Let’s address the elephant in the room: Captain America: The First Avenger was mediocre at best. Puny Steve Rogers becomes Super Soldier Captain America. Red Skull tries to take over the world. Cap is frozen and wakes up in present day. The End. That is the story that needed to be told the same way Peter Parker is bitten by a spider or Krypton explodes needs to be told to inform the non-comic fan audience who has no clue. It’s frustrating to fanboyz, but a necessary evil for the rest of the world to “get it.” However, unlike Krypton or that radioactive spider, Captain America’s origin takes two hours to tell as opposed to 15 minutes. Captain America: The First Avenger was a wash for most comic fans because it was telling us what we already knew with no surprises or intrigue thrown in. Chris “I tried my best to save Johnny Storm” Evans is a great Captain America, but the problem is Captain America isn’t very interesting to watch when he’s not throwing his shield around. Therefore, while Cap 1 wasn’t a bad movie, it was the one Marvel Universe movie that had zero repeat value.
Now that the origin story is out of the way and The Avengers reintroduced him to the 21st century, we are finally free to see a Captain America movie that delves into new water. That new water turns out to be Marvel’s take on the NSA. What happens when people become so afraid of terrorist threats in real world America—we have the Patriot Act. What happens after the alien invasion of New York in Avengers—We have SHIELD ready to police the world with extreme force using Project Insight. The bigger the threat, the more power the government is allocated in order to do what it must to protect the world. Trusting one’s country is the theme of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and it’s a very topical one because we live in a real world where it’s hard to be patriotic knowing that everyone from the IRS to the President of The United States is on record lying to us.
Who do you trust? Captain America came from a world of apple pie and the bonds of friendship, and as the movie begins he now he finds himself a SHIELD agent with no one to call his friend save the bitter Nick Fury and the manipulative Black Widow. It’s not easy being 95.
In order to solve the problem that plagued the first movie = Steve Rogers is kind of vanilla, Marvel took The Avengers formula that worked so well, but has done it on a smaller scale. Winter Soldier isn’t a Captain America solo movie, it’s an ensemble, that like Avengers, allows Captain America to play off of the more interesting characters, flex his leadership muscles, and graduate to a place where he’s forced to do things the 21st century way due to the lessons learned from partnering with a progressive thinking team.
The alternate title could have been The Chesapeake Bay Avengers, Captain America and His Sort of Amazing Friends, or How Natasha Romanoff Got Her Groove Back. Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury finally gets a chance to prove he’s a bad ass rather than talk a good came. In one of the films best sequences and a hint at the Ultron Storyline, he goes toe to toe with Hydra using only his Jarvis powered SUV. For the first time we’re treated to some backstory on Fury and how he became the Director of SHIELD. All of this exposition is provided by Robert Redford’s (The Natural’s back bitches) Alexander Pierce, a Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy type that serves as the man behind the man. Scarlett Johansson (I could write an entire review just clit riding the sexiness of that new longer red hairstyle, but I’ll show discipline) returns as The Black Widow, the Dark Knight to Roger’s Boy Wonder routine. Rounding up the cast of The Not So Great Lakes Avengers is Anthony Mackie as The Falcon, representing a soldier who still believes in people and everything that’s right with our country, and finally Maria Hill who pops up to bust a few caps (pun intended) in Hydra asses.
To sum up the spoiler free plot, Hydra’s back… no Hydra never left and now that SHIELD has access to Hellicarriers that can eliminate targets before they are even a threat, they are going to wipe out all of the world’s Supers, pre-supers, big brains, and even Dr. Strange (no joke), so they won’t have to worry about a new Avengers team popping up down the road. Captain America uncovers this secret Hydra/SHIELD plot, and similar to Iron Man 3, he finds himself on the run for most of the film. The biggest twist is the shadow assassin hired to take out Captain America, The Winter Soldier, is a person from his past that he literally won’t be able to kill.
The action is furious and Cap Vs Winter Soldier fight scenes don’t disappoint. Additionally Black Widow’s acrobatic ass kicking is back, be less sexually charged than in Iron Man and The Avengers. The Falcon gets to go toe to toe with both The Winter Soldier and Crossbones, but neither scene is mind-blowing. Several scenes showing Cap use his shield in creative ways are visually stunning and the opening fight with UFC star turned actor Georges St-Pierre is a brilliant appetizer that proves Captain America doesn’t really even need that shield. To its credit the movie is more about political intrigue and double crossing than things blowing up. The violence is vicious, yet it’s done in a way that makes sense, not Man of Steel chaos for the sake of cool CGI.
The biggest flaw in Winter Soldier is the lack of a Tony Stark like character that challenges Steve Rogers way of doing things. Falcon is a great character, but he’s a soldier, too in love with the American way to rock the boat. Black Widow for all of her apathy, gives Cap a pass most of the time, preferring to keep the conversation in the frame of witty banter about why Cap hasn’t had any poontang since 1945. While The Winter Soldier villain is great as a physical foil, he’s mostly silent. Alexander Pierce’s B-list Bond villain doesn’t give us any of those Loki moments that make these movies enjoyable. That’s to be expected as the Marvel Cinematic Universe routinely fails when it comes to creating a big bad, see Iron Monger and that freaky Elf from Thor 2. Captain America has no Joker, he has no Bane, instead he has a guy in a suit that he only meets once during the entire movie and a mute Assassin with a shiny arm.
Despite the lack of a strong villain, I give Winter Soldier a strong thumbs up. The ensemble cast hit their marks, and the Bourne Identity meets War Games plot works on a real life level. Is this movie the best Marvel film thus far? No, I still think Iron Man 3, which serves as the true ending to Phase One, is much more satisfying on a character level and more entertaining. However, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is superior to all the movies before it in terms of overall plot because it is the most realistic, which makes it the scariest. The thing I loved the most was the philosophical question that the film answered. Why does the world need Captain America? Because he keeps us honest! He may be corny and outdated, but unlike the neurotic Iron Man, the brooding Thor, and the tortured Hulk, Captain America exist to inspire us to be the best we can be, not shine a light on our all too human flaws. In this cynical world of dirty politicians and complex heroes, Marvel needs a constant, and Steve Rogers is that constant.
How does this movie fit in the Phase Two… well you’ll have to wait until you see the end credit scene or you can scroll down and read my spoiler:
The end of the movie changes everything! SHIELD is gone (not that crappy ABC show, but the actual agency) so we now have a world that’s not going to be ready for Thanos, Ultron, or whatever else is about to come. In the end credit scene, Baron Von Strucker debuts showing he’s the lunatic that stole Loki’s scepter after The Avengers. But that’s not all, he’s getting ready to launch a new attack, not with technology, but with “miracles” we end with the images of Quicksilver and Scarlett Witch locked in adjoining cells. The only way to fight super powers is with super powers and it looks like The Magneto Twins will be the next weapons of destruction to throw at The Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
Great entry into the Marvel Universe, and it stands as a good action/thriller, spy movie even without the crutch of being a Superhero movie. Definitely a must see. My Rating: 4 ½ Stars out of 5