Friday, April 4, 2014


Perhaps the element in Marvel’s ever-expanding, connected-universe collection of superhero films which makes them so relatable is that they don’t hang their cape of success on the fact that super-beings are involved. Each one of the solo films has crossed over into other genres; IRON MAN was a techno-thriller, THOR dabbled in science-fiction and fantasy, and the latest effort, CAPTAIN AMERICA-THE WINTER SOLDIER, blends superhero work with a global political espionage thriller. But picking a genre for your superheroes to play in is only the beginning; you have to make it work and be there for a reason.  
Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is now a full-fledged member of the super-spy agency SHIELD, and carrying out missions with master-assassin Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and under the command of agency director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). As Rogers becomes concerned over SHIELD’s increasing military strength, he recruits a new ally named Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and goes head-to-head with the agency’s top-dog Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) and the mysterious half-man, half-machine known as the Winter Soldier.

THE WINTER SOLDIER is an action-packed, thrill-a-minute, buckle-your-seat-belt, shit-your-pants joy-ride of a film; breathtaking assaults, chases, showdowns, firefights, kickfights, and fistfights filmed in a swashbuckling style reminiscent of classic cinema with a sprinkle of 1980’s big-budget, practical-effects spectacle. But there is more to Steve Rogers’ latest adventure than sound and fury. At its core, THE WINTER SOLDIER is about Cap’s struggle with himself. As he finds himself at odds with the frightening new direction SHIELD is taking, the film instantly becomes an intimate character piece about one man’s struggle with who he is and what he is doing. Rogers’ struggle and narrative is driven by the film’s overall setting as an espionage piece, and becomes compounded when things begin to become unpredictable. Suddenly, allegiances become uncertain and Rogers is left in the middle of an internal war. THE WINTER SOLDIER steers into shocking territory as one stunning surprise after another comes about; leaving the audience wondering exactly who the bad guys really are, who is really on the side of the right, and how-in-the-hell will they get out of this mess in the end. And most importantly the stakes this time around are huge.
Directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo have crafted a unique and mind-blowing film. The action sequences are fun, full of energy, easy to navigate and never feel gratuitous. A little too much goddamn shaky-cam is used here and there, but for every sin there are a thousand pardons as the direction more than makes up for it. The pacing is brisk (two-plus hours fly by) and the humor comes in all the right places.

Chris Evans fully embodies Captain America once again. He plays a man built of ideals perfectly, and carries the burden of a lost soul at the same time. Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson are given a lot to do in this adventure and carry their roles nicely. Robert Redford adds a ton of gravitas and enters ground he never saw before in his long career, and Anthony Mackie, as the jet-packed winged Falcon, is a perfect sidekick to Rogers. The film is sprinkled with cameos and extended-cameos from past members of the Marvel universe, and the show is nearly stolen by Frank Grillo, who plays a leader of a deadly SHIELD strike team.
The climax is an emotionally-rewarding mind-blower with massive implications for Marvel’s connected-series of films and extended TV family; with no going back on many points and also serving as an origin tale for new characters...not to mention changing how we view the events in the past Marvel films (!). Things are getting bigger, and if the film wasn’t enough, two post-credits scenes hint at just how big things are about to become. THE WINTER SOLDIER is a game-changer in its own universe, but in the larger picture it takes its super-characters to new places by making some incredibly bold moves. There is a freshness in THE WINTER SOLDIER which makes everything feel new again, and rekindles a want for more.


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