Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a fascinating bundle of contradictions as far as modern super hero epics go. It is up-to-the-minute modern and yet at the same time gloriously old fashioned. It is often rather surprising and yet completely predictable. It takes some rather subversive stands about the state of the world, and yet at the same time in many ways it is hopelessly square. It is paranoid and still amazingly patriotic. It is rather cerebral and yet it can be wonderfully goofy. It is both talky and action packed. It is extremely well acted and yet it is not at all an actor’s movie. It is a big old-school summer blockbuster, and yet is sometimes picks up the feel of an indie film.
The fact that it works so well with so many of these conflicting styles is a testament to the skill behind the scenes and intelligence of the movie.
It turns out to be a very good movie. If not for the fact that the final climactic battle feels way too similar to a huge action sequence in The Avengers (and there is yet another similar one in Thor: The Dark World and even one that is kinda similar in Captain America: The First Avenger) it would border on being terrific. It’s certainly the strongest superhero film since The Avengers, perhaps even The Dark Knight Returns or the first Iron Man film.
It is also a significant improvement on the last Captain America film, The First Avenger. That film was very enjoyable in many ways as a sepia-toned nostalgic action epic, but The Winter Soldier feels much more built to last. By cryogenically bringing Captain America up to the present (the original film took place during World War II), he becomes more vitally needed and at the same time more out of step with the world – the good guys as well as the bad guys.
Which is funny, because much of what happens in The Winter Soldier is directly attributable to the actions of the original film. There are flashbacks and even the appearance of a few of characters from the original, changed through agingmakeup (and one appearing as a disembodied mind inside a very old computer).
The First Avenger ended with Captain America reawakened from a cryogenic freeze several decades after the action of the first film.
This is very much a sequel, not just a stand-alone story with some of the same characters. The storyline is dropped for about 70 years, but it continues now. In fact, much more so than Avengers, when Captain America was in the future with little comment or side effect, The Winter Soldier is a fish-out-of-water story about the conflicting emotions and values of a 40s hero in a new millennium crime-fighting world.
The film also torpedoes much of the intricately-plotted Marvel universe of SHIELD, which will affect most of the other Marvel films as well as the TV series Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. However, it is nice to see this world shook up a bit, and it sets up interesting ripples in future Captain America, Avengers, Iron Man and Thor films, as well as others to come.
It also introduces another Marvel superhero to the stable, The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) becomes another faithful entrant into the fight against evil. He and Black Widow (getting her most meaty role in a Marvel film yet) excel as Captain Rogers’ wingmen.
And evil has a colorful, slightly craggy but all-American handsome face in The Winter Soldier. Robert Redford is quite obviously having a ball playing that chief bad guy (ironically, 30 some years ago Redford would have been a spot on casting for the Captain himself.) As Alexander Pierce, the two-faced politician behind much of the nefariousness on display, Redford cheerfully dismantles his reputation as a American hero. Redford’s presence here is doubly intriguing, because much of the subterfuge in effect is somewhat reminiscent of his 70s dark classic The Three Days of the Condor.
Like that film, the movie starts to show a whole new paranoid world of corruption and double-cross, in which no one is quite sure who to trust and who they cannot. This comes into particularly sharp relief when the bad guys’ chief killing machine – the Winter Soldier of the title – turns out to be known to Captain America.
It’s a wonderfully exciting set up. And, like I said, other than a typically over-blown Marvel dénouement, the second Captain America film sets the bar very high for the films which will come in its wake. Not just in this series, but in all Marvel films.
Jay S. Jacobs