Reviewing the Films of 2014, Part VI; Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Captain America--Not So Bad After All
For those who have read my previous hubs, it should come as little surprise that I really was not that into Captain America growing up. In fact, the Avengers as a whole were a great big blind spot for me. I knew of the Captain, and I even knew his real identity and a bit of his backstory, but I always considered him Marvel Comics' Superman--a stick-in-the-mud boyscout with no real personality. As to the other characters featured in Captain America: Winter Soldier: I knew Black Widow a little bit, and liked the character; I knew of Nick Fury, Bucky Barnes and Falcon; and I had never even heard of the Winter Soldier or Maria Hill (I am not certain on Alexander Pierce and Dr. Arnim Zola). As I have previously noted, this vague familiarity has probably actually helped me immensely in enjoying the films put out directly by or in close partnership with Marvel Studios; I know enough about the Marvel Comics Universe to feel comfortable with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but not enough about the characters in the Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy to subject these films to the same level of fanboy scrutiny to which I can subject the X-Men, Spider-Man or even the Fantastic Four films. That said, the overall level of nerd rage leveled against these films has been CONSIDERABLY lower than that faced by FOX and Sony's properties, and critical reception has been generally warmer; therefore I think it safe to say that these are, by and large, better adaptations of the comics. As for Cap himself, as played so far by Chris Evans--he IS a stick-in-the-mud boyscout, but he actually DOES have a personality, and he is a far more interesting and engaging protagonist than I would ever have expected. Meanwhile, the sexy yet deadly Black Widow and the arrogant and ruthless yet deadly Fury have also played well to my expectations of the characters, creating versions that have held up well so far, and hopefully will continue to do so. And now, on with the review.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Winter Soldier was, as I have noted before, one of my most anticipated movies of the spring season; as also previously noted, this would never have been the case had I not already seen The Avengers and Captain America: The First Avenger, as well as Iron Man 2. The first two had, as noted above, already established Chris Evans' take on Steve Rogers/ Captain America as one I can really enjoy and get behind; the first and last had established the lovely Scarlett Johansson as a fitting embodiment of Natasha Romanoff, the assassin/ spy Black Widow... mostly. I'm sorry, but a character born and raised in the Soviet Union, even if she is a master spy, could be able to affect an American accent but should probably not have it as her default manner of speech, and as much as I love Miss Johansson this has bugged me from her first appearance as the character in Iron Man 2. Still, I agree wholeheartedly with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.)'s classic line from that film, "I want one." Anyway, this film had plenty to interest me going in, not the least of which a supporting role by the increasingly off-screen legend Robert Redford. Seriously, we heard very little about him for years, then he surfaces in a highly acclaimed, arguably Oscar-snubbed role in All Is Lost, a film kept entirely afloat (if you will) by his one-man show; mere months later he plays the villain in a superhero movie, earning rave notices once again for a FAR more commercial outing. Clearly this was a movie to see. Did it live up to expectations? Mostly. While Captain America: The First Avenger was a story-heavy film punctuated by action, Winter Soldier is almost the reverse. In fact, this is one of the most action-heavy comic-book adaptations I've ever seen, and that's saying something. However, unlike movies like, say, The Fantastic Four or X-Men: Origins--Wolverine, this film is action with purpose; Joe and Anthony Russo and team understand that a good story can exist within an action film, and also that one need not butcher characters to subvert them to such a story, and while Winter Soldier is nowhere close to flawless, it does manage to entertain mightily on several levels.
Frankly, some of the flaws of the film are tied up in the plot, but this is a trap most action films fall into, and I'd say the plot holds up better than even the best James Bond films (that may or may not be saying much, depending on your personal viewpoint about the Bond films). There are some spoilers here, but the movie has been out several months now, and I'll try not to let all the cats out of the bag. Basically, after a covert joint operation between S.H.I.E.L.D., Cap and Black Widow leads to Cap having SERIOUS trust issues with Nick Fury (but seriously, wouldn't any sane person?), Cap starts having serious doubts about his role in life. Meanwhile, Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) learns that he himself has reason to have even more serious trust issues than before, and goes to Cap for help; while he is there, an assassin called the Winter Soldier nearly takes him out, and the fit hits the shan, as they say. Cap and his new friend Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), together with Widow, soon find far more than they bargained for; S.H.I.E.L.D. has been taken over by Hydra, the terrorist organization run by Red Skull in the previous Captain America film. Meanwhile, Alexander Pierce (Redford), an old friend and colleague of Fury's, is working behind the scenes in order to advance his own agenda, and the Winter Soldier has a backstory with its own intriguing twists. The technical prowess of this film is impressive, and I continue to believe that Marvel will start garnering more than one or two token nods a year at the Oscars; I'd say the film could get nods for Visual Effects, Production Design, Sound Mixing and Editing, probably Cinematography and possibly Film Editing. The acting is also impressive with Redford putting in an Oscar-level supporting turn and Evans and Johansson coming pretty close; as Nick Fury, Samuel L. Jackson continues to do a spot-on impression of Samuel L. "Mother-F*&$@n" Jackson, a move that works well enough for the character but does not put his performance at Oscar-caliber. The music, sadly, is a bit pedestrian, though it works well enough.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier 7.5/10 Oscar-worthy for Best Supporting Actor (Robert Redford), Cinematography, Production Design, Visual Effects, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, and maybe Film Editing. Nominated for Best Visual Effects.
Will Purchase? Definitely, though likely not right away. Even without Scarlett Johansson, however, this would be an essential purchase.
Once again, Marvel Studios is on a roll with their movies, one which hopefully will continue for some time; while this one does not reach the giddy heights of Guardians of the Galaxy, it is nonetheless a fine film and a solid entry into the MCU. As always, I hope you have enjoyed my take on this film, and feel free to leave your comments below.