Apr 08 2014

Unreal Movie Review: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”

Published by at 12:00 pm under Best of the Web

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The existence of the TV and movie-spanning Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to amaze and astound me. When you pull back and realize that eight different movies focusing on a collection of heroes has all worked together almost seamlessly for the better part of a decade, and even more films and TV shows are being added to the mix as time goes on, it’s one of the more impressive achievements in popular culture history.

At this point, if it’s Marvel and it’s Warner Bros, it’s bound to be good, and those involved with the uber-franchise only seem to be getting a better hang of it as time goes on. The Avengers was better than all the individual films that came before it. Iron Man 3 was the best of the bunch. Thor 2 beat Thor 1 handily. And now Captain America: Winter Soldier is more interesting that The First Avenger ever was.

Captain America has always run the risk of being the “lesser” Avengers franchise. Thor has the wonders of Asgard and the forever-entertaining Loki. Iron Man has Tony Stark, a one man show. But Captain America? He’s a frozen soldier with a shield, played by Chris Evans in a way where he’s got looks and muscles, but he leaves most of the charisma to other team members. It’s a conscious decision by him and his directors, as everyone on the team can’t really have the same personality. His background and willingness to work as a team make him a natural leader, but can he be compelling?

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In Winter Soldier, we finally bear witness to a somewhat non-traditional plotline. Yes, there’s a plan for world domination, but it’s not a terrorist cell with a nuke or aliens hatching an invasion. Rather, it’s the corruption of the central agency that has held the Marvel Cinematic Universe together since its inception, SHIELD.

In the Marvel Universe, SHIELD operates as a sort of ultra-NSA/CIA/FBI, with the powers of all three and then some. It’s the focus of Marvel’s first real attempt at a live-action TV show, Agents of SHIELD, a program that’s actually impacted by the events of the films. And boy, is it ever going to be shaken up Winter Soldier.

Nick Fury (Sam Jackson) realizes something is amiss when Secretary of Defense Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) starts acting shady as SHIELD prepares to launch a new initiative. Fury enlists the help of Cap, Steve Rogers (Evans) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to figure out what’s going on, and the pair turn to ex-soldier Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) when they realize they can’t trust anyone.

There’s much more intrigue than your typical Marvel film as the grand plot inside SHIELD is unraveled. Much of it ties back to the original Captain America, and the “Winter Soldier” refers to a new masked superpowered baddie who has all Cap’s strengths and then some. The grand twist revealing the identity of the Soldier isn’t exactly mind-blowing, but it works from a plot perspective.

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Rogers soon finds himself as an enemy of the country whose name he wears, and he and Widow are constantly being hunted by rogue SHIELD operatives as they try to deduce just what exactly is going on. The central threat revolves around a trio of newly commissioned helicarriers which have the ability to detect citizen “threats” around the world, and eliminate them with precise minigun fire from near-orbit. The idea is a bit goofy, even for a comic book movie, and the political allegory is obvious.

The corruption of SHIELD is all about the overreaching security state we supposedly now live in. The central bad guys realize that freedom can’t be taken outright, it has to be slowly given away in the name of “safety.” If they allow people to give up their freedoms, if they convince them threats are threats eons before they do anything threatening, absolute power is at hand.

I normally take issue with movies will clumsily overt political messages (The Purge, Elysium) , but Winter Soldier tackles the issue in a rather clever, not ham-handed way. I’d argue that it doesn’t side with a particular party, as both sides of the aisle have started to protest against certain practices like NSA spying or military interventionism.\

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In terms of being an action flick, I don’t think Winter Soldier quite lives up to other Marvel films. The final fights of The Avengers, Thor 2 and Iron Man 3 were the best the genre has ever seen. The Winter Soldier finale is good, but not nearly on the level of those films. I love Cap’s shield bashing and super punching, but it’s hard to compete with his more flamboyant team members.

Rogers is a dynamic, likeable lead, and it’s good the film didn’t shoehorn in a romance with Black Widow simply because she was there. He has more of a bro-buddy relationship with Romanoff, something not usually seen when your co-star is one of the hottest actresses in Hollywood. There’s sparks, but no fire, and Widow makes a nice pairing as the double, triple, quadruple agent who is ironically, one of the only people he can trust. I still don’t think that they’ve developed her into a strong enough character to lead her own film which is unfortunate. Part of it is her weirdly muddled and barely explained backstory, but also she simply just doesn’t have superpowers. Shooting things well is not a superpower. I just don’t know how interesting that film would be, though I would see it nonetheless. The Avengers needs a Wonder Woman, and I don’t know if Widow has that same sort of weight.

The Winter Soldier does many things well, though being the better of two Captain America movies still means that there are a lot of Marvel movies ahead of it, and far more in the superhero genre itself. Still, it shows Marvel isn’t out of ideas, and the MCU marches on.

3.5 out of 5 stars





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10 responses so far

  • jandhyde

    “Iron Man 3 was the best of the bunch.” Right there I knew what I was in for with this article.

    • cypher20

      I think he meant the best of the IM films which . . . is a tough one for me. The fight scenes were the best, no doubt about that. Plot-wise, some things just didn’t gel for me. Especially the ending which seems to hint that he’s giving up being Iron Man and the senseless destruction of all of his suits. Also, War Machine was 10 shades of useless in IM3, so disappointing. So ultimately if I had to pick a favorite, I think it’d still be IM1.

      • jandhyde

        I’m sure that’s what he meant as well. My statement stands. Sure, better fight scenes. That doesn’t make it the best of the bunch.

  • http://nickverboon.wordpress.com/ Nick Verboon

    I actually think this might be the best of the bunch since the first Iron Man. What a surprise. Pretty much the perfect Captain America film. My only complaint was kind of wasting Black Widow. I preferred her characterization in The Avengers very much and seeing that her whole thing has always been as a double agent whose allegiance isn’t always clear she would have been a perfect fit as an unknown factor in this movie instead of a perfect angel of trust, which she has never been in the comics to my knowledge. Hawkeye may have been a better fit. I’m still waiting for his spotlight. Her solo film could be awesome, though. She’s like a hotter female James Bond and that guy’s solo franchise seems to have done alright for itself. As long as they find the right talent, it’ll be great.

  • Mike

    Pierce wasn’t the Secretary of Defense. He’s a high ranking member of SHIELD.

  • cypher20

    Personally, I would give it a 4.5 out of 5. I thought it was very well done and the plot was quite intriguing and more developed then typical comic book fare. The action scenes were a bit minimalist but you could actually tell what was going on and yeesh, the physicality of Captain America. I winced as I saw him slam some of those guys on the boat in the opening sequence, you know that had to smart (if it was real). So I was really impressed with how they really showed that Cap is superpowered, albeit in a different manner then his compatriots.

    I loved his characterization, the way he stuck to his guns but clearly also was wrestling with some issues. Black Widow worked well and I liked their relationship. Personally, I would not choose her to head a movie because if they did, they would probably feel the need to explain her backstory and I think that would be a mistake. I’m of the opinion that if they ever sit down and explain it, we will end up disappointed. Better to leave it shrouded in mystery and let us fill in the gaps.

    I would agree they handled the politics very well. Most movies make a mess of it, Cap just dealt with it smoothly, moved on to what we really there to see, and so it just worked very well. It made a point without being preachy. My only disappointment is the ultimate fate of the bad guys. So, *SPOILER ALERT*

    It’s hard to get much catharsis from the ending when the mid-credits scene reveals Hydra is still kicking and then the whole thing with the twins is going to make watching Avengers 2 an interesting experience. I understand the option of Hydra coming back in a future movie needs to be there, but you couldn’t let me relish the victory over Hydra at all??

  • tv_paul

    Both Capt films are better than anything they’ve released so far.

  • Camden

    When you say best the genre has ever seen, do you mean action or superhero? If it’s just action, i would point out the raid: redemption as the best fight scenes the genre has to offer. I really liked Winter soldier by the way, Waaaaaay better than the first one.

    • Paul

      Nah I mean superhero. Definitely not action.

  • Deucifer the Sixth

    “but also she simply just doesn’t have superpowers. Shooting things well is not a superpower. I just don’t know how interesting that film would be”

    Dude what? Have you never seen a James Bond movie or a Die Hard movie? A comic-book movie doesn’t necessarily have to be a superhero movie, they could just make it a straight up action/spy movie and it could be great.

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