Captain America: The First Avenger is my favorite film out of the Marvel line up (which is why I claimed this review). Captain America has always been my personal favorite Marvel character due to a mix of that cool Saturday morning cartoon aired on Fox Kids, his stance during the Civil War comic event, and how fun he is to play in the Marvel vs. Capcom series. Beyond that, Steve Rogers has always been a character that spoke to me personally.
When stripped of the Americana facade and super human strength, you have a stagnant man within a world that’s constantly changing around him. A real fish out of water. In a post-Avengers world, when it seemed like we’d finally get an America movie that delivered on the promise of the first, we’re left with The Winter Soldier.
That’s not to say it’s devoid of entertainment. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is like a wiffleball bat; a fun toy with no real weight to it.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Director: Anthony and Joe Russo
Release Date: April 4, 2014
Captain America: The Winter Solder takes place two years after the events of The Avengers. But much like Thor: The Dark World, watching Avengers isn’t necessary to follow Winter Soldier‘s events. Although much time has passed, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is still trying to figure out what direction to take his life in now that he’s been defrosted fifty years in the future. In Winter Soldier, Cap is caught in a string of covert SHIELD missions until he comes across the titular assassin, Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). When Rogers discovers Soldier’s identity and a more sinister plot unfolds, he’s torn between his loyalty as a soldier and his loyalty to humanity itself.
Much like Cap, Winter Soldier is stuck in a weird predicament. It has to somehow lead into The Avengers: Age of Ultron and the next phase of Marvel movies, make use of ABC’s Agents of SHIELD TV show, and has to be a fulfilling film all on its own. So there’s plenty of pressure to cram in multiple plots and situations into its slightly over two hour run time. Because of this, everything moves at a breakneck pace. We’re given very little time to breathe between action scenes and expositional speeches. The problem is, Winter Soldier didn’t start off this way. For the first twenty minutes, we’re given an introspective Rogers dealing with his post traumatic stress disorder. In fact, the reason he ends up meeting Sam “The Falcon” Wilson (Anthony Mackie) is because Wilson runs a Veteran support group. It’s a promise of a thought provoking film that unfortunately gives way to generic fluff.
But as I stated in the introduction, although the action is fluffy and gratuitous, it’s hard to mind when it’s entertaining. Winter Soldier is a fun, and violent, romp through Spy genre tropes. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Evans’s Cap share the majority of the screen time and it works wonderfully. Their relationship is built into this hilarious buddy cop “will they/won’t they” scenario, and there’s welcome sharp dialogue during their scenes together. Basically every action trope you can think of is here too. There’s the mysterious assassin everyone is related to in some way, the sidekick (but Mackie certainly looks like he’s enjoying himself), the organization filled with double crosses, and even a couple of fake deaths. But despite reveling in all of these action tropes, Winter Soldier is a tad bit refreshing because it’s with superheroes.
When Winter Soldier is not trying to cram subplots or fight scenes, there is definitely a great movie here. The cast is definitely the finest in any Marvel film so far. Robert Redford as the head of SHIELD is particularly great as his role anchors the film when it goes haywire. Anthony Mackie’s so entertaining, I hope he gets to be in more of these down the line. And Winter Soldier features several great women led roles. Scarlett Johansson, Colbie Smulders, Emily VanCamp, and Hayley Atwell all are fine examples of female characters done right. They each kick all sorts of ass.
One major qualm with Winter Soldier is it derails insanely in its second half. It’s just an unrelenting amount of actionactionactionactionaction with no cause for pauses. I don’t have any major problems with the action scenes themselves beyond some wonky physics, but it’s just hard to care about anything happening when scenes begin dissolving into one another. And if you’ve been invested in the Marvel films from the beginning, and have seen through the entire catalog, the final action set pieces are going to look awfully familiar to you as the basic framework of the scenes have been used from both the first Captain America and The Avengers.
I’m conflicted between entertainment value and critical value. Should I heavily criticize Winter Soldier for punching through its problems when those punches look super cool? “But Nick,” you cry “Aren’t Marvel movies all about the action?” No, they shouldn’t be. Fun and Intelligence may two different beasts, but there’s no reason you can’t have one without the other.
I’m harping on this so much because Captain America: The Winter Soldier started off so brilliantly. It had a subtle theme at play (a war veteran who needs to find a new place in the world), but then chucked that out of the window in favor of piles and piles of heavy handed Neo-Nazi utilitarianism and post 9/11 commentary that we’ve seen many times before.
Winter Soldier accomplishes some of its goals. It’s a nice placeholder until the second Avengers film, manages to entertain quite a deal if you don’t think about it too much, and it’s going to give comic book fans something to discuss for the next year. But because the events leading to finale are so jarringly different from the first half of the film, Winter Soldier never lives up to its promised potential. It’s like going to a restaurant and ordering soup instead of salad. The soup may taste good, but that salad may have tasted better.