Reviews: Captain America The Winter Soldier
Very Good, but a bit of an Identity Problem
Lets get the obvious out of the way: Cast is amazing, action is great, plot is clever, and the captial-T Twist is huge and knocked my socks off. Without question, it's a great film, even if (like all of the MCU films) Act 3 is a bit wanting. But, without spoiling, it feels like a film being torn in two directions: Half of it wants to be a political thriller, and the other half wants to be a Captain America film. The big twist both makes and breaks the film, because it renders the intended grayness of the political subtext rather moot, hamstringing the political thriller it's still trying to live up to. The titular Winter Soldier is wasted here, little better than a henchman with a minor subplot, and hopefully will get more focus in later films. In one sentence: It's great, but it could have been better.
Amazing, but it hits a Pet Peeve Trope of mine.
In terms of story this film is just what a "Captain America in the modern day" film should be. Its action is intense and doesn't get tiring. Its world-building is expansive without getting distracting. It adds new depth to familiar heroes like Black Widow, Nick Fury, & Steve Rogers himself. But its writing falters when it comes to the theme of "who can Captain America trust", mainly because it relies one trope I feel keeps being badly done: The Evil All Along trope. From what I've seen, characters who get revealed as secretly evil become less interesting in the process. At the start they appear warm, amiable, & with complex motives and compelling backstories. Then when their mask is pulled off, they suddenly drop their complexities for sneering, laughing, cold reactions & recited rhetoric. I have no problem with revealing characters to have hidden motives, even ones that oppose the heroes. But I do dislike it when it throws out all their previous characterization. Here's some examples. Spoilers will follow.
- Dr. Zola, a Reluctant Mad Scientist who in the first movie just wanted to build awesome technology and keep himself alive. Now he's a Diabolical Mastermind who doesn't mind his own death and secretly rebuilt an organization he didn't even seem to care about and was willing to sell out on when captured.
- Jasper Sitwell, a "foodie", in his actor's own words, who was built up as a counterpart to Coulson, brainstormed with him to make sure a murderer didn't get on the Avengers, and gave two robbers a second chance despite orders to kill them. Also the only significant Hispanic character in the MCU. Now he's a cold Hydra lieutenant with no qualms about ordering Captain America's death and laughs about a plan to kill millions of people out of paranoia.
- Bruck Rumlow mostly avoids this, since tons of people knew he was going to be Crossbones, but he slips into it in his final scene when he starts repeating cultish Hydra mantras, not like the friendly practical soldier he appeared to be even while evil.
- Also Maya Hansen from Iron Man 3. Built up as conflicted & compared to Wernher von Braun, only to suddenly turn out to not care about Pepper at all. So much for passing the Bechdel test right before.
Complete And Utter Dross
In the opening, this film tries so hard to be an edgy political commentary about security vs peace. The expectations I got was a clandestine civil war amongst SHILED as a more militant arm tried to take over from Nick Fury, to create a more aggressive and forceful SHEIELD. This was something interesting, and I got excited about the possibility of a sort of story where it's revealed that just because someone is against you doesn't mean he's evil. It was going to be, as far as I could tell, a sort of subtle film where good and evil got muddied up and Captain America had to try to decide between his mre peaceful methods, or more violent ones. Nick Fury is not completely honest, and idealistic Captain America calls him out, but Fury responds with good, valid arguments! Intrigue within SHIELD which could mean a coup and the emergence of a more military SHIELD! Mysterious villains whose identities are unknown, who could be night Templars trying to create what they think is a better security agency! Assassination attempt on Fury by mysterious assassins posing as cops suggesting so much! Then we got halfway though and WHOOPS! SORRY! IT'S NAZI WANNABES! Any complexity went out the window, any political commentary went out the window and dear lord above did it get bad FAST. From cookie cutter bad guys with the complexity of a brick to action scenes that look as if they were directed by a subpar discount Michael Bay and polthole after plothole after plothole, the film quickly became predictable, boring, and stupid. I found myself more interested in my movie chocolates than the film, waiting for the snooze fest of a predictable and poorly written climax to be over so I could leave. This film was given to good actors, a fantastic director, and CGI that would make a nerd cream his pants in awesome, but ultimately, the horrible script dragged it down into a mire making an ultimately boring and nonsensical film that I just didn't care about, and do not care to see again. Go watch something else, and spare yourself the complete and utter drivel that is The Winter Soldier.
There's Nothing Like Metal Hair and Hoodies
Everyone in my household liked this movie. My 3-year-old nephew and I were the outliers. What?! We took a 3-year-old?! Trust me, it's not as bad as it sounds. My nephew is a precocious little dude. And he loves superhero movies. He's given his seal of approval to Spiderman, Iron Man, and the Avengers, The Hulk of course... but with this movie he was freaking bored out of his mind. So much so that we ended up sitting by ourselves making funny stories about the characters, where he squirmed around, and played with and lost my favorite earring after pretending it was Cap's Shield (yes, my earrings can reach epic proportions). He was not impressed by the film. I was a little shocked until I realized I felt the same way after we left. I was just kind of... meh about the whole affair. Although I'm more of an Iron Man kinda girl, the story and the action weren't bad. It was about Cap and Black Widow walking around trying to avoid the bad guys, uncover a conspiracy, and figure out who the winter soldier was... and talking to an old Russian computer...? There were explosions and shooting and highway scenes. Also there was a large glass building and a fight scene there. There was also an elevator fight, and an epic fight on the streets. Fights everywhere all the time. Nowhere is safe! My mom noticed something interesting when she went to see it. She said that everyone was always wearing hoodies in the film! Seriously, next time you see it, count how many times people are wearing hoodies. It's so random. Sometimes it's justified, and others, I have no clue about. What I do recall is that the Winter Soldier was really sexy, and he had mid-length hair, which basically counted as metal hair (especially on the posters) which was also kind of sexy. He was a rather imposing character, even with a couple of continuity errors at the end. But whatever. He was relentless and ruthless. Great great character. Could have used several copies of him in the movie. Woulda made things really interesting. I also recall some kind of connection from this film to the Avengers and the Thor film. That was... interesting. All in all, it was a Whatever Movie for a Whatever Weekend.
Both boring and dumb
Let's start with the dumb:
- The film drops loads of references to Avengers characters; with absolutely next to no mention of SHIELD agent Hawkeye. (Can't have too many bird-named heroes in one movie).
- Most of the movies problems involve technology, no attempt to reach Tony Stark/Ironman. (Heck was War Machine out of the question?)
- Villains shooting guns, rifles, grenade launchers and miniguns; Captain America doesn't even use a 9mm. (Wait isn't this the same Captain America who used guns AND his shield in the first movie? Did the deep freeze kill his brain cells?)
- Pierce doesn't activate the killing badges when Black Widow starts fighting to take control. (Just senile with age?)
A Very Pleasant Surprise
I used to feel like after The Avengers came out, Marvel was running on autopilot. They were still capable of making entertaining movies - Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World were both worth watching for the laughs alone - but nothing was memorable to me. Given that I thought the first Captain America movie was faithful to the comics but a tad bland, I was hopeful, but not optimistic, in regards to the sequel. My hopes were surpassed when the movie exceeded all of my highest expectations. Let's start with the cast; Captain America, Black Widow, Nick Fury, The Falcon, Maria Hill, Sharon Carter, the Winter Soldier, and even Batroc the Leaper all make appearances. What's more, each and every character is given ample screen time and development, without stealing time away from anyone else. The acting is superb, and Chris Evans in particular does a great job portraying a brilliant fighter and strategist who worries whether or not he's fighting for the right side. The stakes are high enough to bring mountains of tension to the plot, and it's the only Marvel movie in recent memory that ends with long-term ramifications for the Marvel Universe as a whole. The action scenes are some of the best Marvel have ever done. Falcon's aerial manoeuvres are impressive and Nick Fury's encounter with HYDRA agents early on was gripping, but the Winter Soldier himself beats them all. Every fight with him is excellently choreographed to highlight the level of skill he operates at, as well as the skill of those fighting against him. It's one of the few uses of shaky-cam that I approve of, because it's actually appropriate for the situation - fast-paced, intense, and constantly on the move. That's not to say the movie is perfect; the first half adopts the line 'Don't trust anyone,' which around the halfway point becomes 'Don't trust anyone unless you recognize their name from the comics in which case they're unambiguously good guys.' But ultimately, any flaw I could find was so small and unimportant that it couldn't detract from the movie as a whole. If you don't like Captain America, this movie might change your mind. If you do like Captain America, you owe it to yourself to see the best Captain America movie there's going to be for quite some time.
A Much-Needed Shot In The Arm
For much of 2013 and early 2014, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was doing well financially but needed something to bolster fan faith in it. Iron Man 3 was polarizing, Marvel's Agents of SHIELD had a slow start and Thor: The Dark World was decent at best. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the perfect remedy for that. Not only does TWS move the overall Cinematic Universe plot forward in a shocking way, but it introduces great new characters (Marvel, PLEASE listen to Anthony Mackie and put the Falcon in Avengers 2) and improves the ones we already had. What they did with Arnim Zola was not only a brilliant and practical adaptation of how he looks in the comics, but it's a rare case of being something only a film could pull off. My only big complaint is that Agent 13 was pretty much unnecessary and her role could have been folded into Maria Hill's presence (good to see her again too; her presence sort of makes this "Secret Avengers: The Movie"). The Winter Soldier also could have done a bit more, but I'm just impressed that they made him look exactly like he does in the comics. Nicely done, costuming department. In short: go see it. The MCU really does still have that magic; here's hoping they can keep up the momentum through Guardians of the Galaxy.
The cast is great and the effects are good, but the story leaves a lot to be desired.
"The Winter Solider" is effectively one big, prolonged attempt to wrench the Captain America franchise away from the high-flying pulp adventure tones of the first movie and push it towards the more typical "dark and gritty" atmosphere of the other Marvel movies. Good-bye, Nazis with laser beams. Hello, heavy-handed 9/11 imagery. We could go back and forth on the merits of that all day, but the bigger point is that the movie just doesn't do it very well. For all the gunfire and bombs, all the collapsing buildings and ruined cityscapes, all the so-called political intrigue and talk of "freedom versus security" in a world that moves in shades of gray, the movie is actually incredibly black-and-white. Despite how much the characters SAY that you can't trust anyone, the good guys turn out to be exactly who you'd think they'd be and the bad guys turn out to be unambiguously bad. What we're told is completely contrary to what we're shown, and what we're shown is actually a world where everyone is either cartoonishly good or cartoonishly evil. Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with that approach, and it worked perfectly well in the first movie, which was deliberately cheesy and overblown, but here, in this one, it completely contradicts the entire mood the film is clearly trying to build. The one genuinely "gray" thing in the movie, one of its final story beats which I won't repeat here for the sake of spoilers, is glossed over incredibly quickly and carries absolutely no consequences for the heroes even though it obviously should have. Logically, it SHOULD have gotten hundreds of innocent people killed, and it SHOULD have gotten the heroes locked up or executed as a result, and if the movie was actually true its message of moral ambiguity, it would have relished the opportunity to explore these facts — to show that in today's world, there's no such thing as a perfect answer and so such thing as an easy way out. Instead, easy ways out are all we ever get, and the heroes walk away pristine and unsullied. It's proof that the movie's political backdrop really was just a flimsy backdrop, nothing more than an excuse to make all the gratuitous booms and bangs and action set pieces happen rather than a genuinely thoughtful piece of insight.
I'm going to start this off by saying I'm very glad the Russos (who direct the delightful, character-driven Community, in whom I have absolute faith they will do characterization justice) are back to direct Cap 3, because what they have done with this film is very, very good. The film's strongest point really is the characters. I was clapping in my seat because of how well-written Steve, Sam, and Natasha are. Their character arcs within this film are clear, and heartwrenching, and really just make you want more — Steve as the torn cultural icon, Natasha as the self-loyalist, glib veteran, Sam as the strong point of normalcy. Steve's dynamics with both of them flow very smoothly, and all three of them grow from it. Sebastian Stan as Bucky is excellent. The childish repetition of "I knew him" as a lifeline — wow. Hill and Fury are great, too. I think the political thriller/espionage angle worked very well - because you cannot define Steve without politics, not without real-world commentary. It really understood the heart of espionage thrillers. The film's whole message that the dynamics between institutions are not solid but are shifting patterns, that an institution might be awful but the people in it might be — an excellent climax that really shows the MCU's Steve Rogers is more than a boy scout. He's not representing America, he's representing what America could be, and he gives the SHIELD personnel the chance to prove that, too. What I liked about this movie was that it never tried to compromise emotional punches for speed (yeah, I'm talking to you, Thor 2). There are action scenes that leave you on the edge of your seat but also very well-acted emotional scenes that leave you wanting to curl up. The high production values are also apparent. The fight scenes are very well-choreographed, the Scenery Gorn is stunning. All in all, this film really takes Phase 2 and pushes it to a whole new level. I'm excited to see where they go with this. Overall rating: 9/10, for some qualms about the political intricacies that would require spoilers to discuss.
The Marvel Universe just got real
This movie was a real game changer,in more ways than one. Everything in this movie is pushed to the next level. Steve Rogers/Captain America is at his best,having to shift his morality to combat the new threats he is faced with was an interesting element to see, Chris Evans is fantastic. Scarlet Johanson is great as well. Anthony Mackie was a wonderful addition to the story. Samuel Jackson did an awesome job as always,playing the shady yet realistic mentor-like figure to keep Steve Rogers grounded in reality. I disliked nothing about this movie. It was a real game changer.