Thursday, April 10, 2014

Review: Captain America - The Winter Soldier

I love Captain America as a character and I don’t care who knows it. Cap gets a lot of heat with some comic fans and causal fans about being “corny”, “lame” and “old fashioned” not unlike how people tend to view Superman. However I am of the opinion that when he’s written correctly, true to the spirit of the character, he’s pretty much the perfect superhero. I haven’t really reviewed many things that I felt got Cap correctly, as AvX and Civil War did not seem to really fully comprehend the character. But what did seem to get him were, surprisingly, the films Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers. Marvel Studios did a fantastic job at translating Captain America to the big screen and Chris Evans is pitch perfect in the role. In fact I believe that Evans as Cap is the best casting in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, better than Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man in fact (especially since technically his version of Iron Man was actually pretty different from the comic version which has since been altered to more resemble his performance).

So I really liked the first Captain America movie and I loved the Avengers film so it theory I should like their sequel Captain America: The Winter Soldier. However, as I learned with Iron Man 3, just because it’s a got the Marvel logo on it doesn’t mean it won’t piss me off. Also the director of the first Cap film, Joe Johnston, did not return to for the sequel (which is a very common story as apparently Marvel Studios has a serious problem with holding on to directors) and was replaced with Anthony and Joe Russo. Now these guys work mainly in television, most famous for Arrested Development and Community. Both are hilarious shows but superhero movies they are not, thus there’s a serious question as to whether they can pull it off.

Full review after the jump.

Don't worry; he's got another suit
It has been a few years since Captain Steve Rogers (Evans) was defrosted in modern times and by now he has mostly acclimated. Following the Battle of New York Steve has stayed with S.H.I.E.L.D. as a field agent. However he has been growing increasingly disgruntled with the missions Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) has been sending him on, as he’s been feeling more like Fury’s personal clean-up crew rather than someone trying to save lives. After leading a mission with the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to rescue a S.H.I.E.L.D. ship Rogers is given some data from an on the run Fury who tells him not to trust anyone and that their organization may have been compromised. Steve now needs to figure out what exactly is happening and what that data is, all the while being hunted by his own people. And then there’s this mysterious “Winter Soldier” who seems to be in the middle of it…

This movie continues the trend of Marvel Studios completely nailing the character of Captain America. Cap is supposed to be an embodiment of the concept of Freedom Superman is in a similar way is the embodiment of Hope. So comparing this film to Man of Steel is almost laughable as Man of Steel absolutely failed to fully capture the spirit of Superman in favor of being a darker action film.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier makes no such compromise and I greatly appreciate it. A major theme in this film is how important freedom is and Cap is extremely vocal about it, which is awesome. This movie is clearly a Captain America story and it’s a fun one as well. Another great aspect of this movie is that it is such a different film from the original. The First Avenger is kind of an old school adventure film, not unlike Raiders of the Lost Ark, while The Winter Soldier is more of a spy thriller. Both are very over the top due to the nature of being based on superhero comics but aside from that, and the fact that Captain America is mostly exactly the same, they are totally distinct movie experiences. Captain America 3 has been green lighted and is scheduled for a 2016. It’s my sincerest hope that movie continues the trend and is also a different genre. Time will tell.

The cast is pretty good, with Evans being the obvious stand out and everyone else carrying their share of the acting load. The supporting cast is pretty strong. Nick Fury is basically just Samuel L. Jackson with an eye patch, just as he’s always been by design. I was a big fan of The Falcon here and loved the rapport between Sam Wilson and Steve Rogers that forms immediately between the two. They makes changes to him and he loses his costume, his super powers and his partner Redwing (damn it) BUT he also doesn’t appear to be a f**king pimp so I’ll happily accept the tradeoff. Anthony Mackie was great and believable and I’m certain he wouldn’t look out of place with the Avengers…too bad I haven’t heard anything about Falcon being in the cast of Avengers: Age of Ultron. [Side Note: That bugs since as much as I like the movie the Avengers were a really white team and look to only be getting whiter. Can we please get some characters of color in on this?] Agent 13, played by the brilliantly cast Emily VanCamp, is underused and doesn’t really do much for the plot which is odd considering how much the character was talked up in production and how important the character is to Captain America’s mythology (and a much older character than the Winter Soldier). I’m assuming there just wasn’t time to get into it here, as the film was pretty packed as it is (deleted scenes maybe?). Perhaps they will use her more in Cap 3 BUT VanCamp is pretty awesome so Marvel Studios should seriously consider signing her for a multi-picture deal.  Also Disney should cancel Revenge if they need to free up her time as that show is pretty lousy anyway.

This is actually less 1990s EXTREME than it looks
Black Window is an interesting case. She is portrayed slightly different in every movie she appears in which bugs me but I suppose it makes sense. In Iron Man 2 she was undercover and in Avengers no one got a giant amount of character development so this is really first time we get a chance to see her as a person. The result: meh. She certainly gets more development here than her previous movie appearances combined but, probably because this wasn’t her film, I feel like Marvel held back on it. Of course that could imply they might be setting up for her own movie which I would approve of since we as a culture are in desperate need of female fronted superhero films, even though I admit that Widow is far from my favorite super heroine (I’m still waiting for that Wonder Woman movie, DC).

The Winter Soldier, the character, got a lot of praise in reviews I read leading up the movie’s release. Some people were saying he’s the best villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I think that’s probably not the case but my reasoning spills into spoiler territory so I will avoid it. However I will say the nature of the character means he can’t really be compared to, say, Loki or the Red Skull. That said he’s pretty terrifying, completely badass, and instantly believable as a big threat to Captain America which makes him superior to every single one of Iron Man’s film rogue’s gallery (of course that’s a low bar but still…).

The Irresistible Force meets the Immovable Object
(Actually Cap's shield is both irresistible and immovable so never mind)
The plot was solid and the big twist, which has since become an internet meme but I’ll still avoid the spoiler nonetheless, was game changing. It literally changes the tone of every Marvel movie prior to this one while also drastically changing the status quo in a way I never expected. I’m dying to see Avengers: Age of Ultron to see this story continue and am slightly angry at Guardians of the Galaxy for taking place in space and thus probably not touching on it. Only slightly. On the other hand the story is pretty familiar. This is my big issue with this film: it’s a plot we’ve seen before in tons of spy movies. Honestly there are not a whole lot of differences between this flick and multiple Mission: Impossible movies. Of course I like Steve Rogers a heck of a lot more than Ethan Hunt and so I was still able to enjoy watching and have fun with it but even so you can’t ignore that this is a story we’ve seen a million times before. Of course the trade off to all this is the lack of superfluous love story that plagues pretty much every superhero flick. This was a problem for the first film and a huge problem with the Thor movies so I’m ecstatic to see it wasn’t one here. Another positive for Agent 13 not doing much, I suppose.

The only other issue I really had was that there was a lot of plot tied to the Winter Soldier and yet they only really scratched the surface. There are a tremendous amount of loose ends that are clearly setting up for a sequel but it’s annoying that the story behind the Winter Soldier is left unfinished. Of course the plot we got was well done and adding even more of anything likely would have ruined it so we’ll probably better off. It’s kind of reminiscent of The Empire Strikes Back where things didn't end conclusively and we’re basically told we’ll get the real ending in a few years. I guess I’m waiting for 2016 then.

The First Avenger was a very fun movie but The Winter Soldier was pretty fantastic and most of that has to do with the awesome that is Chris Evans as Captain America. It has great action, it’s funny when it needs to be (Cap is hilarious), it has a solid plot and some good supporting characters. Best of all it makes me really eager to see what’s next which is exactly what Marvel Studios wants. Some people say it’s the best superhero movie ever made. I would not say that; it’s not on the same level as The Avengers or The Dark Knight but to be honest those are the only two superhero movies I can think of that I liked more. Guardians of the Galaxy and X-Men: Days of Future Past will have a hard time following this flick.

No romance here, move along please
 I give Captain America: The Winter Soldier 4 Adorable Pandas out of 5.


-Chris Evans continues to be awesome as Captain America

-Great action

-Good cast

-Awesome plot twist

-Lack of superfluous romance subplot


-A lot of loose ends

-The plot is something we’ve seen a lot before

-Could use more Emily VanCamp


  1. It's an exhilarating superhero picture that is sure to grab your attention from start to finish. Good review Jay.