Friday, April 11, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Movie Review

Considering the current state of America and its government's reluctance, inability , or refusal to help average, non-wealthy, non-corporation citizens, it seems the only kind of patriotism these days is the knee-jerk "we're number one" nationalism variety. I praised Captain America: The First Avenger for its comments on patriotism and where the true strength of America lies. Now that Captain America is finished with The Avengers movie and is returning for his own second movie I had high hopes for more patriotism, political commentary, and superhero action. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) did not disappoint.
For Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), awakening after decades of suspended animation involves more than catching up on pop culture; it also means that this old school idealist must face a new world of subtler threats and difficult moral complexities. That becomes clear when Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is killed by the mysterious assassin,  The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), but not before warning Rogers that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been subverted by its enemies. When Rogers acts on Fury's warning to trust no one there, he is branded a traitor to the organization by Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), a senior leader within S.H.I.E.L.D, a member of the World Security Council, and an old comrade of Nick Fury. Now a Fugitive, Captain America must get to the bottom of this deadly mystery with the help of Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and his new friend, Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie). The battle will be costly for Captain America, with Rogers finding enemies where he least expects them while learning that The Winter Soldier looks disturbingly familiar.
The characters in Captain America: The Winter Soldier were positively amazing. Steve Rogers in particular was great. He's been working for S.H.I.E.L.D. for the two years that followed the events in The Avengers, and he's still trying to adjust to the modern world. It's not so much a question about his shock with modern technology as it is about societal differences. He has gone from the 1940's to today; he comes from a world where people were more trusting and the threats were not as deep. Now it's harder to tell who's right and who's wrong. In our world, actions you take to protect people from threats could compromise liberties and privacy. That is really tough for Steve to swallow. He is teamed up with Natasha and they form a fascinating dichotomous contrast. She is incredibly modern, not very reverent, and exceedingly blunt whereas Steve is a man from the 40's. Steve isn't necessarily a boy scout, but he is reserved and has a strong moral center, whereas her moral center moves around as the situation requires. As a spy, Natasha lies for a living. Steve is a character who tells the truth. Give them a problem and they'll have very different ways of approaching it. She pushes him to modernize while he pushes her to add a certain level of integrity to her life. The characters and their respective actors bounce off each other beautifully.
The First Avenger told us about real patriotic American values. Winter Soldier makes some fascinating commentary about modern politics in a very relevant way without being heavy handed in trying to be relevant. It raises questions about the United States Government and how it behaves. It does this in a smart, almost subversive way. It's very pertinent to how we define freedom currently, versus how we defined freedom in the 1940's. There is a scene early in the film that sets up this interesting question. Fury tells Rogers a story about his grandfather and a gun; basically a variation on "walk softly and carry a big stick." But then Fury shows Rogers "the stick;" weaponry that can take out 100 hostiles in a minute, than can read a terrorist's DNA from a million miles away, and basically eliminate threats before they can become threats. "We're going to neutralize a lot of threats before they even happen," Fury tells Rogers. "I thought punishment usually came after the crime," Rogers objects. "S.H.I.E.L.D. takes the world as it is, not as we'd like it to be," says Fury. Rogers boldly retorts by telling him “You hold a gun on everyone on Earth and call it protection. This isn’t freedom. This is fear.” How could one not think of the way America has invaded other countries based on rumors of stockpiled weaponry or the monitoring internet use for any signs of correspondence with enemies? In the other Marvel movies we've had invading aliens, killer robots, and super powered villains to fight. Here we've got very human enemies that are using very real methods to attack and undermine the good guys. The only things we're asked to believe is the "super soldier" Steve Rogers being at above normal human ability, and S.H.I.E.L.D.'s airships and their Bond-style spy gear. Everything else is pretty down to earth, and that makes it all the more relatable. The villains aren't just trying to take over the world, they're probably targeting YOU specifically!
Disney has taken over Marvel and their second wave of movies leading up to The Avengers 2 has been good so far. These Avengers movies have proven to be a corporate cash cow, and I'm surprised that they took the chance to tackle these big issues rather than playing it safe. And similar to what was done in Iron Man 3, it messes around with the franchise canon a bit. I won't spoil anything, but any fan will know that is horribly taboo. S.H.I.E.L.D. has never been without it's issues, and I'm interested to see where the movie series goes with it.
The Winter Soldier was a formidable opponent for Captain America to face, but The Soldier didn't have much of a presence until toward the end of the movie. He's a good villain and introduces further moral dilemmas for Captain America to deal with. Moral dilemmas for Captain America are always black and white, but The Winter Soldier presents the only real grey area that he has had to face. It makes the character dynamic all the more fascinating. Sebastian Stan did an outstanding job acting this part; he gets few spoken lines, and most of his face is obscured for much of his screen time. Having said that, he manages to portray a great deal of emotion through facial expression and actions. Stan did a great job in this role given his limited screen time. The Winter Soldier's theme music starts off eerie and gradually swells into a sort of panic screech which makes the formidable enemy all the more frightening. I didn't think he played a big enough role to get his name in the title of the movie. If you're familiar at all with the comic books, you'll know that The Winter Soldier has a huge story arc and that this is probably just the first chapter of his tale.
Captain America: The Winter Solider was excellent. It delves deeper into theme and character than the other Marvel superhero movies have. It's a very character driven movie that has some very pertinent themes that are magnificently woven into the story so as to avoid being preachy. We get several new characters and we get some glimpses into their past without focusing on unnecessary details; each character has their own distinct arc. The action is great, the pacing is even, and the effects are amazing. Even if you don't enjoy super hero movies that much, you'll probably enjoy this one. I recommend brushing up on your Captain America lore by watching the first movie again before seeing this one. Make sure you watch for Iron Man, Thor, and Hulk references, and stick around for mid-credit and post credit scenes. I'm going to be getting a copy of this when it hits Blu-ray. Don't miss this movie!

Have you seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier yet? What did you think? Avoid spoilers, but tell me what your impressions were and what the future might hold for the Marvel Universe movies.

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