Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. Today I review Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo
Screenplay by Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, based off a story by Ed Brubaker and characters created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
What It’s About:
After the events of The Avengers, soldier-out-of-time Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) begins to question the motivations of SHIELD and its director, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) while running a series of nebulous covert missions alongside assassin Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johanssen). When Fury is attacked and passes along an important data drive to Steve, urging him to trust no one, he becomes a target for the occult machinations of SHIELD official Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) and top assassin The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), while he works to uncover a far reaching conspiracy with the help of Romanoff and pararescue trooper Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie).
Why I Bought It:
My introduction to Captain America was fittingly #224, a Mike Zeck penciled issue which featured Cap suffering from amnesia and a shady conspiracy by South American villains The Tarantula and Senor Muerte to assemble and detonate a bomb. This was part of one of those three-comics-in-a-bag things you used to be able to pick up at the corner drug store or Toys R Us. I don’t know if they still do them, and I don’t know why somebody got this for me (I was three and obviously still in my make up the story since I can’t read it stage), but the two subsequent issues, #225 and #226, involved false memories and Cap’s body being returned to his pre-super soldier physique, and an attack by an army of SHIELD agents turned into Red Skulls.
I was always aware of Captain America, watched the early movies, dug his motorcycle, wore the Underoos, but never really got into the character till the cover for Captain America: The New Deal caught my eye at a convention and I retroactively started reading the title again.
By the time the movie Captain America: The First Avenger came about Captain America had become my favorite Marvel superhero. What I like about Cap is that although he seems underpowered compared to his fellow Avengers, he’s the ultimate human. That is, he’s a human being taken to his maximum potential in physicality, determination, raw, practical intellect, and perhaps moral certitude. He can jostle Thor’s hammer, dodge Iron Man’s force blasts, and most importantly, stand against his own government if he needs to. Unlike many of the Marvel stable, he was a hero before he got his powers. All he needed was an opportunity. His strength of heart is off the charts. He’s the purest American dream fully realized. He’s what America ought to be.
As a fan of the character, and believing as I do that The Rocketeer is the greatest comic book movie ever made, I was understandably excited for the first modern day Cap movie. After a stellar first twenty minutes though, The First Avenger plummets in quality to such an extent that I came away completely disappointed and have maybe watched it once since.
As such, I nearly skipped this follow-up. I felt the Bucky character and his relationship to Steve Rogers had been sorely mishandled, and would hardly be remembered by non-fans, and that the big revelation couldn’t possibly carry the weight it did in the titular Brubaker storyline from the comic.
I have no idea what made me trek to a matinee alone to see this. Possibly it was the early gushing of friends. But I did, and it’s simply put, one of the five best comic book movies there are.
Everything that went wrong with First Avenger is corrected here. Instead of barely fleshed out supporting characters and a two dimensional villain going through the motions in a hurried, assembly line story whose only real purpose is to get the hero in place for the sequel, Winter Soldier is a great standalone movie with a logical, intriguing plot populated with rich characters and centered around a great central reveal. It’s a successful merging of the superhero genre and the kind of breathless conspiracy thriller its casting of Robert Redford, the star of the classic Three Days Of The Condor, is obviously intended to bespeak.
The intricate and far-reaching conspiracy of Winter Soldier was a pleasant surprise. These days it’s pretty difficult to go into a high profile movie like this spoiler-free. Even a cursory glance at an entertainment headline or a message board or a cast listing on imdb told anybody unfamiliar with the original material the identity of The Winter Soldier. Concluding that the same actor who had played a different role in the last movie was returning for the sequel under a new nom de guerre was no big leap. But the greatness of the movie is that the big reveal 90% of the audience already knew about turns out to be a sideshow to the even bigger revelation of who/what’s holding the Winter Soldier’s leash. The trailers admirably skirt it, focusing instead on the mystery of the Winter Soldier. I personally didn’t see it coming, and the subsequent ramifications (and the brilliant way they tie into the real world present state of global affairs) send the rest of the movie hurtling forward at a breakneck pace that is supremely entertaining. I hate to talk around the plot, as I’ve kind’ve made it a point not to worry about spoiling things, but it’s so good, if you just stumbled upon this blog and are unwisely reading this having not seen it, I don’t wanna be the guy to spoil it for you.
As mentioned, the characters from top to bottom are extremely well and yet succinctly rendered. Cap’s previous naivety has here given way to a world-weariness and growing disillusionment with the modern world that comes out in Evans’ interactions Redford’s bureaucratic Pearce and Jackson’s all-business Nick Fury, and yet also manages to take on a tension-alleviating humorous bent for instance, when he takes dating advice from Black Widow, or hastily adds Marvin Gaye’s Trouble Man to his ‘catch up’ list at the behest of Falcon. And special kudos have to be given here to Anthony Mackie, who portrays Sam Wilson with infinite charm and humanity. He’s got a boundless energy and positivity in him that masterfully counterbalances Cap’s growing dark side and, I think, serves to turn him away from despair. It’s a stroke of brilliance that he’s a VA counselor and veteran combat pararescue guy, making him the perfect conscience and confidant, having seen what Cap’s seen, and yet still able to draw clear lines and put things in perspective.
Scarlett Johanssen continues to evolve the Black Widow character, making her more and more interesting with each movie, not a small feat given that she’s intended to be a supporting character in sometimes disparate stories. I think in this one she’s the most human she’s ever been, maintaining the manipulative air and yet delivering lines like ‘I just pretend to know everything’ with the same dry, flat, assassin’s affect that is entirely believable given her background. Her conversations with the completely open and forthright Cap change her, and by the end of this one, she’s much more of a heroine than she’s been previously.
Sebastian Stan understandably doesn’t have a lot to work with here, but he projects an imposing presence I didn’t imagine he was capable of in the first movie, and there’s a nice flashback scene between him and young Steve Rogers on the back stoop of his late parents’ place that brings out their fraternal relationship winsomely. Toby Jones makes a welcome return and delivers the infodump at the heart of the movie with pulp villain glee that had me grinning. Likewise, all-American Robert Redford’s casting (I once read a great wishlist casting him in his prime as Steve Rogers) is on par with Henry Fonda’s typecast bucking role in Once Upon A Time In The West.
In the age of the CGI-heavy movie, it’s also refreshing to see such great practical stuntwork and fight choreography in a mainstream comic book picture. Nick Fury’s chase sequence through the streets of DC and the impromptu fight between Cap and Batroc (Georges St.-Pierre) are great examples, and the overpass battle between Cap ‘n pals and Winter Soldier is a thrilling mix of both.
All said and done, it’s just an all-around entertaining movie. The action isn’t just amped up from the first film, it’s meaningful and inventive this time out. The picture also gives us a myriad of fine character moments. Cap’s melancholy reunion with an aged and senile Peggy Carter (Haley Atwell), his wondering tour of his own Smithsonian exhibit (and the great, great bit where the starstruck kid doesn’t ‘out’ him)….the best nods to fandom should resonate just as strongly with somebody who’s never picked up a Captain America comic. Winter Soldier does it pitch perfect.
“Dude. Captain America needs my help. No better reason to get back in. When do we start?”
Gave the little kid in me chills in the theater.
Would I Buy It Again? Yep.
Next In The Queue: Captain Blood