Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Film review: "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" Marvel's best film yet

             Wow. Just wow.
            That’s the best introduction I can think of, having recently seen the latest entry to the Marvel Studios’ Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. This film is not only a riveting thriller, but it’s also a major game-changer for the franchise that will leave long-time Marvel fans stunned long after they’ve left the theater.
            But first, the story. The Winter Soldier takes place two years after 2012’s The Avengers, and Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America, now works for the spy organization S.H.I.E.L.D. in Washington, D.C. and is trying to readjust to life in the 2000s. After a brief introduction to Sam Wilson (a.k.a. the Falcon, Cap’s sidekick), Cap is picked up by the lovely Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. the Black Widow, for a mission involving saving a captive S.H.I.E.L.D. vessel from pirates led by Georges Batroc (for you diehard fans out there…). In the process, Romanoff manages to salvage some data from the ship’s computers. Rogers later confronts the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury, for misleading him, which causes Fury to reveal to him Project Insight: three brand-spanking-new Helicarriers (think flying aircraft carriers) that linked to spy satellites and designed to neutralize threats before they’re even carried out.
The Captain and the Widow play off each other well.
           Of course, this flies in the face of Cap’s ideals and sets up his own conflict for the rest of the film: In a world where black and white have faded to grey, how far is too far? Is the greater good really worth sacrificing individuals’ rights and liberties? Is peace really hanging a sword over people’s heads? These are themes that define Rogers’ internal conflict, as well as that of the film itself—themes that should ring especially true in light of the NSA leaks and the use of drone warfare. Because it deals with these issues (albeit not deeply—more on that soon), The Winter Soldier has a little bit more depth than the average superhero movie. Props also go out to it being a political thriller of sorts, so there are enough twists in the plot that viewers will stick around to find out what happens next. Especially important for one plot thread that will blow the minds of long-time comic fans and Marvel newbies. I warn you: it’s a big one.
            But like I said, this is a superhero movie, and what that means is a slight sweeping aside of deeper things for the action and explosions to take center stage. While there’s plenty property damage to go around, none of it is wasted. The chase and fight scenes are already impressive, but cameras tracking the actors and quick, choppy editing give the scenes more kinetic energy, making them feel stronger and more fluid. Additionally, these scenes are often given a slow buildup before they occur, often with a bang meant to—successfully, I might add—surprise viewers and keep them invested in the story.

            All the players of this game are at their top form: Chris Evans continues to imbue Cap with his essential goodness even as he shows more vulnerability and doubt in some other instances. Scarlett Johansson is a good fit for the sassy, irreverent Romanoff and a good foil for Evans. Samuel L. Jackson is back as Fury, and Robert Redford makes his Marvel debut as Alexander Pierce, a rather flat character that Redford still makes more mysterious and cunning. Anthony Mackie as Wilson has the everyday charm and humor needed to balance out the somewhat mythical Captain.
Fans will get this reference...
            And of course, who could forget the titular Soldier himself? Sebastian Stan doesn’t have much of a speaking role here, but he’s still such an imposing force on the screen that he doesn’t have to speak a lot (the slo-mo camera and high-contrast help in creating the terrifying persona). Strong, confident, and relentless, Stan as the Soldier is a lot like the Terminator, except with fewer lines and no titanium endoskeleton.
             Add in an excellent musical score by composer Henry Newman, and you have a film that’s going to be high at the box office for quite some time. With the impressive stunts, good acting, and deep story (for a Marvel film), Captain America: The Winter Soldier isn’t just Marvel’s best film yet; it might very well be one of the best films of the year.

Final score: 9 shields out of 10. Director: Anthony and Joe Russo. Writer: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johannson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, and Hayley Atwell, with Robert Redford and Samuel L. Jackson.

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