After Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is viciously attacked by the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans) must go off the grid to discover why.
My brief, one sentence blurb above does nothing to actually tell you what Captain America: The Winter Soldier is actually about. Even in one sentence I could ruin the entire film for you and I will not do that. Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, this is a film that has more in common with a political thriller than an actual super hero film. SHIELD’s political machinations since World War II finally come back to bite them in the ass. They are just lucky they have a super soldier from that era to save their hide.
As I stated in my review for Thor: The Dark World (read the review here), these Marvel Universe films are getting harder and harder to review. You know that Marvel has set up a complex and intriguing set of films that all culminate in Avengers: Age of Ultron. What they have done masterfully, though, is managed to keep these films standalone, as well. You can watch this film with no prior knowledge of the previous films and enjoy it just as much.
Steve Rogers is somewhat acclimating to life in the 21st century, after being pulled out of a block of ice in Captain America: The First Avenger; a block of ice he had been frozen in since World War II. He is sent on a mission to rescue a SHIELD freighter that had been taken over by pirates, and after a no holds barred action sequence, he discovers that all is not what he thought in SHIELD. He is tired of the cloak and dagger aspects of SHIELD and is not sure if his missions are good and in the best interests of America or not. He is confused in the grey area of the world we live in now, not the black and white world of World War II. Nick Fury is then attacked by the Winter Soldier, SHIELD agents attempt to apprehend Cap, and Cap goes on the run, recruiting the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) to help him discover and stop what SHIELD is up to.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier does a couple of things differently than the previous Marvel films. First, and most importantly, the battles are more visceral and seem to carry more weight. Thanks to amazing sound design, the punches and kicks and smashes with Cap’s shield are bone crunching. I actually found myself cringing a couple of times. While it may not seem like much at the outset, you get the distinct feeling that there is a weight and danger and a real risk of bodily harm during these fight scenes. This isn’t your ‘punch the bad guys with no repercussions’ film. This is heavy, serious, and frighteningly dangerous. The fights themselves are frenetic and almost more MMA style than kung fu wire work. They are dirty, no holds barred. This leads to a more realistic approach in a super hero film, and it worked amazingly well.
Second, this film is a super hero film by way of political action thriller. While is bears no resemblance to them, while watching it I was reminded of the early Jack Ryan films Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. Much like Iron Man 3 was a buddy cop film, and Thor: The Dark World was a fantasy film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a political action thriller.
While the film squarely stays focused on Cap, the other stars are given plenty of time to shine. The standout here, and newcomer to the Marvel Universe, is Anthony Mackie. His portrayal of Falcon is a wonderful addition to the universe and he is not just shoehorned in for the sake of adding another character. While Mackie has been around for awhile, he has just never landed that breakout role to become a leading man. This film my very well give him the chance he needs.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a shining jewel in Marvel’s crown of wonderful super hero films. It raises the bar and the stakes for the subsequent films, and is a brilliant film on it’s own. It is exorbitantly better than Marvel’s one small misstep, Captain America: The First Avenger. By this point, you would expect Marvel’s films to be getting stale. This proves that is not the case. Exciting, mysterious, and almost thought provoking (in comic book terms), it is a magnificent film that deserves to be seen on the big screen. More than once.
***3/4 out of ****
NOTE: Marvel’s films will NEVER get a 4 star rating out of me until they can track down a composer who can make my heart soar with the hero’s theme. There has to be a new John Williams out there, somewhere, that Marvel can hire to create the themes necessary. Until they can create something as moving as the theme from Superman: The Movie or Raiders of the Lost Ark, they will always be slightly behind and never manage to reach perfection.
BIZZAM!! Fun Facts!
- Stephen Strange aka Doctor Strange is name dropped in the film! (YAY!)
- MMA fighter Georges St-Pierre plays Batroc in the film, the leader of the pirates who take over the ‘Lemurian Star’ in the beginning of the film.