Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is having a hard time adjusting to the modern world. Not socially. He has a list of pop culture touchstones, the Internet and a new friend in PSTD Counselor Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) to help him adjust. No, his problem is with his job. He has a hard time with S.H.I.E.L.D. and their proactive stance towards world security. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) considers the organization’s latest initiative, a new brand of super Helicarriers that can identify terrorists DNA and exterminate them from miles away, to be the natural response to the changing world situation. Cap feels that it is just fear mongering.
Things come to a head after a mission to free a S.H.I.E.L.D. ship from pirates starts a chain reaction that causes Cap to be hunted by not only S.H.I.E.L.D., but also a new mercenary called the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), an operative that Cap finds awfully familiar.
After two stumbles with Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier marks not just a return to form for Marvel, but also a film that raises the bar for the studio. This is not just a great Marvel film, nor is it just a great comic book film, nor is it just a great sequel. Don’t get me wrong, it is all those things, but it’s also a great film period. It is a wonderful mix of script, directing and acting to make a complete package.
There are so many good things I can say about this film that it’s hard to know where to begin. The movie is a tense political conspiracy thriller with many twists, turns and “everything is not what it seems” moments. It is a complex film, yet it is presented in a straightforward manner. It doesn’t make the viewer feel stupid, either by dumbing down the plot so it becomes too obvious or having the story be so obtuse that it is impossible to understand.
And unlike Iron Man 3, which shoehorned Tony Stark into the role of a amateur detective, a role he was ill-fitted for and went totally against character, this film nails what makes the Captain America character great. Captain America gets knocked for being too much of a Boy Scout. But his ability to see only right and wrong where the rest of the world works in shades of grey is exactly what a film like this needs. And credit to Chris Evans to never letting this characterization seem hokey or corny. To be honest, this film made me respect Evans’ acting ability much more than I did going in. Pay attention to him during the nursing home scene (you’ll know which one when you see it). That’s a great piece of acting there.
Big kudos need to go to the Russo Brothers. Even though they are most known for directing TV comedies, they have an innate talent for directing films of this sort. While the film runs two hours and 16 minutes, it never feels that long. The film’s pacing is excellent. It just breezes by. But that’s not to say that the film feels rushed. There’s a lot of characters, concepts and plot elements introduced, and all all are allowed to blossom into full development at their own pace. Unlike Thor: The Dark World, the villains here are not one note. Their villainy is totally reprehensible yet totally logical. It’s now obvious to see why Marvel signed the duo up so early to direct the next sequel.
I feel I have to comment on the action scenes. Often, action scenes feel like they are presented after a spate of exposition to keep audiences awake. Here, the action is stitched seamlessly into the narrative. And the action scenes are expertly choreographed and completely inventive. It’s refreshing to see this in a film.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier also is a great follow up to Captain America: The First Avenger and fits in better with the shared Marvel Cinematic Universe than the last two MCU films. Even though the tone and style of the films are radically different, this film is a definite follow up to the first film in the best way possible. And while I sat through Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World wondering why more of the other heroes stopped by to help out, I didn’t get that feeling here. Perhaps this is because efforts were made, mostly through creative namedropping, to let us know that Tony Stark and Bruce Banner still exist. Another reason is that the action is rather compartmentalized and took place over a rather short period of time.
If you are fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, then this film is a must see. Not just because it is good, but because it is a major game changer for the Marvel films from here on out (and if you watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., you might want to let the episodes pile up in your DVR until you catch this film ). However, if you are the person who has to drag a non-comic loving friend or loved one to these types of film, this might be a film they will like on their own terms. It’s that good.