REVIEW – Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Marvel’s promise that everything will change after Captain America: The Winter Soldier was no understatement. A solid plot, witty banter, some very surprising returns and couple seeds for future films resulted in what may well be the best Marvel film yet. Marvel seems dedicated to show that not all comic book movies are the same. The upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy is clearly set up to be an action comedy, and Winter Soldier is at its heart a political intrigue thriller. It still carries the hi-tech trappings and gadgets of a superhero story, but it’s a much more grounded film, touching on rather sober topics like dealing with life back home after a term in combat, the eternal questions of how much freedom will people surrender in the name of safety, and the simple question, “Who do you trust?”. There’s no way to discuss the film without hitting numerous spoilers, so before we do this, does anyone want to get off?
The choice to cast Robert Redford as S.H.I.E.L.D. council member Alexander Pierce was a deliberate attempt to tie the film to classic political thrillers like [[[Three Days of the Condor]]], and Redford plays his role effortlessly. Other newcomer to the films Anthony Mackie plays a new take to Sam Wilson / The Falcon, ex-military, now helping other soldiers as a VA counselor. Emily VanCamp gets far too little to do in the film as Agent 13, but what’s there is cherce. Maximiliano Hernández makes it to center stage as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jasper Sitwell, taking over the position played by Clark Gregg in previous films, and now serving on ABC’s hit show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., about which we shall be talking shortly. A number of characters and actors make surprise returns from past films – Garry Shandling returns as Senator Stern, last seen in a cameo back in [[[Iron Man 2]]]. Bucky returns from the first Captain America film, now brainwashed and refitted as a Soviet assassin, a role that will clearly be seen in future films, based on one of two of the post-credits tags. The other two returns from the first film are just too wonderful to ruin, save to say one is vital to the plot and one is heart-breaking, and however brief, both give the actors involved ample time to shine.
Following the pattern of many Bond films, the story starts with Captain America and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) on a mission saving a S.H.I.E.L.D. ship from mercenary pirates, led by long-time comics villain Batroc, played with style and flair by French-Canadian MMA fighter Georges St-Pierre. The mission provides the Macguffin of the story, a mysterious computer program seemingly connected to the super-security agency’s new Insight program. Insight is a new fleet of heavily beweaponed Helicarriers, dedicated to seeking out and eliminating threats to safety and peace before they can become dangerous. The concept of such power in the hands of an organization seemingly without oversight rubs Steve Rogers the wrong way, and he finds himself wondering if S.H.I.E.L.D. may be growing too powerful, right side or wrong. Nick Fury (Lawrence Fishburne Samuel L. Jackson) thinks there may be something wrong as well, and indeed there is, because as soon as he starts asking for the project to be delayed, he’s attacked on the streets of Washington D.C., first by a swarm of fake police cars, then by the Winter Soldier of the title (Sebastian Stan), a mysterious Soviet assassin who’s credited with multiple kills over a fifty year career. Fury escapes and hides out in Cap’s apartment, and barely has a chance to hand over a flash drive containing the secret file before he’s attacked again by the Winter Soldier, putting several bullets through him via a sniper rifle.
With Fury down, Cap and Black Widow don’t know where to turn, especially after Pierce declares Cap a traitor to S.H.I.E.L.D. and sics its entire power on him. Cap and Natasha set off on a quest to learn the source of the file, and in so doing, Cap meets up with two old enemies, one person (sort of) and one organization, namely HYDRA. It’s revealed that HYDRA has been operating clandestinely throughout both S.H.I.E.L.D. and the governments of the world, quietly fomenting selected areas of chaos and threat, whipping the world up to the point where it will happily cede much of its liberty in the name of safety. Which is basically the position that HYDRA has wanted the world at since World War II. With no way to know who in S.H.I.E.L.D. is working for HYDRA and who isn’t, Cap, Widow, a newly recruited Falcon and a small team of loyalists have to break into the most secure building in the world and scotch the launch of the Insight ships, before they can come online and hold the world under a trinity of Swords of Damocles.
In order to discuss the effects of the film, I must reveal the ending – they succeed, in spades. The Helicarriers are brought crashing back to Earth, destroying both the headquarters of S.H.I.E.L.D. and effectively, the organization itself. Considering how major a role the organization has played in the Marvel films, this is as big a change to the playing field as the death of any major character. Agent Sitwell, revealed as a HYDRA operative, certainly seems to have met his end in the film, as has most of its governing council. This not only effects the future of the Marvel cinematic universe, but the TV world as well. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is part of the same narrative continuity as the movies, and is synced up perfectly to the events of Winter Soldier. Last week’s episode featured Agent Sitwell saying he was on his way back to headquarters, leading directly into the mission we see at the beginning of the film. With S.H.I.E.L.D. in utter disarray at the end, it’s going to be VERY interesting where it will take the story on the TV show. Will the main adversary The Clairvoyant turn out to be part of the HYDRA plot, or something else entirely? Indeed, how much more time will be spent on that plotline once the events of the film occur in the timeline of the show? It’s an interaction between film and TV we’ve never seen – they have the opportunity to do what many hoped the series would do – not simply illuminate outlying areas of the cinematic world, but actively carry the narrative of the films forward, as much so as any of the films.
I had a smile on my face from beginning to end. The script is tight and witty, with a good balance of character work, action and comedy. The stunts are spectacular, as perfect an example of how Captain America would move and act as we could wish for. Sam Jackson gets more to do here than in any other Marvel film to date, which is logical considering the film centers around his organization. The interplay between Cap and Widow is realistic – they are not played as a romantic pairing, they are close friends, though as Cap finds out, not the kind of friends that know everything about each other.
Like all the entries so far, the movie features subtle ties to other films in the series, as well as tantalizing references to events yet to occur. There’s mentions of characters yet to appear, though oft rumored. The post-credits tease ties directly to Avengers: Age of Ultron by introducing several new characters, including more HYDRA members (one name will be known to you) and two characters who…well, we mustn’t call them mutants, let’s put it that way.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier opens nationwide April 4th in standard, 3D and IMAX theaters.