Combining the humor and wall to wall action of Marvel’s The Avengers with a plot that is both a throwback to a 70s spy thriller and a modern commentary on government privacy invasions, Captain America: The Winter Soldier emerges as the best Marvel Studios film to date.
Marvel Studios films have stayed on the side of over-the-top comic book sized action, but Winter Soldier marks a far more sophisticated turn with darker, mature themes while managing to retain every bit of the larger than life spirit of its predecessors.
After the battle of New York, Captain America (Chris Evans) is slowly acclimating to modern society. He joins his fellow Avenger, Black Widow (the sultry smooth Scarlett Johansson, Her), in working with intelligence agency S.H.I.E.L.D. to aid global peacekeeping efforts, but he’s becoming increasingly leery of S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson, Robocop) willingness to do anything to keep the peace no matter how many civil liberties and freedoms he may have to cross.
With few friends and even less confidants, Cap strikes up a friendship with Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie, Gangster Squad), a fellow former soldier who can relate to difficulties adjusting to normal life. Mackie is easily the best addition to the Avengers’ franchise since Mark Ruffalo signed on as Bruce Banner/Hulk. Mackie’s enthusiasm is evident even before he assumes his superhero identity and his role in Marvel Studios films should absolutely not be limited just to appearances in Captain America movies. Avengers Director Joss Whedon should rewrite whatever is necessary to work Mackie into The Avengers: Age of Ultron.
An assassination attempt on Fury leads to Cap being considered a person of interest by interim S.H.I.E.L.D. leader Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford in all of his cool and commanding glory), forcing Cap and Black Widow to get off the grid to stay a step ahead of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and the mysterious Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), a notorious assassin with ties to Captain America.
Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the team behind Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor: The Dark World, pen in essence a super heroic take on The Bourne Identity filled with secrets, betrayals and conspiracies at every turn. It’s not all dark though as there’s still a good amount of laughs and tons of Easter Eggs for comic book fans to revel in throughout.
Perhaps better than anyone that’s worked on the character before, directors Anthony and Joe Russo get what makes Captain America special — he’s a soldier that can handle his own against anyone so this version of Cap is even more impressive than the one battling aliens in Avengers making for some thrilling and creatively staged fight scenes that will have your jaw dropping on more than one occasion.
There’s less emphasis on CGI so the action feels more immediate and less the handiwork of a computer team as the Russos go a bit more old-school with their filmmaking techniques, which is appreciated.
Per the norm for a Marvel Studios movie, the acting is solid across the board with Jackson and Redford as reliable as you’d expect. Evans seems fully comfortable carrying the role now and raises his game a few more notches and has some excellent moments with Johansson and Mackie.
Status quo for the Avengers universe changes dramatically as a result of the film leaving the film on a mini-cliffhanger note. The mid-credits scene, directed by Whedon teases The Avengers: Age of Ultron, but don’t miss the post-credits scene as it’s more relevant to Winter Soldier.
Marvel Studios’ answer to The Dark Knight is tremendously entertaining and likely the superhero blockbuster to beat not just for 2014, but possibly many years to come.
Rating: 10 out of 10