious one, but I bet there were other names that are Easter eggs for obsessive/observant fans.

What stuck with me though, was how much heart this had. Everyone had understandable motivations. All the characters, even new ones, made sense on a story level. It tied into all the rest of the cinematic universe, even AoS. Seeing the Triskelion in all its glory was a sight.

I do hope Simmons made it out alive, that is where she was headed right? I'm now actively looking forward to AoS this week. Sheesh, will the show need to change its name next season?

Great review Mark. I hope Guardians is half as good as this one.

Freeman said...

I definitely feel like this is the best Marvel movie right now. Blew Avengers out of the water for me. Even though that movie was basically one big fight scene at the end, I found these fight scenes way more entertaining to watch. The stuff they did with the shield in this movie was amazing, and I hope they carry whoever was responsible for that over to the next films. Honestly, I was kinda cooling on all the Marvel movies but this movie brought my interest level high again.

Bucky was a fantastic villain. I actually felt like he was unstoppable at times, even though Steve could hold his own like nobody's business. Robert Redford of course was great. He didn't seems oddly out of place like say Guy Pierce's character in Iron Man 3.

I loved how they managed to make Falcon, Black Widow, and even Nick Fury have standout scenes yet nothing they did managed to outshine the main attraction when it came to the action. They really made Captain America look and feel like a super soldier in this one. And not just a soldier but a humble leader that commands respect. One of my favorite scenes is where Steve inspired the true Shield agents to stand up against the Hydra guys.

I was actually hoping they would have a scene where he reconnects with an older Peggy and they didn't disappoint. Such a sad scene, but it just added so much more to Captain America's character.

Even though it was awesome to hear him referenced, I'm a bit confused as to why Hydra would be interested in Stephen Strange. Wouldn't he just be a really neurosurgeon at the point? Is he like insanely good, like performs government experiments good maybe?

Last thing, I swear. Since Crossbones is still alive and most likely has a vendetta now. It may be possible that we'll see a Death of Captain America story somewhere down the line.

migmit said...

Well, that was good. Yes, I've watched it in poor Russian translation — I haven't managed to find a more-or-less decent English CAM.

I really hope that Steve Rogers lost his to-do list. In Russian version there were Soviet Union downfall (reasonable) and "Moscow doesn't believe in tears", which is a name of a Soviet movie, after watching which Captain may decide the world is beyond saving.

Strangely, but nobody thought of bringing some possible allies — for example, Iron Man. He was mentioned, but neither Fury nor Rogers thought about asking him for help. At least a mention of him — such as "I've tried to contact Stark, but he is in some tropical resort with his phone off" — would be reasonable. Also, there was no mention of Hawkeye, and even if Fury didn't want to bring him in (fearing he might be a traitor), I can't imagine Barton himself doing nothing when Natasha is hunted by S.H.I.E.L.D. Again, simple "Burton is on a mission to Middle East" would be enough.

All in all, that was a decent movie. Not as good as the Avengers, but not a major drawback either.

sunbunny said...

migmit - that is ALWAYS my problem with stuff like this. I had the same issue with Thor 2. Obviously, all the Avengers can't come back for every movie, but at least some sort of explanation would've been nice.

"You just want to hug him." Yes…and other things.

"The film on the whole is surprisingly romance free." Didn't even notice until you pointed it out. Didn't miss it at all. I remember seeing the Steve and Nat kissing on the escalator still months (maybe even a year) ago and being really freaked they were going to hook them up. SO GLAD they didn't.

So glad you noticed the Person of Interest connection! Couple things I noticed: ABED. The bad guys apparently using Dollhouse tech to wipe Winter Soldier's brain. Natasha's AWESOME arrow necklace.

And, a complaint. In one of the post-fight scenes, Natasha's sitting on Sam's bed, she's drying off her hair which is doing what naturally curly hair does when it's wet (i.e. curling). Next scene, her hair is perfectly straight again. Did Sam just have a flat iron laying around his apartment in case of assassin hair emergency?

For me what really made this a good movie was the emotion. I'm not a big superhero fan. Things go boom and it looks cool, but that's not really why I watch movies. I watch them for characters and relationships. Here, so much of the conflict came from Steve and Bucky's relationship. Oh and Steve's scene with Peggy? That was so depressing. Like Notebook level depressing.

Agree that Emily VanCamp was surprisingly underused. She was barely in the thing. Not really a flaw, but a surprise.

I sort of kept waiting for Coulson to show up. :(

Josie Kafka said...

And, a complaint. In one of the post-fight scenes, Natasha's sitting on Sam's bed, she's drying off her hair which is doing what naturally curly hair does when it's wet (i.e. curling). Next scene, her hair is perfectly straight again. Did Sam just have a flat iron laying around his apartment in case of assassin hair emergency.

Yes! And, a second complaint to piggyback on yours: why flat iron her hair at all? The curly look frames her face so much more effectively.

Anyway, the movie: I really like this installment, which is weird, as Captain America isn't my kind of superhero, what with the utter lack of irony or turmoil.

But, a few weeks ago, someone told me they'd heard that Cap would do [bad things] in an upcoming MCU film, and I flipped out. "Not Captain America! Not him! He stands for the great ideals of this country, and..."

Eventually, my patriotic diatribe petered out. (And then the confusion was cleared up; it's not Cap who does those things.) But the whole conversation made me realize how much I do like him, in no small part because of his defense of civil liberties in this film.

I hope we get to see more of the Winter Soldier in the future, too.