REVIEW: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”

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It’s easy to get lost among the huge and larger than life Marvel movie properties such as Thor, Iron Man, and The Avengers. Such was the case with Captain America and his 2011 film “The First Avenger”. Now don’t misunderstand me, Cap’s first solo movie project was still a hit and it raked in just over $370 million at the box office. But it is rarely mentioned in the conversations about Marvel’s growing cinematic landscape. Personally I loved “The First Avenger” and its distinct and unique flavor. Well obviously its success means a second film will follow, but unlike many sequels Cap’s new chapter legitimately excited me.

“The Winter Soldier” was an amazing storyline that ran through the Captain America comics starting in 2005. It was written by Ed Brubaker and drawn by the amazing Steve Epting. The two developed an engrossing story that has become one of my favorite comic book storylines ever put to print. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely desperately wanted to adapt Brubaker’s story. They ended up taking key elements of it, added a few slick and interesting twists, and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” was born.

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The first Cap film carved out its own little spot among the Marvel movies. It took place predominantly in the past, namely during World War II. While those connections are still present, this film is a modern day story. Chris Evans reprises his straight-laced Steve Rogers persona. He is still very much a man from the past struggling to find his place in the modern world. Whether it’s technology and pop culture or the complex attitudes towards global crisis and geopolitics, Rogers often finds himself at odds with the situations around him. The film does take some time with that but ultimately this is an old-school action flick that hearkens back to the old espionage pictures of old.

Cap is still working for S.H.E.I.L.D. under director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and alongside Natasha (a.k.a. Black Widow) played by Scarlett Johansson. The relationships between these three characters remain compelling. The contrasts between Steve and Natasha are sharp and always evident. Natasha and Fury have a relationship shrouded in secrecy. Steve and Fury are on the same side but are often at odds over what is the right approach. All of these things are stressed more when S.H.E.I.L.D. is compromised by a rogue force led by a mysterious assassin known only as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). Several twists and turns follow, threats come around every corner, and the stakes shoot through the roof.

Director Joe Johnston did a fine job with the first film but I was blown away by what directors Anthony and Joe Russo give us in the sequel. The brothers, mostly know for their work in television, rarely take their feet off the accelerator yet they never let their film become a deluge of pointless, mind-numbing action. The battles always feel important and the consequences are dire. But they also look amazing. I can’t tell you how many times I shuffled in my seat with excitement over what I was seeing on the screen. The camera constantly grabs one beautiful angle or presents one breathtaking sweeping shot. It’s some of the best filmed action I have seen in years. And it’s also a case where the 3-D works pretty well. I wouldn’t go as far as to say you must see it in 3-D, but I certainly didn’t mind that I did.

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The action also goes back to days when we weren’t beholden to CGI. Now obviously there is plenty of CGI in this picture, but where it separates itself from most other Marvel movies is in its lack of dependence on the technology. Much of the action focuses on great hand-to-hand combat, some amazing high-speed chases, and a lot of classic-styled stunt work. The entire visual presentation is stunning and it matches or exceeds anything Marvel has done to this point.

But the looks of the film would amount to little if not for Markus and McFeely’s addictive story. They frame all of their action around cool spy movie and conspiracy thriller angles instead of the basic superhero formulas we are used to seeing. Equally surprising is the richness of character development which provides more depth to everyone on screen. Even more, the Winter Soldier is a fantastic villain. Not only is he incredibly cool and a perfect visual representation of his comic book counterpart, he also isn’t a faceless enemy. He may steal scenes with his physical presence, but he also brings a gravity to the situation that amps things up. The pacing is crisp, fluid, and never lulls. The tone is more serious, yet the sprinkles of humor are funny and well timed. It’s simply a well-oiled and well-conceived script that dramatically changes the landscape for upcoming Marvel films.

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Then there is the acting. Over time Evans has clearly gotten better as an actor and he completely embodies the role of Steve Rogers. Jackson and Johansson have also fallen right into their characters and their comfort level is obvious. It was great to see them both in bigger and more expanded roles. As I mentioned, Sebastian Stan is a scene stealer and my excitement level rose whenever he would appear. Also new to the franchise is Robert Redford who plays a S.H.E.I.L.D. senior head. Redford starred in a number of conspiracy films back in the 1970s so this is familiar territory for him. Anthony Mackie is also a lot of fun playing Sam Wilson who Cap fans know as Falcon. There were several other small supporting characters that caused my inner comic book fanboy to smile.

It may be easy for some people to dismiss this film but to do so would be criminal. Sure it’s a big, loud popcorn picture but I don’t mind that at all especially when the film is this exciting and entertaining. I was expecting big things from this movie, but I didn’t expect to be blown away by its craftsmanship and its storytelling. It takes what we love about superhero films, tosses in loads of bods to comic fans, and mixes it all with good old-fashioned filmmaking and the results are impeccable. I love this movie and it very well may be Marvel’s best film to date. More than that, It’s one of the most exhilarating action pictures I’ve seen in a long time.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

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39 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”

  1. Holy Cow! Five stars! I get lost with all the Marvel stories; they don’t speak to me like other movie buff fans. However, I do like the hero story when it’s done right, and this certainly seems to be the case. Great review, Keith. 🙂

    • Thanks Cindy! Yep I went with my rare 5 stars! It took a second viewing to reach it but I couldn’t give it anything less. It is such an incredible ride filled with great action, strong characters, and an engrossing story. I simply adore it.

  2. I’m also enthusiastic although there are some reservations about the repetitive action in multiple sequences. Still it was an intelligent script that starts to play with our War on Terror fears but ends up sticking to a solid but convoluted good guys versus bad guys formula.

    • I think it plays with a number of things including the war on terror thing but also our recent wiretapping and other overreaches from our government. And I loved the way the plot twisted and turned. I love the injections from comic book lore and I thought the action was phenomenal. I’m stunned that I had such a great reaction to this one! Pleased but still stunned.

    • Thanks man, glad to hear you loved it too. It really is visually striking isn’t it? Have you had a problem with the way a lot of action movies are filmed these days? I have in this film shows how to do it right. It’s really edge-of-your-seat stuff and I could feel the adrenaline rush!

  3. Wow. . . . 5 stars?! So this is what I am missing, eh? Lol, I have Captain America: The First Avenger still sitting on the back burner right now so I’ll have to get to this one late myself. But man, if it gets a perfect score from you I am prepared to have a good time. Which I’m sure I will have, First Avenger seems pretty sweet too. I was more an Iron Man fan but I could get into this.

    Nice work here

    • Thanks man. Yeah I’m as surprised as you are at the five-star score. I’ve always been a big Captain America fan dating back to his early books and the first movie was really good. But this one tops it in many regards. Not only is it a superhero movie but it is a fantastic old-school action picture. Incredibly filmed and the action is kinetic.

      Then there are the great characters, the solid story with broad ramifications for the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the fun factor which was through the roof.

      I don’t give many 5 star ratings at all (only one last year). But this thing hit all the right notes and I found it completely satisfying as both a comics fan and a movie fan. I highly recommend it.

  4. Good review Keith. I was always entertained with this, even if I didn’t feel like it needed to be so damn serious. However, that does show that it wants to get really ready for the second Avengers.

    • Thanks man. I absolutely loved it and I went for it 110%. As a huge fan of the original Winter Soldier I was amazed at how accurately they captured his likeness and the complex threat he posed. I thought it fell perfectly into this story.

  5. Wow, 5 stars! That’s some score. Definitely see some of your points on the film. It is a lot of fun and it does improve on the first, but like cindybruchman said in the comments, I’m finding all these Marvel films blurring into each other. Looks and story wise.

    • Definitely five stars for me. I actually had a different reaction. I saw this one doing several things different both in terms of the narrative and especially visually. I also saw it doing more to develop its characters. All of those things really worked for me and I couldn’t find a good reason to mark it below five stars. I simply loved it.

      • Yes, I see the character development. Especially for Black Widow. Anthony Mackie was a great addition too. But it was just lacking some spark for me.

      • I think a lot of it will come down to how invested you are in the characters. I was first introduced to these characters as a kid so I have such a long and fun history with them. And as luck would have it Cap is one of my very favorites. The movie gets him and the Winter Soldier right in so many regards which was a huge plus for me. That inevitably played into my high score as well.

      • Ah yes. Definitely. It’s great that, as such a long time fan, you’re seeing one of your childhood characters veins portrayed so faithfully on the big screen..

  6. I’m thrilled that you are also a fan of “The First Avenger” Keith. Y’know, come to think of it, I’d have given a 4.75 in my rating as my quibble is so minor. The first film is a 4.5 and this one is still an improvement over that. It’s just so much fun and has so much heart. I LOVE everything about it, glad you did too and I somehow had an inkling this is the film you saw twice this weekend. I still like it the 2nd time around too. I’ve really come to appreciate Evans even more too. I don’t even mind seeing some of his earlier roles tho he himself said he’s not proud of a lot of ’em.

    • I was expecting big things from it but I really didn’t expect to give it five stars. I don’t give them out very often and last year I only did it once. But I just couldn’t nitpick enough to justify marking it down. In fact, during my second viewing I found myself watching for things to bring the score down. But before I knew it I was completely wrapped up in the story and the excitement again.

      It’s also great because it does such justice to the characters. And again, Winter Soldier is fantastic. They have his likeness down perfectly and the complexities he brings to the story is great. Oh I could go on and on but in the end this was such great fun. Love it!

      • I think my only quibble was that scene w/ Zola, I don’t know why but I thought that was the weak link of the movie, at least on first viewing. It didn’t bother me as much the 2nd time around tho.

        I did wish the conspiracy was more suspenseful than it was, but maybe I was just being a pest, ahah. Overall it’s great and I agree I like Stan as The Winter Soldier too, and that ending when he pulled him out of the water is quite emotional.

      • Ahh yes Zola. I can see where you are coming from there. For me it was terrific mainly because there is a big tip of the hat to Cap comic fans there. The computer monitor image, the lingo, it all was vintage Zola. I agree there were a couple of holes in that sequence but it worked for me overall.

        I remember literally squirming in my seat the first couple of times that Winter Soldier appeared. The cinematic buildup around him was superb. It literally had me giddy. LOL

  7. WOOHOO you loved this! I love the review Keith! This movie was just fantastic for me and I had a blast. The Winter Soldier was one of the most thrilling villains I have seen in a long time and I am completely sold on Captain America, big fan. This movie just worked on so many levels. I myself went for a repeat viewing, something I have not done since The Two Towers when I was younger!

    • Yep, I loved it and I had to go back and see it again too. Winter Soldier was a great antagonist and he wasn’t just another faceless enemy.

      Have you read the Winter Soldier story? It’s tremendous and its available in collected form. It will make you appreciate what the movie does even more.

      • Sebastian Stan was just absolutely awesome!

        In a collected form? I will have to get on this. I know roughly how the story arc goes, and all that, and would definitely like to read them. You know what, I am on this! Thanks Keith!

  8. Great review. I loved the film and thought the new thriller aspect of the film took Marvel into a new Genre even if in a relatively small way. Very much looking forward to the next one 😀

  9. I didn’t like it nearly as much as most but I definitely enjoyed it more than first one which was one of the most boring comic book films I’ve seen. I agree the cast did a very good job, though with all the praise Johansson is getting for this movie I was underwhelmed by her.

  10. Finally! I’m able to comment on a new flick that is less than 1 year old! 😛

    Awesome Review. I don’t disagree at all. I gave it a full 5/5 too. And it’s great that you mention the hand to hand combat, I did the same in my Review. I felt that gave the movie a certain realism. Despite being a Super Soldier, Cap’s morals and personality is so grounded in reality that I liked seeing explosions, fisticuffs, and straight out drops and thuds, rather than laser beams and ‘pew pew’ sound effects… if you know what I mean.

    I LOVE your reference of Redford and his previous spy films. I totally missed that! I’m a big Redford fan and that point was completely lost on me. The dude did so many conspiracy style movies… I recently caught SPY GAME. Nice work Keith. Nice work indeed. 😉

    • Thanks so much. Appreciate the kind words.

      I couldn’t believe I was giving this five stars, but after a second viewing I knew I had no reason not to. So many things really worked for me. I love how it hearkens back to those spy pictures and the action romps of the 80s. But as you said, it stays consistent with who Cap is. Robots and alien invasions wouldn’t have been nearly as effective IMO.

      I’ve seen this twice now and I could go back and see it again without hesitation. For me it was a breath of fresh air. It was a Marvel movie that truly set itself apart from the others. Some may not see it that way but I love how it did its own thing and did it well.

      • I couldn’t agree more Keith. At first, the open ended ending left me wanting more. But then I realized how it made sense and created a sense of ‘do your thang Cap!’ than disappointment.

        I consider this to be in the TDK style of movie: a superhero flick that relies more on drama, suspense and in-story conflict than any fantastical plot devices. A legitimate drama than a genre film.

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