Captain America: The Winter Soldier
A worldwide threat to freedom. An enemy rising out of the shadows. A hero on the run. A conspiracy spanning decades. A set of technological gadgets performing amazing feats. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is an excellent example of what James Bond movies have been doing for decades. It follows a well-worn action/espionage formula and is undoubtedly predictable, but thanks to character development and a great pace, it’s an incredibly fun action film and a solid demonstration of Marvel maturing as a studio.
Captain America (Chris Evans) has mostly adapted to his life in modern times, but he’s having trouble relating to anyone and he’s beginning to question the motives behind missions he’s doing for SHIELD. When an injured Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) shows up at Captain America’s apartment with critical information on a flash drive, things spiral rapidly out of control. It’s a fast paced action adventure very much in the vein of James Bond (minus the women and exotic locales) that is both a step forward for Marvel and a throwback to action movies of the past.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier gets a lot of things right. It knows when to slow down and develop both its plot and characters, and it knows when to speed up to keep you from thinking too much about the parts that are supposed to be pure entertainment. It takes a different track than most Marvel films, bringing the focus in closer and making the story more personal, and that’s a good thing. The building relationship between Cap and Black Widow is fun and poignant in all the right ways and it lays the foundations for Marvel’s first great female hero. I particularly liked the internal battles these two have with what it means to do the right thing and the sacrifices it takes to do it.
The film also sets a darker tone than recent entries in this universe and isn’t afraid to make the action sequences feel more realistic (even when they’re not). The first half of The Winter Soldier doesn’t feel like a superhero movie at all and takes risks that we’re not accustomed to seeing in Marvel films. There’s an impressive raid on a ship that showcases just how cool Captain America can be, and if the movie had stuck with the choices and style it set in that first half, it would have blown all the other Marvel movies out of the water and set a new bar for hero flicks.
Unfortunately, the second half goes fully generic. The main storyline has been told similarly in many other movies and that makes it predictable. The secret conspiracy and weapon that can kill millions plotline has been seen in everything from James Bond to Star Wars. If you watch a lot of Marvel movies, it also won’t surprise you that certain people miraculously come back from the dead, or that Captain America inevitably wins in the end and stands by his morals. While it’s still an entertaining story and this film tells it in fine form, its predictability takes away some of the suspense and makes some moments feel cliché. Other moments feel forced and are only there because the filmmakers wanted the story to go a certain way, even if it meant drifting from the characters. After its great start, this is almost tragic and it’s a little difficult to get past.
That aside, the primary characters are well-built and this entry moves the overall universe forward in important ways. Things are forever be changed by this entry, and I think the universe needed that shift. In the first half especially, Marvel demonstrates a maturity and confidence that we haven’t seen before, and I believe it’s an important step in the right direction if they want their movies to continue to feel relevant.
In terms of technique, The Winter Soldier is a high-quality film and its big studio budget shows. There is never a moment where the camera is intrusive or the shots don’t flow naturally together, and the camera work helps to create the emotions necessary to each scene. There’s a sense of movement and momentum that’s very cool and borderline lyrical. Set designs are interesting to watch on purely aesthetic terms, and how the action plays out in them shows considerable forethought. The themes of right and wrong, dark and light, and the grey areas between them are all played out in the color palette, and the shots lend power or weakness effectively to the movie’s characters.
Special kudos must be given for the action sequences. While still having over-the-top and sometimes difficult to believe action (why doesn’t anyone ever try to shoot Captain America’s legs?), the camera work and sound give every punch some gravity, and these action sequences really MOVE. The fights are expertly choreographed, and Captain America and Black Widow each fight believably in their own ways while still feeling incredibly cool and giving off that superhero vibe. Some might complain about the rapid cutting utilized in most of these sequences, but it worked for me and gave a genuine sense for the pace of the battles.
The Direction & Acting
For directors with no previous action movie experience, the Russo brothers did an amazing job. The Winter Soldier shows confidence and skill, and it keeps its action tense and slower moments believable. These two clearly had a keen vision of how they wanted to shape their movie, and while some details didn’t work for me, there can be no doubting the Russo’s were given free enough reign to make the movie they wanted to make.
Chris Evans continues to grow as an actor and turned in a sharp performance with more range than his previous outings as Captain America, but it’s the interplay between him, Scarlett Johansson, and Anthony Mackie that will stand out in your mind. Johansson once again shapes the Black Widow into a show stealer and shows the most emotional range in the film. The subtleties of her facial expressions do a great job of counterpointing her heroics, and, along with Evans, she forms the film’s emotional core. Mackie does a great job of rounding out the trio, and I look forward to seeing these three in action again in future films.
Robert Redford makes for a decent villain here, but there is little in his performance to truly comment on. Sebastian Stan, however, plays a great dark and brooding villain with just the right amount of onscreen physicality and violent passion to make him engaging. His Winter Soldier is an excellent foil to Captain America, and Stan hits all the right notes to make him both scary and evoke emotion from the audience.
The Sound, 3D, and CGI
Like I said earlier, the sound effects work lends great weight to the action sequences, and I love it for that. The soundtrack is typical fair for this type of film, and it serves its purpose well, rising and falling with the action while never being the focus.
The 3D is solid and lends depth of scene, but this isn’t a movie that I think must be watched in 3D to get the full effect and you’ll be fine without it. Nothing ever jumps out at you, and there’s no effect that was eye-popping to me.
Finally, the CGI work is top-tier as can be expected in most Marvel movies, and the explosions, technology, and massive set pieces all feel realistic.
What All of This Means to You
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a fun superhero movie with a strong first half. If you don’t mind some predictability and suspending quite a bit of disbelief, there’s a good time to be had here and the changes in the Marvel universe make it worth seeing for any superhero fan.
The Bad: Predictable, too similar to movies you’ve seen before, requires more suspension of disbelief than might have been necessary
There was a good twist toward the end that I wasn't expecting, which I cannot elaborate on as there are still patrons out there that haven’t shelled out their nickels and dimes to partake in its glory. Let’s just say you’ll see an old face you may recognize, and no, I’m not referring to the Winter Soldier.
I enjoyed this film more than any of the other Avenger tie-in films, and don’t get me started on how much I hate Iron Man 2 and 3. If you want a good palette cleanser that won’t leave a bad taste in your mouth, go see Captain America: Winter Soldier.
Yes, TWS is pretty darn predictable froma plot standpoint, but it breaks the overall mold of standard comic book movies, by offering something different and taking steps to dramatically alter the cinematic universe they established. Frankly, I didn't think they had the guts to actually make such a status quo shift (especially one so dramatic).
For me, what set this film apart from other similar stories, is the characters. The filmmakers did a great job making the people feel more realistic and personable than ever before. You could sympathize with Captain America, rather than just look up to him and be amazed by his awesomeness. On top of that, the overal themes of honesty and trustworthiness provide a poignant message that you don't find nearly enough of in movies anymore.
For me, that's vital. Let's face it, most movies don't feature "original" plots anymore, instead what differentiates them, is how developed the characters are and how powerful the message is for the film. Since The Winter Soldier features strong characters and a great message, for me, the film is above many others of the same kind.
The action in the movie was top notch as well, with some brutal looking fight scenes that manage to incorporate the super abilities of the hero/villain while also being very practical and believable. Combining all of these things together, and the second Captain America movie manages to stand out as one of Marvel's best outings so far, and is once again setting their bar for the rest of their upcoming projects.