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Review: CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER

The ninth film in the ever-growing Avengers series has a slightly problematic plot, and it provides more comfort than true thrills, but is most certainly a serviceable entertainment.

Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Solider (either the ninth Avengers film, the second Captain America film, or the third “Marvel Phase Two” film, depending on where you’re standing) sets out with a very promising tone. This is Captain America by way of Tom Clancy. The film, replete with a bold patriotic score, steely muted photography, and a plot involving a government conspiracy, feels less like what you would find in the airport comic book section, and more like what you would find in the novels a few racks up. This was a wise choice. Captain America’s reaction to the twisted world of the Patriot Act (the central theme of the film) is the kind of story that skews more sociopolitical than pow-sock-wham boyhood fantasy.

And for extended portions, The Winter Soldier feels exhilarating and interesting. This is the first time we’ve really had a chance to see Captain “America” Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) really react to the modern world, and we finally get some (sadly fleeting) moments of his impressions of 2014. A cute moment: Steve has taken down a list of things he feels he needs to catch up on, including disco, Nirvana (band), and Rocky. I would have been content with a mere drama about Captain America simply adjusting. To me, the character is more interesting than the plot. This is why Iron Man and Iron Man Three have been the best films in this particular run of superhero flicks; Robert Downey, Jr. has created a fun and palpable character.

The Winter Soldier Redford

Indeed, the richness of tone and fun, Clancy-ish conspiracies are so strong in The Winter Soldier that it’s almost a pity to have the central organization in question be S.H.I.E.L.D. (Marvel’s CIA-like superhero-wrangling enclave) and not just the regular CIA. Had Captain America been working for the Fed, dealing with the real president, and addressing real-life issues of patriotism in the face of a seemingly too-complex system of sacrificed privacy, then his comments about corruption within the organization (which is the eventual plot) would have rung more salient. Captain America vs. America is a tantalizing and interesting idea for a Captain America story. But since he’s working for S.H.I.E.L.D., and the bad guys are (not to spoil anything) are not the actual U.S. government, The Winter Soldier begins to feel perhaps a bit too safe, too sealed off in its own hermetic comic book world. And the eventual reveal as to who is behind the conspiracy and why only compounds the problem. Wouldn’t it have been more interesting had Cap actually had to face up against a U.S. government that was, y’know, actually corrupt?

One of the heads of S.H.I.E.L.D., Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford, who looks a little bit baffled by the movie he’s in), has grand plans to launch a new fleet of armed, automated airships to aid with a vaguely defined defense plan. It seems that Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) might be trying to sabotage the fleet, and no one knows why. Steve Rogers is frustrated with the amount of inter-personal secrecy in the system, and when Fury is attacked on the street, he has to essentially go rogue, and team up with both Natasha “The Black Widow” Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson, miscast) and his friend Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) to solve the mystery of the fleet, Nick Fury’s involvement, and the mysterious appearance of a masked Russian super-assassin nicknamed The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). We all know who the Winter Soldier really is, right? That’s right. It’s Thanos.

Winter Soldier Natasha

The plot itself doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny, and the climax of big explosions and protracted fights is so de rigueur, it almost begins to feel more like a comfortable pair of slippers than an edgy, risk-filled action climax. Indeed, as any franchise extends as far as this (nine films!), and as the story and characters become more and more familiar, the notion of actual risk begins to fall by the wayside. By the ninth James Bond film, for instance, we knew the formula. The same is happening to the Marvel superhero films. They are ramping up in size at the same time they are settling back in status.

But any nitpicks I may have are more theoretical than directly critical. At the end of the day, The Winter Soldier is a smart-ish, entertaining, more-textured-than-it-needed-to-be, big-budget action blockbuster that keeps one perfectly satisfied.

Rating: 3.5 Burritos
3.5 burritos

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22 comments

  • I liked it. there was a bit of downtime full of a half hour of just dialogue, but right before that and after that everything was great.The only thing that disappointing me was I already know who the Winter Soldier is. I wish I had no knowledge of this going into it. But being a cap fan ive always known. oh well

  • “(Scarlett Johanson miscast)”

    Huh? Really? Care to expand on this? We are aware that she originated this role and has already played it in three or four films, right? What about her in this role doesn’t fit?

  • @Roguesenna I think this was a wasted casting from the very beginning. Instead of getting someone who could actually be interesting in the role, they went for the “sex sells” casting. To her benefit, this was the first film (ever, not just Marvel) I actually didn’t mind Scarlett Johannson. Now, if only Natalie Portman could find a way to be a worthwhile edition instead of another wasted casting.

  • @Ben Z, I had very few problems with Iron Man 2. I never understood the hate for that film. With Iron Man 3 you get a Lethal Weapon imitation rather than an Iron Man film, hilariously useless armor, no explanation for how the arc reactor was removed, a suit that we’re told is only coded to Stark before, not 5 minutes later, being attached to Pepper and Killian, and the house party protocol that would’ve wrapped the film up 40 minutes sooner if it had been used.

  • @Nate. Totally agree with you Nate. I went back to Iron Man 2 and actually enjoyed it more the second time around.

    As for the Iron Man 3, You forgot the middle of the movie that had a random kid sidekick.

  • Loved the film! It had enough government conspiracy tied together with fighting scenes (sock em rock em robots style and enough pew pew), and I enjoyed seeing Cap doing more than just “yes sir” all the way through the movie! Two thumbs up from me.

  • I think this review is ridiculous. This may have been the best Marvel film to date, and totally upset the status quo by destroying Shield, yet you’re complaining at the end that its too safe? Of course it was in its own comic book world. It would have been a lot harder to explain why all of a sudden in this universe Cap works for the real CIA and Obama is president. Terrible review, great movie (and I am not a person who goes around the internet hating on reviewers. This was a terrible review.)

  • Not sure I understand why there are so many unnecessary swings taken at comic books in this review. The best compliment you make about the film seems to be the one that it’s more like a government conspiracy novel than a comic book? I see what you’re saying there, but there are plenty of dark, gritty comics, and many that deal with issues of government conspiracy; the invention of SHIELD and other fictional organizations has always meant that comics don’t have to pull their punches when critiquing government/institutional corruption.

  • What are you talking about. The film was great and full of future plot hooks. The plot was one of the best to date and come on…They just showed us A.I.M. They are going to bring out M.O.D.O.K.

  • Please tell me you were joking when you said The Winter Soldier was Thanos. You DID watch the first Captain America movie right? Please tell me you aren’t quite that oblivious. You really didn’t have to even read the comics to understand what just happened there. The first movie set it up!

  • This was such a fulfilling movie. It would have been great as a stand alone spy thriller. Other than Bond, how many of these do we get? As a Marvel fan since the ’80s, I’m glowing with pride that they were able to incorporate so much of the Universe!

  • Outside of the Avengers, this was the best of the movies in the series. I probably give it more credit than deserved, but after how awful the first Capt America was – this was fantastic. The attack on Fury and the scene when Cap kicks the guy into the ships engine were perfect in setting the tone that this wasn’t the same campy Capt America.

  • It’s hard to decide if this review was written in a way to just generate comments by vaguely insulting comic book fan sensibilities, or if the writer genuinely believes what they’re saying.

    Also am I the only one who thinks the burrito graphic looks cheap?