Review - Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), PG-13, 136 minutes - Those who follow this blog will probably remember that Captain America: The Winter Soldier was the film at the top of my Most Anticipated Films of 2014 list.  For those that don't or haven't, here's a quick recap of why: it's a sequel film for one of my favorite comic book characters, and it's based on one of my favorite comic story arcs (written by my favorite comic author Ed Brubaker).  I've been eagerly anticipating this film since it was announced shortly after the success of 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger.  Probably more so than I have any other Marvel Studios film to date.  Not only did it live up to my expectations - which were extremely high as one could imagine - but it may have even surpassed them.

Directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the espionage thriller genre film for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).  In the aftermath of the events in New York (as seen in 2012's The Avengers), S.H.I.E.L.D. is on the verge of launching Project Insight, a trust-no-one, shoot first, ask questions later security/defense program run through three state of the art helicarriers that can target anyone and anything across the globe.  Steve Rogers (aka Cap - Chris Evans) with the help of Natasha Romanoff (aka Black Widow - Scarlett Johansson) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) discover that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been compromised and that Project Insight, if successfully implemented, will be under the control of the wrong hands.  Add to the mix the past coming back to haunt both Cap and Fury, the introduction of new foes: The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo), and new allies: Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Agent 13 (Emily VanCamp) - and Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a deeply layered and thoroughly enjoyable film.

The Winter Soldier may be a well told espionage thriller, but its strength is in its character development.  The film begins with a great glimpse at a classic friendship in the making (as comic readers will know) as Steve meets Sam Wilson (Falcon).  We also get the most significant and revealing screen time to date for both Nick Fury and Black Widow.  We see the trust-no-one paranoia that makes Fury the master schemer he is and how he and Cap butt heads over it.  Their differing stances on where keeping people safe crosses the line to impeding on their freedoms grounds this film in the present as this is a question that seems to come up on a daily basis.  Natasha proves to be Steve's rock in his transition into the present day, and in an amusing sub-plot is continuously trying to set him up on a date.  She also begins to question her actions in the past, wondering if they were done for the right reasons.  On the antagonist side of things, Robert Redford's Alexander Pierce - that's right, Robert Redford in a comic book flick! - is the perfect flip side to Fury.  We're shown just how different things could go if Fury's view of the world were even the slightest bit different.  And last but not least there's the Winter Soldier himself (Sebastian Stan).  After all his name is half of the film's title.  I don't think they could have handled the character any better than they did.  Just as he was when he debuted in the comics, he isn't the big bad himself but an agent thereof and he is absolutely bad ass. As the film progresses he has internal conflicts of his own that lead to his complicated place in the MCU, as well as in Steve's life.  

Overall the cast is excellent.  Chris Evans continues to show why he's the perfect fit to bring a man of 'the greatest generation' into our technology filled world, and Johansson, Mackie, and Jackson really round out Cap's corner of the MCU.  Redford, Stan and Grillo provide a great triumvirate of evil doers with a little help from Maximiliano Hern├índez (Jasper Sitwell from tv's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.).  Emily VanCamp's Agent 13 teases future appearances just as Cobie Smulders' Maria Hill did in The Avengers.  Both do well in laying down the groundwork for larger roles to come.

Comics often advertise books as 'great jumping on points'.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier is exactly that for Marvel's Cinematic Universe.  It may be a sequel, but it stands on its own extremely well.  You really don't have to see any of the previous Marvel films to understand what's going on.  That's thanks in large part to a scene early in the film in which Steve visits a Smithsonian exhibit about he and the Howling Commandos and their exploits.  The exhibit also also plays an important role in one of the two post film sequences that Marvel has become known for (one is mid-credits and the other post-credits).

There will be no more mistaking which MCU flick is my favorite.  In the past I've sighted both Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) and Thor (2011) as my favorite, apparently depending on what day of the week it is.  After seeing Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I can unequivocally say that it is my favorite Marvel Studios film to date.  It's an action packed thriller that is true to the characters and story that it is based upon.  The events in this film set up no fewer than three MCU films to come (and potentially more - see spoiler section below).  Marvel Studios continues to blow my mind with their films.  Expectations keep building and they continue to meet and even exceed them.  Being the Cap fan that I am, and considering the reverence with which I regard Ed Brubaker's run on the book (especially what he did with The Winter Soldier), I couldn't be happier with how this film turned out.  I highly recommend it to just about anyone, comics fan or no.












*****SPOILERS*****

- While the events play out differently so that it would fit in with what is going on in Marvel's Cinematic Universe, this film was based on Captain America (2005) issues #1-6, 8, 9, 11-14 (arcs titled Out of Time and The Winter Soldier) written by Ed Brubaker with art by Steve Epting, Michael Lark, John Paul Leon, and Tom Palmer, Sr.  The best place to get these issues all in one place is the Captain America Ultimate Collection Vol.1: The Winter Soldier trade paperback which can probably be found at most of your local comic shops or worst case on Amazon.

- The events in this film set up no less than 3 films: Avengers: Age of Ultron (coming in 2015) thanks to the mid-credits sequence, Captain America 3 (already announced for 2016), and Black Widow (announced - no release date yet).  Considering where things are left in regards to S.H.I.E.L.D. and Nick Fury, it would be wicked sweet if one of Marvel's Phase 3 films was based on Johnathan Hickman's Secret Warriors series (in which Fury re-builds S.H.I.E.L.D. from the underground).

- In the spoiler section of my review for Captain America: The First Avenger I mentioned how cool it would be for Marvel to eventually adapt The Winter Soldier story line.  That was before this film was officially announced and I never would have guessed that they would have gone this route so quickly.  That being said, I have a gut feeling for where Captain America 3 might go: The Death of Captain America (also written by Ed Brubaker).  Bear with me for a minute, as there's quite a bit on the table to support this theory.  We now know that the Winter Soldier is Bucky.  We've also been introduced to Agent 13 and at the end of the film we learn her real name: Sharon.  Sharon Carter, descendant of Peggy Carter is Cap's love interest and plays a huge role in Brubaker's run.  She has also been working for a S.H.I.E.L.D. infiltrated by H.Y.D.R.A., which could easily lead to the craziness she goes through in the comics.  Brock Rumlow is still alive and is an agent of H.Y.D.R.A., primed to become Crossbones.  Sam Wilson turns down Fury's offer to join him in favor of sticking around and helping out Cap.  Black Widow gives Cap a Russian file on the Winter Soldier at the end of this film.  So, story wise, most of the characters needed are in place.  Now for the good part.  Chris Evans's original deal to portray Steve Rogers was for six films.  Cap, The Avengers, his cameo in Thor: The Dark World, and The Winter Soldier account for four.  He'll be in Avengers: Age of Ultron next year (that makse five) and Cap 3 has already been announced for 2016, which would be number six.  Even more interesting is that Sebastian Stan's deal to play Bucky Barnes is for eight films.  How many has he been in you ask?  Including Captain America: The Winter Soldier, just two (Captain America: The First Avenger being the other).  He could easily pop up in one or more other MCU films as a supporting/cameo appearance, continue as Winter Soldier in the third Cap flick, then carry the torch as Bucky Cap afterwards.  Some say that the cameo in Thor: The Dark World doesn't count against Evans' appearance count.  If that is the case, this scenario could still work with Evans making an appearance in a flashback sequence in a future film.  Will Marvel go this route?  Only time will tell, but it would be wicked sweet if they did.

- Ed Brubaker makes a cameo in the film.  He is the scientist that starts the apparatus that refreshes Winter Soldier's mind wipe after Cap calls him Bucky during their face off.

- Shortly after meeting Sam, Steve whips out a little notebook and adds the Marvin Gaye album that Sam recommends to his list of things to catch up on.  I didn't catch much other than Nirvana and Rocky when I saw it, but I found a screen shot of the list online.  So, if you're like me and didn't catch all of it, here it is:


- I loved the inclusion of Peggy (Hayley Atwell) and Sharon Carter.  Peggy because she represented a painful reminder of just how long Steve had been frozen and how out of place he is in today's world, and Sharon because she's such an integral part of Steve's life in the comics.  I really enjoyed the way they eased Sharon into the MCU in this film.

- He's only referred to by his civilian name in this film, but Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo) becomes Crossbones and is a recurring antagonist of Cap's in the comics.

- A big nerd-out moment in the film (for me at least) was early on when they included Batroc the Leaper (Georges St-Pierre) as the lead pirate hijacking the ship.  He was even sporting his purple and yellow jacket.  Freakin' Batroc!  He was much cooler in the film than he ever was even in his best days in the comics (again, under the pen of Ed Brubaker)

- Arnim Zola's (Toby Jones) inclusion was great.  They found a way to get his consciousness-in-a-computer on screen without coming off as campy.  The bunker the ancient computer he called home was bombed, but you have to figure that a genius such as him had a back up somewhere and could return for the Death of Captain America story line if they so chose.

- Black Widow's necklace had a small arrow on it.  A nice nod to her history with Hawkeye (both in the comics and as alluded to in 2012's The Avengers). 

- Stephen Strange (aka Doctor Strange) was name dropped as a potential target of Project Insight.  It has been rumored that a future Marvel Studios film may include or be about Doctor Strange.  No official announcement has been made yet though.

- Bruce Banner is also name dropped - apparently the serum Fury used to fake his death (drops one's heart rate to a single beat per minute) was originally a creation by Banner in an attempt to keep his anger in check.

- Tony Stark is mentioned as well as his repulser technology was used in the design of the S.H.I.E.L.D.'s state of the art helicarriers.  Pierce also tells Fury that Iron Man has to make an appearance at his niece's birthday party in exchange for a favor.

- Maria Hill gets more playing time here.  She was pretty much Nick Fury's lacky in The Avengers, not nearly the character who becomes Director she becomes when Fury goes underground.  She demonstrates more of these traits here and takes a nice step in the direction we know her character takes in the comics.

- It was cool to see the original S.H.I.E.L.D. logo from the comics used as the old S.H.I.E.L.D. logo in the underground headquarters that Cap and Black Widow uncover.

- The first uniform Cap wears in this film is his Super Soldier uniform originally seen in the miniseries Steve Rogers: Super Soldier from 2010 written by Ed Brubaker and drawn by Dale Eaglesham (and designed by Marko Djurdjevic).

- Cap stealing his old uniform from the Smithsonian exhibit to try and jog Bucky's memory was a nice touch.

- I would have loved for Cap to say 'Remember who you are' to Bucky like he did in the comics, but his repeating the phrase about being with him until the end of the line fits wonderfully with the way the Winter Soldier story was adapted to film. We did get to see the following though (which was sweet!):

Panel from Captain America (2005) #8
by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting

- Councilman Yen was played by Chin Han, who may look familiar from his role in The Dark Knight as Lau (the financial guru to the mob), among others.

- A rebuilt Stark Tower (now Avengers tower?) was seen as one of the acquired targets of Project Insight.

- The mid-credits sequence introduced us to Baron Wolfgang VonStrucker (Thomas Kretschmann), Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and leads into next summer's Avengers: Age of Ultron.  We also saw Loki's staff from 2012's The Avengers.

- Stan Lee's requisite cameo was one of his best in quite a while - as the Smithsonian guard who discovers that Cap's uniform has been stolen.

- Garry Shandling's Senator Stern makes an appearance.  You'll remember him from his role in Iron Man 2 when he was trying to force Stark to hand over the Iron Man armor to the government.  Here he shows how far reaching H.Y.D.R.A's corruption reaches - they've even infiltrated our government.

- I'm in the process on catching up on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. so I don't know if it has appeared on the show before, but it was cool to see the Triskelion make its debut in the MCU.

 - The quote that appeared on Nick Fury's grave 'The path of the righteous man' was actually said by none other than another Samuel L. Jackson character: Jules Winnfield from Pulp Fiction.

- The post-credits sequence may be the most useful second credits sequence that Marvel has produced.  The second sequences on The Avengers and Thor: The Dark World were throw away comedic bits, but in this one, we see Bucky using a visit to the Smithsonian's Cap/Howling Commandos exhibit to help remember who he is.

Comments

  1. Loved this flick as well. Wasn't a huge fan of the first but it certainly was necessary. They knocked it out of the park with the second.

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    Replies
    1. Glad you enjoyed it man! I'm completely biased on a nerdy level, but this is still my favorite movie so far this year.

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