By Danny Sarnowski
Captain America: The Winter Soldier wants to be The Parallax View meets Three Days of the Condor meets a Marvel superhero film. It does not achieve that feat, but it drives the superhero movie to new and exciting places. The pace is more deliberate, the characters are given actual things to say, and it steps up the action thrillingly.
The story finds Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America, still finding his footing in the twenty first century. He has survived the battle of New York in The Avengers and found a calling working for S.H.I.E.L.D. While he does not approve of Director Fury's tactics, he believes he is doing good work - at least as the story opens. A daring strike in the mid-day in Washington D.C. kicks off an adventure that leaves Cap wondering who he can trust and where his loyalties reside.
New characters are introduced, including Alexander Pierce the head of the World Security Council played by cinematic legend Robert Redford and Sam Wilson (a.k.a. Falcon) played by Anthony Mackie. Much will be made about Redford's casting and the fact that the famously liberal actor/director/filmmaker/activist is playing against type as a shadowy, security-focused, Republican government official. More should be made of the fact that he commits to the role as seriously as his other work. Rather than chew the scenery like Anthony Hopkins or ham it up like Stellan Skarsgard in Thor, Redford treats the material with more respect. And the respect is reciprocated. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo, along with writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, give him material to work with. Mackie is a welcome addition to the Marvel team and his easy rapport with Chris Evans makes him a believable sidekick for Cap.
The respect shown to Redford is also given to Samuel L. Jackson, who after six Marvel movies is finally given something interesting to say. He isn't simply onscreen to be a "bad ass" and drive story exposition. He also sits center stage at a harrowing action sequence and holds his own. Scarlett Johansson has a few scenes which also allow her to make her character less of a caricature. We also see her Black Widow flex a few of her "spy muscles" as opposed to just fighting the whole time. Chris Evans captures the humility, warmth, and righteousness of Captain America and grounds him in ways I never thought possible while suffering through his performance as Johnny Storm in the dreadful Fanstastic Four movies.
To all the haters who saw The Avengers and said "Captain America isn't really a superhero" I invite you to view Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The creative team behind this picture have amped Steve up. He's fast - really fast. He jumps out of planes without a parachute, takes out boatloads of terrorists with his bare hands, and literally runs through walls. It is clear from this outing that Captain America has fully thawed out and is ready for action.
The action in Captain America: The First Avenger was fairly weak. Many of the battle scenes were told in montage or glossed over so we never got the satisfaction of watching Captain America really do much. This movie allows the action to be much more visceral, urgent, and cruel. While the movie doesn't have the intellectual weight of the 1970's political thrillers it emulates, it does portray the story more maturely. The violence in this movie is more severe, the fight sequences brutal. Hand-to-hand fighting with knives, close-in gun battles, and heavy artillery are brought to the table. The action is head and shoulders above the other Marvel movies until late in the film when the inevitable, CGI-choked, death-from-above-chaos fills the movie's final act. If only the Russos had trusted us to stay interested and to care about the outcome of the story without reverting to the cliches so typically found in superhero blockbusters.
- The tone of the film is darker, tighter, and a little smarter.
- The script allows for more dialogue and better acting from the capable cast.
- The humor, while spare, hits home.
- The fight scenes and general level of action.
What didn't work:
- The conspiracy is thin and everyone over the age of 11 will see the "twists" coming from a mile off. Probably before you even hit the theater.
- A bit of mid-movie exposition featuring Toby Jones awkwardly reminds you that you are watching a comic book movie and dumbs things down a tad.
- The obligatory sensory-overload CGI battle that ends the film. It just wasn't necessary.
- The violence may actually be a bit too much, especially for younger viewers. I would stick pretty close to the PG-13 rating here.
This is the Captain America movie that fans were looking for, though we needed The First Avenger to set up the character and ground him in his "man out of time" existence. This film is a welcome step in the right direction for the Marvel movies.
As a paranoid, trust-no-one, 1970s political thriller: C+
As a more intelligent and fun superhero movie: A-