For anyone who feared that the good-but-not-great Thor: The Dark World was indication that the Marvel Cinematic Universe was losing some steam, there’s nothing to fear: Captain America is here.
All fans, old and new, of Marvel and the Avengers will find much to appreciate in Cap’s second solo installment, and many who are not even fans of America’s oldest super soldier will surely watch it to remain caught up with what transpires in the MCU. But if you’re a genuine fan of the character Captain America, then like me you may find yourself in ecstasy for much of Winter Soldier’s 136-minute running time.
After a brisk opening sequence that give nods to everything from Marvin Gaye to Korean athletes and pop culture (what’s with all the Marvel-Korea connections these days anyway?) and Captain Phillips, Winter Soldier gets down to its main event. And it is big. Rest assured the threat that faces our heroes won’t be some throwaway filler event. It’s a conspiracy of epic, David Ickian proportions sure to make the conspiracy buffs squirm in their seats with delight (and that’s in the official synopsis so, no, this ain’t a spoiler).
Since, like Batman, Cap doesn’t really have any powers other than his chemically enhanced body, Winter Soldier obviously can’t deliver the kind of earth-shaking super-powered smackdowns that the Iron Man, Thor and Hulk movies have. But it quite makes up for it with superbly staged gunfights, chases and of course Cap’s forte, hand-to-hand combat (though here again I must vocalize my disapproval with this trend of shooting martial arts scenes with super shaky cam, overly close shots and busy-bee editing which spoils the beauty of good fight choreography which this movie has a lot of).
A more subtle but still very appreciable touch is that while Avengers effectively showed Cap’s physical vulnerability while going up against Loki and aliens packing high-powered weaponry, Winter Soldier does a spectacular job of exhibiting just how much punishment this guy can actually take and still keep going. But it’s all quite faithful. Nothing happens to him here that hasn’t happened to him in the comics. And after all, canonically speaking, Steve Rogers was part of the same Weapon Plus super soldier program that produced the likes of Deadpool, so Cap too heals faster than a normal human being (though not as exceptionally as Deadpool or Wolverine). In any event, it’s a visceral pleasure seeing the film’s events push the man to his physical limits.
One thing that has really made the Captain America movies work for me is Chris Evans, who has the kind of tender-eyed, soulful presence that makes him a perfect Steve Rogers. As I discussed in my Hero Worship post about Captain America, Cap isn’t the strongest character, nor the smartest, nor the coolest, but he is unabashedly the sincerest. And Winter Soldier does well to allow enough quiet interludes that accentuate this quality of his which makes him one of my favorite characters.
Sebastian Stan, who played Bucky in The First Avenger and here plays the sequel’s namesake, is an effectively menacing villain, even reminiscent, briefly, of Heath Ledger’s Joker in some of his physical mannerisms and makeup. And, of course, the very welcome inclusion of Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson and Anthony Mackie as the Falcon help retain that connection to the Avengers and remind us that everything that transpires here is just another piece of the epic puzzle-in-progress that is the MCU.
My only ever-so-slight quibble (and it’s not really even a quibble so much as a point of curiosity) is this: the Avengers were formed to address catastrophic crises that threaten the entire globe. Well, the last couple of solo movies, The Winter Soldier and The Dark World, both had threats that seemed to me to be quite cataclysmic and global. Where are guys like Iron Man supposed to be while these things are happening? I’m just curious. As finely coordinated as the MCU is, I figure they could find some quick and easy way to explain away this kind of thing for those hardcore fans who like to dissect every little thing.
All in all, Captain America: The Winter Soldier should strike most casual viewers as another very solid entry in the MCU series. But for devoted Captain America fans like myself, it is everything we could have hoped for and a movie worthy of the name of one of the greatest superheroes there is.