In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is still adjusting to life in the 21st Century, packing his days with workout routines and special ops missions, too busy to date or catch-up on a growing list of experiences that he missed while frozen in Arctic ice. As Captain America, Rogers is at the top of his world-saving game; yet, despite his adventures, the First Avenger has become disillusioned with his work at S.H.I.E.L.D. Increased secrecy and a new global initiative – Project Insight, which prioritizes heavy-handed law enforcement over personal freedoms – have left Rogers questioning what (and who) he’s even fighting for in a post-Battle of New York world.
However, after S.H.I.E.L.D director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is attacked by heavily-armed and well-coordinated mercenaries led by the fabled Winter Soldier, Rogers must set aside his apprehensions to investigate a new threat against humanity. Joined by fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and former para infantry soldier Sam Wilson, aka Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Rogers disappears off the grid and begins digging into long-kept S.H.I.E.L.D. secrets. If Captain America hopes to ensure a future for freedom, he must first overcome a collision course with his own complicated past.
The Russo Brothers take over for First Avenger director Joe Johnston in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, successfully building from the super-soldier origin story and subsequent Avengers team-up to create an entertaining, as well as action-packed, spy drama – one that just so happens to be based on a comic book. As a result, The Winter Soldier is one of the most accessible and high-quality Marvel movies yet. There are countless Easter eggs (and two post-credit scenes) for fans, but at its heart, the Captain America sequel tells a captivating political thriller story with clever ties to actual U.S. history and the larger Marvel universe. Both die-hard comic readers and casual filmgoers should enjoy the film, and even though viewers might not agree on which Marvel Studios movie is their favorite, there’s no question that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is among the best superhero adaptations to hit the big screen.
Certain Marvel solo movies struggle to tie into the studio’s shared universe storyline – especially following The Avengers - but the Russo Brothers strike a sharp balance between corralling tie-in threads and supporting the core Winter Soldier plot. Additionally, the film includes timely social commentary for the ongoing debate over national security and personal freedom – all wrapped within a gripping 1970s-esque espionage flick.
Even without superhero headliners, the script serves-up a captivating political tale, loaded with poignant human drama, explosive set pieces, and savvy twists. In spite of solid box office sales, viewers have criticized Marvel Studios for playing it safe with their cross-movie narratives, but the latest Captain America delivers a bold step forward, dramatically restructuring the landscape of the TV/movie universe.
Following the exuberant personality of Tony Stark and raw power of Thor, a new Steve Rogers movie could have easily been an afterthought. Nevertheless, The Winter Soldier takes a fascinating look at Captain America, trading “fish out of water” gags for an intimate portrayal of the values (and doubts) held by a man who has accepted a lifelong mission of protecting the innocent.
Evans, who has now portrayed Rogers in three full length feature films, is finally at home in the role – showcasing a quick-witted and extremely capable warrior. By presenting a profound and outright exciting depiction, the Russo’s help to reinforce what many comic book fans already knew: that Captain America is more than an honorable, shield-wielding, super-soldier: he’s one of the smartest and most powerful men on (or off) Earth.
The sequel also makes good use of its supporting cast – most notably Black Widow, Nick Fury and newcomer Falcon. Black Widow and Nick Fury are already fan-favorite entries in the shared universe, but The Winter Soldier script takes each character to a new level, affording Johansson and Jackson ample screen time to comb new layers in their respective roles, ultimately delivering strong insights, as well as downright rousing moments of heroism. Anthony Mackie’s Falcon is a welcome addition to the squad, and the actor enjoys some of the film’s most humorous beats. Still, Falcon isn’t just comic relief – he presents a stimulating juxtaposition to Rogers and quickly earns his spot onscreen.
Similarly, Robert Redford carries veteran charm to his role as Alexander Pierce – a role that is a make or break element of The Winter Soldier plot. Redford’s exchanges with key heroes, especially Fury, are among the film’s best, and Redford develops Pierce into a well-rounded ideologue instead of one-note bureaucrat.
The Winter Soldier, portrayed by Sebastian Stan, is also a standout – a formidable antagonist capable of knocking Rogers and his team on their backs. The villain is the centerpiece in some of the most exhilarating (not to mention intense) action sequences that Marvel has ever put to film – with creative realizations of trademark source material weaponry (especially his mechanical arm). Though, the real success of the character is Stan’s ability to convey emotion through basic expressions – since the Winter Soldier relies on action, rarely dialogue, to communicate his feelings.
Minor hiccups like noticeable green screen disconnect in select settings, are overcome by plenty of eye-popping visuals – as well as grounded (and absolute brutal) fight choreography that is not just thrilling, but also sells the core cast as lethal operatives. For that reason, 3D and IMAX 3D are recommendable to viewers that want the premium Captain America sequel experience. That said, neither is essential, so frugal filmgoers shouldn’t feel bad about catching the movie in basic 2D.
Where The Avengers sold casual moviegoers and comic book fans alike with an epic superhero team-up event, Captain America: The Winter Soldier should have no problem pleasing both parties by delivering a high-quality spy thriller. The Russo Brothers build a strong sequel on The First Avenger foundation and subsequent shared universe entries, elevating both Captain America’s skills and personal drama to refreshing heights. It’s not the biggest Marvel movie to hit theaters, but with a timely narrative, deeper exploration of fan-favorite characters, a strong cast and unforgettable action set pieces, Captain America: The Winter Soldier makes a compelling case for being one of the studio’s best adventures.
If you’re still on the fence about Captain America: The Winter Soldier, check out the trailer below:
Captain America: The Winter Soldier runs 136 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, gunplay and action throughout. Now playing in 2D, 3D, and 3D IMAX theaters.
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