Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo
Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely
Starring Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell, Robert Redford and Samuel L. Jackson
Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Released April 4th in the United States, out now in the rest of the world, which is a bit weird, sure America should get this first?
To put it simply, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the best Marvel Cinematic Universe movie yet. It feels like I write this every time I sit down to review a Marvel Studios movie, but that’s only because it’s true. This is the 9th film in the sequence, and there is no sign of diminishing returns whatsoever, as Winter Soldier is the most mature and complex film, but with all of the signature action, humour and fun that we’ve come to expect.
It should come as no surprise that this movie has it’s share of funny moments (although not as many as previous Marvel joints, this gets dark), as the directors, Anthony and Joe Russo come from a comedy background (on TV shows like Community and Arrested Development), but what is a surprise is that this movie features the best action sequences yet from Marvel. Whether it’s a smaller-scale fist-fight between Captain America and Batroc (yes, Ze Leapair is in this movie) or the epic finale featuring 3 Helicarriers that are all larger than the single one from The Avengers, The Russos deliver one breathtaking setpiece after another. Captain America is a character that many view as cheesy or lame, but after watching this film, you’ll never think of him that way again. He’s the most bad-ass person around, and the Black Widow, Falcon and Winter Soldier aren’t far behind. Both this and Thor: The Dark World took directors that are known more for TV than film, and both times it has paid off.
The story is fantastic as well, and it covers a lot of different areas. Given that this film involves the Winter Soldier, whose identity I’m not going to disclose here, but come on, we all know it, there’s a deeply personal story here for Steve Rogers, but it’s bigger than that, as Cap continues to struggle to adapt to the modern day world. He has good reason too, as this film delves into SHIELD far more than ever before, and the conspiracy that Cap, Nick Fury and Black Widow stumble upon is really saying something about our times. The parallels with NSA spying are not explicitly made, but they are there, and the central idea seems to be that the freedom Captain America fought and sacrificed himself for in WW2 has been lost anyway. It surprised me how much this story was in many ways a direct sequel to the first Captain America film, there can’t be many films that are so closely linked but have a time-gap of 70 years between them!
This is of course not the first time that we’ve seen Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson portray these characters, and they each slip back into their parts with ease. One of the true pleasures of these films is seeing these great performances again and again. But each of the returning characters is given more depth here. Chris Evans is just fantastic as Captain America, he imbues a character that could be wooden with real soul and heart. He somehow embodies everything good about America, but at the same time, he’s also can come across as just a regular guy. It’s an almost impossible balancing act, but he manages it, on top of, as I said, being the most bad-ass man alive. The scenes where Steve tries to reconnect with his past are really rather emotional, this film really sells the mental toll waking up after 70 years would take. In The Avengers this was hinted at but mostly used for jokes, I like this film’s take better.
This is by far the largest role Black Widow has played in a Marvel Movie, and she really is the co-lead here, getting as much focus as Captain America himself. Johansson steps up very well, and given the ending, I imagine a solo Black Widow movie is looking more and more likely. Even minor supporting characters such as Jasper Sitwell and Maria Hill are given much more to do, in rather surprising ways.
In terms of new characters, the biggest one is Anthony Mackie as The Falcon, and he does a great job I feel. I liked that they removed a lot of the more racially dodgy elements of the character’s origins here (he’s an ex-soldier, rather than a street gangster), and Mackie is, like all of the Marvel heroes, very charismatic and likeable. After only the opening scene, you buy he and Steve Rogers as the best friends we know they will grow to be. I also really dug the look of the character, he’s very much the Ultimate Universe version, which works perfectly, the wings look real, which is important in a film that, for a superhero action epic, is very grounded really. Nobody apart from Captain America has superpowers, and he’s only really on Jason Bourne level. I’d like to see Falcon as an Avenger, but I suppose his powers are basically just Iron Man’s.
Robert Redford is of course also fantastic as Alexander Pierce, he’s an acting legend, it’s amazing just to have him in this movie, but he’s not just resting on his laurels. I’m sure most fans have Pierce pegged as the big villain, and he certainly keeps you guessing.
I will say that I was surprised by how little Emily VanCamp was given to do as Sharon Carter, but she was good at what she did, and I do think that this was one superhero movie that didn’t need a romantic subplot. Cap had more important things going on in his love life. Plus, it looks like she is one character that will be a much bigger deal in the 3rd Captain America film.
And man, am I looking forward to that film, and for the rest of what Marvel have coming up, as in this film, they really have shaken up the Universe. Superhero comics often claim that the world will never be the same, and it’s rarely true, but here, it most definitely is. I love that Marvel have been willing to take a risk. None of the characters end this film the same way they started it, and the real pleasure is that we will get to see how they pick up the pieces. This is a great film not just because of what it is when viewed in isolation, but also in how it fits into the bigger picture.
In my review of the most recent Thor movie, I said that Marvel had their formula now, but that it didn’t matter because it worked. Well, with this film, they have broken away from that formula and it works even better. I will say that this is probably not as kid-friendly as previous films. The themes here are darker, and almost all of the action scenes involve actual guns and death, but it’s a new step for the studio. They’ve taken a darker superhero story in Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s original story, given it a new twist, and the results are fantastic. I know most of you don’t need a review to make you see this, or any other Marvel Studios film, this is just me reassuring you. This is not their first mis-step, it’s yet another brilliant action film, and one that opens up a whole new world of possibilities.