Captain America: The Winter Soldier Movie Review: Marvel's Grittiest Film

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CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER joins the elite club of sequels like Empire Strikes Back and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in achieving the rare feat of being a film that surpasses the original.  THE WINTER SOLDIER also proves to be Marvel’s grittiest film so far from their cinematic universe with action scenes and fight sequences that often left audience members gasping at the sheer rawness of the action.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER may be a spring release, but it could easily have been a summer blockbuster. Merging the demands of an action movie with a strong moral center and relatable characters,  the follow-up starts off light with a comedic scene of super soldier Steve Rodgers, AKA Captain America (Chris Evans) out for a morning jog. He easily and repeatedly laps veteran Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) as they circle the Washington Monument. It’s a fitting image for the heart of what makes this Captain America sequel such a good film. Steve Rodgers and his internal sense of democracy seem to always be slightly ahead of the machinations of those government agencies tasked with defending our freedom-specifically the elite S.H.I.E.L.D. division.

For those who haven’t seen the first film, there is a nicely creative recap of how Steve Rodgers went from weakling army reject to super soldier via government experiments and was revived decades later in modern-day America, preserved in a block of ice.

Early in the film we are treated to a particularly effective scene between Rogers and S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). The two engage in a debate about preserving democracy and the politics of fear against the backdrop of S.H.I.E.L.D’s dazzlingly large and sinister looking new fleet of warships. It’s clear that Rogers is uncomfortable with the direction S.H.I.E.L.D. is taking, a feeling born out by later events.
 
What really takes CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER to the next level, however, are the emotional beats between the exciting action sequences. There were more than a few sniffles in the theatre, including my own, as we watch Rodgers visit the bedside of his former flame from the 1940’s, Peggy Carter. The Cap’s connection to his past is palpable and it’s clear that much of his internal ethics were defined by that era-the “greatest generation” even gets a mention. Carter has a more important message for Rodgers, and that is the impending need to tear down the power structure (in this case meaning the S.H.I.E.L.D. division she co-founded) and start again.
 
That tearing down means Cap’s going to need some help. Rushing to his aid are the Black Widow, aka Russian super spy Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Sam Wilson, AKA Falcon. The interplay between these characters successfully veers from lighthearted to serious when we are finally treated to the appearance of the mysterious Winter Soldier and the film takes a more dramatic turn. Robert Redford makes an effective appearance as Alexander Pierce, a senior member of S.H.I.E.L.D., as do Cobie Smothers, reprising her role as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill and newcomer Emily VanCamp as Sharon Carter.

Of all the Marvel films (Iron Man, Thor, Avengers, Captain America), THE WINTER SOLDIER is by far the most adult movie of the bunch. Marvel has delivered kid-friendly films so far, but CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER is by far more complicated in it’s plot and the action scenes are often brutal with use of mano-a-mano combat versus CGI effects. Directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo deliver a compelling action film that has you fearing that the superhero leads may not make it out alive because they are up against a few formidable villains. The Marvel sequel is still suitable for children, but don’t be surprised if they become lost in the complicated storyline.
 
The plot twists and turns, yet manages to balance the action and its many supporting characters very effectively-raising it above the more style-over-substance entries in the budding superhero genre. To give away any more would be to rob the film of its beautifully directed and edited momentum, but it’s fair to say that comic book fans and novice moviegoers alike will find a lot to love in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER opens April 4, 2014.

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