The problem with many of the superhero movies is that they are operating under the assumption that everyone in the audience knows all the hymns. It’s a lot easier—and lazier—for a screenwriter to simply do a roll call of characters and events while letting fans fill in all the blanks. Sometimes the onscreen information is so sparse that the studio should pay you for doing all the work… !!
With that said, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is a very good movie, a rare film in this genre that serves as both entry point and continuation. For a change, you can walk in cold and you won’t be too lost.
As Steve Rogers struggles to embrace his role in the modern world, he teams up with a fellow Avenger and S.H.I.E.L.D agent, Black Widow, to battle a new threat from history: an assassin known as the Winter Soldier.
A distinct voice unique to the franchise makes The Winter Solider one of the best Marvel films: this second entry in the Captain America trilogy represents the MCU at its darkest and most nihilistic. The violence here is brutal and aggressive, and it carries a surprisingly high body count. It’s inspired by the paranoid political thrillers of the ‘70s, the tone is bleak: after learning of the heinous motives and covert subversion of America’s power elite, even Captain America himself can’t help but become a conspiracy theorist.
Patches of Captain America: The Winter Soldier are amazingly deft, especially when you realize that the directors, Anthony and Joe Russo, come from TV — and comedy, not drama. They’ve obviously storyboarded the hell out of the movie, with help from the right people. An assassination attempt on Fury and a subsequent car chase are shot and edited like nothing in this series; for a moment, the Russos seem to think they’re making an actual thriller instead of the usual CG extravaganza… !!
The action and violence are the most grounded we’ve seen in a Marvel film. They deliver the goods on scenes that more closely resemble the slick, stylish set pieces of The Dark Knight (or even the operatic warfare-in-the-streets combat of Heat) than anything we’ve seen before from the MCU. Whether it’s a cramped fistfight in the close quarters of a packed elevator, destructive car chases in downtown D.C., or an epic battle featuring three humungous aircraft carries, these are riveting, flawlessly executed sequences.
The Steve Rogers of this film is no longer the plucky underdog raring to fight “bullies” like the Nazis. He is, as one adversary notes, “out of time”: a man with a black-and-white disposition in a world of grays, encumbered by nostalgia and plagued with regret. Though he allows that the contemporary world has its advantages—“Food’s a lot better. We used to boil everything”—he is struggling to find his place in it. When someone asks him what makes him happy, his response is “I don’t know.”
The political themes of the film—involving the surveillance state and governmental misuse of personal data—are likewise grimmer and more sophisticated (relatively speaking) than the usual Marvel fare, featuring notable echoes of the Bourne saga. The movie’s message is exquisitely calibrated to the political moment and is one that speaks to apprehensions shared on both left and right: In a world as chaotic as this, the temptation to trade freedom for security is ever-present.
Both Samuel L. Jackson’s and Scarlet Johansson gets some of their meatiest and best-written parts in the MCU in this film. Jackson’s Fury gets a good amount to do in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” including a leading role in the film’s best action sequence, a demonstration of just how indestructible (or rather, destructible) Fury’s motor vehicle is.
The movie has its moments of levity. There are gags about War Games and Pulp Fiction and just how long it’s been since Captain America’s last kiss… !!! Stephen Strange gets a quick name check and Stan Lee has what may be his best cameo to date. But for the most part, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is an unexpectedly grown-up thriller : taut, suspenseful, moody, and, on occasion, even sad. The Winter Solider is a major, unqualified success.