Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
It’s spring again, and you all know what that means: One of this year’s two Marvel movies has just been released, and being in Europe, I get to see it before anyone in the U.S.! Wow, just think: we now live in a time where it’s normal to have two Marvel movies each year, one in early spring and one in summer. In fact, it’s become such a regular thing that we hardly notice or rejoice in it like we used to.
Then there’s the fact that all of these movies have a shared continuity, which has now become the accepted norm, so much so that we now take it for granted, and thus don’t recall what a batshit insane project this was for Marvel from the get-go, and how batshit insane it still is. Especially as this universe is still expanding, and still introducing new heroes and overarching plotlines, and now has a spin-off TV show, plus potential Netflix shows that could eventually lead to a crossover miniseries for the Defenders that would still exist in the same universe of the films!
These movies truly are the closest we’ve ever come to a comic book-style continuity in film. And if they’re not careful, they may soon end up just as confusing as the actual comic books.
This spring brings us the return of Chris Evans as the Sentinel of Liberty in Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier, which functions as a sequel to not only the first Captain America movie, but also The Avengers. I really liked the first Captain America movie, and it’s perhaps my favorite of the pre-Avengers Marvel movies. Yes, I might even like it better than Iron Man—so sue me. I enjoyed it because it was such an unpretentious, classic, good-guy-vs.-bad-guy movie. There have only been a few big budget action movies in recent years daring to go as old school as the first Captain America.
The good guy was in fact just a really good, nice guy, who only wanted to do the right thing and help people around him, because he’s just that nice. The bad guy was evil just because… well, he’s a Nazi! In fact, the Red Skull was so evil that he made Hitler look like a puppy dog in comparison, and next to HYDRA, the Nazis themselves looked like dancing fairies.
And yet, the movie never turned into a diatribe about hate towards a specific country. The movie went out of its way to show that nationalities don’t matter at all, and that brilliant and good people can come from anywhere. The movie showed Captain America not only fighting for America, but fighting for anyone who couldn’t fight for themselves, and gathering a team of men from different countries around him, presenting an ideal of a world where everyone bands together to fight for freedom.
The movie was a loving tribute to old-time comic books and what they stood for back in the day. It was about the rise and fall of not just a hero, but a true hero in every sense of the word. Someone who does what he feels is right because it’s his duty. No higher purpose, no tragic backstory. With or without powers, Steve Rogers is obliged to do the right thing when called upon. It’s really amazing that they’ve made a character like Captain America work in modern action films.
Since the first film, we’ve moved from the past of World War II into the present day of 2014. So how do they go about making a movie about a guy who’s pretty much a product of his time?
Well, in the present day, Captain America is still a soldier and still feels he has a duty to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. So he works for SHIELD and, of course, Nick Fury. But even from the first opening action sequence, we can already see why this relationship may be less than ideal.
Steve is a soldier. He follows orders and is ridiculously honest. He’s purely an agent for justice and is all about fighting the enemy directly and openly, and proudly standing up for what he believes in, and trusting his comrades with his life.
SHIELD, on the other hand, is a secret agency full of secret agents (which I write as a Danish person from Denmark, currently eating a Danish, hah!) where information is given out on a need-to-know basis, and every mission might have a secret objective, and lies are the norm, and trusting the wrong people might get you killed. So, yeah… Steve and SHIELD go together like oil and water.
And while Steve is a relic of a time where right and wrong were obvious things, and is all about proudly standing up for your ideals, SHIELD is more suited for our world today, where ideals and morals have changed. The world is no longer as Steve left it, and to him it doesn’t seem to have changed for the better. While the past had honesty, our modern world depends on secrets, lies, and spin doctors. So yeah, you might notice there’s just a little bit of social commentary going on in this movie.
And as if all of this isn’t bad enough, Nick Fury gets attacked by a huge group of assassins and a super-soldier just as strong as Steve. Because you don’t take down Samuel Motherfucking Jackson without bringing half an army first!
The last thing Fury manages to tell Steve before he dies (keeping in mind this is the Marvel Universe, where nobody really dies) is that the attack was an inside job perpetrated by a rogue SHIELD agent, and no one is to be trusted. So now the movie is all about Captain America teaming up with the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, of course) to try to find the mole within SHIELD.
Eventually, they’re on the run from SHIELD itself, who’s tracking them in a cross-country manhunt where Steve is forced to play the secret agent game, and figure out who to trust among a number of operatives who make their living lying and playing dirty. During this, he joins up with the Falcon (Anthony Mackie), a fellow veteran who’s able to fly thanks to mechanical wings, because… they look really cool!
As we’ve all come to expect from these movies, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a perfectly good, perfectly entertaining, perfectly solid movie. It is by no means among any of my favorite Marvel movies (sorry, guys), but as a story filling the time between two Avengers movies, it’s pretty good. It has a lot of interesting ideas, and takes Steve’s character in a direction that feels natural, with a fish out of water storyline where it becomes apparent just how much our world has changed in the last 70 years. Not just in silly pop culture and technology, but also in our very principles and how things are done.
The biggest flaw in this film seems to be that quite honestly, it sometimes feels like it’s much more interested in the future Avengers movie than itself. Which could have easily resulted in a way worse movie; Iron Man 2 had the exact same problem, and ended up being the worst of the shared Marvel Universe movies, and is only salvaged by its place in a much grander scheme of things. Captain America 2 at least works in its own right as a suspenseful action movie.
I would have also preferred a more memorable villain. The Winter Soldier is of course the main draw here, and a villain taken directly from the comic books. I assume he’s pretty popular there, since they made a movie about him and all. But here, he’s really not that remarkable, and is ultimately just the hired muscle for the real villain, who’s not that interesting either. It’s funny that in a world inhabited by iron-clad, god-like, and star-spangled superheroes, we end up with such bland and boring villains.
The only two villains we’ve had so far in the Marvel films that really feel like comic book villains are Loki and the Red Skull. The rest are… well, it would have been awesome if Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin showed up and was given super powers, along with his big-ass mystical mansion to have battles in. At this point, I’d appreciate any attempt to have a more imaginative villain.
The time spent with Black Widow AKA Natasha Romanov AKA whatever you want to call her is definitely welcome, as the character is given a lot more depth here. This was by far her best appearance in these movies, as she gets both a good deal of character development and to kick some ass.
The supporting cast are of course all great, and deliver strong performances. Though I think it says it all when the best thing in the entire movie was the small mid-credits scene that’s actually a sneak peek of Avengers: Age of Ultron, which looks beyond amazing and really got me hyped up.
All in all, this movie is perfectly serviceable for what it is, but it’s not a big standout “must-see” movie. If you like the Marvel movies and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this movie should be perfectly fine entertainment and hold you over until Guardians of the Galaxy in August. But its biggest strength is how it gets you excited for what’s coming next year.
If you skip The Winter Soldier, you really won’t have missed all that much in the grand scheme of things. It’s just a good movie, and that’s about it.
[—Editing/cleanup/revisions to this article provided by Dr. Winston O’Boogie and Elliot Hodgett.]