Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo
Writers: Christopher Markus (Screenplay), Stephen McFeely (Screenplay), Ed Brubaker (Story and Concept), Jack Kirby, Joe Simon (Hell yeah credits to Kirby and Simon!)
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, gunplay, and action throughout
Genre: Intelligent Superhero Thriller
Runtime: 136 Minutes
Cast: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Samuel L. Jackson, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Emily VanCamp, Jenny Agutter, Toby Jones
I’m one of those ‘full disclosure” sorts so I should point out Captain America has always been my favorite Marvel hero. This dates back to earliest memories of my mom taking my brother Greg and I to the neighborhood drug store and giving us a couple quarters or so to snag whatever comics we wanted. Greg and I were of the “Make Mine Marvel” school of fans (we were too young to have been card carrying members of the Merry Marvel Marching Society) and, while Greg was sure to pick up Spider-Man or The Fantastic Four, I spent my shiny coins on anything with Cap on the cover be it his own mag, The Avengers, Marvel Team Up, or anything else on the spinner rack.
I can’t say why Captain America appealed to me when I was five years old or so, but forty plus years haven’t changed the fact Cap is still tops at Marvel in my book. It might be my lifelong interest in history, or the character of Steve Rogers – when written well – is the ultimate outsider, or Cap possessing superhuman abilities but still resorting to his brains and experience more than anything else to lead The Avengers and tackle the big baddies. Plus his costume is effectively the flippin’ American flag for crying out loud! How could any lover of liberty not dig that?
But enough of my pontificating, let’s get on to the spoiler free review…
While I was a huge fan of Captain America: The First Avenger, and The Avengers rocked, I approached Captain America: The Winter Soldier with a lot of trepidation. Personally I hated (that is the right word… I HATED) Iron Man 3 – mainly because of the complete BS treatment of the Mandarin – and while Thor: The Dark World was okay but nothing which I thought stood out in the slate of Summer 2013 films, I was a bit worried what the latest Cap adventure would bring. Top my uneasiness with the new trailer from Guardians of the Galaxy playing up that film for laughs, which is okay I suppose although I was expecting Howard the Duck to appear at any second, and the Russo brothers having one feature film under their belts (the fairly lackluster You, Me, and Dupree) and I think you can rationalize my uneasiness.
Before the opening credits for Captain America: The Winter Soldier began to roll I just kept thinking to myself, “Please don’t F-up Cap. Please don’t F-up Cap…” as I’m still haunted by the horrible 1990 film and the abysmal 1979 attempt to launch the character on TV due to the success of The Incredible Hulk series. Number one, Steve Rogers shouldn’t look like he’s pushing fifty and, number two, a painted motorcycle helmet should NEVER be included in Cap’s costume… Not to say I was overly thrilled to see the S.H.I.E.L.D.-style Cap costume from this new movie but at least it didn’t include a motor cycle helmet for crying out loud.
I’m thrilled to report Captain America is in good hands with Anthony and Joe Russo and The Winter Soldier is the best Marvel movie to date! If I ever run across the Russos at SDCC, NYCC, or anywhere in between I will happily get down on my knees and kiss the soles of their shoes.
Marvel needs to give a huge tip of the cap (or maybe I should say Cap) to the departed Ed Brubaker – although Brubaker is kind of a jerkoff when meeting fans – and Steve Epting for their run on Captain America as not only did they once again make the series a monthly must buy but also provided the impetus for the character’s second big screen feature. Captain America: The Winter Soldier harkens back to the day of mid-1970s political thrillers like Day of the Jackal, The Parallax View, and Three Days of the Condor; although here we have a thriller packed with superhero action as well. It’s interesting to note Robert Redford starred in Three Days of the Condor and I suppose part of my belief maybe Captain America: The Winter Soldier wouldn’t suck was Redford’s involvement. Honestly, that was one of my shining hopes I was hanging onto before the film began because I know Redford doesn’t show up on a set just to collect a check. Sorry Robert De Niro, as much as I love ya, I’m looking at you.
You don’t have to be a big fan of superhero movies to love Captain America: The Winter Soldier as the film brings a lot to the table. Not only is Steve Rogers struggling to find his way in a world well beyond his comfort level but also has to battle a Cold War agent who’s more than simply a cookie cutter villain. Whereas The Avengers had little time to delve into character backstory, due to the fact Marvel felt they’d previously established the heroes well enough to jump right into the action, here we get to not only delve a bit further into Cap’s head but also the Black Widow’s and even Nick Fury’s. I really appreciated the Russos taking time to make us feel for the characters outside of simply rooting them on to kick more ass.
I liked Chris Evans (Captain America) a lot in the first Cap movie, as well as in The Avengers, but here we’re exposed to more of his acting chops. Evans previous turn as Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four films struck me as just okay but it’s obvious for those who caught Evans in such indies as Puncture and The Iceman (no… nothing to do with the X-Men) knew they guy can act so we can chalk up my indifference to his directors in the FF movies.
Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) has always proven to be more than a pretty face – you have to love her in the 2003 back-to-back turns in Girl with the Pearl Earring and Lost in Translation as well as her work in Her – so it’s obvious she brings more to the role of Natasha Romanova than one would expect from an *ahem* “comic book movie.” Johansson also gets to play off some of the wittier lines in the film.
Robert Redford is… well… Robert Redford and not only will a younger audience find themselves exposed to one of the greatest actors of any generation but fans of his work will find his role of Alexander Pierce to be a wee bit different than one might expect from the veteran thespian. When Redford explains the ways of the modern world to Steve Rogers we buy into Pierce’s world view as laid out.
Sebastian Stan, as The Winter Soldier, might not get a ton of lines but provides a villain who is sure to rise to the top of Marvel film baddies. The Winter Soldier is one mean package of badassery and, outside of possibly Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, takes the crown of Marvel Movie Villain Supreme. Hell, The Winter Soldier makes the movie version of the Red Skull look like a pussy cat!
Returning to the Marvel fold are Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury) Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill), and Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter) and they do well with their limited screen time. I suppose I should mention Sebastian Stan was already in The First Avenger and Jenny Agutter returns as a member of the World Security Council – which I had to pay close attention to the credits of The Avengers to catch the actresses name because for a second I thought Helen Mirren had been sent through some de-aging time warp. On a side note, I’m a little bothered by a handful of comic fans who get bent out of shape Nick Fury is African American whereas he’d always been portrayed as a white character in the comics. I suppose this also goes for those bitching Jamie Foxx is playing Electro in the upcoming Spider-Man movie.
We aren’t living in the Jim Steranko 1960s any more (with no knock against Steranko’s amazing work on Nick Fury since I’m pretty damn sure he’s no racist) so for those who want to take to the web and complain about Marvel reimagining the ethnicity of their characters I say just take a step back and a good deep breath; no one’s coming to your home to recolor your comics and if you’re that hung up on what ink palate your beloved comic book character is drawn from you really need to climb out of the basement and get a lungful of clean air and a face full of sunshine; it’s pretty nice here the 21st century so you should check it out…
Newcomers to the Marvel film universe, Callan Mulvey (Jack Rollins), Emily VanCamp (Sharon Carter), Anthony Mackie (The Falcon) fit in nicely and I’m sure plenty of fans of the Revenge TV series don’t have to explain why VanCamp not only makes their hearts go pitter pat when she appears on screen as does Steve Rogers’. Fans of Captain America have to love Agent 13 entering the movie mythos! I will mention I think Mackie is underutilized as Sam Harris/The Falcon, as Sam is really Steve Rogers’ best friend – the comic wasn’t Captain America and the Falcon from 1971 through 1978 for nothing! – and I’d hope the upcoming 2016 Cap flick gets more of the character into the action.
We even get a bit of Crossbones (Frank Grillo) in the mix too!
Captain America: The Winter Soldier has everything in spades. If you’re looking for a comic book movie with a brain, you have it right here. You want plenty of special effects and things blowing up? Got that, so check. Dig up close and personal mano-a-mano action? Plenty of that too. Turned of by some of the silliness on over the top acting of some film adaptations of some comic? Not to be seen!
For myself Captain America: The Winter Soldier is nearly the prefect Marvel movie we’ve seen to date. Honestly, I liked it more than The Avengers but you have to keep in mind I’m also not the sort of person who walks into the theatre and turns my brain off. Plus, Cap is my favorite Marvel character. I’m not saying The Avengers was mindless by any stretch but a common assumption is fans of comic book movies are among the lowest common denominator of film goers, possibly just above people who hit the latest horror/slasher movie every Friday night. The truth is a lot more complex than that and I never claim to be a critic in the vein of who you read online or in print.
What Captain America: The Winter Soldier puts on screen is something we haven’t seen in the genre before: an intelligent political thriller with superheroes at the center. Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, The Avengers, and last year’s Man of Steel proved you don’t have to present a comic book as if it’s aimed toward morons. The Winter Soldier shows you can go beyond the trappings of a tradition four color superhero comic book adaptation, where people cheer because something “blowed up real good”, and not only entertain the audience but send them out of the theater contemplating not only the movie they’ve just watched but the political state of the world as well.
I’ll take a guess the mainstream media reviewers will take a less kind eye to Captain America: The Winter Soldier (not that any will call it a stinker or true schock), and I’ll gather international critics will be a touch harsher (Hey! They didn’t grow up with Cap as part of their consciousness and we Americans are nearly always portrayed as blowhard, self-absorbed assholes in their TV, films, and media anyway so who cares what they say until those countries produce a movie which brings in a billion or so bucks at the box office), but as someone who may be more in tune with the audience this latest movie is aimed at I can say with complete honesty Captain America: The Winter Soldier is one you’ll want to line up to fork out your ducats at the local multiplex. It may not wow the critics, it may not have to have Serbian dialogue translated in its sub-titles, and it may send the Rex Reeds of the world into conniption fits but I found this movie entertained the hell out of me and had a great time!
Or as Anthony Mackie might say, “Cut the Check!”