Captain America: The Winter Soldier, 2014.
Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo.
Starring Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Samuel L. Jackson, Anthony Mackie, Frank Grillo, Robert Redford, Cobie Smulders, Toby Jones, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell, and George St-Pierre.
Steve Rogers struggles to embrace his role in the modern world and battles a new threat from old history: the Soviet agent known as the Winter Soldier.
Ever since Iron Man kicked off Marvel’s Cinematic Universe back in 2008, there has been one phrase that crops up again and again from press notes, critics and fans – “this is the best Marvel movie yet”. So it seems quite cliche and pointless to highlight in this opening paragraph, but Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the best solo movie in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe yet.
And while the movie doesn’t offer up anything truly new for the genre, it does have a drastic change of pace from what we’re used to seeing. Not only is it refreshing, but it shows us what makes the idea of the shared Universe so enthralling.
As with Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier takes place after “the events of New York” and sees Steve Rogers trying to adjust to life in the 21st Century as well as integrate himself into S.H.I.E.L.D. Unfortunately for our hero, this is an organisation with trust issues and secrets, something Rogers isn’t overly fond of. Worse yet, there appears to be a mole within their ranks and before long, Rogers and Black Widow find themselves on the run while trying to unravel just how S.H.I.E.L.D. was compromised – and trying not to get killed by the mysterious Winter Soldier.
What separates Captain America: The Winter Soldier from the rest of the Cinematic Universe is that it doesn’t just play to the comic book movie traditions. Instead, we are given a well-written and pretty cool espionage thriller with some good twists, plenty of intrigue and a well executed payoff. To call the plot intricate would be misleading and, while it will leave you guessing, your first guess as to where the plot is heading will probably be the right one. However, this different tone really makes Captain America: The Winter Soldier feel new. It does end up in the tried and tested ‘save the world’ scenario during the third act, but the first two thirds really offer a different perspective on where you can take these costumed characters. Kevin Feige said that they wanted to make a “70s political thriller masquerading as a superhero movie” and they have succeeded in that.
However, there is a victim in all of this. The Winter Soldier.
Much like this year’s RoboCop remake, The Winter Soldier really plays second fiddle to the plot that surrounds him. Despite being in the title of the movie, he is overshadowed by bigger things and while you could call him the “main villain” of the movie, he’s not what drives the plot forward. Bucky’s relationship with Rogers is an important part of Captain America lore and it’s not really explored to its full potential. It is briefly touched upon, but for the most part it’s forced down our throats to make the conclusion seem all the more dramatic. With that said, Sebastian Stan does well within the role given the short amount of time he has and he has a great look – even if it does feel a little Spider-Man 3 Green Goblin. With a bit more time spent on Bucky rediscovering who he really is, he could have been a great villain.
It’s not just Sebastian Stan who provides a great performance as every member of the cast does a brilliant job. Chris Evans has always been borderline ‘not caring’ as Steve Rogers, but this is the first time in the role where he looks like he’s really enjoying himself playing the character and he is 100% convincing as Captain America. Scarlett Johansson (who has had a great year so far) is once again good as Black Widow and MCU newcomer Anthony Mackie is enjoyable as Falcon. With a bit of luck, he’ll be given more time to show off what he can do in other movies other than just playing the Robin to Evans’ Batman. UFC legend George St. Pierre has a fun (if brief) appearance as Batroc the Leaper and Frank Grillo is incredibly menacing as Brock Rumlow, the man who would eventually become Crossbones. People have accused Robert Redford of doing this movie “just for the money”, but he is really great as the secretive Alexander Pierce.
And while the movie is plot driven and is mostly about the espionage part of its story, it’s the action scenes where the movie really catches fire. Everyone gets their moment to shine and Anthony and Joe Russo direct with such flair that every time an action beat ends you’ll want to leap out your seat and pump your fist. Just like the film they’re in, the action in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (for the most part) is unlike any other Marvel movie. The Russo Brothers do tend to rely on Bourne style shakey-cam to hide the breaks in their choreography and it can get a touch confusing at times, but they have crafted some spectacular set pieces that serve as good buffers between story beats.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a movie where everything gels. It’s not perfect and it isn’t a game changer like The Dark Knight for example, but it really stands above the movies that have come before it. The performances are great, the story is good and the action is pulse-racingly brilliant. It also might be the most important movie within the Marvel Universe as it is bound to play a huge part in Avengers: Age of Ultron and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. So, while it may feel like a cliche to give it the label, Captain America: The Winter Soldier really is the best solo Marvel movie to date.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★