Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014): ★★★½
Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo
This is easily one of the best movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Whereas the first Captain America was a purebred, Feel-Good WWII War Action movie, and The Avengers was a top-notch Tentpole Popcorn Movie, The Winter Soldier takes a completely different tack: it is an extremely tense Dark Political Thriller.
Steve Rogers, AKA Cap’n ‘Murica, has one superpower that goes beyond his physical capabilities. Rogers has an incredibly well-tuned sense of morality. And as The Winter Soldier begins to move, Rogers can tell that something just stinks. Something is wrong. And the movie is a fascinating journey of the Ultimate Soldier finding his independence and transforming his mission finally from fighting not for those above him in power, but for those less powerful.
The Winter Soldier is tense. Really tense. Even action scenes, which usually serve to relieve tension in movies like this, serve only to somehow heighten the tension, because the action in them is wrong. The wrong things happen to the wrong people for seemingly the wrong reasons. It’s this sense of wrongness, that this isn’t how things should be, that permeates the film and makes it such a driving and relentless thriller.
That isn’t to say the action scenes aren’t good, because they are. They’re some of the most cleanly-filmed action scenes I’ve seen. I can’t recall ever being confused about the spatial relationships of the characters and their environment even during complex set pieces involving multiple vehicles and people running around with machine guns.
I must give massive props to Scarlett Johansson, whose portrayal of “Black Widow” Natasha Romanov once again adds shocking amounts of depth to what all-too-easily could have been a one-dimensional character. In Johansson’s hands, Romanov is kick-ass but not a hard-ass; cynical yet strangely sweet; ruthless yet sardonic; pragmatic and lone-gunnish yet loyal. She becomes almost as much the main character of the movie as Rogers.
The movie becomes really almost a buddy-cop movie between these two seemingly opposite characters who come together and complement each other extremely well, and in the process convincingly develop a deep trust and very sweet friendship without the usual sexual tension that a movie like this would try to throw in. Kudos to the filmmakers for not trying to tack on an unnecessary love story between these characters. In the end, Romanov admires Rogers’s idealism, and Rogers admires Romanov’s realism.
There are some great moments of wry humor in the film, too, as Rogers assembles his team. Like Rogers, they’re all people who have been used by an unjust system: Romanov, used and spat out as a spy for years; Cobie Smulders as Agent Maria Hill, SHEILD director Nick Fury’s right-hand who can also feel the wrongness creeping up on her and the control of SHIELD slipping away; and Anthony Mackie as Sam “Falcon” Wilson, a former military man who now runs support groups for military survivors suffering from PTSD. Romanov and Hill have a world-weariness about them, and Romanov especially is quick with sarcasm and a devlish smile.
So let’s review… Tense political drama and thrilling plot twists: check. Fantastic performances: check. Great, clear action: check. Humor: check. And one thing that I don’t think I made clear in the review so far: The Winter Soldier is not depressing or draining or mopey like some other recent “dark” superhero movies (*cough* Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy and Snyder’s Man of Steel *cough*). The Winter Soldier is exciting. You don’t know why what’s happening is happening or what’s going to happen next, and the mystery and the drive of the unrelenting tension makes everything just really damned exciting.
Bravo to the Russo brothers (who I only previously knew for directing several episodes of Community, including the infamous paintball episode of season one) for treading such a delicate balance and crafting such a masterful piece of filmed entertainment.
Categories: Movie Reviews.