Movie Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier
I finally got a chance to watch Captain America: The Winter Solider after having been out of the country for the last couple of weeks. And, can I tell you...it is so difficult to try to avoid any spoilers in this day of social media. But, thankfully, I've avoided both twitter and facebook for the most part while I was away as I always wanted to be surprised by the Spring offerings at Tokyo Disney Resort and Disneyland Paris.
Anyway, back to the issue at hand - Captain America: The Winter Solider. Where I was also going with the impact of social media is that, in building excitement for this movie, it also set high expectations. So, even though I tried to avoid any spoilers, even before I left, I was a little worried that my expectations would be set too high. Thankfully, I can honestly say that this movie lived up to all the hype. In fact, I personally think it is one of the best Marvel movies.
When Marvel Studios announced that it had plans laid out through 2028, I was both super excited but also concerned. While the superhero genre film is very popular right now, would it continue to be so 14 years from now. But, watching Captain America: The Winter Solider, it really sunk in what Marvel Studios is doing. It isn't just creating superhero genre films, but it is creating films of different genres that happen to have superheroes in them. With Thor: The Dark World, we saw more of a fantasy film, with Guardians of the Galaxy will be more of a space film, and with Captain America, we have an espionage film. But, while it is an espionage film, it is also undeniably rooted in superhero comic books.
Based on the critically acclaimed story by Ed Brubaker, the film puts Captain America in the middle of a vast conspiracy that makes him question his every alliance. On the surface, it is a darker film for Marvel Studios, but, at the same time, it is not without joy or fun. There is still that trademark Marvel humor peppered throughout the film, including the witty repartee between Cap and Black Widow.
The darkness also, if anything, it shines a brighter light on Captain America himself. Through the darkness, Captain America shines as the beacon of light and we are reminded why he is considered the world's greatest soldier.
Chris Evans continues to be impressive in this role. I was talking with my cousin the other day about the casting of the new Fantastic Four film and how it will be difficult for me to see anybody else but Chris Evans in the role of Johnny Storm because, to me, he embodied everything that character was. So, it is interesting to think that, now, I cannot imagine seeing anybody else play Captain America considering Johnny Storm and Steve Rogers are completely different. Johnny Storm is impulsive and cocky where Steve Rogers is tempered and humble. In fact, I think it would be more difficult to play Captain America because there is a fine line that one must walk to not make him one dimensional. And, Chris Evans manages to do this with great skill.
Also settling into her role quite well is Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanov/Black Widow. While I've enjoyed her in the previous Marvel Studios films, I think this film truly captures her character as being a spy of questionable morals, but, at the end of the day, is a hero at heart.
And, new to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Anthony Mackie is excellent as Sam Wilson/Falcon. Growing up, I always associated the Falcon with Captain America. He was one of my favorite Marvel superheroes. Many people don't realize that his origins go back to 1969 and is the first African-American superhero (Black Panther was the first black superhero, but is African in origin). While the Sam Wilson in this film is sort of an amalgam of the Sam Wilson in both the Marvel Earth-616 Universe and the Ultimates Universe, they really managed to capture the spirit of this character. You get a real sense of camaraderie between Captain America and Falcon and understand why they would become partners. The only thing I wished is that they would have teased a costume for future film that features some of the red and white of his classic costume.
In other casting, Sebastian Stan as the Winter Soldier really feels like he stepped out of the comic books and Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce brings the appropriate gravitas to the role.
Honestly, though, there is very little fat in this film which is remarkable given its 2 hour 16 minute running time. While I tend to find many action films have lots of gratuitous or overly long action sequences, I felt all the action and fighting sequences are beautiful choreographed that also highlight the high stakes and danger going on in the film.
One of the unique things about the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that things overlap from film to film. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, there are references to Iron Man, Tony Stark, Bruce Banner and the Avengers. There is also a very quick reference to Stephen Strange...aka Dr. Strange for whom a film is being developed in the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But, beyond the films, there is also a connection to this film to Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC. While people told me that I needed to watch both the episodes "End of the Beginning" (Episode 116) and "Turn, Turn, Turn" (Episode 117), I don't think you really need to watch them in order to understand the film, but I do think they nicely enhance the experience. So, I would highly recommend watching them, but, again, it's not necessary to understand what's happening. However, you will need to watch Captain America: The First Avenger, especially if you are unfamiliar with the Marvel Universe, just so you can understand who the Winter Soldier really is and why he is so important to Captain America.
Also, as is the tradition of Marvel Studios films, there are inter-credit sequences. The first, which comes mid-credits, is a teaser to the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron and the second, which comes post-credits, is a teaser to a third Captain America film. So, be sure to check those out.