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Review: Captain America: The Winter Solider

Marvel Studios changed the Comicbook movie paradigm with the massive success of The Avenger’s in 2012. Since then Marvel has started “Phase 2″ of its Cinematic Universe with end goal being The Avenger’s: Age Of Ultron in 2015. While Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World were entertaining films they failed to sell the idea of a connected movie universe. Captain America: The Winter Solider succeeds because it moves the overarching story forward while providing a satisfying narrative for Steve, Black Widow and Nick Fury.

To be quite honest I’ve only glanced over Captain America: The First Avenger, and what I was watching didn’t interest me at all. Chris Evans fighting Hugo Weaving in a giant Red Skull, during WWII wasn’t up my alley. However, Winter Solider, set a great tone early on and maintained that almost formulaic blend of humor, action and thrill that makes these Marvel movies work. 

The plot here centers around the cost of freedom and security, a very relevant theme in America. S.H.I.E.L.D has designed three new Helicarriers that will fly over the globe eliminating potential threats. Captain America doesn’t agree with these measures and works with Natasha and later Falcon to stop the launch of “Project Insight.” That story is fine and The Winter Solider is a great villain, but there is a twist and a character reveal that just didn’t work for me. That could be because I didn’t care for The First Avenger, or because directors, Anthony & Joe Russo, didn’t set it up well enough. Also, an info dump occurs halfway though the movie with a talking head in a monitor thats a bit of a chore, but has cool enough visuals to make it bearable.

As a action movie this film is one of the best I’ve seen in awhile. From the first scene its clear they want to show why Cap is the heart of The Avenger’s. His shield is put to great use in the movie, and whether it was deflecting bullets or taking down a S.H.I.E.L.D aircraft, I was often surprised how it was implemented. The hand-to-hand combat is fantastic here as well. The quick bouts between Cap and The Winter Solider are executed very well and cut even better. When The Winter Solider tosses his knife to his other hand to get the advantage, or when he reinforces his metal arm for strength, all of it works, and its great to look at. Nick Fury is given a awesome action set piece of his own that has some humor and genuine fear to boot. This is probably Samuel L. Jackson’s best portrayal as Nick Fury because he is given much more to do here. Scarlett Johansson gives another solid performance as Natasha Romanoff aka The Black Widow. She has good banter with Steve that helps develop the relationship between the two. Anthony Mackie was a perfect choice to play The Falcon as he brings a necessary level of humor, and humanity to the film. Unfortunately, the movie couldn’t find time to flesh out his character enough. For all of Chris Evans’ complaining about his Marvel contract he has really nailed the persona of Steve Rogers as Captain America. I can’t imagine anyone else wearing the red, white & blue, and he seems as comfortable as ever here. Steve is still struggling with his jump into the future, and there is a very effective scene between Steve and a much older Peggy Carter that gets that point across. Robert Redford, who plays Alexander Pierce, gives a great performance, but I actually just dislike the character. His motivations and character arc aren’t executed well, but I see it as a bigger issue with the conflict the story deals with.

Next to Loki, The Winter Solider is probably the best villain in Marvel’s movie universe. He barely speaks, but when he’s on the screen you actually fear for main characters livelihood. He does a lot of damage during the movie two hour run time. His arm could have been gimmicky, but it ends up looking cool, sounding cooler, and being used convincingly. When the character’s mask comes off its a bit disappointing, and a few people actually laughed in the theater I was in. I’ll leave it there to avoid any spoilers.

Overall, I enjoyed the film and rank it pretty high among Marvel movies.The action is top notch, the set pieces are nice to look at, and the acting is well down all around. The comedy doesn’t hit as well as you’d expect from Community & Arrested Development directors, but it has a good balance with the drama and political thrills it reaches for. Although the story wasn’t the best, the execution and journey will be entertaining. This movie moves the Cinematic Universe forward and there are huge implications for S.H.E.I.D and The Avenger’s at the end of it all. One thing Marvel movies are going to struggle with is feeling like extended episodes of a larger series as opposed to an event in its own right. This movie balances that well and I’m excited to see Captain America, The Black Widow & Falcon team up again in the near future.