Review: Captain America meets his match in the smart and stylish 'Winter Soldier'
Without giving the whole game away, it's safe to describe this as a story in which no one is who they seem, and the entire history of the Marvel movie universe so far is thrown into question. This is very much a direct sequel to the first "Captain America" film, and it feels like this movie pays off legwork that's been done in a number of the films so far. We see characters like Senator Stern (Garry Shandling) again, and we're forced to re-examine who they are and what their motives may have been in earlier films. I'm fascinated by the idea that "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." is going to have to address the events of this movie, because there's no way they can simply keep things rolling along on the show the way they have been so far. No way. It's not possible. So many big cards are flipped over by this film that it's going to send major ripples through that show, and it may end up completely subverting the meaning of that title.
I really like what they give Nick Fury to play in this film, and I feel like Jackson knows they're giving him some real meat this time. He is great in the film, and watching Fury have to deal with no longer being the man pulling all the strings is interesting. It makes him feel like a character finally instead of an exposition delivery device. Emily VanCamp joins the franchise as Sharon Carter, who has a complicated history with Captain America in the comics, and who is established here as someone of substance, someone worth bringing back in future films. The same is true of Sam Wilson, and when he is finally revealed as The Falcon, it's very cool and very grounded. It doesn't feel like a sudden left turn into a different film. It also gives the Russos an opportunity to stage some action scenes that take place on three or four different planes at once, and it's dynamic and aggressive and very effective.
And what about The Winter Soldier? Well, they make sure in this film to underline just how important Bucky Barnes was to Steve Rogers, and there are a few nice moments that fill in more details from the pre-Captain America days, including a solid scene with skinny nerdy Steve Rogers again. When the Winter Soldier shows up, he is a figure of genuine menace, and he is incredibly powerful. He and Captain America are a genuine match, and in many ways, it feels like the Winter Soldier is better at what he does. It makes it interesting and tense every time they have to clash in the film. He's not scared of Captain America at all, and he's not the sort of guy who does subtle. When he goes into kill mode, he's a force of nature, and it's really harrowing.
There are two post-credits scenes here. The first was directed by Joss Whedon, and it's basically a direct bridge to the opening sequence of "Avengers: Age Of Ultron," introducing Baron Von Strucker (Thomas Kretschman) and two other new characters, and they both look awesome. Then there's a scene at the very end of the entire film that simply puts a nice button on this film's story. Make sure you stay for both, though.
The only real hesitation I have about this is the same problem that I had during "Iron Man 3." Once you've established that Thor and Captain America and Iron Man and the Hulk all exist in the same world (and this movie goes out of its way to introduce the name "Stephen Strange" for the very first time), then you can't help but wonder why Captain America can't reach out to Tony Stark for help with something. There's a moment in the film where Steve and Natasha turn to Sam Wilson for help and they explain, "Everyone we know is trying to kill us." Well, that's not true. Tony Stark's not trying to kill you, and he seems like he'd be a great resource. If I read Kevin Feige's comments last year when "Iron Man 3" came out correctly, this film is meant to be taking place at the same time as that film, and so we're meant to see that each of them is too busy to help the other, but since neither film explicitly states this, it just comes across as this nagging frustration. I understand that you want to save the team-ups for the "Avengers" films, but it would be nice to at least acknowledge that there's a reason you can't bring them all together to solve this problem.
I think there are some genuine questions about our own current surveillance state raised by the film, but it doesn't feel like someone shoe-horned in a political metaphor as it did with "Star Trek Into Darkness," where Robert Orci's obsession with "false flags" turned into a plot that simply doesn't make sense when you start to take it apart. This film is tightly plotted, and when the final threat is revealed, it's a genuinely ugly, scary idea. If this is how Marvel plans to handle Captain America films moving forward, I hope we get 50 more of them.
Once again, make mine Marvel. "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is a huge success for them on a story level, and a fascinating provocation to anyone making Marvel movies set after this one.
"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" opens in theaters everywhere April 4, 2014.
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