Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Review


Leader of Marvel’s B-Team joins Varsity with entertaining sequel

Let’s face it. Captain America is not an A-list superhero. If he were on a Marvel Comics boxing pay-per-view he’d carry mid-card status; Spider-Man and members of X-Men and the Fantastic Four take turns in the main event. So he’s got a chip on his shoulder. A chip so big that not even Hulk’s mighty smash can crumble it to smithereens. It is that same chip that made his previous solo cinematic foray in Captain America: The First Avenger so engaging. With the exception of Thor, the films that comprise Marvel Studios’ Cinematic Universe (MCU) have involved heroes on Earth undergoing changes while the planet they inhabit continues to revolve around the sun.

But U.S. Army captain Steve Rogers (aka Captain America), like Thor, is also a stranger. Only instead of being a stranger in a strange land he’s a stranger in his homeland. Being a World War II soldier one day to discovering that you were an ice cube for nearly 70 years and later thawed isn’t easy to handle. It is that distinction that gives Rogers the most room for character growth compared to the other heroes that make up the Avengers. He may not have Thor’s hammer or Tony Stark’s billions or Hulk’s brute force. He’s just a man that serves his country proudly. Once a 95-pound weakling who looked like a wet noodle, he would become a 240-pound super soldier and a huge American asset during the Second World War.

His comic book exploits were showcased on the big screen in perilous action that felt like a throwback to the adventure serials of the ‘30s and ‘40s. Joe Johnston’s The First Avenger was distinctive for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Plus we got a superhero with no moral ambiguity. Rogers had a sense of honor and fought for what he knew in his heart to be right.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier expands on Steve Rogers’ maturity to the world around him. While its 2011 predecessor presented audiences with a rousing popcorn adventure – but fashioned in a way that made it not feel old-timey despite taking place in the 1940s – this sequel has its roots firmly planted in the Cold War. Underneath The Winter Soldier‘s superhero veneer is a spy flick reminiscent to those that Robert Redford would headline in 1970s. Not surprisingly, Redford has a significant role in the sequel. This isn’t Marvel Studios being cute with casting. If anything, the veteran star gives added credence to the ethos of the then as weighed against the tumultuous world of today.

At the end of The First Avenger Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) finished off Nazi offshoot Hydra only to be frozen in ice. Thawed after seventy years, Rogers is still not culturally adjusted to the world around him. He may use the Internet to read up on all that has transpired in the years that followed the Second World War, but he holds on to certain traditions – like playing LPs on a record player instead of MP3s on an iPod. Its little things like that serve as touchstones, reminders that even as the world changes around him there’s always a place for the old standards.

Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the duo who penned the first Captain America adventure as well as Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain, bring the goods once again as they connect the dots of events from before while offering depth in other areas, like the relationship between Rogers and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johannson’s Black Widow). To up the ante the sequel also offers up lingering doubts about S.H.I.E.L.D. and true allegiances and the introduction of a new villain known as the Winter Soldier.

For directors Anthony and Joe Russo, brothers who have dabbled mostly in the TV arena having helmed numerous pilot episodes (including Arrested Development and Community), this Captain America adventure is their first feature since the comedy misfire You Me and Dupree. It must have been one hell of a pitch session to the folks at Marvel because they deliver the goods in a big way. The sequel is chock full of vehicular chases, shootouts and fistfights and huge aerial assaults. As impressive as the action is, it is the story that offers the most reward. Unraveling like a conspiracy yarn, the audience participation is in full effect; we, like Steve Rogers, have to reassess the good guys from the bad ones.

The plotting alone puts Captain America: The Winter Soldier well above the MCU sequels that have preceded it. In terms of the Marvel cinema cannon, it is by far the best comic book sequel since Spider-Man 2.

The supporting cast is also above board and definitely the best all around supporting cast in a Marvel movie. It’s nothing related to star power, it’s in the interaction and chemistry. Besides the Captain America/Black Widow relationship there’s also the relationship that develops between Steve Rogers and a former paratrooper named Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie). But in terms of drama it is the views expressed by Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury and Redford’s Alexander Pierce, a senior S.H.I.E.L.D. official and a member of the World Security Council, that have added intrigue to the changing landscape of safeguarding national secrets. This, plus playing on the notion that citizens are willing to let go of constitutional freedoms for guaranteed safety. Both men have a history that is revealed throughout the course of the film and their characters do some interesting turns before it’s all over.

To my delight Steve Rogers reaches that point in his arc where he fully asserts himself as leader.  That assertion started with the climax of The Avengers when he started giving out orders to fellow heroes (both superhuman and ordinary), but he felt like a secondary to Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man. But now it appears that Chris Evans is more than capable to give out the orders and not have them come across as forced. This when matched with his sense of virtue makes him a role model and the type of hero that appeals to little kids and grandmas alike.

If Joss Whedon’s The Avengers was the culmination of a universe that had been building with the arrival of Iron Man in 2008, Captain America: The Winter Soldier serves as a new beginning. Radical things happen that will ultimately affect where the MCU goes next.  Anthony and Joe Russo raise the stakes of Marvel movies in a big way that everything that comes after will have to be grade “A” caliber if it’s to trump this no longer B-team superhero.

As a general rule, do stay through the end credits. There are two teasers that are sure to whet your appetite of what the future holds in store.

Director(s): Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
Writer(s): Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely
Notable Cast: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell, Toby Jones, Georges St-Pierre

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