Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review | Just Go See the Movie

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By now, you’ve heard the buzz around Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and it is well justified. While it may not top the Avengers, particularly in spectacle, this is the first Marvel Studios movie since the original Iron Man that really stands on its own, and across all Marvel movies, is probably the most emotionally mature in both themes and acting. The movie accomplishes being a great action flick and cloak-and-dagger thriller that also pushes the Marvel universe forward as opposed to being another standalone where you ask yourself where the other Avengers are and should they be helping.

Early on, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the embattled director of S.H.I.E.L.D., dispatches Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America, and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), a.k.a. Black Widow, on a mission to rescue a naval ship overtaken by pirates. But Fury also plays the two against each other, and it turns out that it’s Nick himself who’s under siege.

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Casting Robert Redford, an old Hollywood veteran, to shore up its ensemble cast, adds further integrity and gravitas to the movie and to the threat at hand (and everyone is correct, it conjures up Redford’s classic spy and political thrillers from back in the day). And by tweaking this sequel to play more like a cloak-and-dagger thriller than a special-effects blowout (though of course there’s plenty of that too), directors Anthony and Joe Russo have delivered an unusually satisfying and substantive superhero movie.

Redford’s well-dressed Alexander Pierce is a senior S.H.I.E.L.D. official with a long history with Nick Fury, who remains the terse center with which the whole Marvel Universe has revolved around to some extent. However, The Winter Soldier smartly throws things off-kilter when Fury is brutally assaulted in broad daylight by a masked, cybernetically enhanced assassin (the Winter Soldier) who has an inside line on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s operational protocol. And when Steve Rogers/Captain America tries to figure out who ordered the hit, he finds himself on the outs with the suddenly unstable spy agency, whose agents are angling to take him down, and leads to a pretty badass escape by Rogers from SHIELD headquarters.

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The idea of the red-white-and-blue-clad Captain America involuntarily matched up against the military-industrial complex that created him is entertaining, and Evans imparts a sense of disillusioned weariness to his performance that clashes with his character’s 1940’s stars and stripes stance. A scene in which Rogers clandestinely visits the Smithsonian to see an exhibit about his Second World War exploits is somber but sweet in a way that transcends the jokey glibness of the Iron Man franchise. It also counters Captain America’s image as a ’40s-era relic (he was the straight man in The Avengers) while evincing a fond, possibly foolish nostalgia for the unambiguous heroism of the Greatest Generation.

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The Winter Soldier of course has plenty of action – every dollar of its estimated $170-million budget is onscreen – but it’s also got an intricate dramatic and thematic structure holding everything in place. For instance, Steve and Sam’s (Anthony Mackie) bond over the fact that they both lost wingmen in wars six decades apart is never overstated in the dialogue. In terms of acting Chris Evans gets high marks all around, from the action to the scenes with Redford. But kudos to everyone from Jackson to Mackie to even Johansson.

But back to the action; it has some of the tightest and memorable action sequences as of late. The movie has three acts, with some very memorable action sequences particularly in the first two acts. Rogers’ escape from SHIELD headquarters shows off what makes him a superhero and the directors even accomplish having the audience believe that Rogers is in true peril, especially when he takes on the Winter Soldier during a pretty cool highway chase sequence. The sequences in the third act between the three heli-carriers are abit predictable, but you’ll be just sitting back and enjoying it all at that point.

DC Comics and DC Comic-book movies, you’re running out of time for any chance to be taken seriously. And I have a feeling Bryan Singer’s action sequences in this May’s X-Men Days of Future Past may feel very flat in comparison now.

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The movie of course isn’t perfect, but the flaws are minor and in no way detract from the overall enjoyment. The Winter Soldier is one of those fortunate and extremely rare confluences of studio vision, filmmakers, cast and script. The chemistry was simply right (I am not suggesting this is a fluke, as that would be disrespectful). Looking at past projects however, Marvel has gotten equally promising talents before but the end result still didn’t quite click. Whatever the case, the bar has now been set very high. Not just for superhero flicks, but for action films in general.

Go see it.

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