Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I've never disliked Captain America. But in the same way that Superman is impossible to kill, it's pointless to tempt Captain Rogers to do evil, or even to not do what is right. The result is predictable, and predictability in movies commonly results in boring movies. The First Avenger fell victim to this conundrum a bit, and made identifying with Cap an effort. He seemed too good, too nice; almost self-righteous; I now realize that wasn't a flaw in the character, but rather the film's representation of his goodness that was slightly tongue-in-cheek. I never noticed until I was able to compare The First Avenger with The Winter Soldier.

Captain America. The First Avenger. Steve Rogers. 95 years old, and still sprightly!

In The Winter Soldier, Cap is still unswayable and upright, but there are no longer underlying hints at his being a Mr. Goody-two-shoes. He fights hard to win, not timidly as to not step on any toes. His morality and justness is not a hindrance, but goes hand in hand with his heroism, and Chris Evans, with the help of the makers of this film, finally make that loud and clear. I've never disliked Captain America, but now, finally, the character resonates with me.

Evans is, as always, great in the role. He leads the film with likeable charisma, conviction, and more complexity than ever. A better lead for a better leading character for these movies you could not hope for. Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow is very welcome, and fits in perfectly -- right at home whichever franchise she finds herself in. And she just keeps getting more and more complex and deep with each fresh look at her characterization, and it's awesome.

Who would've thought these two could work together so well? Well... somehow, it's obvious.

Other returning characters include Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, who gets to do more than just boss people around this time. His sense of morality (or lack thereof) clashes with Cap's to great results. Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) shows up to help out from time to time -- still waiting on a real character for her.

(Spoiler warning!)
And then there's the Winter Soldier himself, played again by Sebastian Stan. He is a great antagonist, upping the stakes for Cap for added layers, but this film (in spite of being titled in his honor) does not appear to be his main event. So what, I wonder, will the next film be called? Captain America 3: The Winter Soldier 2?
(End spoilers)

"Yikes." And also, "cool!"

The team newbie is the talented Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson. He is maybe a little stereotyped as the plucky sidekick with a fun sense of humor but is still a good and helpful addition and will hopefully get some solid development as the Cap stories continue. Emily VanCamp as "Agent 13" didn't get as big a part as I imagined she would, but she'll be back, guaranteed. My favorite addition to the Marvel universe though has to be Frank Grillo as Agent Brock Rumlow -- maybe partially because Grillo is breaking into more mainstream roles (I only recognized him from Warrior) with this cool character, but mostly because he's simply a very, very cool character.

Favorite scenes include:

"The elevator scene" hands down wins coolest, most awesome, scene. And coolest buildup to an action scene. It was a highly anticipated scene for me, and didn't disappoint.

All the scenes between Cap and Natasha. They are almost complete opposites, so they complement each other perfectly. They develop an easy friendship that is very fun to watch -- whether they're joking and flirting, clashing wit, confiding in each other, or just kicking tail side by side. I wish there were more scenes of cheerful banter between those two, and less of a few of those dull scenes. Mostly the ones in which Robert Redford's character holds droll meetings to discuss plot developments. Those scenes also include dull lighting, and no interesting camera work to pep things up; it was as if the directors (Anthony and Joe Russo) felt the same about these scenes as I do. A second viewing should prove them more interesting, but if not, they'll provide a perfect window for snack-fetching.

Your mouth is moving, but all I can hear is "blah, blah, blah..."

All other action/fight scenes. The elevator scene may be the best, but there are super cool fight scenes everywhere. Action can get dull very fast, but not here -- here it's consistently exciting, and timed perfectly to not overstay welcome. The innovative fighting style of Cap and his companions were fantastically original, awesomely choreographed, and super fun and exciting to watch. Occasionally the tight filming and cutting style let a movement slip by, but mostly it complemented the action very well.

Added up, I think my favorite scenes total to about four fifths of the movie... so... that's nice.

(Mild spoilers) I'm glad they included the scene with Cap and Agent Carter. Two old folks -- one having been affected by the progression of time and the other not -- reminiscing. It added nothing to the plot, but concluded that loose end sweetly. (End spoilers) And while Winter Soldier was pretty dark and serious compared to other Marvel flicks, and also didn't have any side-splitting "Hulk is destroying Loki like a kid in a temper tantrum" moments, there were plenty of those great witty lines, and slick winking moments that you should always find in a Superhero flick.

Finding a balance is important. The light side and the dark side should be evenly matched.

You may recall from The First Avenger a problematic climax where Cap crashes the plane in ice, and no number of re-watches inform us of exactly why. That situation was necessary to get Cap where he needed to be -- in the 21st century, and in the status of selfless hero -- but it was contrived. The Winter Soldier, however, gives him more meaningful, more solidly written situations where his selflessness and heroism comes out naturally -- because it's who he is, not who he needs to be. There are still moments of predictability, (what Marvel movie is without them?) but as with the best of Marvel, the storytelling transcends all that, and allows us to have an absolute blast watching our heroes fight against evil for the sake of others. Captain America, I salute you.


  1. Fantastic review, Sarah! Love that you were able to finally resonate with this character - that always makes a movie so much better.

    I agree with what you say about the Natasha/Steve banter - their scenes together were SO cute and helped "lighten" the film. Agent 13 getting very little screen time *was* surprising though as you say, she'll be back in the 3rd film. Of that, I've no doubt - she was quite fierce in that last scene!

    1. Thank you Rissi! I'm glad I had that breakthrough too. I think it'll even help me enjoy other films Cap's in that much more!

      I really think the addition of Natasha is what made this movie. I couldn't see it working without her! And yes, I'm very interested to see Agent 13 again and see what she's up to. She seems like a great addition. :)

  2. So what, I wonder, will the next film be called? Captain America 3: The Winter Soldier 2?

    Hee! I like it.

  3. I absolutely LOVED this movie! Which kind of shocked me because I found the first Captain America movie a little bit dull but THIS! I loved this movie more than Thor, more than The Avengers. It's my favourite Marvel movie to date. It has a clever, topical script. It has fantastic action scenes. Natasha is wonderful and is truly Captain America's equal. It's the Falcon who's Captain America's sidekick. I was so pleased that they didn't force a romance between her and Steve either! A photo from the movie got leaked a few months ago of Natasha and Steve kissing so I of course assumed that they were going to go down that route but they didn't. Natasha even spent quite a lot of the movie trying to set Steve up with other women :D

    1. It was quite the improvement on the first Captain America, wasn't it? That's fantastic, I'm glad you loved it so much! I think for me it rates second, just below The Avengers, but I rate The Avenger very high. Haha, exactly, Black Widow doesn't play "sidekick" to anyone! :D I was glad for the lack of "obligatory romance between the two leads" too, but I wasn't too worried it would happen, since I didn't see the leaked pic. I guess that just made for an even better surprise for you to find out it wasn't true! She was so cute trying to set him up with people, and it was a great running joke too. :D

  4. As you noted, Captain America's core character trait is his unwillingness to

    My main point of disagreement is that I found those dialogue scenes very interesting. They were an important aspect of the thematic elements of the film, and Redford and Jackson were great! I will admit that I have a higher tolerance level than most when it comes to dialogue scenes.

    I really did love the risks the movie took, and I can't wait to see how everything is going to play out in the future. Also, as you basically said, the action scenes were perfectly placed in the story. I never felt that the action scenes were just there to have action, but to drive the story forward. Good review. :)


    1. I really only found then boring by comparison to the rest of the film, and not so much the ones with Fury -- he kept things more upbeat. And I honestly expect to be not at all bothered by them the second time I see this movie. But I doubt they'll ever be a favorite part. I'm glad you found them interesting!

      (spoilers!) Oh, yes, looking very much forward to what will happen with SHIELD (and how it's all affecting Agents of SHIELD!) and Fury, and how all this will lead up to Avengers 2... And yeah I was impressed and pleased with the quality of the action. Thanks! :)

  5. Great review Sarah! (spoilers) I really liked the way The Winter Soldier tied up the loose ends of Peggy's story, it was such a sweet scene and one that really proved to me that Captain America's character is now fully grasped. (end of spoilers) So glad you liked The Winter Soldier!


    1. Thank you S! Totally, the scene didn't relate to the main plot, but it was great for the characters. I'm so glad they included it. :D Glad you liked it too!