April 5, 2014
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is truly a must-see for anyone who loves superhero movies, but also for those who love spy thrillers, and even for anyone who loves a good character drama…but however much Cinema Siren heaps praise on the latest movie with her favorite superhero “Cap,” Mr. Red White and Blue, some of you are already in line, aren’t you?
For longtime fans of Captain America comic books, it matters little whether Marvel hands the public Steve Rogers: Boy Scout and über-American or Steve Rogers: Complex WWII vet searching for meaning in a new world or both.
They will dutifully see Cap this premiere weekend and subsequently argue about various aspects of his costume. Fortunately for the rest of the movie-going public, everyone involved with Captain America: The Winter Soldier had more in mind.
From Marvel president Kevin Feige, and directing brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, to the actors, including stars Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie and screen legend Robert Redford, they all aimed to make this latest addition to the Marvel cinematic universe the best one yet. They have very nearly succeeded.
An exciting film that expertly uses modern moviemaking techniques, yet relatively minimal CGI, to meld aspects of the best classic espionage thrillers of the ‘70s and the fast-paced action of the current superhero flicks, Captain America: TWS delivers more than promised in every way. While it is decidedly visceral with its hand-to-hand combat choreography and acrobatics that call to mind the recent Parkour-heavy Banlieu 13, the filmmakers anchor the action in strong character development and interaction, knowing that creating personal challenges for Cap to overcome with his new cohorts is what will make the movie memorable, and what will build new fans loyal to the franchise.
Every aspect of this movie raises the bar for all things Marvel moving forward, which, given the praise for Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, are fandom fighting words.
With 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger and 2012’s The Avengers under Cap’s belt, Captain America: TWS is really the third film featuring this man of muscle and unbending morals. It is the first showing the character completely immersed in today’s world. All the loved ones and friends Steve Rogers (once again played by the exceedingly buffed out Chris Evans) knew in his life are gone, and he finds he must define who he is now, finding new people with whom to connect if he can.
His work for S.H.I.E.L.D. is making him busy as part of maintaining an increasingly questionable balance of personal freedoms and national security. It appears he is being frequently partnered on his missions with liar extraordinaire Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, whose impressively curvy backside deserves its own co-star billing) and the chasm between their understanding of movable morality and personal integrity makes them fascinating foils as allies and friends. All banter is heightened by the easy onscreen chemistry these two stars share in this their fourth movie together.
This plot is thick with complications and betrayals, and is too easily spoiled, but Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and S.H.E.I.L.D. top dog Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford in a casting coup) are involved in fighting for or against a plot that not only takes away freedoms, but kills those who may be a longterm threat. Cap’s not having it.
Within that storyline, an antagonist is introduced in The Winter Soldier, who throws dark yet equally super-weighted power and an emotional wrench into the proceedings (more information will only spoil the plot for less comic savvy viewers)… Who knew bumming out a Boy Scout could be so entertaining?
The answer to that comes in the form of directing team Anthony and Joe Russo (of Community and Arrested Development fame) are not only longtime fans of comic books, but encyclopedic in their knowledge of and love of film. They have sprinkled homages throughout TWS from thrillers like Three Days of the Condor, To Live and Die in LA, and Heat, and in an ode to Marathon Man, in the opening sequence where Cap meets Sam as he runs around the National Mall.
They were wise to select production designer Peter Wenham (of Now You See Me and The Bourne Ultimatum) to manipulate the film’s color palette to evoke ‘70s spy films designed with limited color, so that later in the movie focused color can be used more effectively.
Robert Redford’s presence alone could call to mind the many classic thrillers of the ’70s that are used as inspiration for TWS’s storyline, but he does way more than call his performance in. He has a studied intensity that makes the audience curious but clueless as to his motivations, and the character he portrays is multidimensional enough that no matter where he lands morally, one could make an argument for his perspective.
Meanwhile, God bless the Russos for finally giving acting powerhouse and forever up-and-coming actor Anthony Mackie a truly breakout role as Sam Wilson, The Falcon. One of the most impressive aspects of the screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (which was based on the comic series by Ed Brubaker) is that Sam and Steve Rogers connect through their shared understanding of being a wartime soldier and the toll that takes. This script has a way of showing a respect for the military and the choices military men must face in combat, that as a Navy brat with a father who spent 25 years as an officer, that was heartening to say the least.
Wilson is portrayed as a PTSD counselor who has seen suffering himself. Mackie brings a sincerity and easy grace to the role that makes their friendship believable and comforting. The audience roots for them and understands why they come together with Romanoff to fight against a shared foe.
The bonded male friendship forged between The Falcon and Captain America gives both brevity and gravitas through the second half of the film to its conclusion, and creates an audience connection to The Falcon that makes us want to see more of him in films to come. Kudos to all involved for finally crafting a worthy role for Mackie to mine in Marvel’s future.
Beyond all the surprisingly complex plot lines, Captain America: The Winter Soldier brings moments of lightness and fun that keep things entertaining for those just looking for action. That there isn’t destruction of an entire urban landscape as part of the climax, has been the norm of late, is a welcome relief many Marvel fans will appreciate.
Equal parts superhero movie and paranoid thriller, audiences will find Captain America: The Winter Soldier surprisingly deep and satisfying fare, putting an end to the mediocre releases of the early spring and giving way to exciting blockbusters worth seeing again and again.
4 1/2 out of 5 stars