The ninth film to come out of the increasingly ambitious Marvel Cinematic Universe, the sequel to 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger is here. It has been getting massive hype from preview audiences and critics alike, with some saying it is even better than 2012’s incredible hit, The Avengers. The previous MCU installment, last year’s Thor sequel, proved to be rather lukewarm for many (though I enjoyed it). Can Chris Evans do better to wow audiences in his second solo film than Chris Hemsworth did in his? Read on.
With events in the MCU unfolding more or less in real time, it has been two years since the Avengers incident in New York. Steve Rodgers (Evans), better known as Captain America, is living in DC where he works with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and S.H.I.E.L.D, engaging in espionage and tactical missions in the name of national and worldwide security.
Opening with some rather clever humor which has Rodgers meeting Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), a former military aerial combat specialist, the film quickly transitions to heart-pounding action. Called into duty by Natasha Romanoff – aka, Black Widow, (Scarlett Johansson), Rodgers is soon retaking a S.H.I.E.L.D ship commandeered by Algerian pirates. If only he had been around to help out Captain Phillips because, as a practically one man army, Cap takes out dozens of dangerous hostiles with a little help from his friends in a Parkour inspired sneak attack that shows off his slightly above average combat abilities in a most deliciously satisfying way.
Despite pulling the mission off without a hitch, not everything is hunky dory for Captain America. Catching Romanoff in a suspicious act during the rescue causes Rodgers to call into question the motives of everyone at S.H.I.E.L.D he trusts. Nick Fury, Black Widow, Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), and the rest of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division are all suddenly suspect. When Fury becomes an assassination target things get even more complicated. Was he taken out because he is the bad guy, or are the bad guys out to stop those who would be in their way. A vast conspiracy is about to unfurl.
There have been a handful of superhero films that have pushed the boundaries of the genre ever since X-Men created the modern comic book movie. The first Spiderman did it with high character drama, Batman Begins did it with it’s dark and gritty take on the Dark Knight, and Iron Man did it by not only setting the events in a very real feeling modern society, but by ushering in the era of interconnected Marvel films, culminating with The Avengers and most recently continued by this Captain America film. The Winter Soldier does it once again, bringing a grounded reality and smart story telling to the genre in the same way Watchmen did, only without failing to work once translated to the big screen.
Though some entries have been weaker than others (the first Captain America being one of my least favorites), without fail the films in the MCU have been at least entertaining, and at most wildly entertaining and even smart. Not since the first Iron Man film, though, has any of them felt so much like a standalone movie. It’s ironic, since The Winter Soldier is perhaps the most deeply rooted film in the universe so painstakingly woven over the course of past seven years, yet it feels like it’s own entity, not relying too much on what came before, and not pushing too hard to be a preview of coming attractions – a common crime of these films.
In my mind, Captain America, despite being a super powered soldier, is the most human all the Marvel characters so far. Yes, he has super powers, while Tony Stark does not, but he’s still a regular guy – just super strong with a highly developed moral compass. This film reflects that, keeping the superheroes throwing each other through buildings with mysterious mystic powers to a minimum. Instead, we have some of best hand to hand combat sequences in recent Hollywood memory, intense gunfights that feel more akin to a Bourne film than Batman, and some timely social commentary. While the societal observations about freedom vs security do not dig as deep as they could, in the context of the medium they are quite striking and welcome. In the same way that certain Star Trek episodes used science fiction to examine ideas in a new way, rather than just being a sci-fi show, so The Winter Soldier uses the backdrop of a world of superheroes while creating a good film with some things to show and say.
The action should not be understated here. In a world where every blockbuster tries to up the last by being bigger and more extreme, by staying smaller and more intense, this film stands out from the crowd, giving action fans something to cheer for. Oh, and don’t forget the mysterious Winter Soldier – a brutally intense adversary completely worthy of Captain America. This film really showcases just what the Marvel universe is capable of producing when tapped by the right minds.
Yes some of the film is predicable – a product of existing in an established universe with well known canon and actors with contracts for more films than this one, and following canon does result in some mild cliches by sticking with the source material, but those issues are easily overlooked and simply an unavoidable aspect of these films. If the biggest weakness you can come up with is “why doesn’t Iron Man just come help,” then that’s pretty good. He was busy with something equally important in NY, we just don’t hear about it, okay? Not every film can be The Avengers. Speaking of Avengers, yes, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the best Marvel film yet, even better than The Avengers. Yes, that film has crowd favorites Loki and Tony Stark, but as a film, this is superior and has plenty of clever moments and attractive characters of its own to swoon over.
At this point you probably already know if you’re planning to see this film – you either watch Marvel movies or not. But if you’re on the fence, don’t be. See it now.
Quick note – I saw this film in 2D and saw no reason why you should rush to the 3D version instead.
Mrs. Hamster says:
“It was unoriginal.”
My rating: Five out of five hats
Captain America: The Winter Soldier careens into 3,938 theaters in 2D, 3D, and IMAX, April 4.