Set two years after The Avengers, this film sees Captain America acclimating to the new millennia in terms of who and what he can trust. Gone is the naïve Captain Rogers of The Avengers, replaced with an incredibly brutal Steve Rogers, who shoots and kills his enemies with deadly precision and ruthless intent.
I am going to preface this by saying there may or may not be spoilers in this review, depending on how much background you already know about the characters. So, here’s your spoiler warning, just in case.
This is the next installment since six months ago, when Thor 2 was released in November. Marvel is running on a tight clock now (they’re already filming Avengers 2: Age of Ultron) cranking out as many superhero films as they can before the franchise eventually (inevitably) loses its steam, and superhero movies are once again replaced by a lull of bad action flicks and melodramas (circa 1990s-2000s). However, judging by the finesse and scale in which Marvel is tossing these films out, maybe that day will never come.
Given a new suit (affectionately referred to as the Commander suit from the comic books), this is a man who is more merciless than he looks, and this movie plays that up. Filled with intense, heart-pounding fight sequences and some amazing action-filled explosions, the film is incredibly well choreographed and will keep the audience asking for more.
I had my reservations going into this movie, mostly because I was nervous that my personal expectations and what I wanted out of the movie would not be fulfilled. Out of all of the Marvel franchises, I am the most personally invested in Captain America. I would also counter this by saying that Captain America is, probably, considered one of the weaker franchise branches Marvel has put out. Unfortunately, Captain America does not have the incredible star power of Robert Downey Jr. behind it that fueled the Iron Man franchise to a $1 billion pay check after Iron Man 3, nor the incredibly enormous fan following that Loki via Tom Hiddleston gained after The Avengers (which in large part pulled in audiences for Thor: The Dark World). Less is known about Captain America but, similar to how people underestimated skinny little Steve Rogers, I think that this film is going to turn out to be a lot bigger (and a lot better) than people think.
This movie’s selling point has been that it’s a political thriller. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s “political” per se, I would definitely support the thriller aspect of the film. Throughout the film, Steve finds himself time and again not knowing who to trust, or who to turn to for help. This film is great in the sense that it is quite a departure from what we have previously seen in other Marvel films. Namely, there are no aliens, and significantly fewer glowing blue objects (arc reactor, tesseract, Loki’s scepter, etc). This film feels accessible in a way that the others haven’t.
The villains in the other films have been some sort of anti deus-ex-machina that have literally dropped down from outer space or come out of unbelievable circumstances or simply didn’t exist (ahem, The Mandarin). This villain has a story that is just as (un)believable as Steve’s – if Steve can survive 70 years on ice, who’s to say that his ex-best friend Bucky Barnes can’t do the same thing? One gets the impression even from the first film that they are two peas in a pod – there’s even a line in the first film where said ex-best-friend screams “NOT WITHOUT YOU,” a shout into the void that Steve readily answers.
While this film doesn’t boast the “end of the world” scenarios that other Marvel films have, it’s actually quite refreshing that it’s so wildly different. No longer is a hero fighting a villain that just randomly drops down from some ephemeral outer space. The fighting and the villain in the film make it feel that much more personal, and thus, draw out much more emotion. Additionally, as you find out throughout the film, perhaps there are even worse things than someone “taking over the world.”
Anthony Mackie, Robert Redford, and Sebastian Stan all give stellar performances. The casting is probably one of the strangest choices Marvel chose to make this time around, with the addition of appointing comedy directors Anthony and Joe Russo. Mixing these elements together creates an interesting pastiche of people from different backgrounds that ultimately makes for a dynamic and interesting film. Anthony Mackie himself is a hilarious person, and he brings a great sense of levity and camaraderie to this movie; he’s certainly a scene-stealer, and he’s got some zingy one-liners that would make Iron Man himself jealous. Robert Redford, the living legend, also made a great performance in this film. While certainly an interesting choice, the Russo brothers said putting him in the film was a heralding back to the old political thrillers of the 70s.
And finally, Sebastian Stan, the big bad villain in this film. I was first exposed to him through Gossip Girl, and then didn’t hear from him again until I saw The Covenant and then The Apparition. A note: if you haven’t seen those early movies, don’t. Even Sebastian himself doesn’t feel partial to them (check out the SDCC Panel Interviews on Youtube). That being said, he certainly redeemed himself in this film. What I love about the characters that he plays in his better roles is that no matter how cruel his characters seem to be, he is always able to bring a sense of vulnerability and humanity to his roles. It’s something that is hard to find in actors these days, many of whom are cast because they “look good” for a part, without actually having the acting chops to back it up. Sebastian Stan not only does a great job with the physical aspect of looking the part (he grew out his natural hair for the role, unlike Chris Evans, who just donned a wig for Cap), Sebastian also does a great job of acting like a brainwashed assassin.
With a whopping $175 million budget, you’d better believe that Captain America: The Winter Soldier lives up to its hype. Call me biased, but as someone who is a fan of the comic book character arcs and back stories, I think this film, for once, will bring satisfaction to both Marvel movie watchers and Marvel comic book readers alike. And isn’t that just everything and more we could ask out of a Marvel film?
Cast: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan
Director: Anthony Russo
Runtime: 2hr 15min
Genre: Action, Thriller