As I was writing a Summer Movie Roundup post, I realized that I never actually posted my review of Captain America 2. After debating with myself for at least 45 seconds, I decided to go ahead and post it.
The great Marvel movie machine just keeps pumping them out. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, much like the seven or so films the precede it, is a well-constructed, slick action movie. Despite Marvel Studios pumping this out right on schedule, they do manage to make each character’s movie have their own feel. The Iron Man series relies heavily on Downey Jr’s charm and feels the most like a straight superhero movie. Thor has the whole space fantasy thing going for it. Cap’s movies seem to be the most about this Marvel universe. When Iron Man 2 heavily featured Nick Fury and Black Widow, it felt out of place, like the whole movie was preempted to set up the Avengers. When the first Captain America introduced what appeared to be an early incarnation of SHIELD, it worked. The Winter Soldier is the Marvel movie most reliant on the existence of the rest of this loose series, but it is also one of the only ones to really successfully tie things together. The heavy reliance on SHIELD, Fury and Widow makes more sense for Captain America than for the others.
The Winter Soldier starts with Captain America leading Black Widow and a small team of SHIELD Agents to save a SHIELD ship that had gone astray and been highjacked by some mercenaries. While the mission is successful, Cap discovers that Black Widow had another mission that Fury didn’t tell him about. This, and revelations about SHIELD’s future plans that Fury shows Cap after he confronts him, makes him very uncomfortable with his role in working with SHIELD. While Cap contemplates his present and future, the forces working behind the scenes make their move and take out Nick Fury. Before he is eliminated from the action, Fury goes to Cap and tells him not to trust SHIELD. From then on, it is Captain America versus SHIELD, with Cap unsure of whom he can trust. At times it seems like a comic book James Bond movie, others just a straight up action film, but it is always entertaining.
While it does run a little long, The Winter Soldier is a lot of fun. The special effects are as good as always and the acting is better than most of the studios output. Chris Evans does both a good job with the action as Captain America as well as selling his difficulties with modern life. There is also an immediate chemistry with Anthony Mackie’s Sam/Falcon. Sam Jackson is badass as always. I really think Scarlett Johansson really nailed Black Widow this time. In previous movies, she has played her as deliberately emotionless. However, there is a thin line between affecting no emotions and being a wooden actor. Here, because she is allowed to show more emotion, it is easier to see when she is deliberately showing none.
It is a film unafraid of comic book stuff. Characters that were set up in the first film that most people didn’t expect to appear again, especially in anything close to their comic book forms show up. There is little explanation for Falcon’s wings. They are treated as something that just exists. It is also unafraid to radically shake up the status of the Marvel Movie Universe. That is an odd thing. While I think it can assumed that most of the people that watched Avengers will likely watch The Winter Soldier, the fact is that when people show up to the theater next year to watch Avengers 2, the world of that film will not be the same as they left it after the first movie. That was not necessarily true after Iron Man 3 or Thor 2. Of course, Captain America is the character most tied to the Avengers. His first movie even has the subtitle The First Avenger. While the Thor and Iron Man movies can stand on their own, the Captain America movies have so far been Avengers .5 and 1.5.
Still, despite my love of Thor, The Winter Soldier is Marvel’s best movie. It has some of the best action scenes and plot that keeps moving and keeps the viewer guessing without being stupid. It doesn’t quite have the high stakes punch as the Avengers, but it has so much more heart. The characters don’t change in The Avengers, the merely react. In The Winter Soldier, Captain America and his relationship with the world change. But so do Fury, and Widow, and Falcon and SHIELD itself all change. Except for Loki and Thor, the threat of the Avengers was largely impersonal. Here, the threat is a direct result of the actions of the characters, starting with Captain America in the 1940s. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is simply very, very good.