Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Rating

Director
Anthony & Joe Russo
Screenplay
Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Ed Brubaker
Length
136 min.
Starring
Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Maximiliano Hernandez, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell, Toby Jones
MPAA Rating
PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, gunplay and action throughout

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Review
When supposed patriots are waving the flag saying how American they are and their actions dictate the opposite, a film like Captain America: The Winter Soldier exemplifies all that is and can be great about the United States in an age of surveillance and purported terrorist threats.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is struggling to find a place in the modern world. Having been frozen for decades, the thawed super soldier must find a way to cope in a technologically advanced and wealth-controlled world. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) has designs on massive weapons platforms that, when activated will be able to eliminate potential threats before they can do harm. This project, kept secret from even the highest members of the S.H.I.E.L.D. organization, becomes a wedge between the two Americans. Fury believes that, in the modern world, the only way to protect people from violence is to strike the first blow. Rogers believes that any attempt to surveil the public makes them less safe, not more secure.

Fury takes Cap’s word’s to heart and begins the process of shuttering the program, but those in control do not want this to happen as they can use the weapons platforms as a way to eliminate all threats and thereby establish a peace through fear and manipulation. Cap must team with the faithful, but ethically challenged Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and new friend Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) on a mission to uncover the identity of the mysterious assassin The Winter Soldier while preventing rogue elements within the government and S.H.I.E.L.D. from enacting their grand schemes.

The twisting narrative of this second Captain America film makes it difficult not to reveal some of the more fascinating elemenets of the story. This is the most American film of the franchise to date, which is entirely fitting considering all that the character of Captain America is supposed to stand for. It’s a marvellous piece of allegorical fiction that sometimes feels too prescient in its exploration of themes of true freedom, individual liberty and the desire of government to protect the people at all costs, even if those costs rob them of their freedom.

The story also acts as a natural evolution of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, an ever-expanding narrative web that has tendrils in every property being put out through Walt Disney and Marvel. This story is directly referenced in ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., it builds on the threads crafted from the earlier films, tying each film so intricately together that you must watch each part to keep track of every twist and turn. That’s a gratifying experience for anyone who’s been watching with anticipation since Iron Man started off this universe six years ago.

While The Avengers might seem like the film all other Marvel films have been building towards, it may be this film that is the natural evolution of all things past. The Avengers was a natural culmination of events, bringing the four central characters together in the same film to battle an invading horde brought forth by actions of its predecessors, but that film directly ties into The Winter Soldier, by establishing public trust in the entity of S.H.I.E.L.D. From there, the writers have the ability to twist those perceptions of heroism into a film that immediately questions everyone’s intentions. They lead to this idea that Captain America, as the natural leader of The Avengers, a perfect human being filled with ideology that helps focus and direct the agency’s activities.

The audience feels a deep connection because of those prior films enabling the ultimate betrayal of this film to sting ever worse. Without its predecessors, Captain America: The Winter Soldier wouldn’t have as much impact as it does, but as Iron Man 3 and Thor 2: The Dark World prove, only Captain America’s films are a natural extension of the universe and doesn’t immediately stand alone from the rest. You could take both of those films and tear them out of the universe and they could partly stand alone. Captain America requires all that’s come before and that’s both challenging and rewarding when executed perfectly as this film was.

Spoiler Discussion
What I’m about to discuss here may delve into spoilers of the current season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Although the immediate impact of The Winter Soldier on the TV series has been over for a couple of weeks, the fallout may still resonate and you should be forewarned if you aren’t caught up on the show.

First identified in the first Captain America film, the revelation of HYDRA, a Nazi-originated organization focused on the control of the human populace in order to “protect” it from itself, as a continued force operating against and within S.H.I.E.L.D. has broad implications for the future of the franchise. As of the end of The Winter Soldier and as explored in the final episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the once celebrated organization has crumbled, its secrets spilled across the internet and its agents split between factions, some having allied with H.Y.D.R.A. and others remaining steadfastly faithful to organization, which is also now persona non grata with the U.S. government and other world leaders.

The assassination of Nick Fury will cause ripples in the Marvel universe as only a handful of agents (Captain America, Maria Hill and now Agent Coulson) know that Fury lives in secret. It’s a secret that will enable future films in the franchise to explore the frustration, anger and motivation associated with the revelation. It will test loyalties, friendships, admonitions and influence the universe in tremendous and exciting ways. This is precisely the type of franchise-spanning revelation that many of us had hoped would develop when Marvel originally announced plans for this interconnected cross-platform experience.

This is also the reason why Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the best film in the franchise to date. The Avengers may have brought the team together, but The Winter Soldier brings everything else together and I’m excited to see where it goes from here.

Oscar Prospects
Probables: Visual Effects
Potentials: Sound Mixing, Sound Editing
Review Written
May 6, 2014

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