I went into Captain America: The Winter Soldier excited, but with some reservations. The first Captain America was a fun enough flick, but it didn't do anything really interesting or new. I was intrigued with how Marvel planned to integrate the Cap into modern society, but I was afraid it might come off as campy as the original. Thankfully, those fears have been assuaged. More than that, I was thoroughly impressed by what could have been just another generic superhero movie. Instead, we're treated to a tense and thoughtful thriller that is not only really fun, but actually contains some literary subtext that transcends a genre that's becoming increasingly more defined by its mindless action.
The story centers on SHIELD, or, more specifically, the fact that not everything is right within SHIELD. Not everything is what it seems, and, unfortunately, that means I can't really reveal much of the plot without this review spoiling the ride. However, I do want to comment that it's quite invigorating to see a superhero movie that doesn't just show us an antagonist and then pit the hero against them. This feels much more like a spy thriller dressed in a Captain America costume, and it's an interesting and completely believable take on his character in the modern era. The only downside is that the mystery plot gets resolved much too quickly in a giant dump of exposition, and even though that doesn't destroy the suspense the film had been building to that point, it does cheapen it slightly. However, throw in some fantastic fight scenes and a remarkably well thought out allegory for American foreign policy, and this movie excels at being much more than just another installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Speaking of the fight scenes, can I just say how refreshing it is to see superhero action scenes performed by real people? Sure, there's still plenty of explosions and CGI effects, but they all play second fiddle to the fantastically executed fight sequences, almost all done with actual stuntpeople. It makes the stakes of each battle much more grounded in reality, which is much more relatable that the endless cacophony of flashes and bangs that many movies take to be good action. The Winter Soldier's fight scenes are almost all a joy to watch, and sometimes they even have some literary significance beyond the events of the battle itself. If a movie rewards you for having a brain not only with its plotting, but with its action, that's immediately in its favor.
If I have one small gripe with the film, it's with the Winter Soldier character. His presence in the movie is what provides the literary subtext I mentioned earlier, but when I look at the plot as a whole, his presence isn't really necessary. This is odd, considering, ya know, his name is in the freakin' title! That said, he doesn't detract at all from the film, and he is the focus point of most of the film's action scenes, so I don't think I can blame the choice to include him. He's still a welcome addition to Marvel's world-building efforts, and his presence makes me excited to see what other characters from comic mythos Marvel is prepared to bring to the screen. If they were handled as faithfully as the Winter Soldier, I think we have some good things in store.
So, as you can probably already tell, I loved this movie. It is the best Marvel movie since the original Iron Man, potentially even on par with it. It transcends the superhero formula that has been quickly growing stale and would have been a smart and entertaining movie even without the Marvel branding. It's well worth the price of admission, and I look forward to seeing it again with the Blu-Ray release.
Did you find The Winter Soldier as stimulating as I did? Or do you see some problems that I'm overlooking? Let me know your thoughts in the comment below! (Just please don't spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it yet.)