Picking up where The Avengers left our World War II hero, Captain America: The Winter Soldier features a Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) as a man out of his time, struggling to keep up with the world around him mentally – even as advanced as he is physically. Doing his morning runs throughout the most photogenic portions of Washington DC, he’s 95 years old (on paper), but remains as verile as ever, thanks to his super soldier serum. But he’s trying to grasp everything he’s missed in his time frozen in ice – and those who he lost as well – as impossible a task as that may seem.
The world around Steve Rogers has changed. Not just due to the progress of time and technology, but morals and ethics as well. He was a simple man who only wished to give his life to something greater. Now, S.H.I.E.L.D. is a massive organization built around tactical takedowns – but also the obtainment of information. No matter the cost. And it’s this cost that both drives the film, and renders its most important element -the film’s commentary on the world today.
Like the best Marvel Comics before it, Captain America: The Winter Soldier acts as a comic book style canvas to speak of greater things ailing the world, even if it’s solved by punches, CGI and explosions. It’s a discussion of privacy, personal values and freedom – and the bold risk to use a “superhero movie” as the backdrop for a paranoid, 1970′s style government conspiracy drama makes this installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe one of the best yet.
But don’t worry – just because bigger concepts are in play does not mean that the film isn’t a joy to watch. The action is fast, frantic and expertly shot, a great thing given today’s world of shaky cam and hard to follow battles. From a Metal Gear Solid-esq extraction scene to kick off the film (including a great one-on-one fight between Captain America and UFC Champion Georges St. Pierre, playing lame-duck French villain Batroc) to some incredible car chases, a brilliant elevator fight scene, and some Raid-inspired close quarters fights, you get your action quotient, even when headier things are being discussed. It’s a testament to the skills of directors Joe and Anthony Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely how effortless this balance feels (a tip of the hat should go to editor Jeffrey Ford, as well) – it’s easy to see why this team has been asked to return for another Captain America installment.
Chris Evans has grown comfortably into the role of Steve Rogers, and even as the stakes get higher and his personal life becomes messier, he does a fantastic job of retaining the characters key optimism and core values. Somehow, he plays the “boy scout” without feeling forced or cloying. Much how Downey is Stark, or Helmsworth is Thor, Evans has completely embodied Captain America, continuing his great run as the American legend. I was pleasantly surprised by Scarlett Johansson, returning as Black Widow – she plays a great sidekick to Evans, even as her character remains somewhat secretive and cut off. The returning Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury continues to have his secrets to hide, but the biggest x factor of the film is legendary actor Robert Redford. Redford adds an incredible level of gravitas to the film, starring as Alexander Pierce, a fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. leader who has his own skeletons in his closet. It must be a prerequisite to join the agency, I suppose.
The movie twists, turns, and surprises every step of the way, including some surprise cameos from characters you may not expect – plus some hints towards the future. That said – for as great as it is, it’s not without its own nits to pick. Anthony Mackie is incredibly adept as Sam Wilson (later, The Falcon), but his character feels really tacked on. Its as if they plotted all of the cool flying sequences and forgot to give him something more to do. His chemistry with Evans is spot on though, and if Mackie is to return in future films, I can’t wait to see them work off each other more.
The other disappointment? For as incredibly imposing as the film makes him, the titular Winter Soldier (I won’t spoil who he is, although, it’s pretty clear) feels secondary to a much larger issue, rending him almost as an also-ran. Again, I feel like there are bigger plans for the character down the line, but he felt short changed.
Even with those issues - Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a great time at the movies, and arguably, the first great sequel to come from Marvel Studios. It’s truly the Dark Knight to The First Avenger‘s Batman Begins, a fantastic escalation to an already great franchise. Serving as the ninth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, its proof of how well Marvel gets it right. In any other hands, we could be wishing for the films to die off, instead, I can’t wait for the next one. Bring on Guardians of the Galaxy, bring on Avengers 2, bring on the next 14 years of films. If they’re all this great, we’re in for an incredible run.
POST CREDIT SCENE NOTES: There are two, one “mid-credits”, one at the end. The mid-credits scene is incredibly important for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You can skip the end credits scene, if you need to head home.