Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) Film Review, a movie directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, and starring Chris Evans, Scarlett Johannsson, Anthony Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Redford, Sebastian Stan, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, and Maximiliano Hernandez.
“Who’s strong and brave, here to save the American way? Who vows to fight like a man for what’s right, night and day?”
Those lyrics from “Star Spangled Man,” the USO song featured in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, are the blueprint that cuts to the heart of who Steve Rogers is. Captain America comes from a time of definitive right and wrongs, a time where the line between good and evil is more easily drawn. But after 70 years on ice and one alien invasion later, Cap is beginning to see that the world he was brought back into is not the one he left behind.
Those looking for a lighthearted, nostalgic adventure akin to the first Captain America film should probably check those expectations out the door. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is an exercise in genre-swapping, creating a huge difference in tone from the first film while also building on what it began. This film is more interested in shady government dealings, ambiguous characters, and brutal fight scenes than it is in the plucky sincerity of a time long past.
To that end, The Winter Soldier is a rousing success, and possibly the best film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date (the other contenders being The Avengers and the original Iron Man). It’s a testament to how well Marvel Studios is handling all of its characters that it can release its ninth film in six years and still have each one feel different and fresh (Iron Man 2 notwithstanding). The Winter Soldier utilizes its audience’s familiarity with Captain America in his previous film appearances, but it also draws from practically everything the universe has laid out for us since Nick Fury approached Tony Stark six years ago.
The film accomplishes this by integrating S.H.I.E.L.D. into the narrative like it never has before. We’ve seen the organization at work in Thor and The Avengers (and, of course, in the TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), but they play a huge part in this film. Black Widow, Nick Fury, and Maria Hill all get significantly expanded roles, and each one gets at least a few moments to shine. Anthony Mackie is a blast as Sam Wilson/Falcon, always ready with a quip and showing off some real charisma, the kind that makes me want to see more of this character soon rather than later. Robert Redford imbues the film with a sense of gravitas, and does a great deal of the dramatic heavy lifting. He’s terrific, and does more with the role than any younger actor would be able to pull off.
And then, of course, there’s the Captain himself. This is Chris Evans’ third time playing Steve Rogers (not including his brief, hilarious cameo in Thor: The Dark World), and he’s never been more confident in the role. He’s really grown into it over the years, and he nails every aspect of the character in this film, from his disillusionment with the government of today to his genuine belief in people’s freedom. Sebastian Stan does well, but doesn’t get quite enough to do as The Winter Soldier. He’s more of an abstract threat, someone who is always around, but not quite as present as one may want him to be.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier also features what is easily the most brutal violence on display in any Marvel film. The fights here aren’t fantastical gods facing off in an interdimensional wormhole; these are real people, shooting at each other, engaging in hand-to-hand combat, getting into car chases. The body count for this movie is high, and it adds to the intensity the film. The action is sometimes hard to follow — the Russo brothers do a pretty outstanding job, but they rely a bit too much on shaky-cam during some of the fights. The choreography is wonderful, though, and the result is probably the most viscerally thrilling movie in the Marvel canon.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has become the most compelling franchise that modern cinema has to offer. Captain America: The Winter Soldier takes everything we thought we knew about the universe and reconfigures it, breaking it down so that it can build it back up again. It’s an exciting, thrilling experience that would not be possible without the eight films leading up to it, and like all great Marvel films, it leaves its audience eagerly anticipating the next installment. There’s no greater endorsement than that. This is Marvel’s world now; we’re all just living in it.
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