Yes yes I know I’m three years late to the party with this one. Missed it at the cinemas, was going to watch it on Netflix at my Mum’s for ages before it was taken off, so I finally rented it at my local DVD place. In a nutshell, I thought it was the strongest Marvel movie I’ve seen by a long margin and the first one I could say I loved since the first Iron Man. If you take out all the superheroing stuff, at the heart it’s a gripping political thriller/1970s-esque spy movie tackling themes of national security vs personal freedom, a debate which is rather timely in the world we live in now.
I haven’t seen the first Captain America movie, but The Winter Soldier helpfully summarises its events for the newbies like myself. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is busy adjusting to the life in the 21st century after spending most of the 20th century asleep, concentrating on workouts and special missions, but no dating just yet. Though he can’t see a life outside of S.H.I.E.L.D., he becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the amount of secrecy and lies going on in the organization, despite the assurances of boss Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) that such compartmentalization is for the best. However, when Fury himself is locked out of some top-secret files just before the launch of a new defense project that would give S.H.I.E.L.D. the ability to wipe out potential threats with a push of a button, it becomes clear that something rotten is going on. Who is up to the task of cleaning out the poison?
The movie does lean heavily on the usual spy movie tropes, such as the hero on the run from his own organization, but there are also surprises, brutal and grounded fight choreography, terrific action sequences full of nifty little details, and some compelling emotional drama too (I won’t spoil what it is but suffice to say it’s of the variety that’s pretty much guaranteed to move me). Even when it gets to the obligatory big-scale Marvel third act where things go kaboom, it never feels like it’s something the filmmakers shoved in just because every superhero movie needs a big action-driven finale.
Captain himself is an interesting aberration in today’s comic book movies where heroes are supposed to be flawed or anti-heroic and even Superman can’t just be an earnest corny Superman any more. But his staunch old-fashioned decency is what makes Captain America so endearing, plus the perfect casting of Evans who practically radiates all-American wholesomeness (and is nice to look at, I won’t lie). It helps that he gets to have lively interactions with the supporting characters like Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie), who make the most out of their screen time. The addition of Robert Redford to the cast as the shady figurehead Alexander Pierce lends the movie a seriously classy touch and he underplays the role nicely.
The only thing that truly sucks in this movie is the Winter Soldier’s Russian, which is pretty bad but oh well I’m used to my native language getting mangled by non-Russian speakers. The Marvel quipping is not done to the obnoxious degree, thank god, though I could have done without a couple of one-liners. There was also one gratuitous lingering shot of Black Widow’s derriere that made me roll my eyes. But really, this movie is awesome. If only all Marvel films were as good.