Saturday, April 5, 2014

Cap is Back and Better Than Ever in Maybe the Best Marvel Movie Yet: Our Review of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (2014)

Directed By: Anthony & Joe Russo (Community, Arrested Development

Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Anthony Mackie, Robert Redford

Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, gunplay and action throughout

Run Time: 2 hours, 16 minutes

Synopsis: 2 years after the Battle of New York, Steve Rogers/Captain America (Evans) is working for Nick Fury (Jackson) and S.H.I.E.L.D. as he continues his adjustment to the modern world. After a particular mission disturbs Rogers all hell breaks loose when a mysterious assassin called The Winter Soldier sets his sights on Nick Fury, resulting in Captain Rogers and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow going on the run from S.H.I.E.L.D.


FAIR WARNING: Some possible spoilers will be discussed in this review. If you're not familiar with the Winter Soldier storyline or haven't seen this film yet, maybe best to wait to read this until you do.

Andrew: Hello dear readers! Last night we were able to catch an early showing of the latest installment to the Marvel Cinematic Universe - Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Picking up a couple years after the events of The Avengers this new film is also obviously a sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger. Chris Evans returns as Steve Rogers/Captain America and Captain Rogers is still trying to acclimate to today’s world. 

Cap is now working for S.H.I.E.LD. alongside Scarlett Johansson's Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. The Black Widow, under the leadership of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). There are some new additions to the S.H.I.E.L.D. team, too: Robert Redford plays Alexander Pierce a senior executive of S.H.I.E.L.D, almost the chairman if you will. And Anthony Mackie joins the MCU as Sam Wilson who later to becomes The Falcon.

Sarah: Cobie Smulders comes back as Maria Hill, too.

A: Yep! So some old faces and some new faces. But the big deal about this one is that this movie is really more of an conspiracy thriller of sorts as well as a political/military movie. It's completely different from any of the other Marvel movies that have come out so far. 

So, Sarah, I know I was looking forward to this, and I would assume you were looking forward to this as well because you had Captain America: The First Avenger as your favorite of the non-Avengers Marvel movies so far.

S: Right, but while I was looking forward to this one, I had my reservations. As our readers know, I wasn’t a huge fan of Iron Man 3, but what they don't know is that I thought Thor: The Dark World was awesome because we never properly reviewed it, so with this one I was on the fence with this one. It could have been really good or it could have fallen more in line with how I felt about Iron Man 3.

A: So it was kind of a 50/50 prospect for you.

S: It was! Which I think was good because I didn’t go into it with sky-high expectations, which I have done before and have been disappointed because of. I went into Captain America: The Winter Soldier with a pretty open mind. 

And it was awesome! I feel like this was pretty much the launch to summer blockbuster movies and I think it was a great way - a GREAT way - to start the season. It definitely beautifully sets up the movies that are to come.  Or maybe not set up so much as gets the audience excited and salivating for movies like X-Men: Days of Future Past and Guardians of the Galaxy, which is another Marvel movie that we are definitely looking forward to. 

So I loved it. I loved the humor; Chris Evans has a very dry delivery, whereas I feel like the other actors in this movie have more of a comic delivery so they play off each other well. I really, really enjoyed it! What did you think?

Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson reprise their roles as Captain America and Black Widow in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. We happen to think this was both of their best jobs as these characters.

A: Well unlike you, who went in with low expectations, I went in with pretty high expectations because I had been hearing and reading on the interwebs just how good it was. Pretty much universal acclaimed for it. Not only did I think it matched those expectations, but I think it exceeded them.

S: Wow, really??

A: Yes, the reason being that it was a superhero movie, but it didn’t feel like a superhero movie. It just felt like an excellent action/espionage movie. It was a Captain America movie, but it was so modern and it dealt with some issues that the world deals with today - the government surveilling things and pre-emptive strikes, et cetera so it felt very today, whereas the first Captain America movie was set in the 1940s. So it was an interesting contrast. But at the heart of it all you had the same character in Steve Rogers who is just a good guy…

S: And a man out of time…

A: Yep. He’s still trying to acclimate to it all, he's still not entirely sure he trust anybody, and he doesn’t know whom he’s fighting as well. And that was kind of a prevalent theme throughout which I thought was a great thing to go into with a comic book movie. 

And whereas I liked Iron Man 3 because they took Iron Man out of the suit, I kind of like this one because the Captain is not so much a superhero as he is a soldier out of his time who fights simply because that's what he knows how to do and is the only thing he can do in this new world.

S: But he was matched against other guys who had equally freakish fighting abilities! I mean, loosely matched, but still! Pretty matched to his.

A: True! And not only was he matched by the Winter Soldier, who is sort of the villain of the film…

S: Well…yes I suppose he's a villain in the film…

A: He's the titular villain of the film. But here’s what I think the strongest aspect of the film was - especially relating to a Marvel movie, maybe outside of the Avengers - this film had the best antagonist for the hero to face. 

Not only was it someone who could match the hero, but it was something that was so much bigger, something that couldn’t be taken down as easily. The overriding weakness of all the Marvel movies has been weak villains. With the exception of maybe Loki they’ve all been a little weak. 

In this one, not only did he have to deal with the Winter Soldier but he ends up on the bad side of S.H.I.E.L.D. and becomes a man on the run. So all these resources are gone and he can’t trust anybody from what used to be his only support. It was just a really great way to take this movie and Captain America.

S: Definitely. And I would say that the Winter Soldier is to Captain America as Bane is to Batman; the man who could defeat the hero physically and mentally. And I definitely think that Sebastian Stan did a fantastic job once again in his role. I felt that he was one of the better actors in the whole movie. He seemed so conflicted as a character. And he’s one of those actors that can emote a lot with his eyes, which is important because in a lot of this movie all you see are his eyes. 

I think he’s fantastic and I’m so glad that they found him for this role. We loved him in the USA miniseries Political Animals so it’s great to see more of him on the big screen. He’s angsty in this movie but in a good way. He’s a conflicted villain and that makes him unstable, more dangerous. I thoroughly enjoyed his Winter Soldier.

A: Stan did a fantastic job and I’m glad that he’s a part of this universe and these films. I feel like one of the best aspects of the Captain America films is Steve Rogers' relationship with his best buddy, Bucky Barnes, and big part of that is Stan's performances. The Winter Soldier plot-line is a helluva twist with Bucky being turned into The Winter Soldier by HYDRA and Stan's take on him is really well done.

Another guy that I thought did a fantastic job was Chris Evans. This is his vehicle and he’s the star and we really can't say it enough but Marvel has done a fantastic job at casting all their characters. Chris Evans really is the embodiment of Steve Rogers.

S: He really is and it’s interesting because we’ve seen him as another Marvel character in the past. We have to remember that originally he was the Human Torch in the Fantastic Four movies where he plays this very cocky, somewhat self-serving superhero. But he seems so much more comfortable in his role as the humble boy from Brooklyn. Very cool.

A: He’s just a good-hearted character. He’s got the look; he’s huge in this film! But he still has a kind heart when it’s all said and done, sometimes to a detriment. Even in the climax of the movie you wonder if that will be his undoing. 

Truly everyone does a great job in this film. Sam Jackson gets a lot of screen time in this film and this was my favorite Scarlett Johansson performance in the Marvel films.

S: Agreed.

A: I’m really glad that she’s in these films because I feel like she’s an underrated actress and this gave her a chance to show the depths of her Natasha Romanoff. Plus her chemistry with Chris Evans is fantastic.

Real quick let's talk about the big coup for this film though: Robert Redford. Personally I thought he did a great job as Alexander Pierce. As the de facto head honcho at S.H.I.E.L.D. he brought his gravitas to this film that added a much needed layer to the conspiracy thriller aspect. Obviously Redford's history in films like All the President's Men and Three Days of the Condor are literally a thing of legend in this kind of film so I thought it was fantastic that Marvel nabbed him for this film. But I know you actually aren't a big Redford fan…

S: Not a huge Redford fan, but I did think that he brought a pedigree to this film which was pretty cool. I felt like he was a little flat as Pierce and he didn't really do much for me, I did feel like he was brought in just to be a big name to fill that role. And I know a lot of people will probably disagree with me on this, like you, but I thought he was too dry. But that's just me. 

Silver screen legend Robert Redford joins the MCU as Alexander Pierce, the chairman of S.H.I.E.L.D. We kind of disagree on whether he was a good addition. Oh well.

A: Fair enough. I’ve read criticisms of this film's editing; particularly the quick cutting in the fight scenes. And it honestly didn’t really bother me.  I think the action scenes in this movie and the fighting scenes in particular were handled very deftly, especially for a couple of television directors. The climactic scene, the Nick Fury car chase scene, it was all great and I was on the edge of my seat for the most of it. Hiring Anthony and Joe Russo was an inspired choice by Marvel.  

The last thing I want to mention is that some people had problems with some plot holes. An example: there’s a scene where Steve and Natasha go to an Apple store to decrypt some secrets from a thumb drive and I have been hearing are people wondering why didn’t they just go to Tony Stark.

S: Well it would have changed the whole aspect of the movie. You could say the same thing for any of the stand alone films, where are the other Avengers? But then they wouldn’t be stand-alone films.

A: Right! Exactly. I understand the sentiment that since we know for a fact that all these characters are in the same universe and know each other that they should be helping each other out, but then I think of logistics. Like if RDJ made an appearance in this film then that probably would count towards the number of films in his contract. So it makes no contractual sense to do that to me. (Then again, Evans did have a cameo in Thor: The Dark World but I don't think that was a big enough role to count against his contract.)

S: But if Tony Stark shows up and starts helping Captain America out then it isn't a Captain America movie, really. It's an Avengers film.

A: Right. That said, I will agree with another questionable part where Steve and Natasha go to Anthony Mackie's Sam Wilson and say, "Everyone we know is trying to kill us." Well, no, Tony Stark, Clint Barton and Bruce Banner aren't trying to kill you. But I digress.

S: Can we also mention how good Anthony Mackie is here? I really enjoyed his Sam Wilson/Falcon and am looking forward to him being in more of these movies. His chemistry with Evans was great.

A: I concur. Okay, so let's wrap up this long review. So…I thoroughly enjoyed Iron Man 3 and I think Thor: The Dark World was great. But this… this might be the best Marvel movie yet.

S: Really?!

A: Absolutely. From a basic movie standpoint, if you look at it as a stand-alone movie and forget for a second that it’s a superhero movie, it is the best MOVIE out of all of the MCU. Then you include the fact that it’s a Captain America movie and that it fits into the MCU so well and what it does to shake it up, I think that it tops everything including the The Avengers. This movie didn’t have any real weaknesses, in my opinion.

S: Well those are bold words! I’m not sure I could say that it tops The Avengers but I did thoroughly enjoy it. This is an obvious must-see in theatres.

FINAL VERDICT: A must-see in theatres!

(Individual Scores - S: 4.5/5  A: 4.5/5)

Photo Courtesies: comicbookresources.comFox NewsVanity Fair

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