Marvel Studios continue their powerful box-office reign by kicking off 2014 with the first of four films from the studio this year, and the first of two set within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Captain America: The Winter Soldier comes as a sequel to not just Captain America: The First Avenger but Marvel’s The Avengers as well, as is the new custom. This latest Captain America flick almost entirely sheds the campiness present in it’s Joe Johnston directed predecessor and aligns itself with a more modern, and much more serious, setting. Not only is The Winter Soldier probably the best film to date within the Cinematic Universe, it’s already throwing it’s towel in as the leading choice for Best Marvel Film of 2014.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier follows Steve Rodgers/Captain America (Chris Evans) during his continued attempts to adapt to modern life. The film briefly touches on the character discovering new things and trying to figure out who he is in the 21st Century. As with every big budget Marvel film, however, it doesn’t take long for a bad guy to show up planning on destroying the world. The Winter Soldier takes a much more political route than any of it’s predecessors in the series. One that finds a corrupt faction within the S.H.I.E.L.D. organization who are plotting to use three massive air ships designed to neutralize millions of known “threats”, such as Bruce Banner, Tony Stark, etc. as well as putting ol’ Captain America as the number one target on the list. Along for the journey are Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Rodgers’ newly acquired military friend Sam Wilson who introduces a new Avenger by the name Falcon (Anthony Mackie).
The corrupt faction uses their biggest weapon again Captain America in the form of another super soldier known as, TA-DA, The Winter Soldier. Described by Romanoff as a “Ghost Story”, The Winter Soldier is a nameless hit man with untraceable bullets, and a metal arm who has spent the last 50 years silently and secretly taking out threats and is not ordered to kill the Captain.
Within the entire Avengers series, The Winter Soldier might just be the coolest villain yet. He’s akin to the level of “cool” oozing out of Iron Man 3‘s Mandarin before the big reveal with just the right amount of screen time. There are long periods of time without the character’s presence, but when he shows up, you know it’s going to get good. It’s a fairly common comparison these days, and a dumb one, I know, but at times, the character recalls shades of Heath Ledger’s Joker via his posture and pure menacing attitude. In fact, one of the coolest shots in the film, is the characters completely out of nowhere introduction. If you’re not a follower of the Marvel Comic Origins, and are mostly familiar only with the films, the reveal of “Who the hell IS The Winter Soldier” is a pretty fun one, at that.
Going back to my previous comparison with The Dark Knight, it seems even still to this day, every superhero flick attempts one way or another to copy that film’s structure and dark nature. When Iron Man 3 came out, that film was supposed to be Marvel’s version of that. We all know that’s not exactly how it played out. So if any film within the Marvel Cinematic Universe comes close to what The Dark Knight pulled off, it’s The Winter Soldier. It’s dark, political, massively epic, and contains a few other thematic comparisons that would probably count as spoilers if I dropped them. Needless to say, this is Marvel’s darkest and most mature film to date. Adding the political aspect to the plot, awesomely led by Robert Redford’s character in a massive pissing match against Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, was definitely a breath of fresh air, and gave the film a more adult feeling as opposed to Iron Man 3‘s “Tony Stark hangs out with a 10 year old” plot device or both Thor films’ intergalactic battles (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).
Another of The Winter Soldier‘s most surprising aspects is just how great of an action film Anthony and Joe Russo, two guys whose past directorial efforts include multiple episodes of Arrested Development and Community, are capable of making. The duo were able to make The Winter Soldier feel fresh and exciting for being the ninth film in the series. How many times have we seen one of the Avengers take on an army of bad-guys? A LOT. But thanks to the film’s spot-on fight choreography, you never felt like you were watching the same battle from the last Marvel film. The Russo Brothers were also able to take a minor scene involving Steve Rodgers and former flame Peggy (Hayley Atwell) and create the most emotionally touching scene offered yet via the Marvel Cinemtic Universe. Again, it’s that kind of small touch, that keeps The Winter Soldier standing out above the rest of the pack.
At this point, you really have to hand it to Marvel. Nine films into their Cinematic Universe and we’re still getting great films that are consistently a lot of fun. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a freshly dark and entirely worth addition to the cannon led by a solid cast, a couple of surprising cameos, and a fun (although not technically perfect) politically charged plot, that will please even the lukewarm Marvel fans. You really can’t go wrong with this one.
I give Captain America: The Winter Soldier a 4.5 out 5.
By Richard Pepper