“You need to keep both eyes open.”
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the second installment in the Captain America franchise and the eighth in the Marvel Avengers Cinematic Universe, although it feels more like something found amongst the ranks of Mission Impossible or The Bourne series. And in this case that isn’t a bad thing.
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Unlike the first movie, Captain America: The First Avenger
, The Winter Soldier takes place in the present day, so for those few viewers hoping for more of Cap socking ol’ Adolph in the jaw you’re out of luck. Not to say there is a shortage of fists (and shields) flying. On the contrary, if you felt that Cap’s first outing was too slow paced or boring be prepared to leave those feelings at the door as you climb onto this non-stop thrill ride of a movie. And if, like myself, you were a fan of the previous then you can settle in for more of the hero you love. This is also a must watch for anyone who considers themselves a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as it bears the largest impact on the world they’ve created and clearly sets the stage for necessary elements of The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron.
In Marvel’s newest outing, Steve Rogers is a little less soldier and a bit more spy, having been recruited into S.H.I.E.L.D. to carry out sensitive missions with Black Widow and a small strike team of highly trained agents. This provides for an incredible opening scene where Cap almost single handedly clears the deck of a hijacked ship, giving the audience a taste of the spectacular sequences to come. The plot is pretty standard spy fare, but the possibilities of such circumstances existing in our own world is welcomely unsettling. The first act does a good job at setting up the circumstances that quickly spiral out of control by the third, with each action set piece building to something bigger and more spectacular, keeping you wondering what more they could possibly do; then they gladly show you.
Now, I know that I have only mentioned the action, and that may be due to the abundance throughout the film, but it is definitely the characters that shine through every smokey explosion. Robert Redford is a welcome addition as S.H.I.E.L.D.’s member of the World Council, showing that time does not deteriorate one’s acting ability. Sam Jackson plays Nick Fury as he always does, with that one-eyed wink of “I know something you don’t”, getting a decent amount of his own screen time and action. Personally, I felt the scene between he and Cap in the apartment was the highlight of his role, giving him a bit more humanity than usually seen. There are a number of minor roles that are established and keep things interesting, be it Agent 13 or Brock Rumlow, making you wonder how they will be used in Captain America 3. Honestly, the only person I felt fell a little flat was Colbie Smulders reprising her role as Maria Hill. Perhaps it was in delivery or in the lines themselves, but a time or two felt like she might be a bit more “Robin” than Maria.
The true treat of the movie were the shared scenes of Scarlet Johannson and Chris Evans as Black Widow and Captain America. Be it evading personnel in the mall, driving in a truck, or kicking butt after butt, they raised this movie from being just another good action flick to something a bit more. We see what motivates them, the brokenness they deal with, and why being so different can make them so similar. Chris Evans has nailed the cadence of speech for Cap, making you believe in the words this man has to say and that they are driven by caring, concern and goodness. Scarlet Johannson plays it low key with subtle looks and smirks, her eyes betraying the hollow life it takes to make a Widow. It really is a beautiful thing. As a villain, The Winter Soldier, with all of his troubled past, is thrilling. Seeing someone who can go toe-to-toe with Captain America is a treat to watch in all of their engagements. He is mostly silent, the cold fury of his eyes being the vast majority of his delivery, but when the lines come they are delivered with the passion needed to connect with the audience. I also have to mention the newest addition to Cap’s buddy roster, Sam Wilson played by Anthony Mackie. Mackie nails the role in every way, building a quick and believable bond with Rogers as soldiers that gives the necessary motivation for him to help later, as he himself says in the film.
All of this praise does come with a word of warning. Just as the comics of today are a far cry from the kid friendly funnies of yesteryear, this is undeniably Marvel’s grittiest movie. If the Avengers felt close to a live action saturday morning cartoon, The Winter Soldier feels more like a high-octane spy thriller. Punches are bone shaking, guns are blazing, lives are lost, and unlike most action movies, I felt a loss for many of those lives. This is not a bad thing. It added a welcome weight and fit with the tone of the film, making every decision and sacrifice feel important. But this is not a kid’s movie. If you have a child who loves Captain America or The Avengers, it would be best to leave them at home with The Avengers Animated Series. Or even one of marvel’s more kid friendly comic books. Teens would be fine as the violence never reaches brutal and the movie is clean with the exception of a few sparsely scattered and unnecessary swear words.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier set a new opening weekend record. Some polls are showing viewers may even like it more than the Avengers. This is a movie superhero fans should watch. This is a movie spy fans should watch. In reality, this is a movie built for virtually every cinema lover. The characters are rich. The action is spectacular. Cap as a man out of time shows us just how current he can be.
Oh, and it has Batroc the Leaper. Seriously.