Sunday, April 6, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier review

Marvel's Phase One was a spectacular experiment that paid off in every way possible. Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America were all set up incredibly well and it helped make The Avengers a smash hit. In addition, Marvel managed to make all six Phase One films incredibly well choosing actors who really could embody their characters. After The Avengers, Marvel went back to making solo films and that's when my problems began. Not that I had a problem with Marvel making more solo films, I just wanted them to be good ones. And while Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World were solidly entertaining films that offered some nice diversion, they essentially followed the same basic storyline that previous films had done. Both rank near the bottom of the Marvel barrel. However, Marvel really had a chance to knock it out of the park with their next film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The film was said to have a greater impact on Avengers 2 and would feel more like a paranoia thriller from the 1970's. All of that pre-release chatter created extreme excitement among fans and wow: The Winter Soldier lived up to the hype.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier continues the story of Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) as he becomes accustomed to modern society after being frozen for 70 years. Rogers is also running missions for S.H.I.E.L.D with Natasha "Black Widow" Romanoff (Scarlett Johannson) and a team of agents. When Cap and his men are on a mission to retrieve a boat from a group of pirates, led by French mercenary Batroc (Georges St-Pierre), Rogers discovers that he and his men were actually sent onto the boat to retrieve data for S.H.I.E.L.D. 

Rogers is uncomfortable with their tactics and takes it up with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D executive Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) tell Cap that the world needs to be a better safer place through the top secret "Project Insight" and that everything will be great after that. Soon, Captain America and Black Widow are being hunted and must uncover a dark secret that will change everything. Also, there's an extremely powerful assassin known as The Winter Soldier who's going around killing people. So yeah, that's a problem. 

The first thing that many people might notice about Captain America: The Winter Soldier is that it's much darker than anything that Marvel has ever done before. The action is extremely intense and visceral and much more realistic than previous Marvel films. This film also explores some really dark themes about security and trust. All of this makes The Winter Soldier a much different and much better Marvel film. This is probably the best Marvel movie yet. It's definitely in my top three. It's so brilliantly executed and there are so many twists and turns that make the movie unpredictable. The actors are more invested in their characters, the plot is very intriguing, and the action will blow you away. This isn't just a great Marvel movie. This is a great action movie. 

The great thing about the Captain America franchise is that it already had a strong foundation with The First Avenger. That was probably my favorite Marvel film before this one. Its mixture of period detail with swashbuckling, serial-esque action really made me love that film. As I previously said, The Winter Soldier goes darker and this film is definitely more of a political thriller with some really explosive action. However, it still maintains the spirit of Captain America and the spirit of the franchise. 

Once again, Marvel succeeds by putting the right people in the right roles and letting them develop the characters. At this point, Chris Evans knows who Captain America is and he's able to explore Cap's ideas and values even more in this movie. Same goes for Scarlett Johannson. Her character has been limited to covert operations and spy stuff before, but in this movie, she really gets to be funny. Now, don't get me wrong, she's still an awesome and dangerous character, but there's a funny, romantic side to her in this one as well. Samuel L. Jackson isn't given quite as much to do, but he's still impressive. 

The new characters are also introduced well and most of them fit into the story. Robert Redford does a good job as Alexander Pierce playing a S.H.I.E.L.D executive with questionable motives. Anthony Mackie is also good as Sam Wilson, a former military officer who becomes fast friends with Steve. Emily VanCamp plays Agent 13 and she fits in well. She doesn't have a large part, but it's sure to be important in future films. An actor whose name I will not spoil plays The Winter Soldier and he does a good job. The character is not in the film very often, but he's a menacing presence throughout the whole film. Frank Grillo was one of the standouts for me as Brock Rumlow. He's another menacing presence in the film and delivers a good performance. 

There's really not much that I can say about the plot here without spoiling it, so let's focus on the writing. Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely make this script tense and frightening throughout and there's a good sense of paranoia throughout the whole film. You really feel like you can trust no one. For me, this is the best script Marvel has written so far. While it isn't on par with the real world grit of Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, it's still far and beyond the best that Marvel has done so far. I thought that there were a few times where the pacing was a little off and it takes a few minutes to get its feet set, but in general, this is a Marvel script that avoids cliches and makes some really gutsy decisions. 

The action is also on a whole different level. This film has more in common with Bond and Bourne than it does with Iron Man and Thor. There are a lot of gunfights, a lot of hand to hand combat and a ton of tense chases. The film is an incredibly taut thriller and the political themes about fear and protection add to that even more. This movie questions everything that our government is doing right now and definitely has a strong opinion on it. For me, that made the movie even better. 

In the end, I really can't do a long review for this film simply in fear of spoiling it. But it really is a great action movie that is going to be the bar for Marvel films to come. It has a good amount of humor, some gripping action and a great plot. I absolutely loved this film and I can't wait for the next installment in the Captain America franchise. If Marvel continues to raise the bar with films like this, we're going to be in good shape.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A                                              (9.5/10)


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