Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 16 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Violence, Gunplay and Action throughout
Directed by: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Written by: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
(based on the CAPTAIN AMERICA comics by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby)
Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson & Toby Jones
The first wave of the Marvel Cinematic Universe mainly consisted of origin stories to lay ground work for THE AVENGERS. Since the studio has gotten all of those background stories (that seemed to follow the same general formula) out-of-the-way, there’s a new creative freedom that’s come with the latest Marvel sequels. The writers seem to be allowed more room to take bigger risks. This ups the stakes to huge levels for each new superhero release in this long-running series (this is the ninth installment of the MCU canon). IRON MAN 3 easily surpassed its two predecessors. THOR: THE DARK WORLD was a giant step up from a film that was so-so to begin with. Now, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER reaches the levels of being the best stand-alone MCU superhero movie and second only to THE AVENGERS in this cinematic world. This film wisely plays out like a conspiracy thriller that just happens to have superheroes.
Steve Rogers (a.k.a. Captain America) has been taking on mission after mission to help the good cause of S.H.I.E.L.D. However, he’s still struggling to adapt to the modern world, especially when his old love lays wasting away in a nursing home and all of his other friends are buried six feet deep. His latest mission to subdue armed pirates that took S.H.I.E.L.D. agents hostage is a success, but there’s something underhanded going on. A superhuman assassin, known only as Winter Soldier, is in Washington D.C. with an assignment to kill. As Captain America and Black Widow investigate, deadly secrets are unearthed. There’s something bigger going on than either of them anticipated and they simply don’t know who they can trust.
That’s about as much as I can give in a vague outline, because the multiple twists and turns take the story in terrifically exciting (as well as sinister) directions. The script does a fantastic job of keeping the viewer off their guard and I was riveted throughout the entire film, especially as things went further down the rabbit hole into truly unexpected areas. There are plenty of daring ideas incorporated and nice call-backs to the original film. Unlike THOR: THE DARK WORLD or IRON MAN 3, you really need to have seen the first film (CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER) to pick up on a lot of details interwoven into the complex story.
As with most of the cast seen in THE AVENGERS, these actors and actresses truly have become their roles. Scarlett Johanssen is Black Widow and nobody will be able to replace her as the character. Chris Evans is, most definitely, the noble Captain America. It’s not always easy to love the boy-scout type of hero on a team of other more colorful superheroes (e.g. Robert Downey Jr. or Chris Hemsworth), but Evans sold me on this man being a courageous guy worth rooting for. Captain America has now become my favorite member of The Avengers. That’s not an easy thing to accomplish, but I’ll be looking forward to seeing Captain America the most in the upcoming AVENGERS sequel. Other appearances from the previous entry include Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Sebastian Stan coming back in a big way, and Toby Jones (who was probably my favorite reincorporated character, you’ll know why when you see how they bring him back into this installment).
A couple of newcomers make their way into THE WINTER SOLDIER as well. Anthony Mackie (PAIN & GAIN) appears a fellow veteran and a character who will hopefully be essential in AGE OF ULTRON. Mackie’s portrayal of Sam Wilson (a.k.a. Falcon) provides a best friend for Steve Rogers. Both Rogers and Wilson served in war, albeit different time periods, but have a chemistry as good friends who can confide in each other. Robert Redford plays the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. and I especially like his reasoning for joining the cast. He said that he “wanted to experience this new form of filmmaking that’s taken over where you have kind of cartoon characters brought to life through high technology.” That’s a good way of putting it, because THE WINTER SOLDIER is basically a terrific superhero cartoon translated to the big screen in live-action form and that’s not a knock against it in the slightest.
The action scenes themselves (there are plenty) are beyond exciting to watch. The finale continually ramps up the tension with every given moment. It kept me (and the entire auditorium of viewers) literally on the edge of our seats in excitement. The effects look amazing. This is no surprise given the high-caliber quality we’ve come to expect from Marvel, but they are still extremely cool to behold. No scene feels wasted or pointless, the pacing keeps things at a brisk momentum. I was captivated from beginning to end, which is even more impressive given the films over-two-hour run time. My one nitpick comes in a bit of a gap that equips a certain character a very specific item (that could be seen as a plot hole by some), but that comes with the superhero movie territory (e.g. the gripe of how did Batman got back into Gotham in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES?).
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER stands tall as the second-best movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe series and as the best standalone hero story featured in that line of films. For a ninth(!) entry in a long-running franchise, this shows just how phenomenal these superhero movies have gotten. Risks are taken. Stakes are raised to incredible heights. Surprises wait around every corner. Fight scenes will keep the viewer on edge. With one minor nitpick aside, I absolutely loved THE WINTER SOLDIER! It’s a summer blockbuster that’s arrived a month early. Definitely see this one on the big screen, especially if you love the Marvel superheroes!