Marvel Studios has done it again!
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is, simply put, the perfect film to kick off this year’s summer movies. Not a minute of screen time seems wasted or drug out for what is a unique action-fest in Marvel's cinematic universe. To be clear, it IS a non-stop ride full of action, humor, and character grit but the intricate plot offers a level of subtext and drama that is unlike any previous Marvel Movie to date. While this does not match Nolan's the Dark Knight classic with Heath Ledger, I think 'Cap 2' is my new favorite standalone (i.e. non-Avengers) Marvel film (replacing previous best: the original Iron Man).
Captain America: The Winter Soldier picks up a few years after the battle in New York from The Avengers. There is not much that can be said about the plot without spoilers. Steve and Natasha have been pairing up for SHIELD missions and based in DC and encounter the Winter Soldier, a myth in the SHIELD and espionage community. This enemy ends up being Bucky, Rogers’ fallen best friend and soldier. Cap and Black Widow become fugitives on the run from the Winter Soldier and his commanding power.
The film's strength is that it is just so damn versatile in style and pacing. Instead of the standard fight in the beginning and end with maybe a little spar in the middle, Winter Solider delivers an (at times) exhaustive slice of stealth, brutal, kinetic action and giant spectacles from gun battles to giant aircraft. The film has (admittedly) a bit of a love affair with action film du jour, The Raid (and its' sequel Raid 2: Berendahl) and as a result, Cap has picked up a few parkour skills and new (very cool!) uses for his shield to add to the already superhuman soldier. The film's drama resides in Steve Rogers (aka Captain America's) difficulty with accepting the modern world and it's wavering sense of morality with his more classic (perhaps rose-colored) version of the 1940's past with which he comes.
It should come as no surprise then that the film's overall message of surveillance and preemptive measures seems very relevant today. Given Cap's relationship with the Marvel spanning organization S.H.I.E.L.D. and audiences own understanding of the current world political scandal of the NSA surveillance program and the wars under the Bush Administration the film makes some interesting points. This is heady stuff for a superhero movie and Marvel finds just the right balance to raise questions and marry it with seductive action without ever coming off as "preachy". Likewise, the film's charm benefits a great deal from the actor who portrays Cap, Chris Evans, who has settled perfectly as Rogers, both in his unique earnest but tough "Brooklyn boy" personality as well as the superhero physique. While Evans is an affable star he faces tough competition as the film delivers many fantastic performances.
Despite the film being called Captain America: The Winter Solider, Black Widow is basically a second lead. Scarlett Johansson shines with her fighting skills and sass. The chemistry between Evans and Johansson is undeniable—it helps that this is their fourth movie together—and provides awkward but adorable friendship between the two powerful heroes. Meanwhile, the bad-ass powerhouse of Samuel L. Jackson appears as Nick Fury and has, essentially, his biggest part in a Marvel film to date. Nick Fury is pivotal in the plot and features exclusively in what is one of the film's SIGNATURE action scenes involving a car-chase and cool SHIELD weaponry.
While Anthony Mackie joins the Marvel world as an very serviceable "Ultimates" version of the Falcon, it's the returning Sebastian Stan who truly makes the most of his moments on screen. Stan's Winter Soldier captures the menacing side of his character while hinting at his inner humanity, loneliness and prospects towards a potential comic-book like future (potential Captain America replacement???). Emily VanCamp as Agent 13, Frank Grillo as Crossbones (--wait for it) and Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill are but a FEW of the CAMEOS that pop up in this film. For the sake of enjoyment--I will hold off discussing everything about them other than to say that part of what made this film so great is that it does feature so many Marvel easter eggs. It almost feels like an Avengers film with so much Marvel universe that pops in.
The success of this film really is brought together by the directing team of Anthony and Joe Russo. For having a sitcom /slapstick background with shows like COMMUNITY, the Russos have created an action packed movie that combines heart, action and clever in-jokes for a rousing good time! Captain America: The Winter Soldier IS more of a political thriller than a superhero movie. A 70's style, throwback spy movie is probably a better comparison. The duo not only embrace the history of Captain America and Steve Rogers but continue to build on the universe that is in itself, an adaptation of Marvel with a more realistic, mainstream feel.
The action scenes are cut together so seamlessly and without annoying 'shaky cam' that I feel the Russo brothers have eclipsed the Wachowski's as directing siblings of the action spectacle.
As a new addition to the Marvel universe, Captain America: The Winter Soldier outshines almost all others.
As a summer blockbuster, I am not sure if it will be beat this year's other films—Godzilla and X-Men seem to be strong contenders but as a big-budget action movie, Cap 2 hits all the elements necessary to memorably entertain the masses.
NOTE: Stay tuned for the two post credit scenes to learn what is in store next for the Avengers. This is the movie I have been waiting for after The Avengers and now I can’t wait for The Avengers: Age of Ultron.
By Kasey Michael--a lover of all things entertainment. Born and bred in North Carolina, she has a degree in Film Studies and can usually be found in front of a screen.