Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Directed by: Anthony and Joe Russo
Written by: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (screenplay), Ed Brubaker (story)
Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Redford, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp

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In a world where Warner Brothers still can’t figure out how to update Superman for the modern age, it’s impressive how Marvel has managed to take a Golden Age comic book character like Captain America and make him interesting and relevant. They succeeeded with the first Captain America movie by creating a period adventure film with the help of director Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer). This time around, they have inserted Captain America into a contemporary setting and gone in a completely different direction: a ’70s-style paranoid thriller.

Although these Marvel movies are all starting to feel like they’re coming off of a production line to some degree, I have to give them credit for staying one step ahead of the audience. The movies remain similar enough to exist in the same universe, and yet different enough that they’re not completely repetitive. If connecting all of these movies has been the key to their initial success, the ability to tell decent standalone stories is what will help them maintain it. For the most part, Captain America: The Winter Soldier succeeds on that front and manages to feel somewhat fresh… at least until all of the comic book tropes start piling up and the mindless explosions take over.

When we last saw Steve Rogers, he was helping The Avengers save Manhattan from the Chitauri. Now that things have settled down a bit, he is carrying out smaller missions for S.H.I.E.L.D. despite being opposed to their newfound reliance on spy satellites and surveillance technology to fight terrorism. After a brush with a mystery assassin, Nick Fury shows up at his apartment and passes him some information, which puts him on the radar of senior S.H.I.E.L.D. official Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford). Captain America is soon declared a fugitive and finds himself on the run. His only hope is to head down the rabbit hole to try and uncover the truth about the assassin and determine if S.H.I.E.L.D. has been compromised.

We’ve all had our doubts about whether Marvel solo films can still be compelling after seeing so many superstars together on screen in The Avengers, but what’s smart about these solo films is that they aren’t really solo films. Marvel continues to mix and match their marquee heroes with appropriate supporting characters, ensuring that they still have teammates to play off. The easy chemistry between Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson is a big part of what makes this movie work, and as time goes on, we’re seeing all of these actors get more comfortable in their roles. Although Black Widow was a little overshadowed in The Avengers, this is the movie where she really comes into her own both in terms of personality and her ability to kick ass.

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Being forced to drop the period setting and director of Captain America: The First Avenger is unfortunate, but the spirit of that movie survives with Chris Evans, who continues to be great in the lead role. He is likeable, stoic and honest without being too naive, and the fact that he is now a man out of time adds some complexity to the character. It also provides plenty of opportunities for comedy, which continues to be a winning part of Marvel’s formula. This is one area where it is arguably a benefit to hire TV directors like Anthony and Joe Russo, who have plenty of experience with funny shows like Community and Arrested Development. However, the jokes are not as rapid fire you might expect (Joss Whedon did not write the script) and not as pop culture-oriented either, although they do manage to squeeze in a Saw reference and a Danny Pudi cameo.

The action in the movie is solid as well, albeit considerably smaller in scope and scale compared to The Avengers or Iron Man movies. Most of the action sequences are fist fights, shootouts and car chases, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you ask me, this is the closest a Marvel movie has come to replicating Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight in terms staying grounded in a reality (well, at least until The Winter Soldier and Falcon enter the picture anyway). The stealth attack on the pirate tanker especially feels like something out of a Batman movie, and yes, the score gets pretty Hans Zimmer-y at times.

There was a lot of talk leading up to the release of the film about how it was inspired by conspiracy thrillers from the 1970s like Three Days of the Condor and All the Presidents Men. The casting of Robert Redford was clearly intended as a nice little nod to this, even though his role probably could have been handled by anyone. I have to admit I was surprised by how well they manage to capture the tone of these movies within a modern comic book flick, at least for the first hour or so. It really feels like Captain America is on his own with no one he can trust and the mystery is compelling for a while even if the payoff is not great.

Sadly, once all of the twists and turns have been revealed, we are forced to endure another series of mind-numbing action sequences that give way to giant explosions and giant cliches. I know that this is simply expected for these kinds of blockbusters, but it really doesn’t feel appropriate to cold war spy movies, which often end in quiet and unsettling ways. Still, the conspiracy plot is strong and overall the movie manages to be entertaining while also being about something. To me, that’s a worthy achievement. Together, the two Captain America films remain my favourite Marvel movies to date… bring on Guardians of the Galaxy! — Sean

SCORE: 3.5 stars





  • SLOTH

    Awesome Review Sean!!!! I also enjoyed “Winter Solider” quite a bit.

  • Flo Lieb

    Indeed, a very good review, Mr. Dwyer.

  • 1138sw

    I also enjoyed the winter soldier quite a bit but as for the whole 70’s conspiracy angle I didn’t feel it. It just felt like a typical espionage action plot from the comics…not the conspiracy movies of the 70’s….the movie seemed much to bright and peppy for that.

    But I still liked it overall but the first CA by Joe Johnston is still my favorite.

  • Kenneth Serenyi

    Felt like an amped-up Bourne movie. I enjoyed it quite a bit.

  • Kenneth Serenyi

    Anyone notice a certain epitaph on a certain tombstone paying homage to a certain Quentin Tarantino movie?

  • devolutionary

    Completely agree with this review. Once the literal ‘cartoony’ action and explosion scenes ramp up in the final act (the CGI on Falcon in some scenes really took me out), I started to groan and sigh, but the ending was still pretty satisfying to me. The political conspiracy plot is what helped make this standout from other Marvel films but still on the fence of whether I liked First Avenger more.

  • Anthony

    Probably my favourite Marvel “Solo” film so far, then again I think I said the same thing about Thor 2, and probably Iron Man 3. So we’ll see how repeat viewings of these films affect my opinion.

    Two things though:
    1. I think this was discussed on the Thor: Dark World podcast, but the explanation for all these events happening with certain characters with no other avengers or team members coming to the aid is because they’re all sort of happening at roughly the same time right? If that was the case, even though it’s an easy cop-out explanation in a way, it sort of would make sense that Nick Fury and SHIELD weren’t doing anything to help Stark when they find out he may be dead if Nick Fury and SHIELD are dealing with their own shit at the same time. Vice versa for why Stark isn’t doing anything about the events going on in CA2. Was there any actual confirmation on that or was that just speculation?
    2. Where was this Saw reference?

  • Sean

    Re: Saw reference. I was thinking this was when the computer said “Shall we play a game?” In retrospect, I realize that this was probably a reference to Wargames (and in fact, I was aware that an earlier part of this scene was alluding to Wargames). However, there was something about how that particular line was delivered that made me think Saw. Didn’t Toby Jones actually speak it as opposed to just displaying the text? Also the fact that his green monochrome face in the monitor seemed reminiscent of Jigsaw. Frank brought up the Wargames reference on the podcast, and mentioned that it seems weird that out of all the movies Captain America had caught up on, Wargames was one of them. But anyway. Yeah. I’m probably wrong there, I guess.

    Your other question is something we discussed a bit on the podcast as well. I don’t think they have a good explanation for it, they just have to try to keep you from thinking about it.

  • Jr

    No one can be everywhere at the same time and everyone has their own shit to take care of. If this were not the case the only Marvel comic that would exist would be The Avengers and the only DC book would be Justice League. Same goes for the movies.

  • devolutionary

    I think that was more of a modernized take on this comic book image of Arnim Zola’s uploaded conscience: http://mimg.ugo.com/201005/43556/captain-america-zola.jpg

  • handfulofmarbles

    Certainly.

  • Jameson

    Good review Sean! I pretty much agree with this. I wish they went further with him being out of time, out of place. There’s opportunity for great drama that they just gloss over. And that could easily tie into the plot: A WW2 soldier in Post-9/11 America. There were moments of inner conflict but not enough in my opinion.