Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, gunplay and action throughout
Cast: Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp and Robert Redford
Written By: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely
Directed By: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
The Marvel cinematic universe has to be one of the most ingenious film series of all time with its array of easter eggs, character shout-outs, interconnected plot lines that tie each Avenger’s standalone films to one another – and of course, the ever intriguing post-credit teasers. It helps that these films are consistently well made and I’m glad to report that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is up there with the best of them.
This is an exciting hybrid of a superhero adventure combined with a CIA-like conspiracy thriller along the lines of a Jack Ryan or Jason Bourne outing. Although Chris Evans’ Captain America doesn’t have the charisma of Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and the story gets convoluted at times – the action sequences are an absolute “marvel” and the film does a fantastic job of ramping up the excitement for the Marvel franchise as a whole.
Evans returns as Steve Rogers a.k.a. Captain America, now living in the 21st century and technically 95-years-old after spending decades in a block of ice, frozen in a state of suspended animation. Set two years after the events of The Avengers, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) confides in the Captain that something is rotten in Denmark and that the espionage agency S.H.I.E.LD. has seemingly been compromised by a malicious outside force. He introduces Rogers to Project Insight, in which three Helicarriers linked to spy satellites are designed to preemptively eliminate threats. Unfortunately the missiles of the Helicarriers have been overrun so that they are targeting threats to evil – such as the other Avengers.
The rest of the plot-driven film plays out like a 70’s man-on-the-run political thriller – where Rogers, alongside ally Natasha Romanoff a.k.a. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), can no longer trust anyone within their agency and have to work solo in order to save the day. Twists, turns, double agents and surprising reveals are all present here as is to be expected with an espionage thriller.
Robert Redford makes his best big-screen appearance in quite some time as senior S.H.I.E.L.D. official Alexander Pierce who mistakenly pinpoints Rogers as the enemy since he’s unwilling to cooperate – after all, Fury told Rogers not to trust anybody – and The Cap’ is nothing if not loyal. To make matters worse, a killing machine like something out of a Terminator movie, dubbed The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), has been tasked with taking out Rogers, Fury and anyone else who stands in the way of the rogue agency’s master plan to jeopardize S.H.I.E.L.D. The Winter Soldier is one of the better Marvel villain’s, boating both invincibility and character nuance.
Although it’s obvious to the moviegoer why the Captain doesn’t also recruit Iron Man, Thor and the rest of the Avenger’s to help him save the world (this isn’t The Avengers sequel), you can’t help but logically wonder why not, within the parameters of this universe. Let’s just presume that he made an off-screen phone call, but the film takes place concurrently with Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World – so those guys were busy with their own problems. He does however obtain the support of a new member in the superhero cannon, war veteran Sam Wilson a.k.a. Falcon who dons a flying suit made of robotic wings while brandishing two automatic handguns.
In a wonderfully offbeat decision, Marvel hired directors Joe and Anthony Russo, best known for making the Owen Wilson comedy You, Me and Dupree and also directing several episodes of TV’s Arrested Development, to helm the film. Certainly a peculiar choice but the comedy duo more than pulled it off – proving once again that the visionary creative forces at Marvel Studios are pioneers of filmmaking.
The screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, writers of the first film as well as The Chronicles of Narnia and Pain & Gain, is swiftly paced with action aplenty – while the Russo Brothers deliver some of the finest choreographed and staged fight scenes of any of the Marvel films – or any recent action movie for that matter. The movie also refreshingly features the most practical battle scenes of any of the superhero extravaganzas, with realistic stunt work for the most part, until leading up to the also thrillingly CGI infused finale.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is terrific popcorn entertainment and a treat for the spring season – like a bonus summer blockbuster come early. A major improvement over the first Captain America, it’s all very exciting and fun, even if the plot gets muddled at times.
Though he’s rightfully supposed to be the face of stoicism, the fact that Evans doesn’t have the engaging screen presence of Downey Jr.’s irreverent Tony Stark makes this a tad less satisfying than the last Iron Man outing. However, this is such a skillfully crafted piece of work – an accomplished event movie that reminds us of why we love this sort of thing in the first place. So suit up and see it. Captain’s orders.