Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Eric Walkuski's take)
PLOT:Captain America, while attempting to lay low in Washington D.C., must come to the aid of a fallen S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague when the entire organization becomes compromised. Meanwhile, a menacing assassin attempts to put Cap and his cohorts out of business permanently.
REVIEW: Simply put, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER is the best Marvel movie not called THE AVENGERS. It’s fast, clever, intense and overflowing with “holy shit!” moments. It easily surpasses the original in every department, and succeeds in making the character of Captain America a) the most interesting and sympathetic of The Avengers, and b) a splendid hero capable of propping up his own franchise for years to come. The Marvel movie universe is a wonderful thing, of course, with its intertwining stories and characters, but thanks to this energetic and poignant sequel, I’m now more invested in the Captain’s world more than any other.
Whereas the first CAPTAIN AMERICA brought us a combination of a 1940s war movie and underdog story, THE WINTER SOLDIER is a different beast altogether, reminiscent of a 1970s political paranoia thriller complete with espionage, an untrustworthy government, double agents, spy games, corrupt bureaucrats and a very small band of heroes risking their lives to expose the truth and save their country. Of course, the film also has the requisite amount of visceral comic book mayhem and fun - it never forgets to be fun - but there are very real issues and ideas being explored in THE WINTER SOLDIER that sets it apart from the rest of its Marvel brethren. Who would have thought we’d leave a superhero movie thinking about national and personal security?
Even the film’s plot brings to mind those aforementioned subversive 70s thrillers, with a scheme to take over the highest levels of S.H.I.E.L.D. directly affecting the safety of the world and the lives of Captain America and his comrades, specifically Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Cap’s new best friend Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie). After several supposed allies turn out to be working for the nefarious HYDRA organization, which has firmly ensconced itself into S.H.I.E.L.D., Captain America must track down the source of the betrayal and the solution to stop a global killing spree. Conspiracies, betrayals and dire revelations abound.
Standing in Cap’s way is a fearless, seemingly robotic assassin, The Winter Soldier. (Minor spoiler alert if you have absolutely no idea what the deal is here.) The Winter Soldier is in fact Cap’s old friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), who, thought dead, was actually reprogrammed by HYDRA’s chief scientist Dr. Zola (Toby Jones) and transformed into a lethal killing machine. It certainly adds to Cap’s litany of problems that he may be forced to kill his former best friend in order to save millions of lives.
Marvel, never missing an opportunity to go about business in an unorthodox manner, has hired the Russo brothers (Joe and Anthony) to direct this wily story of intrigue. On the surface an unlikely selection - the guys are best known for their work on comedy series like “Arrested Development” and “Community” - but once again the studio hits the nail on the head with their choice. The action here is crisply directed and often seriously nerve-jangling; a shoot-out/throwdown on a freeway is chock full of eye-popping car flips and flying bodies, the stakes of the chaos never seeming anything less than critical, while a car chase featuring Nick Fury’s attempted escape from a band of hitmen is an absolute knock-out, one of the best car chase sequences in recent years.
And the finale? The finale is blockbuster spectacle of the highest order, one that will have you practically ready to leap into a standing ovation.
What’s especially effective about THE WINTER SOLDIER is that an element of, dare I say, realism is injected into the action. This movie kills a whole lot of people, a good number of them innocent bystanders, and somehow it doesn’t come off as frivolous: it connects with you that a lot of terrible things are being unleashed in the streets and airspace of Washington. that said, the film effortlessly brings us into comic book situations which are glorious to behold, especially when multiple helicarriers take to the air and are subsequently boarded by Cap and friends. The visual effects here are amazing, the new benchmark for the Marvel franchise.
But none of it wold really work if you didn’t care and root for these characters, starting with Cap. Cap truly is the heart and soul of the Avengers, his morals beyond reproach and his commitment to good unwavering. Despite his extraordinary powers, Steve Rogers is a complex individual, still stuck in the past while struggling to adapt to the present. A brief scene between he and an older (much older) Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) carries more emotional heft than most films of this ilk do in their entirety. It’s likely Chris Evans won’t get enough credit for giving Rogers as much depth and humanity as he does, but I’m extremely grateful the character is so much more than a choir boy.
The inclusion of Sam Wilson/Falcon is welcome, and almost vital, giving us a “superhero” is who essentially just an everyman. Sure, he can fly (thanks to mechanical wings that unfold from what must be a very heavy backpack), but the character hasn’t seen it all before like almost everyone else in the film, which keeps the adventure semi-grounded. It should also be noted that it’s just damn cool when he weaves and darts through the air; some of the movie’s most thrilling visuals come courtesy of Falcon’s aerial acrobatics.
And as if the film needed more clout, it features Robert Redford in a role seemingly tailor-suited for him. The star of THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR and ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN certainly is at home wading through government conspiracies, and the sly old actor appears to be having a ball playing Alexander Pierce, about whom the less said, the better. These Marvel movies have consistently assembled great casts, each movie touting an admirable mix of veteran thespians and younger stars, but Redford could be the studio’s greatest casting coup to date.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER is outstanding entertainment; every summer movie this year - hell, next year too - has been put on notice.