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New Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Updated on May 13, 2014

Director: Joe and Anthony Russo
Cast: Chris Evans, Anthony Mackie, Scarlet Johansson, Robert Redford, Cobie Smulders, Sebastian Shaw

"Don't trust anyone!"
- - Nick Fury in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

The original Captain America introduced Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) as a soldier shaped in a time when words like "honor" and "freedom" meant something, and where every battle fought served a greater purpose. He is very much a product of the "old world," holding onto beliefs and ideals that seem antiquated and anachronistic in our modern world of ugliness and uncertainty. He joined the S.H.I.E.L.D. team because it seemed as though they stood for the very values he swore to uphold. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, even that's not a sure thing now.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a much darker film than its predecessor, and is all the better for it. It delivers all the exhilarating action sequences and stunts one expects from a Marvel action movie, and they're superbly choreographed and directed by filmmakers Anthony and Joe Russo. It also has more than its share of good hearty laughs, like the film's opening scene where Steve jogs laps around Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), a.k.a The Falcon, in the early hours of the morning. But what makes the movie as compelling as it is is the fact that it immerses us into a world that's simultaneously fantastic and familiar. Captain America: The Winter Soldier features many cool comic-book like warships and gadgets, yet some of the issues it raises hit pretty close to home.

The less you know about the plot going in, the better. The movie opens with S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) sending the good Captain on a mission to save a company vessel from Algerian pirates. Steve believes he's there simply to save the hostages, until he catches Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) extracting information from the ship's computers, which was her mission all along. When he confronts Fury about it, Fury lets him in on something called Project Insight, in which three Helicarriers are linked by spy satellites and are designed to make a preemptive strike against any potential terrorist threat. "I thought the punishment came after the crime," Rogers says to Fury. Maybe at one time it did, but in our post-9/11 world, nothing's that simple anymore.

Good job, Captain. A very good job, indeed!
Good job, Captain. A very good job, indeed!

The villain of the piece is the titular Winter Soldier, who first makes an appearance during a terrific car chase sequence, taking out Fury's car with a weapon that shoots out an explosive that skids along the pavement and attaches itself to the bottom of the vehicle. The man wears a mask that covers the lower part of his face, making it difficult to tell who it is. If you don't know who it is already, then I wouldn't dream of revealing it here. What can be said is that he is one of the great Marvel villains: Dark, mysterious, fearsome, and unstoppable. He makes an impression every time he enters the frame, which is high praise indeed after we were treated to such lame bad guys in last year's disappointing Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World.

Also added to the cast is the indelible Robert Redford, whose very presence brings a certain je ne sais quoi to the material. His Alexander Pierce is a world-weary and cynical fellow, and Redford never strikes a wrong note in portraying him. He says lines like "To build a better world, sometimes means turning the old one down" as though he were born to say them, and even has one scene with his housekeeper that is so memorable because of how cold and shocking it is.

As an action spectacle, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the best I've seen since 2012's The Avengers. Every single set-piece is motivated by the storyline; there isn't a moment where you get the impression that the filmmakers are simply showing off. Because of this, every action scene comes with a sense of risk. As embarrassed as I am to admit this, there were actually a couple of scenes where I wasn't entirely sure if the heroes were going to make it out alive or not. Occasionally, the Russo brothers shake up the camera just a bit, but never to the point where it becomes distracting. If anything, it puts you right in the middle of the action all the more (and it's no easy task to use the "shaky camera" technique effectively).

Well, it's a lot cheaper than taking a taxi!
Well, it's a lot cheaper than taking a taxi!

The reason the action works as well as it does isn't because of the choreography (although that certainly plays a part), but because the movie does such a terrific job with the characters. When Steve officially introduces himself to Sam Wilson, the two actors play the scene so well that we can instantly see the beautiful friendship forming between the two of them. Steve eventually teams up Black Widow for a large portion of the movie. The cliche would be that a romance would blossom between these two, and it's one the movie (thankfully) avoids. Things remain professional between them, which makes their rapport all the more endearing. Canadian actress Cobie Smulders gets more to do here than she did when she was first introduced in The Avengers, and she makes quite the impression.

Chris Evans has certainly grown comfortable in the role of the iconic Captain America, and he's given moments of real poignancy to play, including the scene where he meets up with the now elderly Peggy Carter, who was his love interest in the original movie. While the climactic action scene goes on a little bit longer than it should, Captain America: The Winter Soldier delivers the goods in spades, and comes across as a breath of fresh air after the likes of last week's beyond atrocious Sabotage. It's not just a terrific entertainment, but also a thoughtful and edgy look at the fears and anxieties that plague our modern world.

Note: There are two scenes inserted during the end credits. The first, which features a cameo from the beautiful and impossibly talented Elizabeth Olsen, comes halfway through the end credits, and has me super excited about the next Avengers movie. The second one comes as soon as the end credits finish rolling, and it's nothing too important. You won't miss anything if you decided to wait until DVD, where you can fast forward and get to it quicker.

Rated PG-13 for lots of action and violence and some profanity

Final Grade: *** ½ (out of ****)

What did you think of this movie? :)

4 out of 5 stars from 1 rating of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)


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