CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER Review

by     Posted 181 days ago

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One of the main criticisms leveled against Captain America: The First Avenger was that Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) was simply a “good guy” and therefore didn’t have any deep inner conflict (i.e. baggage).  That was one of the things I loved most about the character.  He didn’t need some tragic past to let him know that it was good to be good.  “I don’t like bullies,” Rogers said in the first film, and that was it in a nutshell: “I don’t like bullies.”  The sequel, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, could have made the character more twisted and melodramatic by plunging him into a darker, more complex world.  Instead, Captain America isn’t corrupted by the present day.  He’s not even tested.  His innate goodness is a beacon; it’s a bulwark against corruption.   Captain America: The Winter Soldier celebrates the good guy, and when combined with smart commentary, incredible action, and a wonderful sense of humor, it’s the best Marvel movie so far.

Captain America is now working for S.H.I.E.L.D., but it’s an uneasy partnership.  He finds it difficult to trust Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), who deal in subterfuge and espionage.  He’s also highly suspicious of the organization’s “Project Insight”, which is designed to launch three new helicarriers as a way of neutralizing potential threats.  Ironically, when S.H.I.E.L.D. looks like it’s under attack, Cap becomes the prime suspect, and is forced to go on the run alongside Natasha as they attempt to discover a larger conspiracy.  To make matters worse, they’re also forced to contend against a mysterious assassin known as “The Winter Soldier” (Sebastian Stan).

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Even though there are a lot of pieces in play, the story is easy to follow, especially for anyone who’s seen political thrillers.  The movie isn’t so much about twists and turns (although there’s a big one for folks who don’t follow comics or Marvel movie news), and you’ll probably be able to spot the betrayals a mile away.  And that’s fine because even though The Winter Soldier wears the face of a political thriller, it’s still about the good guy at the center.  It’s not a political thriller featuring Captain America.  It’s Captain America in a political thriller.  He’s the guiding force, and we never need to doubt him.

That may sound boring since we’ve come to expect tortured inner lives from our superheroes.  How can he possibly grow without pain?  Because Captain America isn’t suppose to grow.  The world is supposed to grow to meet Captain America.  It’s so rewarding to see a movie that’s not about tearing down a hero to see how he ticks, but building him up and making us feel good about rooting for him.  He’s not perfect.  He’s still naïve, but I’ll take naivety over cynicism any day.

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The movie manages to have its cake and eat it too by including political commentary and subtext.  It’s almost a constant reminder that Captain America is a relic and someone who could never exist.  The real world is too complex for him, and there’s no place for a simple hero when geopolitics is at stake.  We live in a world of drone strikes and NSA data mining.  These are the real villains of Captain America: The Winter Soldier even though they’re never named directly.  This kind of paranoia and fear would wear away a lesser man, but not Captain America.  He’s better than that.

The Winter Soldier also comes into play not only as a more literal villain, but also as an alternate path.  He’s a dark version of Captain America.  He hides in the shadows.  He’s merciless.  He’s a weapon.  Captain America may be a one-man army, but he’s not a tool, and he resents being used that way by S.H.I.E.L.D.  It may be tough trying to figure out the good guys from the bad guys when it comes to a conspiracy, but Captain America is always sure of himself.  It’s a comforting security, and one that’s necessary to ground a world where fear is more powerful than freedom.

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These notions of paranoia and mistrust run not only through the story, but the set pieces as well.  Usually, action scenes stand apart.  They’re meant to be fun and delightful, and then we return to our regularly scheduled programming that will take us to the next set piece.  The Winter Soldier goes one step further by bringing the subtext into the action.  For example, the tension slowly builds preceding a fight inside an elevator, and it’s a clever way to show the shadowy forces closing in on Cap.  In another scene, a character is attacked by henchmen disguised as police officers.  The bad guys are hiding in plain sight, and the movie never lets us forget it even when we’re watching exhilarating fights and chases.

Directors Joe and Anthony Russo have never helmed an action movie before, but here they come off like old pros.  They’ve upped the game in clever ways like showing how Rogers’ super strength would work against regular people (e.g. he hits much harder), and they could probably write a book titled “101 Ways to Use a Shield”.  The action is wonderfully choreographed, the pace is terrific, and they’ve found a tremendous asset in Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), who’s not only a great character, but also provides some nice variety alongside Cap and Black Widow.

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If there’s one glaring weakness to the whole affair, it’s that the bad guys’ plan doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Thematically, it works, but I didn’t understand how it could be reasonably executed.  The silliness of this plot point isn’t really worthy of the movie’s overall intelligence.  However, I can overlook this flaw because while it’s an important part of the story, it’s a small piece of a movie that’s filled with excitement, thoughtfulness, earnestness, and humor.

I do have to take a moment to address the humor, because it’s one of the big reasons Captain America: The Winter Soldier is so successful.  The movie starts with a joke and even though the plot is filled with serious themes and plenty of drama, it never forgets to make us laugh.  They’re not ironic laughs or defensive ones.  They’re just good-hearted, clever jokes, and they’re yet another example of why the movie is such a success.

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Marvel has not only proven yet again that there is no template for their movies, but also that there’s no template for good superhero movies.  Each character has to be taken on his or her merits rather than being forced to appeal to a vague notion of what a popular superhero should be.  Some audience members may think they want dark, brooding, and desperate, and that’s fine for some characters.  But it’s more important to recognize that audiences need and deserve a different kind of hero.  To recognize a hero who reminds us about the greatness of being honest in a world of dishonesty, of being compassionate in a world of selfishness, and of being brave in a world of fear.  These values combined with top-notch filmmaking make Captain America: The Winter Soldier not just my favorite Marvel movie; it’s one of my favorite movies of the year.

Rating: A-

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  • Daniel Ronczkowski

    How about the Post Credits scene?!

    • Spicerpalooza

      There are 2 of them. The one that sets up Age of Ultron is really cool.

  • scurvy

    Wow. I know the movie has been getting great reviews and even Goldberg is digging it.

    Can’t wait till Friday!!

  • Blob

    You’re wrong, it’s crap. Entirely predictable, factory-line-assembled, made-by-committee unsurprising borefest. Every character is a cardboard facsimile. Nothing new or interesting, entirely formulaic. Standard 3rd act CG-fest where everything is obligated to blow up. Doesn’t change the ”marvel universe”. Conspiracy feels like it was written by a three year old, with no surprising twists.

    Boring mess.

    • Captain Opinion

      Opinions are the best!

    • tobi

      Nice try troll. Move along!

    • Leo Spaceman

      If I had an account, I would down vote you, but since I don’t I am just going to tell you to F**k Off back to C**t Land instead.

      Also I have seen the movie, and while yes it does have Standard Block Buster Tropes, it doesn’t feel like a generic Block Buster. It is all glorious and awesome and the Winter Solider is a scene stealer. Any Marvel or DC fan or standard Collidernaut is going to love this movie.

      • Blob

        It’s for babies. Written by babies, for babies.

      • Blob

        The Winter Soldier is not a ”scene stealer”. He’s a cardboard cutout, nothing character, defined by the fact that he has no personality. He has about 10 lines. He also has the look of a GI JOE character, or a (bad) cosplayer. His backstory is completely underdeveloped and uninteresting.

      • brNdon

        Well you obviously don’t know shit about shit, and you obviously don’t read comics or you would know that Winter Soldier’s is right out of the comics with some very minor changes. I am starting to wonder if you have even seen the movie considering how vague your opinions have been so far.

      • fechu1922

        you are being too harsh. I’ve seen the movie as well. I liked it, i don’t think it’s the best marvel movie ever. You can see all the twist coming a mile away but it’s not that baaaaaad. Relax man. It’s a good, fun super hero movie with american issues. It’s ok.

  • http://collider.com Matt Goldberg

    Had to delete a spoiler comment about the post-credits scenes. Please don’t talk about that until the film has been released even if you do try to couch it in “spoiler alerts” (people’s eyes glaze over words unintentionally).

    I’ll simply say this: they’re good scenes (yes, stay until the very end of the credits).

    • http://thenonessentials.blogspot.com/ Sean Chandler

      Thank you

    • evinrude

      That viligance against spoilers is much appreciated.

      Terrific review — it has a point to make,and makes it well.I have a proud love for the first movie,which I thought was note-perfect. Can’t wait to see THE WINTER SOLDIER.

  • rajv

    This is probably the grittiest movie Marvel has brought to the screen, which is a good thing. I hope ‘Guardians’ beats that.

    • Archilus

      Nah, Guardians are gonna be a comedy

  • Lance

    Glad to hear the movie’s good! And I like Cap too, for the reasons Matt mentioned.

    But there’s no need for every superhero to be a shining positive beacon. There’s nothing wrong with dark gritty Batman. Not liking Nolan’s take on the superhero genre is just wrong.

    • Archilus

      Nolan is good, the grittiness works well for Batman, but I don´t think it worked so well for Superman

  • the king of comedy

    Captain America is an awesome movie, definitelly one of the best Marvel movies along with The Avengers and the first Iron Man movie, Chriss Evans portray of this big Boy Scoutt of a hero is perfect, and it`s true many people think that a dark and gritty super hero is cool, and that a good guy hero is only for kids, but that`s not true at all, kids are the ones that enjoy a badass hero the most and adults can also enoy this ride of a good guy tested by this new evil and corrupt world.

  • DPW

    Nice review! Haven’t seen this movie yet, but beyond excited. I feel like Captain America is going to nail the honest do-right tone of the old Superman films and give us a badass hero we can look up to…as opposed to an emo Supes that kills Zod.

  • Doug_101

    Great review, Matt. The movie is excellent and I’m so stoked to see it again tomorrow night. This also could have been a companion piece to your Man of Steel review from last year. Personally, I liked that film, but I can see where people might have had problems with it and in describing Cap, you summed it up that argument pretty well.

  • DEADP00L

    Man of Steel sucked balls and Man of Steel 2 or whatever it’s called is going to suck worse.

    Marvels hits:
    Ironman 1 and 2
    Thor 1 and 2
    Avengers 1 and soon to be 2
    Captain America 1 and now 2
    Guardians is going to be a hit too
    This latest X-men might just be something too

    All DC had going for it was BB and TDK while the third was pure rubbish

    Marvel is a solid 9 ( could have been a whooping 10 if Iron Man 3 had been just as good ) and this isn’t even counting the X-men OR Spiderman!

    DC is a pathetic 2

    Say what you will, but Marvel clearly knows how to make its heroes work – Snyder and David Goyer are CLUELESS.

    • Aquartertoseven

      You forgot to include Iron Man 3. And you should probably take out Thor 2, it was weak (along with IM2).

      • DEADP00L

        Marvel is amazing. When you think of how much they got done compared to DC. Good or not so good their movies have never been as awful as Man of Steel.

  • Aquartertoseven

    It was a great film but it could’ve been better. The camera couldn’t keep still for the first 20 minutes and the blurriness made me feel ill. The twists and turns were a little held back and there should’ve been more depth in that regard. The weakest link was easily The Falcon, he was shoehorned in without a good reason and as a result, he just seemed like the token black guy the entire time. MINOR SPOILER ALERT-

    Had he been set up as a SHIELD agent to keep an eye on Cap, as the “nurse” was, and maybe Cap made a quip about who else is a SHIELD agent, the tramp in the street or something, that’s all that was needed for us to be able to accept Falcon. Having him be some random guy that has wings for some weird reason highlighted how out of place he was and when he fought Frank Grillo, I kept thinking ‘he doesn’t deserve to be here at this point in the film, he hasn’t earned it’.

    Oh well, I still enjoyed it a lot, and would put it 3rd in the MCU, behind Iron Man 3 and of course The Avengers.

  • http://tarek-to-verso.over-blog.com/ tarek

    Chris Evans is a great actor. He added a lot to the franchise.
    He is also a nice guy. Smart, funny and humble.

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