Captain America: The Winter Soldier already has a lot of people claiming it as the best Marvel movie yet, which is bizarre hyperbole in the face of The Avengers, but for those who love a grounded spy yarn it definitely has a maturity not present in any other Marvel outing to date. Or at least a different style of superhero storytelling. Imagine it as Captain America: Enemy of the State with double the action sequences.
Rob’s review is thorough and glowing, worthy of a great superhero movie that tones down its superheroism in favor of plot intrigue. It’s a sentiment matched by a ton of critics, but I can’t agree with it completely. The positives absolutely outweigh the negatives, and it’s a very slick movie, but there’s more to do than simply throwing ticker tape from out your office window.
Mostly because it would be difficult to find ticker tape these days. Do they even make it still?
Spoilers included, here are 10 things I liked about Captain America: The Winter Soldier and 10 things I didn’t.
Things I Liked
1. Innovative action choreography: With Cap taking down a crowd of people inside an elevator and Fury battling from within his tank-like SUV, the fights were sharp and stunning — particularly in close quarters. It’s almost like we didn’t go through a decade of incomprehensible, geographically confused action in movies.
Fight choreographer James Young and stunt coordinator Thomas Robinson Harper did an outstanding job of creating unique, thrilling moments, and DP Trent Opalach built camera work that enhanced everything with a true sense of clarity. Shockingly, it turns out that being able to see what’s going on makes the moments even better (and have more emotional impact, too).
2. A supporting cast not shoved into the background: For the most part, Marvel’s movies have involved a single superhero who’s orbited by secondary characters. Even love interests aren’t always given much to do. This is a different ballgame. Following The Avengers, it was encouraging here to see a cape-less ensemble who had vital roles to play in the story. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) stood out even when she was threatened with sidekick status, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) had huge chunks of screen time to develop an as-yet flat character, and all of it helped to create a powerful sense of community.
3. Uncashed chemistry: As a non-super, Black Widow has had a strange relationship with the Avengers team, but her developing relationship with Captain America is impressive. Maybe because it’s easy to forget that Steve Rogers is super; he’s not giantly green, doesn’t have a full metal jacket, and he’s not conspicuously Godlike.
The moments in Winter Soldier where Black Widow and Captain America flirt or stand nanoseconds away from kissing are amazing because 1) they build on an organic, strengthening relationship and 2) they aren’t cheapened by going through with it. A dumber movie would have had their pretend married life on the lam and escalator distraction smooching lead to a bold declaration that would have ruined everything.
“I never realized how much you mean to me, Black Widow.”
Sparing us that while giving us the chase was fantastic, and it made their last scene together pop.
4. Small humor in tense moments: You know how you prove you’re a badass in a world of badasses? Keeping cool and sarcastic when bullets are flying. There was a lot of that punctuating battles, but my favorite was his car’s response to Fury asking if anything were still operating. When you’re being attacked by heavily-armed thugs, you really need that A/C to kick in.
5. The actors: The character writing was sometimes too flat, but every single actor prevailed over simplicity and the desperate need to keep up with a busy action sequence schedule (one every ten minutes or bust!). A perfect balance of popcorn drama, led by people who can carry a blockbuster. Chris Evans embodies the role, and it’s also refreshing to see a hero who non-ironically fights for old-fashioned ideals.
6. Robert Redford: He fits into the last paragraph, too, but his casting was particularly genius considering his talent and history with movies about governmental intrigue. Has he ever phoned anything in?
7. Both of Falcon’s introductions: The first was understated and funny, reminding us that Steve Rogers is both incredibly fast and thoroughly human. The second involved a guy being thrown casually from a rooftop. Plus, Anthony Mackie rocks the character.
8. The destruction of S.H.I.E.L.D.: It’s been around since Iron Man, and it’s often been a generic albatross around the neck of the films. As the adhesive that brought everyone together (while ruining Iron Man 2), it’s a once-necessary plot tool that’s outlived its welcome. It had nowhere to go after The Avengers, and having it rot from within was a smart idea (even though the execution was absurd (more on that later)).
9. The relentlessness: Wow. Yes. This movie had its quiet moments, but even they were firmly nested inside a fear of being found by large men with guns at any moment. It got started quick, and then never let up with the body blows. Weaving character-building moments and non-action drama into that sense of urgency was a challenge the Russo Brothers handled beautifully.
10. The genre shift: Captain America: The First Avenger was a war movie, but there’s a sense in which all Marvel movies are war movies. This is not a war movie. In the same way Iron Man 3 saw Tony Stark thrust into an existential drama (with explosions), this is Marvel’s first spy thriller (with explosions), and seeing them evolve beyond an established formula is both thrilling on the screen and promising for what’s to come.
Things I Didn’t Like
1. The cloak and dagger stuff wasn’t sold: Fake deaths, real enemies, all completely obvious. From the moment Redford strolls into view, it’s ridiculously clear that he’s the true villain. From the moment Nick Fury’s time of death is called, it’s ridiculously clear that he’s not actually dead. From the moment we see the Winter Soldier, it’s ridiculously clear that it’s Bucky. Maybe it’s a victim of the movie news cycle on some of those fronts, but the presentation was also lacking, and that diminished the impact.
2. Bond villain levels of stupidity: What was the endgame for Hydra here? How did the ships make any sense in any way outside of a comic book? First of all, it’s a blunt instrument they’re pretending will do surgical work to eliminate people they deem to be threats. Second of all, apparently all other US military bases don’t exist anymore and won’t be able to take down three flying aircraft carriers. The longterm potential for the scheme is nil.
And where was the rest of the government on this one? It’s fine that Hydra had one member of congress sewn up, but the billion-dollar construction project of death transformed a shrewd manhunt drama into a cartoon. I expected Dr. Evil to pop out in the post-credits sequence.
3. The smallness of everything: On a similar front, not only was the drama of Project Death From Above contained within the walls of a single DC building, but the entire district was turned into a war zone three times without any real sense of danger for bystanders. The movie spent millions on protracted action sequences, and they couldn’t spring for crowd reaction shots? Three aircraft carriers are falling from the sky, and it’s all no big deal on the ground?
4. Comic book silliness sneaking into the universe: Yeah, I know. They’re comic book characters, but that doesn’t mean that cliches have to rule the day (or even exist). This complaint is also more about how Winter Soldier fits into the greater scale of the Marvel Cinematic Universe because it’s overrun by characters returning from the dead. Nick Fury poorly fakes his own death, Toby Jones is back in computer form, Bucky is resurrected. The problem is that bringing people back often feels disingenuous (Hi, Agent Coulson!), it can feel like a writer’s cheat, and it can also feel like a large-scale universe is folding in on itself.
Better not to even mention giving someone re-amnesia.
5. The destruction of S.H.I.E.L.D.: So
Cobra Hydra has been growing inside S.H.I.E.L.D. for years? It’s a seemingly-smart idea that raises way too many questions to make sense. Ironically, it would have been a nice explanation for why they were so eager to nuke New York City in The Avengers, but that group of leaders clearly wasn’t Hydra considering their fate in Winter Soldier.
All the “Hail, Hydra” stuff got really wacky, and it would have made a far more powerful statement if S.H.I.E.L.D. itself were simply, internally corrupt. No defunct Nazi spin-off (another thing raised from the dead!) needed. Just another branch of a government — wary of superheroes ever since asking for Iron Man’s suits .
To go from a gray-shaded story where Falcon, Captain America and Black Widow all question ethical motives to one where the uniformed bad guys have a dumb salute was a major fumble.
What did you think about Captain America: The Winter Soldier?