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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Steve Rogers is doing okay.

After being frozen in ice for 70-plus years and surviving an alien invasion in New York during the events of The Avengers, Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America, is doing alright for himself. He's working as a professional good guy at S.H.I.E.L.D. with his Avengers gal pal Black Widow, living in Washington, D.C. where he runs 13 miles daily, and he's made at least one new friend, a VA worker named Sam Wilson. He's integrating into the modern world fairly well, and has even reestablished contact with his now elderly former lady-love, Peggy Carter. Life is... not bad. At least he doesn't have post-traumatic stress disorder like fellow Avengers alumni Tony Stark.

But then stuff hits the fan, and stuff gets real.

It all starts when Steve's boss, Colonel Nick Fury, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., is locked out of important, top secret files. Troubled and suspicious, Fury seeks out Alexander Pierce, a senior S.H.E.L.D. leader, to delay the upcoming Project Insight. This project, theoretically, would use three new helicarriers to target criminals and terrorists before they have a chance to strike, which Captain America isn't too happy about. "This isn't freedom," Steve says to Fury. "This is fear." Fury is then critically wounded by a team of assailants led by the mysterious assassin known as the Winter Soldier. Just before the wounded Fury gives Steve a thumbdrive containing the aforementioned top secret files, he whispers to him, "Don't trust anyone." Steve must work with Black Widow, a.k.a. Natasha Romanoff, Sam, and Maria Hill to stop the Winter Soldier's deadly mission, figure just what the heck is going on with Project Insight, and foil the real villain's dastardly plans.

Okay, I just want to be clear, and I'm not gonna lie: This movie is awesome. Resoundingly so. I'd even say that it's resounding in its awesomeness. But empty praise tells little. What makes this movie so great? Without a doubt, I'd say that it's the best installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, up there with Iron Man and The Avengers. My personal favorite remains Thor, but Captain America: The Winter Soldier is undoubtedly the best.

But again, why? Firstly, this movie is constituted of some incredible acting talent. Everybody from Chris Evans as Captain America to Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce to Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury to Emily VanCamp as Agent 13 gives it their all in this picture. It's on the level of the The Dark Knight Saga in terms of sheer star power. It's just as much Fury and Black Widow's movie as it is Cap's. Even the guy who plays the Winter Soldier (I won't tell you who it is because, you know, spoilers. Also, don't Google "Winter soldier". You'll get immediate spoilers.), despite not actually being the main villain, totally kills it. It all adds up to the believable performances coalescing together with the remarkable onscreen chemistry to produce nothing short of brilliance.

Speaking of killing, we've got a lot of cool, killer action sequences which keep you on the edge of your seat. Beginning with the boat skirmish at the beginning between Cap, Black Widow, and the S.H.I.E.L.D./S.T.R.I.K.E. agents and Batroc (Georges St-Pierre, whom we previously saw in Sherlock Holmes, which starred Robert Downey, Jr.), and ending with the climactic battle between Captain America and the Winter Soldier aboard one of the helicarriers, these are some really cool action scenes. But the real thrills from this movie don't come from the fights and explosions; they come from the suspense.

To understand this faucet of the film, we must first understand that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is just as much political thriller as it is superhero action-adventure flick. More accurately, I believe that the writers said that it was a political thriller disguised as a superhero action-adventure flick, just as Captain America: The First Avenger was a throwback to pulpy World War 2 adventure movies disguised as a superhero movie. There's a lot of stuff in this movie that will make you go, "Whoa, I did not see that coming." It's intelligent and relevant in its sociopolitical commentary, asking hard-hitting questions about freedom, security, patriotism, heroism, trust, and friendship. One particularly heart-pounding scene features Steve and Natasha unearthing a devastating revelation about S.H.I.E.L.D. that rocks them to the core. The only explosions that took place in it were after everything else had happened... not that I don't like stuff blowing up, it's just that there's been a lot of it in superhero movies lately.

But while this film is indeed thrilling and exciting, it also has the capacity for some quiet, tender, humanizing moments. For instance, the first half or so of the first act is filled with Steve just going around doing things. He meets Sam while outrunning him multiple times while running... during the same run. He goes incognito to the Smithsonian exhibit dedicated to him and his World War Two buddies. He visits a now very elderly Peggy Carter, who encourages him when he says he isn't sure what the right thing to do is anymore. There's also the many great scenes between Steve and Natasha, Steve and Sam, Steve and Fury, Steve and Agent 13, and even Steve and Alexander Pierce which serve to illustrate the finely crafted characters that Marvel has managed to produce.

Miscellaneous things I liked about this movie include its various continuity nods, such as references to previous MCU films and set ups for future MCU films. For instance, we've got Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo), known in the comics as the mercenary called Crossbones, the aforementioned Batroc, based off of Batroc the Leaper, as well as namedropping a certain neurosurgeon. I also liked the film's sense of humor, which, while by no means in the same shape of humor found in the Iron Man and Thor films, was, indeed, funny. Miscellaneous things I did not like include what they did with Jasper Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernandez). I don't know if it was an Life Model Decoy, or brainwashing, but he deserved better than that. Maybe he'll come up later in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., I don't know, but I just hope that he's not out completely.

All in all though, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, is a solid film. Sam Wilson/Falcon, the Winter Soldier, and Agent 13 were all a bit underused (Batroc is gets one action sequence), despite being heavily promoted, but I can deal with that because when they were used, they were used very well. The acting was top-notch, the script, cinematography and music were all great, and it really pulled of the political thriller thing. It's a great film, and I liked just about everything about it, minus the smattering of bad language. What's more, it made me want to check out the comics run by Ed Brubaker (co-author of Gotham Central), whose storyline introducing the Winter Soldier in the comics was used as an inspiration for this film. Incidentally, this film was also the perfect Geek Pride Day/Memorial Day weekend movie!

RATING: 8.5/10

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