News, Views, and Reviews
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is an action packed movie that works on many levels. It’s not just a super hero movie, it’s a tightly scripted, political thriller/espionage caper, with some great character moments, a little bit of humor, and some of the best action sequences I’ve ever seen. The main character just happens to be a super hero that is one of the Avengers.
The latest in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Winter Soldier is sandwiched between two super fantastic, “far out there” releases. Thor: Dark World came out in November, and Guardians of the Galaxy will hit theaters in August. Marvel is wise to create this wide of a range of sub-genres that co-exist under their main MCU umbrella. Thor protecting his mythological realms is different than Iron Man and his conflicts of technology escalation, just as the Guardians of the Galaxy and their alien/cosmic adventures are different than Captain America and his grounded conflicts in Winter Soldier.
Story: Indeed, this movie is the most grounded in “reality” of all of the Marvel movies, and in spite or because of that, it is possibly the strongest “super hero” movie to date. It is also very topical in this modern age of our lives being monitored in the name of our protection. Even before he became a super soldier test subject, Steve Rogers wanted to defend those that can’t defend themselves. He’s the perfect guardian, symbolized smartly with his signature shield. He’s also very patriotic and believes in the American ideals of truth, justice, and freedom. But how much have those ideals changed while the Captain was frozen in ice for nearly 70 years? This movie asks the very serious, fundamental question of the ages: How much freedom are we willing to sacrifice for our safety, and vice versa?
Characterization: Captain America has to wrestle with this dynamic, his sense of duty, as well as come to terms with his purpose in life. It’s some pretty heady stuff, but it’s handled well throughout the movie, and this attention to the character finally gives Chris Evans room to shine in the role. He also has some of the most spectacular action sequences in any Marvel movie so far, which demonstrate what the “super soldier” is really capable of. The supporting cast is remarkable as well, especially Scarlet Johansson adding even more depth to her Black Widow character. I’m sure it wasn’t a coincidence that Robert Redford was attached to this movie, as he was in several political thrillers in the 70’s and 80’s. He gives a chilling performance as Alexander Pierce, the man in charge of SHIELD, the man that challenges Rogers’ beliefs in freedom. Like Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson is finally given more opportunity to shine as Director Nick Fury, a character he has appeared as in every MCU movie so far. Anthony Mackie joins the cast, as Sam Wilson/Falcon, with such ease and perfection, people will quickly forget that he wasn’t one of the main characters all along.
But it’s Sebastian Stan that steals the show as the Winter Soldier, the relentless rival to Captain America. If Loki, the God of Mischief that challenged Thor and The Avengers in those movies, can be popular because of his charm and wit, I believe the Winter Soldier will be popular for the opposite reasons: he’s cold, barely speaks, but fills the screen with such a strong, menacing presence, that I just wanted to see more of him throughout the movie. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo do not disappoint.
Visualization: Make no mistake, just because this is a more “grounded” and realistic take on the super hero genre, and the political thriller sub-genre, The Winter Soldier looks amazing. There are some strong scenes of story and character development, but they merely let the audience catch their breath between unbelievably awesome action sequences. The final act especially is SO GOOD! There are a lot of acrobatics, well choreographed fight scenes, car chases, gun fights, and more. My only complaint is that, like many action movies, the camera is sometimes just too close to the action to really appreciate it. The overall direction is solid and the scenes are easy to follow, and the tone is remarkably believable. The massive SHIELD “Hellicarriers” are especially impressive, and almost justify seeing this movie in an IMAX theater.
3D and IMAX: Followers of my blog will appreciate that I’m normally a huge fan of big 3D movies. BUT, I think movies like Pacific Rim and Gravity have raised the bar so high, that anything else feels weak in comparison. There are few scenes that stand out in The Winter Soldier, particularly scenes with the massive Hellicarriers that showcase their size and their sense of scale, that almost make the format worthwhile. Almost. The use of 3D is also under-utilized, save for a few cool scenes. Overall, I can’t recommend it strongly enough, so those on the fence will probably be just as entertained without it.
Sound: Alan Silvestri returns with another super soundtrack. Without even trying, I’ve become quite a fan of his work, as it happens to appear in many of my favorite movies recently. There are enough subtle differences though, between this and his other soundtracks, that also reflect the differences in theme and tone. The theme for Thor, for example, felt more epic and fantastic, whereas Captain America: Winter Soldier has more swellings of pride and patriotism. The sound effects in Winter Soldier are also amazing, even better than Iron Man 3. The satisfying clanks of his shield really stand out, and even “regular” fight scenes have an aural style that matches the raw intensity of the visualization.
Conclusion: Fans of both super hero movies and spy movies will not be disappointed with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Like the sound effects and visualization, the movie is a masterful mix of realism and intense action, political paranoia and loyalty, bravery and heroism. There is a decent amount of character development accompanying the action, all framed by a compelling theme of safety versus freedom. It exists within the MCU, and its climax will shake that universe to its core, but it has just enough exposition and development to stand on its own.
Note: Stay tuned during the credits for two scenes teasing the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe! If you are watching Agents of SHIELD on ABC, make sure to watch this movie before the episode airing on Monday!
Captain America: Winter Soldier soared into theaters April 4th, runs 136 minutes, and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, gunplay and action throughout.