Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review Part 1

This past weekend Marvel released their 9th entry into the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” (MCU) with Joe and Anthony Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier (WS). Chris Evans returns as Steve Rogers/Captain America along side Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Cobie Smulders return to their respective roles. Anthony Mackie introduces us to Sam Wilson, aka the Falcon. Frank Grillo introduces Brock Rumlow and Emily VanCamp introduces Sharon, Agent 13.

In choosing to base their story off of Ed Brubaker’s seminole run that concluded in 2012 with his initial story about the Winter Soldier, Marvel was taking a big risk with someone like me. Not just because I love the comics and Captain America in particular, but that the Winter Soldier is by far my favorite character in fiction. So to bring him to the big screen was bold and I had such a high bar set for what the character should be I went in to this film worried it couldn’t live up to my ridiculous expectations.

I was so wrong.

This movie blew me away. I wasn’t prepared for how good of a movie I was in for. I want to talk briefly about the film in three areas: the intrigue, tortured characters, and the women.

The Intrigue

When they announced this film, Kevin Fige (the genius behind the MCU) had always said this was going to be a political thriller in the style of the 1970s films. Movies like The French Connection and Three Days of the Condor and many more all come to the fore when we hear this. And the film lived up to this billing. Robert Redford lending his hand as Alexander Pierce added to this effect, brilliantly.

Using ideas inspired from the whole Wikileaks, Christopher Marckus and Stephen McFeely crafted a story that is tightly plotted and allows the audience to be drawn into the narrative and become invested. The film talks about issues we understand and feel, heightened only by the recent discoveries of the NSA spying programs and drone strikes. Yet the themes of how much freedom should we sacrifice to ease our fears will remain timeless.

And yet here was the thing about these themes, the movie avoided the pitfall of being preachy. The film allowed both sides of the issue to give their reasons for why they are doing what they are doing. They audience can decide for itself who they think was right even though the film had its own answer.

The many twists of this film were well crafted and I didn’t see exactly how they would bring in Hydra to create the conspiracy. But they did it well. I was honestly shocked by some of them. Faces from the past showed up in the present in ways that pleasantly surprised me.

The action in this film is much bolder than the previous films. Cap and the players are supposed to be highly trained fighters and it shows. WS used Cap’s shield in really fun and creative ways. The car chases were well done. The climactic battle over Washington D.C. avoided the “disaster porn” critique leveled against The Avengers and Man of Steel. The action was down to a scale that put the characters in peril but didn’t go over the top in leveling entire cities.

Tortured Characters

When people think of great stories it’s usually those where the protagonists are tortured by the conflict of the plot and overcome it. And that torture is connected to the “who” of the character. It forces the character to wrestle with who they are. WS does this brilliantly. The conspiracy is able to attack Captain America and what the thinks his mission in this new, modern world is. It attacks Fury and his organization. And it attacks Black Widow and the life she has lead for both the KGB and SHIELD. It even manages to attack the main heavy, the Winter Soldier himself.

Each actor does an amazing job wrestling with their issues. And as the conflict unfolds and is resolved, we see just how strong of a person Captain America is and how much of an inspiration his is to the rest of the MCU. The others are changed by his ability to endure the torture and remain true to himself. And now Widow and Fury question what they’ve been doing at SHIELD their entire careers there and must grow from there.

It’s this emotional conflict that drives the movie, Captain America having to find his place in the world as a person with such a strong moral center. Everything Hydra does tests this in Captain America. And this is why I loved this film so much. It was about the characters first and foremost. The film didn’t get lost in the conspiracy and the action spectacle like so many other films do. (Cough! Cough! 300: Rise of an Empire! Cough! Cough!).

The Women

I think something must be said about the women in the film. I think it’s safe to say that if the Black Widow doesn’t get a solo movie then Marvel really has just lucked into their success and it’s not the result of careful planning. The film never turned her into a damsel to be rescued. She had a real moral crisis to resolve without overshadowing Chris’s performance as Captain America. In fact the film did a great job of balancing the characters without taking away from this film being a Captain America film. And where she ends up left me wanting to know how she rebuilds her life. Please make the solo film!

But even Maria Hill and Agent 13 were strong females characters that weren’t overshadowed by the men. Smulders is given more action and is at the heart of the climactic battle. The same is true of VanCamp’s Agent 13. I figured she would be more involved than she was because of my own previous exposure to her character in the comics. But she was an agent in SHIELD assigned to protect Captain America, as if he were the damsel.

And I think my favorite performance of all the women still has to be Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter. In Captain America: The First Avenger she was an agent in the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR; the predecessor to SHIELD) that was fighting against sexism in the military. And she was Cap’s best gal, falling in love not with the muscle-bound super soldier but the little kid from Brooklyn too dumb to run from a fight and always wanted to do what’s right. She put Rogers on the right path in this film (with some help with the Falcon later on in the film). But he performance as an elderly woman with a form of dementia in a nursing home was simply moving.

Conclusion

To sum up this portion of the review, I believe this is Marvel’s best film to date—yes that includes The Avengers. It’s plot was so strong, the performances of the actors were brilliant, the action was intense, and, quite frankly, I didn’t think the good guys were going to make it a couple of times. I think this belongs in discussion with The Dark KnightX-Men 2, Spider-Man 2, and Superman: The Movie as best in the superhero/comic book genre.

I’ve seen the movie twice and I will see it at least one more time before the month’s out. If you haven’t seen this film yet, you need to see it. It’s that amazing!

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~ by hankimler on April 8, 2014.

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