Phase II is reaching its end with the release of the new Captain America installment. The Marvel cinematic universe (MCU) is a freight train of success and action with no signs of stopping. And it certainly did not stop here as we were offered a shockingly poignant action story with deft traces of real world events. Going off what was built in the previous Marvel films, it sets itself apart from the rest of the Avengers gang while still being a major part of that universe. What we’re left with is a superhero movie that stands on its own without falling in the trappings that fail and hold down so many other comic book movies. It is the most daring Marvel film so far, showing that these characters don’t have to rely on one trick pony story’s to drive them.
This seems like forever since there was a cohesive standalone story from Marvel but here it shows a fully engaging plot with enough twists and turns to keep everyone guessing. They weren’t as polarizing as the big twist in Iron Man 3; even though I didn’t mind it as much as many other people did. It felt really down to earth and made you forget that these people live in a world with Iron Man, Thor, and Hulk. It rightfully got you out of that element to clearly focus on the story at hand. With sequels being the way they are today, mainly cash grabs and a retread of the previous story, this is an entirely different animal. This is one of the rare sequels to actually grow with the characters and story to deliver something not really seen before. Plus I love that there wasn’t a damsel in distress in sight. The model of rescuing the girl is a tired exercise that more superhero movies should not utilize as much or at all.
They don’t say the same things as before and actually try to get you to invest in what’s happening. I would put this in contention with some of the best sequels ever like The Road Warrior, Spiderman 2 and The Dark Knight. It has a great progression from beginning to middle to end with nary a middling plot hole in sight. It’s not hard to understand as if anyone watches the news would see the parallels between the two. The spy element gives it something new that wasn’t in previous Marvel movies and at the same time allows it to reinvent itself from Captain America: The First Avenger. I really liked the old school feel of 70s spy dramas and government corruption. Pleasantly surprised and shocked that I was even watching the movie with so many varied elements. The story didn’t drag or lull in parts and always had something new to show that hasn’t been seen before. The range shown in how far and long the story can go is amazing. It can go in a number of different directions in the sequel.
Sporting an all-star cast befitting of a Marvel blockbuster, it has the main players from the previous films and a few new ones. Chris Evans is a great Captain America/Steve Rogers. I wouldn’t think he would be this good at first with the first one but he really has grown as a character and a superhero. He exudes great charm and confidence but not in the same capacity as his fellow Avengers teammate Tony Stark. The naiveté he has shown as a do-gooding Boy Scout has been altered as he assimilates with the modern world. He quickly learns that the technology has caught up with the back stabbing politics as he works and lives in Washington D.C. It’s refreshing to see an iconic character go through a major story arc. Samuel L. Jackson as SHIELD director Nick Fury is as badass and even more that you would expect. And that’s saying something. As the man who has to make tough decisions that may not be popular or even legal, he struggles to make Steve understand his point of view. Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow continues to show her skewed view of the world while not revealing much of her varied past that was hinted at in The Avengers. The mystery of who she really is and has done adds a layer of possibilities to where her progression as a character can go.
Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/Falcon was really cool and a great addition to the Marvel cinematic family. He was utilized great as not really a sidekick but a companion. He meshed well with Captain America/Steve Rogers even if they’re from different times. Liked how they casually introduced a new superhero, showing that he doesn’t need to rely on his Avengers brethren. I noticed that he was used more than War Machine in three movies than he in one which is kind of sad since War Machine is such a beloved character. The flying sequences were stellar and were some of my favorite parts in the movie. One of my favorite villains has got to be the Winter Soldier played by Sebastian Stan. He was a complete badass that didn’t care who you are and killed you without emotion. Not to mention he has the coolest costume I’ve seen in a long while. The slow reveal of his identity was used really well as piece by piece more of his face was shown. He didn’t say much but that was such a major part of his character. Why say anything when you can kick some ones ass? I love the speak softly and carry a big stick mentality of villains. Plus how awesome is a metal arm? He is by far the only really great villain to come out of the MCU besides Loki and probably the Red Skull. That is until Ultron comes out and Thanos finally makes his awaited appearance. Robert Redford as Agent Alexander Pierce gives the movie that added weight of credibility when an Oscar winner and legend is cast. And I think it’s great that more actors who would not regularly be in a comic book movie are finally in these movies. They don’t have the same standing as they did over ten years ago even though they were setting box office records with critical acclaim. It’s cool that he would star in a 70s throwback spy thriller similar to Three Days of the Condor which he also starred back in 1975.
The action was top notch and everything you would want from a summer blockbuster and Marvel movie. The suspension of disbelief should and is being thrown outside the door since we are dealing with superhuman people here. When it gets going, it really gets wild and fun. The image of a helicarrier crashing into the ground is really a sight to see. It flowed really well with the story and one never really overtook the other. The battles between Captain America and the Winter Soldier may be the best on film that I’ve seen in a long while. The subway clash between Spiderman and Doctor Octopus springs to mind as well as Batman vs. Bane I and II. I also can’t forget the city destroying climatic saga between Superman and General Zod. But it feels more grounded that those clashes even if they’re superhuman. The frantic action was perfectly accompanied by the funny and heartfelt moments throughout the film. Marvel films at its core will always have humor in them no matter what. There’s no getting around that. I can never envision them to fully envelop the dark and somber tones of the Dark Knight Trilogy. Having Steve Rogers be asleep for over 70 years makes for some great comedic moments at his behalf which is comforting to see from a superhero. At one point there was a really sweet and depressing scene that spoke to Steve Rogers at its core, making it that much sadder.
The choice of directors is quite shocking considering not only are they both brothers but have generally not directed many movies. Anthony and Joe Russo are known more for their extensive work on TV, mainly Arrested Development and Community. It’s a resume that you think would not fit in the fantasy world of superheroes. But they have exceeded all expectations by giving Captain America a complete makeover and a total 180 from The First Avenger. While giving it an update, it still maintains the feeling, heart and action from the first. With a more dark tone, it has more of an appeal to adults, young and old. I believe it’s the most “adult” Marvel movie I’ve ever seen while still being wholly accessible to children.
Many things stood out for me but I found the themes to be the strongest. I never thought I would see a superhero movie that recalls 9/11, paranoia in the 21st century and government corruption. I knew there would be spy elements but nowhere near a national tragedy. When I first found out about it, I was stunned. Immediately thought of 9/11, the war on Iraq, search for WMDs etc. and wondered how the hell they managed to get such a great story out. It speaks to such a wide volume of people about heavy real life subjects that I hope it doesn’t get lost amid all the crazy action. I think it’s incredible that superhero movies can actually be about things that happen in real life that other movies don’t care to tackle. It makes some parallels to real life events that shook the world that some may not notice but if and when they do realize, it presents a titillating conversation piece if it was the right thing to do. If the man who is the harbinger of truth, justice and the American way says something is wrong, it must hold some merit. At what point do we stop and think is this really the right thing to do when a great voice of reason speaks up against it or do the ends justify the means? It isn’t that overt where it’s laying all its political cards on the table but more so giving the viewer the choice if you would do the same thing, regardless of right or wrong. For the most part the MCU has always had a political edge, whether it is big or small. It is nowhere near the anarchic free for all like the Dark Knight Trilogy but that’s what I really like about the MCU and what makes Captain America: The Winter Soldier stand alone.
The after credits scenes were amazing as always and perfectly set up Captain America 3, Avengers: Age Of Ultron and beyond. I seriously cannot wait for Avengers 2. It will be the sequel of which everything else will be matched by just like The Dark Knight did. The Stan Lee cameo was also great. How can anyone not love this man? Legend simply doesn’t do him justice. One of my favorite moments was a blink and you’ll miss it easter egg near the end which may be the greatest easter egg of all time considering what it’s from and what it’s used for. I may be the only one in the packed theatre to notice it. But seeming as I’m a movie obsessed, self-professed film buff I am not that all surprised. The inclusion of shield in no way took away anything from Captain America. It felt like the perfect companion piece since shield was never given a standalone spotlight yet. Not to mention Captain America doesn’t have the friends or family to help him like other superheroes. It gives him a reason to do the things he does. And since shield is all encompassing in the MCU, the events will be a major talking point. The backstory to shield is fleshed out a bit more and the reasons where it is right now adds a much needed gravitas.
Like most things that are timeless and old, sometimes they need a refreshing for the 21st century. Captain America needed that and now he is fully entrenched in the duplicitous, untrusting country that he fought so long and hard for. Where it goes from here is anyone’s guess as trying to surmise what will come to fruition in a Marvel movie is near impossible. In this day and age where trying to think of something original, it is a rare treat in every sense of the word. In a MCU where so much happens but sometimes doesn’t feel like it, you really feel the repercussions trickling down and forever changing the scale as future movies roll along. Hopefully there are more comic book movies that feel like a sign of the times instead of things we have already seen before. Five Captain America shields out of five.