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NOTE: This Review Is Spoiler-Free!
Those who follow this blog probably know that I was not the biggest fan of Captain America: The First Avenger. I am a life-long Cap fan, and that film had all the right elements of what should have made a great Cap movie – but it didn’t quite come together for me. I was disappointed by that, but I felt that everything that misfired in that film could be corrected in a follow-up. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, just released, seem to have a lot going for it. Even though it shares the same screenwriters as the previous installment, this sequel has an exciting directing duo due to them being an outside-the-box choice, the amazing casting of Robert Redford in an important, supporting role, and a narrative based on a popular story in Captain America lore. All that was enough to get me on board!
With all that, I found Captain America: The Winter Soldier to arguably be the strongest outing thus far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now, that said – the movie is far from perfect. There is a lot of good in this, but there are also some really questionable filmmaking decisions The Winter Solider took. Let’s just go into this movie, shall we?
In The Winter Soldier, Captain America (a returning Chris Evans) discovers a conspiracy within government agency SHIELD, and, when investigating it, he becomes hunted by the very same organization. With very few allies, including newcomer Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Cap is determined to stop this shadow group before they can launch their diabolical plan. And, unlike some of the other Marvel movies, stuff actually happens with lasting consequences.
Clearly, this is a very different type of movie than The First Avenger was. It is much more of spy story in the vein of those 1970s thrillers (which was, in part, the reason behind Redford’s casting) – but not nearly as much as other news outlets are making out to seem. There is still plenty of comic book goofiness in the movie (which works both for and against it). I really enjoyed the execution of the film, but I do feel that, at times, the narrative became a bit too complicated for its own good.
I feel that some of the movie could have been streamlined a bit, but I am not exactly sure where. Perhaps the film is just too fresh in my mind at the moment, and I need a few more days to fully process it. Because so much goes on during the course of the movie, the pacing really suffered for it at times. I realize that there were a lot of characters to service, but The Winter Solider sort of falters in that area a bit.
The prime example is the titular Winter Solider. For a movie titled The Winter Soldier, I was expecting a bit more of him to actually be in the movie. For most of the film, he works as mostly as a heavy – a thug to be overcome. It isn’t until two-thirds of the film before we get any backstory on the guy, but it is way too late in the movie for me to really care about it. The Winter Solider and his connection to Cap formulate the emotional resonance of the film, but, again, this doesn’t happen until the final act at which point it feels a bit shoehorned in. I suppose these themes can be picked up in a future installment, but as they are here, it doesn’t quite work.
On the other hand, you have Anthony Mackie as the Falcon who is great! He was probably my favorite part of the movie. I also have to give credit to Frank Grillo as a villainous SHIELD agent. Both of these actors really throw themselves into their role, and Grillo in particular is clearly having the time of his life. I hope they find a way to bring him back in a future installment.
The direction by Anthony and Joe Russo was interesting. Known mostly for comedies (You, Me, and Dupree) and TV shows (Arrested Development), this is really their first foray into action spectacle. I am always fascinated when directors change gears like this. Sometimes it is a disaster (such as Marc Forster in Quantum of Solace), but I think the Russos mostly succeed. Their action scenes are crisp, and you can see everything that is happening on screen clearly. Some of their shots, however, were a bit to television-like, but they are new at this genre and will likely improve their technique the more they do this sort of thing.
I have to give a thumbs up to Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It isn’t a perfect film, but it is definitely one of the stronger Marvel movies to be released (and possibly one of the best superhero films of the last five-to-ten years). While it is still nothing more that disposable entertainment (which is not a bad thing), there is a certain weight to the movie that you don’t really get with a lot of superhero flicks. That’s what really makes this movie a cut above the rest.