Captain America: The Winter Solider Review
"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is an achievement on countless levels.
"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is the best film of Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) Phase II. It ranks very near the top of the list of best superhero films ever made. I am currently watching "The Avengers" at home because I am on the fence about which film is better, this sequel could end up being the best Marvel movie ever. The movie works as a comic book, action movie. The movie works as a cool political thriller. The movie also works as titanic mainstream entertainment. Not only that, but this is definitely one of the most ambitious stories Marvel has tried to tell so far, and this will end up being one of the most important films as the MCU continues to trudge forward. Everything after this movie is going to be effected by the outcome of this story. "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" made some massive decisions and I am blown away by what they created for this sequel.
Out of all the characters to get right in the MCU, it had to be Captain America. Captain America is the most important character in the entire Marvel stable, bar none. Not only is he the leader of The Avengers, he is also the moral compass of the entire universe. He always makes the right decisions, he always creates the right outcomes, and if he doesn't win a fight and he'll give the most perfect reason to why he could not win. His moral standard outshines even Superman's, and every time something terrible happens in the Marvel universe, its Steve Rogers who jumps in and cleans everything up. But the character is more than that, he represents the best of us as Americans; what we yearn for, what we strive for, what we can accomplish when we are at our best. Captain America represents our citizens when we are at our absolute best and he is an almost dreamlike creation.
Back in 2011, I was rather hesitant by the idea of Chris Evans playing Captain America. Long story short, I didn't think Evans could come anywhere close to portraying the character Captain America is, nothing in his past could parallel it. I thought Evans made poor decision after poor decision and I thought he would ruin one of Marvel's most well-written, morally-sound characters. I was absolutely flabbergasted to learn that he was perfect for the role. That perfection stuck with Evans well into "The Avengers," and now in 2014, that perfection is still there. All of the characters notes I made above, Chris Evans created for "Winter Solider." Evans is able to create a memorable, moral, slightly humorous and otherwise badass character. It also surprises me that Chris Evans work in this sequel is only one highlight in the film.
I love how the movie's story feels like I am reading a handful of Captain America comics. Within the first fifteen minutes of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," Captain America runs in with Georges Batroc (Georges St. Pierre), a French pirate who has stolen a S.H.I.E.L.D. vessel. Captain America leads Natasha "Black Widow" Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Broc Rumlow (Frank Grillo) to rescue the hostages on the vessel. Its a great way to open the movie and it quickly introduces us to new characters and reconnects us with old characters with ease. All of the action sequences in this movie are at a grand scale, vast and cool. The choreography of the action pieces are almost all I needed to highly recommend this movie. But there is more, tons more.
Captain America gets a sense that while he was rescuing the ship, Romanoff was doing something different for S.H.I.E.L.D., which he was not told. When he gets back home, he confronts S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) about Romanoff's mission, and it appears that Romanoff's work will spark a series of events that lead to senior S.H.I.E.L.D. chairman Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) branding Captain America a fugitive and putting our hero on course to meeting The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), the first true match against Captain America. When Winter Soldier and Captain America clash, their battles are brutal, piercing and harrowing. There is a specific reason to why the Winter Solider is fighting against S.H.I.E.L.D. and it will change everything forever.
Many people wondered how Marvel would top "The Avengers," especially since Phase Two brought all of our characters back into solo film world. Not everybody in the general public reads comics, so it was a very fair question. Marvel's answer was to make each solo film in Phase Two personal. Both "Iron Man 3" and "Thor: The Dark World" challenge Iron Man and Thor on very personal levels, but "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is the most personal superhero film since "The Dark Knight." Like I said, I could not believe what directors Joe and Anthony Russo got away with in this movie. When our heroes meet in "Avengers: Age of Ultron," the status quo and moods of the characters will not be the same. There is also no way that ABC's "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." will ever be the same after this movie. In fact, it would drastically hurt the series if it didn't change after this.
The performances are flawless across the board, and I particularly love that every character, down to the smallest supporter, is crucial to the plot. I am very happy to report that the chemistry between Evans and Johansson is effortless and that their shared scenes are some of the highlights of the film. I love that their relationship never becomes a romantic one, I love that both characters challenge each other while also helping each other save the day. This sequel gave Samuel L. Jackson quite a bit to do, the most he's ever had to do as a character in any of the Marvel movies thus far and he completely knocked it out of the park. Jackson has become Fury and he isn't just a comic book version of himself, he has a real character to play and he takes it seriously. (Look for a subtle yet funny "Pulp Fiction" reference near the end of the film.) Cobie Smulders also has great work to do as Maria Hill and this is absolutely some of the best acting she's ever mustered. Sebastian Stan and Robert Redford both have very important roles in the movie and it was so much fun watching an actor as respected as Redford to let loose in a superhero movie, and Stan absolutely becomes the Winter Soldier. There are tons of characters from the MCU appear in this film and they make the most of their work here.
All of the new characters the film introduces are brought to life by wonderful actors. I have loved Frank Grillo since the moment I saw him in films like "Warrior" and "End of Watch," and I have been hoping for his big move into superstardom. With this sequel and summer's "The Purge: Anarchy," I think Grillo will become the star he was always suppose to be. He's got a great character to play and he tears it up here. I simply can't wait to see if and when we see his character again. Emily VanCamp has a small yet memorable role as Sharon Carter, a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who helps Captain America at a crucial moment. Then there's THE FALCON! God bless Anthony Mackie playing Sam "The Falcon" Wilson, because he nailed every piece of dialogue and every action sequence. I was impressed that the film took its time introducing Wilson as The Falcon and it wasn't a quick flash in order to serve the plot, its handled incredibly well.
I love the political aspects of the movie. This is a movie where no character is who them seem to be, even characters we have seen countless times throughout the MCU now. There were several moments in this movie where I was genuinely surprised by character outcomes. I have been a Marvel freak my entire life, usually decisions in these movies rarely surprise me. But today, I was pleasantly surprised by the reveals from each corner of this movie. After seeing "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" you will want to rewatch all of the MCU movies right away, just see these characters from the beginning. You will want to check for clues to how these characters became who they are in this sequel. It is going to be tons of fun.
The only small thing I did not like about this movie was that some story aspects were zipped along to make it the big finish. As Captain America is ready to rally S.H.I.E.L.D. together for the big fight at the end, it seemed a little unbelievable that the entire organization would stand beside him after what the film sets up. I would have sacrificed the Batroc opening in order for a little more clarification to why S.H.I.E.L.D. would follow a fugitive. But that is a mere nitpick in an otherwise brilliant movie. There is a lot to love here. Marvel is absolutely crushing it right now with their movie universe. I can only hope that this hot streak continues into the unknown future. On the other hand, I cannot, cannot wait to see how this story effects everything else in this universe. Nothing is going to be the same, and that is an awesome thought. Stick around for two credit scenes, one in the middle of the credits, the other at the very end. We have even bigger things headed for us in the future and I can't wait to see all of it.
Make mine Marvel.
FINAL GRADE: A