Warning: As there has already been a conventional review for Captain America: The Winter Soldier this piece (a twist on our ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ format) will include heavy SPOILERS. You’ve been warned. Like really super warned. Cuz this would really spoil the great surprises in the film. But that might be your kind of thing. I’m not judging.
The action in Captain America: The Winter Soldier looks completely different from anything we’ve seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s largely filmed in handheld and much more gritty than we’ve come to expect. Cap’ has also used his time in the present to pick up some modern fighting styles. Couple that with his super strength and we have bad guys flying left and right from his punches and shield slams. CGI is also deemphasized so everything feels grounded and real. This helps immensely in the two car related sequences; a Nick Fury chase and a visceral car assault at the hands of The Winter Soldier. Of course the finale is a huge spectacle but it earns its plethora of explosions with the groundwork laid throughout. Plus, Falcon’s flying action is still freshly staged, even in a world where we already have a couple of flying superheroes.
Even though his name is on the marquee, this isn’t just the Captain America show. In fact it’s almost somewhat of a buddy film between him and Black Widow. The chemistry between Chris Evans and Scarlett Johannsson really sells their relationship and they’re delightful to watch on screen. In fact charisma is in abundance, both from Evans and from newcomer Sam Wilson (Falcon) played by Anthony Mackie. Cobbie Smulder’s Maria Hill even show up to round out a great strike team which is easy to root for. They’re fun, they’re charming, they’re funny and they kick copious amounts of ass.
The Winter Soldier
In complete honesty I knew exactly who The Winter Soldier was going in so it’s a great achievement of the Russo’s directing and the script that he felt so menacing on every appearance (Henry Jackman’s excellent score definitely helped here as well). He’s a seemingly unstoppable killing machine but there’s still a faint glimmer of something living deep inside him. Sebastian Stan is to thank for this, his glimpses of humanity being a great indicator for the future.
I won’t lie. Approaching the halfway mark of my initial viewing I was something that might be called “disappointed”. Not that I thought the film was bad, but just that the entire thing had been hyped up to such a high degree. At that point it seemed that things were very cut and dry: Alexander Pierce was a baddie looking to use S.H.I.E.L.D. for his nefarious means (Redford, who is great in the film, spoiled that in his first interview) and Nick Fury was dead (which both the trailers and TV spots spoil). We were heading towards a finale which would feature copious amounts of punching and then the agency would be dismantled for corruption. It would’ve been a fine way for things to turn out, but not spectacular. That all changes when Cap’ and Black Widow go for an elevator ride into an old S.H.I.E.L.D. facility, which leads us to…
The entire paradigm of the film is shifted when an antique computer is booted and Arnim Zola’s digitized face pops up and lays out what’s going on. Of course it’s HYDRA, the Nazi secret intelligence organization. It makes so much sense that I’m kicking myself for not figuring it out. It’s a brilliant way to give context to lots of stuff that has come before. Seriously, Iron Man 2 makes more sense after this film. That in and of itself is a sterling achievement.
On viewing the film a second time, without all the anxiety, the first half worked much better for me and I liked the film even more as a whole.
S.H.I.E.L.D. No More?
Fury is off to Europe, Maria Hill is joing Stark Industries, Agent 13 (Sharon Carter) is now at the CIA, Black Widow is going off the grid and Cap’ (along with Falcon) is going after Bucky. The security council is dead and the Triskelion lies in ruins. S.H.I.E.L.D. is practically gone, its pieces scattered. It’ll most certainly be back in some form or another though. As S.W.O.R.D. perhaps? It would make sense with all the imminent extraterrestrial threats, the agency was even created for the comics by Joss Whedon, the MCU’s current caretaker (serving under the overlord Kevin Feige). The world is now changed and primed for another cataclysmic event, in the form of Ultron. It’ll also be fun to see how this impacts Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., a show that’s been getting consistently better, as the events of Winter Soldier clearly have huge implications in that realm.
Ask anyone that sat close to me and they’ll politely say that I lost my shit when Agent Sitwell casually name-drops Stephen Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme. We’ve known that Marvel was working on him but now he unequivocally exists in the universe and is a somewhat known quantity. And that’s exciting. I also can’t shake the feeling that Zola’s targeting program is somehow connected to Ultron. Then of course there’s our first look at Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, that comes in the first credit stinger. We see a tease of their powers and the situation they’ll be in at the beginning of Age of Ultron, at the hands of Baron Wolfgang von Strucker. They’ll all be major players in the Avengers sequel and that’s exciting to see. There’s also a split second moment that’s very clearly an indicator of where Captain America is going, or rather the mantle. The Winter Soldier catches the shield and holds it as he would when yielding it. With Bucky trying to find out who he is and Cap looking for him it’s safe to assume that Captain America 3 will include the passing of the shield, from Steve Rogers to Bucky Barnes. It just a matter of how.
Though I already believe this to be true of Marvel’s cinematic output, this is the film that you can concretely point to and say that the amount of Marvel films isn’t a problem. Because these films aren’t all the same thing. Superhero movies aren’t really a genre, what we’re seeing here is superheroes being inserted into different genres and genre mixes. The Winter Soldier is a political spy thriller, wildly different from what has come before. Unless Marvel stops making their films different there’s little danger of the mythical comic book fatigue. Guardians of the Galaxy will be something completely different from this and Ant-Man yet again be something else entirely. If they keep pumping them out this good then everything is perfectly fine. With the general uptick in quality that doesn’t seem like much of a concern. To 2028, and beyond.
P.S. There’s a Pulp Fiction reference, which is pretty much the greatest thing.
P.P.S. It was also really nice to see comic creators such as Ed Brubaker (the man behind The Winter Soldier, who also got a cameo) and Brian Michael Bendis gets shout outs in the credits. Classy move Marvel, classy move.