Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Directed by: Anthony & Joe Russo Cast: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Anthony Mackie Running Time: 2 hr 16 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: April 4, 2014
PLOT: Former WWII soldier Steve Rogers/Captain America (Evans) bands with ex-KGB agent Black Widow (Johansson) and a former American soldier (Mackie) to stop an evil plot against our homeland's security.
WHO'S IT FOR? Even Marvel pessimists will have fun with this one.
In record-breaking time, even for Marvel, a comic book character has had their existence (basically) rebooted. The arc may be continued from the previous film, and some of the actors may reappear, but this take on Captain America is bonafide divergent. It's not the hollow nostalgic relic seen in his debut Captain America: The First Avenger, nor is this the goofy time alien/boy scout he was made in to be in the ensemble film The Avengers. This version of Captain America, and the world he lives in, is leaner and meaner. Placing the walking shout-out to the "Greatest Generation" in modern time, and at the center of a conflict that could affect any American, Captain America is given what has marked the best of action heroes, even those with super abilities — a palpable sense of high stakes.
Characters previously poking around the Marvel Cinematic Universe (or MCU on Twitter, apparently) are given more sturdy territory in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, including the title hero himself. Here, Evans' Rogers is able to flesh out his unique brand of charisma. He's endearing, idealistic, and with so much emotional baggage one can't hate that he can be like a buff man puppy.
Johnasson herself, in more black spandex and tempestuous red hair, is upgraded from her designation as "The Girl" in The Avengers to a formidable character construction, though her most common usage is Captain America's sidekick, and sometimes chauffeur. Marvel favorite Nick Fury is given some time to stir up his own urgency, especially in an action sequence that has curious, old-school Samuel L. Jackson racial implications.
The newer characters that Captain America: The Winter Soldier introduces on the roster are indicative of the imperfections this film can experience. Its subtitle villain, a pleasant surprise to see unfold, is a few pegs off from fitfully menacing, proving once again that it's harder to look even more terrifying once the mask comes off. Most significant to the script's intentions, the film isn't swiftly able to create the necessary emotional tension between Captain America & The Winter Soldier that even its title relies on.
And as the series needs to add a new hero, Mackie's Sam seems like a character most of all shooed in by an agenda, either from the purpose of heightening this movie's popularity with veterans, or by trying to diversify the Avengers roster. With a strange fixation constantly crossing his arms, Mackie is most intriguing when he is playing a veteran with no flying ability at all, whose past involving wartime regret doesn't include any fantastical assistance.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier has a grand allegiance to the practical work that lies under any strong thrill in an action movie. These battles are not in secluded events, in which good fights evil while the rest of the world is all snug in their beds. This is closer to Christopher Nolan wanting to harp on "Heat" with The Dark Knight, creating a daytime urgency with madness unleashed on civilian environments, with action that smashes up cars on busy highways, then takes it to the streets, where the risks are as high for the general public as its characters. Even the citywide chaos of the "Avengers" third act did not feel as much of a rush as this film's second act melee under an overpass, in which the superpowers of two soldiers are not used as a definitive trait, but as a handicap to heighten the action.
The Russo brothers' spectacle of action is indeed captured by a camera descended from the filmmaking of Justin Lin's Fast & Furious films, or Gareth Evans' The Raid: Redemption (whose sequel opens today, and its superbly higher in action concentrate than even Captain America: The Winter Soldier). The film's camera gives the characters, and their combat, a necessary sense of space. Instead of close-ups and shaky camera work covering up movie fighting (a defeating trend in action movies for years) the choreography is naked; conclusive takedowns have more ouch, and the surprising methods of punching and kicking have an unusual grip on our attention. The film's CGI third act of airborne action, with characters making dramatic leaps amongst "Transformers"-like chaos, would be regular for any previous Marvel movie, but the fact that it is off the course from the rest of the film allows it to remain special.
These stakes within Captain America are not limited to the characters' physical capabilities, but the story as well. Captain America: The Winter Soldier shows the evolution of the Marvel arc, with a surprising direction that causes unpredictable conflict. With its story involving the question of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s integrity, the idea graduates the entire Marvel arc into the universality of something like the James Bond franchise, in which the safety of home base is shown to be an illusion. The direction that the franchise will take with the damage that Captain America: The Winter Soldier does to its roots may be determined when referring to previous franchises, but it nonetheless leaves one's curiosity towering to see how such will affect the superheroes reunion in The Avengers: Age of Ultron.
2011's Captain America: The First Avenger was not just the story of a soldier in a different era, but a film from a different period as well. Director Joe Johnston dressed the poster patriot like a twentieth anniversary tribute to his 1991 flat 1950's serial film The Rocketeer, more than a comic book character in the new popular cinema scene post-Iron Man, or even The Dark Knight. With this sequel, in which this veteran is placed into a world ruled by the Patriot Act to defend our lands from the ne'er-do-wells within, the hero has relevancy not just to Marvel's canon of movies, but when compared to other franchises. Captain America: The Winter Soldier valiantly introduces a new action hero.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10