The First Avenger returned to the big screen this weekend in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a cinematic thriller complete with what’s arguably the biggest twists in any Marvel movie to date (the most obvious one of course being the identity of the Winter Soldier). This review of Captain America: The Winter Soldier will contain spoilers, and touch a lot on the Marvel universe as a whole. You have been warned. Let us begin.
Most Marvel movies have done a good job of compartmentalizing themselves (get it?) and running with the same prevalent themes: Iron Man doesn’t need his suit, and Pepper Potts can do bad all by herself; Thor makes frequent trips to Earth to check on Jane amidst keeping a watchful eye on the galaxy. Now the Cap’s story is one that I personally think trumps all others in Marvel’s cinematic universe: The First Avenger, whose decisions in The Winter Soldier destroy one of the most prevalent themes which unites all Marvel movies, and change the Marvel Universe forever. But I’ll get to that further down. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is screenwritten by Markus and Stephen McFeely, to whom we can credit the incredibly screenplay and story to, and directed by Anthony & Joe Russo as well as Joss Whedon. The movie brings together 3 heroes: Chris Evans as Captain America, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, and Anthony Mackie as Falcon and borrows from 40 years of Captain America storylines; most notably the namesake Winter Soldier arc by Ed Brubaker (Brubaker plays a scientist in the movie). For more information and a full-on reference guide, check out Entertainment Weekly’s reference guide to Captain America The Winter Soldier.
Allow me to make a short detour in this review, as I found the “sidekicks” chosen to aid Captain America very interesting. One one hand there’s ex KGB agent turned S.H.I.E.L.D super-spy, Natasha Romanov AKA Black Widow, and Sam Wilson who was a pastor’s kid who would become a criminal, pimp, and drug pusher and eventually Falcon.
Falcon joins the ranks of Storm, Deathlok, and Toro as one of the few black superheroes whose name don’t contain the word “black” in them, which is much deserved as he was the first mainstream superhero of color. If you’re as fascinated with Falcon‘s character as I am, I suggest you take a look at The Urban Daily’s 5 Things to Know About Falcon.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier takes place after the events in The Avengers, and finds Cap as S.H.I.E.L.D’s elite super soldier. You’d assume that would be his dream job right? Wrong. He’s unsettled and begins to question his loyalty to the agency as director, Nick Fury, tiptoes on the fine thread of morality. Things get even crazier when a mysterious assassin appears on the scene and a conspiracy subplot is revealed. Aside from the obvious fact that you’d probably want the Captain on your ultimate Frisbee team, you’ll find Captain America: The Winter Soldier riddled with multiple plot points. Ok, so maybe the whole Frisbee thing was made up, but you can’t argue with the fact that the guy throws a mean vibranium shield. In a post-Avengers world (very similar to a post-9/11 world), a secret project: Project Insight, is being carried out by S.H.I.E.L.D, which is the agency’s answer to counter-terrorism and crime as a whole. Project Insight’s objective is simple: based on an algorithm developed by Arnim Zola (Red Skull’s principal scientist), it has the capabilities of killing what majority of S.H.I.E.L.D believe to be terrorist threats. However, the agency has long ago been infiltrated by Hydra (remember the whole “cut off one head and two more will grow in its place”? Yeah), thus Zola’s algorithm actually targets anyone who’s deemed a threat to Hydra’s plans. The conspiracy is a gigantic plot point, and ties in longtime characters Agent Sitwell and Senator Stern, who share a rather sensual “Hail Hydra” whisper in the movie. Senator Stern also has a funny pin line which nods back to the Iron Man film.
Captain America, Black Widow, and Falcon task themselves with uncovering the conspiracy, which leads to the Captain being a S.H.I.E.L.D fugitive.
There’s a few gratuitous hipster scenes thrown into the movie which include a dressed down Rogers and Romanov heading to an Apple Store to gather information.
Eventually, Captain America is forced to face The Winter Soldier, and has to ultimately save the world via a ton of awesome and jaw-dropping action sequences. Let’s talk about the action for a bit.
There is a moment in Captain America: The Winter Soldier where Cap takes down an entire gun-totin’ heli-jet with just his shield, careening off the wings as he flings his shield via a series of several acrobatic leaps and flips without missing a beat. This is every bit as awesome as it sounds.
There’s multiple awesome fight sequences, particularly between Cap and The Winter Soldier, perfectly choreographed action that rival every other Marvel movie to date, and I say surpasses them. Black Widow and Falcon also hold their own in their multiple fight scenes, overall, the hand-to-hand (or shield) combat in Captain America: The Winter Soldier is bar none. There were unending ooh’s and aah’s from the theater throughout the movie, which is nowhere near as annoying as you’re thinking it’d be.
As if that weren’t enough, there are also a few epic car chases, one of which had me squeal “THIS IS AWESOME!” without a shred of shame or regret. Cars barreled down streets, into each other, pedestrians, buildings, freeways…the speedster in me was utterly titillated.
Coupled with polite elevator brawls and intense aerial combat, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is an incredibly action-packed movie.
A bit of a sidenote: I really appreciated the directors not trying to force a romantic relationship between Rogers and Romanov, though R <3’s R would have been cute to engrave on a tree, the fact that there’s not even a damsel in distress moment in the entire film speaks volumes.
By the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, S.H.I.E.L.D is completely decimated…the biggest uniting factor between the Iron Man, Thor, Avengers, as well as Captain America franchises, gone. This is where the movie differentiates itself from every other Marvel movie so far: It throws Marvel’s entire cinematic universe for a loop. As the movie ends, Nick Fury is making his way back to Europe (by the way who caught the scripture on his grave?), while Romanov retreats to the shadows, and the Cap and Falcon gear up to find Bucky. Obviously a lot of this will be put on hold, and hopefully explained, in Age of Ultron, but until then we can only speculate. By the way, what happens to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D now?
Overall, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is one of the best superhero flicks I’ve seen, with a fine mix of thrilling action, interesting plot points, and surprises, there was never a dull moment. Lots of nods to fellow geeks as myself: a Dr. Strange reference when Sitwell is captured by Captain America and friends, an Abed cameo, Romanov wearing an arrow necklace throughout the movie (she obviously misses her BFF), a satisfying WarGames reference, the Stark Tower rebuilt with the Avengers logo, are all very, very pleasing. My biggest gripe with Captain America: The First Avenger was the fact that there were so many montages, obviously put in place to convey the progression of time and action, and if that had you peeved too then you’d be pleasantly surprised by Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which is overflowing with action and far less montages. Oh, and it also looks great in 3D!