Marvel has done it again and in grand fashion. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (CA: TWS) is part espionage film, part political thriller, and all out action romp! The film integrates bits of Marvel Comics Civil War event with Ed Brubaker’s excellent tale of The Winter Soldier.
Chris Evans returns as the titular hero, once again walking the fine line of earnest Boy Scout and bad ass action hero. Captain America continues to adapt to the cloudy morality that permeates the modern world. The man out of time through line is displayed front and center as Cap struggles with the loneliness that accompanies the loss of friends and loved ones. With most of his old friends deceased or now senior citizens, Cap needs new friends to help him navigate the murky waters of the Marvel Universe.
Quickly introducing The Falcon, a fan favorite character and longtime collaborator of Captain America in the comic books, Anthony Mackie’s, Sam Wilson, is a solid addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He establishes a believable bond with Steve Rogers, the ease of their interplay providing a subtle depth to their budding partnership. The Falcon gets plenty of cool moments and earns his keep as a legitimate player in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Early on the film provides a glimpse of Cap’s new role as an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., joining Black Widow on a covert hostage rescue operation. In, other films this would have been a throwaway action set-piece, whereas here it forms the first piece in a puzzle that reveals a picture of betrayal and treachery. When the good guys can only be distinguished from the bad by whether or not they are shooting at you at the time, you are living in a grey area. Black Widow and Nick Fury thrive in these grey areas.
Samuel L. Jackson gets his most screen time yet as the grizzled Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., he is the centerpiece of a great car chase/gun battle that aptly demonstrates that Fury still has a lot of fight and resourcefulness within him. Scarlet Johannson’s, Black Widow, is given her strongest arc yet, with her role as an espionage agent called into question and her pursuit of “clearing the red out of her ledger” turned on its ear. Fury and Black Widow exhibit a level of vulnerability as yet unseen by Marvel’s heroes.
The gamble of setting the first film in the past adds weight to the proceedings as several key strands from the first Captain America film are woven into CA: TWS. Sharp eyed comic viewers will notice the return of Nazi scientist Arnim Zola in a highly appropriate re-interpretation of his comic book visual appearance. Even the malevolent organization HYDRA manages to make its presence known. The Winter Soldier, of course, being the strongest tie to the previous film and one bad mutha-SHUTYOMOUTH!
CA: TWS features the most hard-hitting action of any Marvel film to date with brutal, bone crunching hand-to-hand fights, shield-to-cybernetic arm fights, aerial dogfights, spectacular stunts, and Sebastian Stan embodying the vicious, nigh-unstoppable killing machine that is The Winter Soldier – and he is a beast! He is the first villain to truly leave an impact and match the greatness of Tom Hiddleston’s, Loki. Inspiring fear and leaving a path of carnage in his wake, The Winter Soldier is a monster of few words but for all of the slaughter he causes, it is his very presence that provides the hardest emotional punch.
CA: TWS is a meaty endeavor with enough “ripped from the headlines” thought provoking material to chew on, packaged with strong characters in a deft screenplay that is lean, powerful and swift. Despite its comic book roots and frenetic action, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is strangely enough an emotional movie. The characters all find themselves questioning their place in the world and by the film’s end their circumstances are entirely different as they set out upon new directions.
This film represents a new direction for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with Guardians of the Galaxy looming in the fall, Ant-Man set to grow on movie goers in 2015, and Avengers: Age of Ultron marking the end of the second phase of the Marvel movies, Marvel has once again demonstrated that they have what it takes to succeed. Captain America: The Winter Soldier proves that a “comic book movie” can transcend that genre and integrate any other, this film is worth viewing and worthy of all the praise and acclaim it is receiving, but hell, you were already going to see it twice anyway.
Speaking of twice, there are two after credits sequences. Definitely stick around for those.