“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”
2 hours, 16 minutes
The Marvel Studios juggernaut just keeps on rolling. With high quality, high-concept series’ like “Iron Man,” “Thor” “Captain America” and “The Avengers,” I am not only reminded of the heyday of Pixar, when the animation studio could seemingly do no wrong, but I am also incredibly impressed at how neatly and comfortable these seemingly disparate films fit together.
In fact, though I really enjoyed this week’s Cap sequel, “The Winter Soldier,” I have been a little confused by the through line on the early criticism of it — about how different it is from it’s sibling films, about how much of a 1970’s mystery thriller it is. I didn’t think it was particularly different at all, and for me that’s a good thing. Each of the films in their particular series do carry a little bit of the unique flavor of that movie’s particular director. “Iron Man” has the wit of John Favreau, “Thor” has the Shakespearean drama of Kenneth Branagh, and “The Avengers” has the playfulness of Joss Whedon. But each of these movies are also very obviously part of the same universe — it’s a delicate balance, and one I’ve been impressed by. Of course, if these kinds of movies aren’t your cup of tea, that sense of continuity could be a detriment — as it was for the reviewer I listened to say that “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” felt like hour seventeen of one really long movie. I felt like that too, but in a good way.
“Winter Soldier” opens with our hero, Steve Rogers, still trying to get used to living in the modern era. If you missed the last film, Captain America was frozen in a glacier in 1944 and wasn’t revived until 2012 or so. Not only is the day to day hard to get used to for Cap, but it seems as though the ideals and sentiments that WWII was fought to preserve have been slipping away. As an agent of SHIELD, an NSA-esque superspy organization, Cap is asked again and again to intervene in situations where he is philosophically opposed to the outcomes he facilitates.
Luckily, for SHIELD, at least, Cap’s partner Natasha, aka The Black Widow, has no such philosophical quandaries. One such mission, where a French mercenary named Batroc has hijacked a SHIELD boat, sends the Captain over the edge. It seems SHIELD was violating international treaties at the time of its hijacking and Cap had to clean up the mess. He confronts SHIELD director Nick Fury, who reveals the big over arching plan. Three giant flying aircraft carriers have been constructed to create an impenetrable defence against anyone who would threaten the US or her allies. But Cap sees shades of darker intent. Fear, intimidation, policy executed through force — these are the same drivers used by the Nazis, as well as by Captain America’s old enemy, HYDRA. After Fury is violently attacked by a team of hitmen led by a mysterious assassin, Cap confronts his boss’ boss — Alexander Pierce, played by Robert Redford, who looks great, by the way. Refusing to play ball, the Captain is now enemy number one and SHIELD will do anything to stop him.
Chris Evans, as Captain America, was not my first pick to play this character, but with every scene he proves me wrong. He’s a little square and certainly not sardonic like Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, but sometimes a lack of irony is refreshing. Also great is Scarlett Johannson, who remains one of my favorite actresses and continues to do stellar supporting work. I don’t know if Black Widow will ever get her own film, but as long as they put her in everyone else’s, I have nothing to complain about. New to the series is Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson, better known to comic fans as The Falcon. Mackie is great and meshes perfectly.
I keep hearing about how critical this movie is of the Obama administration and I have to say I think that’s just wishful thinking. Yes, the action in this movie has a political message and that message goes something like this: if the government tries to take over personal freedoms and take away privacy, we need to fight against it. Of course, that’s the theme for “The Hunger Games,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” and dozens of other big budget Hollywood extravaganzas over the last half-century. Yes, the directors’ mentioned “Obama’s kill list,” as one of the aspects of government their fictional conspiracy is based on, but the spirit of the quote seemed to be more about big military, big intelligence, as well as big government. I’m not saying Obama doesn’t deserve any criticism (because I’m sure no president before him ever had a list of targets — c’mon.), I’m just saying I don’t think this movie is overtly about any one particular administration. What it is about, however, is amazing action. “The Avengers” may have had more variety, but it would be difficult to top the number awesome action set pieces in “The Winter Soldier.”
I really had very little to be critical about this film, but I would offer a small caveat. If you are not already versed in the Marvel Universe of films, “The Winter Soldier” spends almost no time catching you up. It assumes you know who Natasha Romanov is, what SHIELD is, and that you will remember esoteric characters like Dr. Arnim Zola and Senator Stern from previous films. It calls back nicely to the previous “Captain America” film, but doesn’t reiterate Cap’s origin story. However, for fans, Marvel includes both tantalizing bits of foreshadowing, such as having a character run down a list of names of potentially powerful people, including a mention of Stephen Strange. That’s master mage Dr. Strange, for the uninitiated. As well, the inclusion of Batroc as a gymnastic villain is a nice little nod to fans of the original comics who will remember Batroc the Leaper, a goofy, bouncy baddie with a Snidley Whiplash mustache and a flamboyantly flared costume. In his original form, Batroc would have been laughed off the screen, but with a little toning down, he makes a great, if small, addition to the whole. I really liked “The Winter Soldier,” and can’t wait to see it again. These movies just keep getting better.
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is rated PG-13 for violence and language.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.