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Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014)

Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan

Written By: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely Directed By: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo

The Short Version

Marvel returns with a very politically charged new chapter.

It’s just as much old school poli-thriller as it is superhero flick; indeed, more so.

The byplay between Captain America and Black Widow is intriguing.

Oh, don’t worry; there’s still plenty of fun action and lots of stuff blows up, too.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is very good and very timely… which leaves it on a wire.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

CHEESE HOT DOG.

Millions of people are willing to not ask what’s in it for the sake of having something delicious.


Pairs Well With...

SAMUEL ADAMS WINTER LAGER.

American brewed; winter lager.  This one’s almost too easy.

“This isn’t freedom.  This is fear.”


When audiences first met the current cinema incarnation of Captain America, he was fighting in World War II, at a time when it was pretty easy to tell the good guys from the bad.  When they met him again in the sort of present day of The Avengers, it was still pretty easy to tell who the bad guys were.  But now that he’s firmly entrenched in life around Washington, DC… the good guys and the bad guys aren’t really as distinct from one another until they start shooting.  Welcome to the almost uncomfortably real world of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

If you go to comic book movies to escape… well, to paraphrase the Cap and one of his comrades, you may be in the wrong theatre.  Don’t take that caution to mean that the movie isn’t good or isn’t any sort of fun – for it is indeed both good and fun – but do take it for the truth that it is.  If you don’t like the real world’s news to break into your escapist fantasy, you’re going to be annoyed with this one.  Illegal intelligence gathering, leaking of classified documents for all the world to see, operations carried out against targets who technically haven’t done anything wrong yet, and the big one, sacrificing liberty for the sake of security – yup, they’re all there, front and center.  And then there’s Captain America (Chris Evans, Street Kings), on your left.

To note that the plot is complex and convoluted is a mild understatement, and even a cursory attempt to explain it requires the dropping of spoilers.  Let’s just say that after completing a mission wherein he wasn’t given all of the facts ahead of time, Captain America starts to wonder if “the good guys” are really “good” anymore, or if perhaps a few too many shadows have made their way into the limitless shades of grey… and that he soon discovers that there are a whole lot more shadows than anyone ever thought possible, under the direction of some very old adversaries.  If I were to provide any more details, it’d seem like a stretch, but one of the major strengths of Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the fact that the deep conspiracy at the heart of the story is presented in such a way that it’s entirely plausible, which, given the complexity of it, is a remarkable feat.  That Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, The Island) is presented as Captain America’s primary ally is also a very nice touch for reasons that go well beyond the character’s popularity with fans; she is, after all, Cap’s polar opposite in terms of methods and battlefield morality, and the script takes decent advantage of that in ways that provide added dimension to both characters.  The dramatic chemistry between Evans and Johansson also proves to be outstanding, giving an added boost to something that was already good.

Do I even need to tell you that the both look great in their numerous fight sequences?  Probably not, but I will anyway; and I’ll also note that they’re filmed very well and with a welcome emphasis on physical effects over CGI wherever possible.

Also playing very well is the introduction of Falcon (Anthony Mackie, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), whose “regular identity” of Sam Wilson brings another slice of the real world to the picture by way of being a discharged vet who now runs a VA support group for other returning vets suffering from PTSD, which also provides an interesting side comparison for Captain America’s transition from World War II to the modern era.  His initial meeting and eventual alliance with Cap play as smooth and natural, and while the actor himself was disappointed that he didn’t get the red spandex outfit drawn in the comic books, the gear that turns Sam Wilson into The Falcon is also totally sensible in Captain America’s real world.  As for Mackie himself, he’s a charismatic actor who fits right into the group without any issues.

Speaking a charismatic actors… let’s not forget Robert Redford (Three Days of the Condor) bringing instant gravitas to the role of Alexander Pierce, the Cabinet  Secretary who serves on the World Security Council that oversees the activities of SHIELD.  His experience with classic political thrillers is put to great use here, and if there’s anyone who can stare down Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, The Long Kiss Goodnight) – or anyone else, for that matter – and look plausible winning at it, it’s Robert Redford.  Call this one of Marvel’s greatest casting coups.

And then there’s the matter of the character who gives this movie its subtitle, The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan, Black Swan).  He’s… complex.

Ed Brubaker, the comic book author who created the original Winter Soldier storyline, was allowed to see the script in progress, and he declared himself as happy with how the character was presented and the tone of how things work with his true identity, which I won’t spoil here for the five people who aren’t already in on the secret.  I wouldn’t propose to argue, of course, and I do indeed agree on those specific points.  I also like how Sebastian Stan plays the character at the various different stages of the film… but there are few little details that stick for me, not the least of which is the fact that while The Winter Soldier’s presence does indeed represent an important subplot to the story, it’s just that: a subplot.  Movies don’t usually get their titles from subplots.  (And given how certain things turn out, one could wonder if maybe the title should have been held over for a later installment.)  His major background beyond the eventual revelation of his most immediate origin is also severely glossed over to a point where some audiences who weren’t in on the secret before might be forgiven for not entirely catching on to the significance of the red star on his arm.  (One quick legend from Black Widow – whom one can only hope is holding back – just doesn’t cut it.)  I like the character and I like how he plays in the film, but when all was said and done, I couldn’t help but feel that Captain America: The Winter Soldier just wasn’t the right title for this movie.

You may have noticed that I have thus far only devoted two sentences to talking about the action sequences in what’s supposed to be a larger than life comic book action flick.  Don’t worry; the movie devotes plenty more attention to those elements, and as already noted, all of the action sequences look great, and audiences looking for explosive fun will definitely feel that they’ve gotten their money’s worth, especially on the big screen.  I also really like Captain America’s expanded fighting style that employs his shield as more of an offensive weapon, which really opens up his combat repertoire and makes for more exciting sequences.  As for Black Widow… oh, how little we knew what was coming, back when most of us first met Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation!  I, for one, can’t wait until she gets her own movie.

But again, though the action sequences many of us came to see are there in both quantity and quality, they’re not the main thing that either I or, I suspect, many of you came/will come away from Captain America: The Winter Soldier remembering, and that’s the wire the film ends up walking on.  By choosing to be extremely news relevant to a particular moment in time, the movies resonates loudly at this instant, in this year… but risks alienating a later audience, or even a modern audience that just wants to escape the news when going to see a comic book movie, not live the news.  [Tangential historical sidenote: Hollywood execs feared that The Wolf Man would bomb, premiering as it did the weekend immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.  They thought people would only be interested in the news.  Instead, the film was a wild success largely because people wanted to escape the real world.]  It doesn’t matter whether one accepts the picture’s ultimate viewpoints or not; just tackling the arguments is enough of a nitro bottle waiting to go off.  Will it have a negative effect on the movie’s success as it premieres?  Not likely. Years down the road, though…  The quality of timelessness may have been sacrificed.

In any case, one steps away from the movie doing more thinking than feeling, and it is very much by design.  I’m not calling that a bad thing, mind; just noting.

Bottom line, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a very good comic book action flick that doubles as an old school political thriller, with the emphasis on the latter.  Great sequences and good performances abound, and it’s very much worth the look on either the big or the small screen.  Just remember that if you’re trying to escape the real world, this is one film that won’t let you do it.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, April, 2014


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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