Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Rating: ***1/2 out of 4
(image courtesy of bestcoliseum.com)
The Captain America sequel is easily the best of Marvel’s Phase II line so far. The film offers not only excellent action set pieces, but also real 0engaging drama as the stakes are raised against Cap and the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The film opens with a nice Splinter Cell-esque action beat, where Captain America’s Steve Rogers and Black Widow team up with S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to infiltrate a battleship out at sea, and thus begins a harrowing game of can Cap trust S.H.I.E.L.D. or not. He has never seen eye to eye with S.H.I.E.L.D. leader Nick Fury (nor has anyone in the Marvelverse really) and his suspicions of mistrust in Fury come to a head when Fury reveals plans to use fear tactics to keep the people of the world in line.
It is only when an attempt is made on Fury’s life that Cap feels that there might be more to the picture than anyone is seeing. Forced to align himself with fellow Avenger Black Widow and newcomer Falcon, Rogers sets to unravel the mystery of whether or not S.H.I.E.L.D. can be trusted and who Fury’s assassin, code named The Winter Soldier, is.
Captain America series proves to be Marvel’s most mature franchise, which was off putting to some viewers for the character’s first go around. It was slight on the action and heavy on the drama. This time directors Anthony and Joe Russo find a perfect balance of drama and pulse pumping action. The grandest thing the film offers is that the action isn’t accomplished with CG overload. Outside of the enormous S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarriers, last seen in The Avengers, nearly every effect is accomplished with in-camera effects. This is a big bonus, as the action feels incredibly visceral and offers fantastic dramatic weight.
Chris Evans has really come into his own as the titular character adding real texture to his performance. He is the performer that gets the least recognition for his contributions to the Marvelverse, shamefully so because as this and the first film prove, he completely sells the character that could otherwise be a cardboard cut out. Scarlett Johansson has grown on me as Black Widow. I adore the character, but her line readings are a bit flat for my tastes. In this film, she proves herself worthy of the roll. I loved Anthony Mackie as Falcon. He adds a dose of humor to the film all the while being an interesting and well-developed character in his own right.
Some of the best material in the film comes from Steve Rogers trying to find his footing in this new world he is living in. His visit to the Captain America and his Howling Commandos museum was incredible. It was lovely to see what happened to some of those characters that we left behind from the first film, especially Agent Carter played by the gorgeous Hayley Atwell. In fact, Rogers scene with a now elderly Peggy Carter was quite emotional, and easily the best scene of the film.
The only real complaint I have about the film is that the Winter Soldier is criminally underused. The filmmakers nailed the mystery aspect of his character, and the actor playing him is more than competent for the task, but for having such prominent placement in the title, he is hardly in the film. That’s ok, because this film is ultimately setting up for further usage of the character, which has me excited.
What’s fantastic about this film is that, while it acts as a brilliant follow up to Captain America: The First Avenger, it is also a relatively self-contained film in its own right, while still offering glimpses at what the series will offer next. This film will have obvious ripple effects throughout the next several Marvel movies as well as their show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. There is word that Russo brothers will also helm the next Captain America title, which is scheduled to open against Zach Snyder’s Batman vs Superman on May 6 2013. I for one stand firmly in this franchise’s corner because these filmmakers know how to handle Cap and delivered an excellent movie, layered with pathos and tight action all atop a compelling mystery full of twists and turns.