Title: Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Director: Anthony & Joe Russo
Writer: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (based on the comics created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby and Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting)
Distributed By: Walt Disney Studios
Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson, Sebastian Stan, Robert Redford, Frank Grillo, Cobie Smulders, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell
Release Date: April 4, 2014
MPAA: Rated PG-13
Welcome back everyone, to the latest in our monthly installment of Movie Mondays! Marvel is back in full force with FIVE movies coming out this year! Two of which are part of Phase Two of The Marvel Cinematic Universe aka the MCU (that’s all of those interconnected Avengers movies, for those of you that don’t know). The first of this years MCU movies is Captain America: The Winter Soldier. While Captain America: The First Avenger was a throwback to pulp adventure films in the style of ‘Indiana Jones’ movies, this new film is more akin to modern spy thrillers like the ‘Bourne’ movies.
Marvel producer Kevin Feige described the film as a political thriller, comparing it to political thrillers of the ’70s: The Parallax View, All the President’s Men. Kevin’s praise for this film is a bit too lofty. This film is certainly no All the President’s Men, or any other high-class, deeply provocative, taut, suspenseful thriller. Sure, there’s some political pontification here, but it only serves as a superficial catalyst for all of the slam-bang ‘splosion-filled action. And in no way is this film a “thriller”, as there are only three “suspenseful” moments in the film: one is short-lived, telegraphed, and cliché, another is seemingly played somewhat for laughs. So, really only one somewhat suspenseful moment in the film, which I won’t spoil for you by saying anything other than it is quite good. This spy/action film is about as political as a James Bond movie, and just about as plausible.
Don’t let that give you the wrong impression of my view of the film. To say it doesn’t live up to some deeply engaging political thriller isn’t an instant dismissal of this movie. This critic generally enjoys a Bond or Bourne movie, the good ones anyway, and this movie is just as good as those. The action is top-notch, and over the top from start to finish. The dialogue is fast, snappy, witty, and realistic (except for when a certain villain starts to monologue). The characters are fun, engaging, and captivating. The story is more complex than your usual Marvel superhero movies (I’m looking at you Iron Man trilogy). It has all the makings of a blockbuster action-flick, but with a little more depth.
All of the actors perform to their usual standards. Chris Evans returns, doing more of the same stuff you saw in his last two outings as Cap. Scarlett Johansson brings more of the same. Not that this is meant to sound negative, it’s just that if you’re familiar with the entertaining performances they provided before, you know what to expect here. The one returning actor that manages to rise above his usual portrayal is Samuel L. Jackson. Though, primarily it’s because the actor is finally given something to do with the role. Of the newcomers, Robert Redford plays the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. with zeal, charm, and authority.
Anthony Mackie is terrific as Sam Wilson (aka Falcon), bringing the character to life with a sense of humor as well as duty, and a love of Marvin Gaye. This critic is unsure of how much of his own wire-work and fighting Mackie did, but the actor makes you believe he really could do it with his level of enthusiasm for the action. He also brings a much needed element of sincerity to a cast of over the top characters.
Of returning cast members and newcomers alike, the films standout performance comes from its titular character, The Winter Soldier. Sebastian Stan, while given very little screen time, and even fewer lines of dialogue manages to provide an intense performance full of sorrow and tragedy. He goes from disturbingly cold to confused and pitiable and back again in seconds, presenting a truly unnerving performance.
Unfortunately, the thing that best accompanies an actors delivery, whether it be an action beat or an emotional moment, is music and Henry Jackman’s score leaves much to be desired. Gone are the leitmotifs of Alan Silvestri’s score to the first film and seemingly here to stay is a techo-rock infused orchestral score full of forgettable tunes. The one outstanding piece of music, or at least the only piece that manages not to be forgotten is the character theme for The Winter Soldier. Full of screeching discordant tones, it sounds like something out of a horror movie, and provides a creepy undercurrent for the unstoppable killing machine.
Earlier I compared this movie to the slam-bang-thriller style of the Jason Bourne movies. Nowhere is this more evident than the action beats, both in rhythm and presentation. The action-exposition-action-exposition format is here in all its predictable glory. And the frenetic, obnoxious shaky cam is utilized in this movie as well. Thankfully, the shaky cam is nowhere near as overabundant as it is in the Bourne movies, but it’s present enough that it makes it difficult to observe whatever fight scene it’s being used during.
Though the action-beat formula is slightly predictable, that by no means diminishes the action itself. Each action sequence is treated like the films centerpiece, and given as much attention as possible, so that no action scene feels less important than another. Each and every action scene is outstanding in their own way, whether it’s a close-quarters brawl in an elevator, or an open-wide battle against a gunship. Each chase scene, fight scene, etc. has the hallmarks of a James Bond movie, and with a super-powered hero like Captain America at the forefront, they feel right at home in this movie.
Another minor gripe is in regard to one of the CGI effects. The cool visual effect used to make Chris Evans look tiny before his transformation is back for flashbacks, and looks just as great as it did before. However, this time it’s also used to age actress Hayley Atwell who played his old flame Peggy in the first movie, and it just doesn’t look right. I suppose it can be summed up as part of the whole “uncanny valley” problem, where CGI used to present human features sometimes falls short and is not only noticeable but off-putting.
One cool little detail that fans and film junkies might enjoy is the Captain America costume color-scheme. The creators of the film chose to put him in his “Captain America: Super Soldier” costume from the more recent comics during the beginning of the movie, when things are darker thematically and he’s still working for a shady government. This costume change is wonderfully flipped during the third act of the film, when he takes a stand against corruption and fights for freedom, donning his brighter, star-spangled WWII-era uniform, showing that, just like the patriots of old knew, patriotism means not blindly following orders. The bright and warm colors, combined with the nostalgia factor, get the job done and really bring the message home visually.
Another thing that this movie does really well, much like The Avengers did, is present the fish out of water moments for Captain America, fitting for a man referred to in the comics as “The Man out of Time”. Multiple little moments of character interaction are utilized to illustrate Captain America’s attempts to adapt to his new surroundings, from references to movies he may have missed, to his studying by “reading” the internet.
All in all, this outing for Captain America is a solid superhero movie combined with an action-packed political spy thriller that feels like someone took Captain America: The First Avenger and infused it with the DNA of James Bond films and Jason Bourne movies. As an adaptation, this movie doesn’t follow very much of the comics that inspired it, aside from aside from depicting Captain America and Bucky’s tragic relationship. As a movie on its own merits, however, Captain America: The Winter Soldier earns a score of 7.5 out of 10.