Friday, August 8, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo.
2014. Rated PG-13, 136 minutes.
Chris Evans
Scarlett Johansson
Samuel L. Jackson
Robert Redford
Anthony Mackie
Sebastian Stan
Frank Grillo
Cobie Smulders
Emily VanCamp
Hayley Atwell

Like Thor and Iron Man we find Steve Rogers, aka Captain America (Evans), trying to piece his life back together "after New York," or the events of The Avengers. In case you haven't kept up with what's going on, Cap has an additional hurdle. He's not long been woken after having been frozen for nearly seventy years. He has a lot of catching up to do. Of course, that has to wait because there's a world to save. Some bad folks, I won't say who, have taken over SHIELD. They plan on restoring world order, and running things, by eliminating every person in the world they deem to be a threat. This numbers some twenty million people. Yes, Captain America, Black Widow (Johansson), and Nick Fury (Jackson) are included in that group. Superhero stuff ensues.

One thing we notice early on is that the tone of this movie is different from just about every other in Marvel's shared universe, with the first Captain America being the closest one. The rest go out of their way to make us laugh. While there is some humor here, that certainly isn't the case. Things don't quite veer into The Dark Knight territory, but it is a fairly serious minded superhero flick. The movie uses this to tremendous advantage by creating tension sooner and rarely diffusing it. Action scenes are given more oomph. Combine all this with the fact that neither our hero nor the people helping him are actually invincible and that tension is increased a bit more. We feel like there's something on the line.

Captain America himself is a big asset. Chris Evans has found the hero he should be playing. As The Human Torch in the Fantastic Four series, he was too much. He got to be real annoying, real fast. In other things, I've usually found him too bland to make me care about whoever he was playing. The character of Captain America calls for a certain level of blandness. Like Superman, he represents the cheesy ideals of a simpler time. He is also a physical specimen superior to the rest of us. Evans embodies all of this. We believe him when he expresses confliction over the politics at play within SHIELD and elsewhere. Unlike Superman, and what ultimately makes him a better fit for the movies, is that he is not indestructible. As enhanced as he is, he will still succumb to many of the same things we will. Granted, none of us are jumping out a plane with no parachute and landing unharmed, but he can still be taken out by a gunshot or be cut by a knife.

Helping us psychoanalyze our hero are Black Widow and Sam Wilson, aka Falcon (Mackie). Both ask him tons of personal questions. Black Widow does so mostly in an effort to help him kick start his love life. Meanwhile, Falcon tries to help him fill in the blanks created by seventy years of sleep. It's a cool way for us to get to know a little more about Cap, and inject some laughter into the proceedings. Johansson gives her best performance of the character, to date, and Mackie does a very nice job with his role. He is an actor I've admired for a while now, so I'm happy he's getting a chance at becoming part of a huge franchise on a recurring basis (hopefully). Speaking of our supporting cast, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Samuel L. Jackson. He continues to make Nick Fury his own.

All of these performers come together to tell us an intriguing story. It's the saga of a prodigal son returning, but not sure what to, and if he still belongs. It's the self-examination of a man who is struggling with his sense of right and wrong. His feelings are egged on by his lack of trust in the powers that be. These are issues he never had to deal with during his World War II days. Eliminating the enemy was easy because everyone knew who they were. With evil-doers more clandestine than ever and their identities rapidly changing, Cap has a lot tougher job than he once had.

Examining our hero's mental state is fine and dandy, but it all would be for naught in a boring movie. See Ang Lee's Hulk for proof. Luckily, this one not only has tons of action, it has tons of good action. The battles Cap gets into are some doozies. His hand-to-hand combat is shot in a way that owes a lot to The Bourne Identity. The camera is a bit shaky and closer than normal. It works to emphasize the force and speed at which our hero is moving. His best fight is one with a person who has a very interesting identity. However, the best action scene of them all might be one that doesn't include Cap at all. Instead, it features Nick Fury trying to escape with his life. It's Fury's finest scene in any movie, period.

One of the negatives in all this awesomeness is something this movie imposes on itself and wouldn't change. That problem is that it's "just" a Captain America flick. Marvel's shared universe concept comes back to bite them. By that, I mean we already know that this is a world where Thor, Iron Man, and the Hulk exist. The conflict of this movie certainly seems like a big enough issue to get their attention. Alas, none of them are even doing a fly-by to see if Cap is okay. This is by no means a deal breaker. However, it just feels a bit odd that so big a problem get such a limited response. On the technical side, there were a couple of hard to ignore continuity issues. These mainly involve just when and where Falcon is able to access his wings. He seemed to just get them out of nowhere on occasion. Again, not a deal breaker, but an annoyance.

The bigger negative is Captain America's abilities. I mentioned them as a positive, earlier. I also exclaimed how great it is that he isn't immortal. Still, just how enhanced he is is a bit vague and inconsistent. Remember that chuteless sky-dive? It looks really cool, but leaves us a bit puzzled when something of much lesser impact than landing that jump hurts him. It's a problem the character has been dealing with since long before he made the leap from the comic book pages to the big screen. Therefore, I won't knock the movie too much. It's really hard to. To be honest, this is arguably the best Marvel movie of this whole shared universe thing.


  1. Hi Wendell! Great review. This is perhaps my fave Marvel standalone film so far. "Things don't quite veer into The Dark Knight territory, but it is a fairly serious minded superhero flick..." I like that it's serious without being dark and grim, and the espionage aspect is played nicely here with some humor mixed in. I can't wait to see the third film!

    1. I'm debating with myself whether or not it's better than the first Iron Man, but that's its only competition in the shared universe they've built. I'm definitely anxious to see the next installment of this one.

  2. Hi Wendell! Great review. Like you, I really liked this film. I liked this better than the 1st one. There were definitely some flaws in the film, like you noted but overall I really enjoyed it. The Falcon character was fun, but I wish there was a little more explanation into his background as well. I will say the tie in to the Agents of Shield episode was well done. If only DC Comics could get it's *stuff* together. I'm a DC fan.

    1. Agreed, it was better than the first movie. I'm holding out hope we'll get to know Falcon better as these Marvel movies roll along. I'm also hoping DC gets their act together, also.

  3. Good review Dell. Gets a bit convoluted in its own story, but for the most part, stays fun and entertaining like it should.

  4. Thanks, it's a ton of fun. I really enjoyed it.