Captain America: The Winter Soldier is an often scintillating motion picture, one that is everything a quality superhero film should be. As with Captain America: The First Avenger, this 2014 entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe succeeds because of its light feel and sublime action. More than that, however, Captain America: The Winter Soldier has a story to tell.
That story weaves a web of intrigue and political context with several components that speak to current concerns. While The First Avenger concerned itself with the crafting of a super-soldier, this picture has more layers and boasts a moral element that makes it all the more compelling. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo deal with the elements well.
Chris Evans is back as Steve Rogers. After the events of The Avengers, he’s come to work with S.H.I.E.L.D. under Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Together with Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), he heads on a mission only to discover a secret in the organization. He confronts Fury with it and learns of Project Insight, a system designed to “handle” preemptive threats with advanced surveillance.
This angers Rogers and it also puts Fury in the line of fire, as he runs afoul of an assassin dubbed the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). Rogers, meanwhile, holds out on the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D. and becomes a target. He teams with Romanoff again and begins to crack the case, learning of nefarious plans to promote global chaos.
At its core, Captain America: The Winter Soldier deals in the concept of liberty. Rogers wonders about how S.H.I.E.L.D. is making people more free by proactively treating them like criminals, while Hydra’s plan is to promote fear in hopes that people will give their freedoms away for security. This is a lesson the organization learned in World War II.
So what the Russo brothers focus on is two prongs of the same mentality and the protagonists are stuck in the morass, so to speak. Rogers, perhaps like Batman in The Dark Knight, has a decision to make. Things are pretty cut and dry for Captain America, though, and that gives him the gift of purity of conscience.
But Captain America’s goodness is never a problem. In fact, it’s an asset. Rogers is a true hero and that’s a welcome change. When a kid spots him at his own exhibit at the museum, it’s a wonderful moment because it represents why superheroes matter. More than the impressive CGI flash and dash, a movie about heroes has to contain heroes.
Evans works well in the role because there is no winking at the camera and no attempts at being overly clever. The screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely doesn’t transform Captain America into a walking series of clichés and catchphrases. Instead, it allows him the growth that comes through natural good humour and a light touch.
That helps his interactions with other characters, like Romanoff. Johansson’s character is witty and modern and she makes the perfect companion for Rogers, who approaches the world as a hero would. Romanoff handles the muddier areas and navigates the problem areas, leaving Captain America as iconic as he needs to be. This is a smart cinematic move.
As with Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: The Winter Soldier handles the action with energy and finesse. The best moments come when the picture punches just a little about the rule, allowing organic action to meld with a touch of CGI goodness. Captain America’s use of his shield is tremendous and Romanoff is a blast.
With fluid action sequences, a compelling plot and well-rendered characters, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a treat. It features a real hero and a light touch, incorporating everything a superhero movie should be without surrendering style or legitimacy. It’s a quality movie and it needs to be in order to stand out in a sea of genre pictures that all too often come up short.