April 6, 2014

Movie Review: Captain America - The Winter Soldier

Captain America has never been much of a favorite of mine. The character was too much of a boy scout, the costume always seemed goofy, and it just never really did much for me. Now, it has been a long time since I have been a comic reader/collector, maybe he has changed over the years. Anyway, back when The First Avenger came out, I was curious how they adapt the boy scout in the red, white, and blue and somehow make him appealing as a cinematic hero. I was happy to see the movie was a solid introduction and I particularly liked the way it spent a lot of time as a WWII film. The Avengers helped the character a bit more, but it is only now, with The Winter Soldier, that I am sold on him as a cinematic marvel.

Yes, this does mean that I like the movie. I like it a lot. During the lead up to its release there was a lot of talk saying it was better than The Avengers and even calling it the best of the Marvel movies. I am not sure I am ready to go that far, but it is certainly in the conversation as one of the best. I find it is not a movie that can easily be compared directly to The Avengers, while they certainly exist in the same universe, they are approached in different ways creatively, and have different purposes. The dynamics are different, let's just say they are both pretty awesome comic book movies and leave it at that, all right?

The movie bears the subtitle of The Winter Soldier, and while this character is the primary physical adversary, he is hardly the only bad guy here and is only one piece of the puzzle. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a political thriller masquerading as comic book movie. It does one of those things that can make genre film making so interesting, it deals with real world stuff from a different angle. Not being based on a true story or set in an ostensibly “real” world, it is free to do what it wants. Sure, there are certain formula conventions ruling some of these, but it still allows a freedom to blend the real and the fantasy in a way that a straight drama does not allow for.

I like how Cap is struggling to find his place in this world. He is a big boy scout who always strives for honesty and doing the right thing and now he is learning that not everyone is the same way. Things are no longer black and white and he has to learn to navigate the expanding shades of grey. It is in this aspect that I think this character has finally come into his own. We can identify with this, everyone has felt lost at one time or another and we find a way to get through, build a support group and come to grips with whatever we are faced with.

In the bigger picture we find SHIELD, headed by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), preparing a trio of Helicarriers that when linked with a powerful AI and satellites will be able to target and eliminate threats before they happen. Freedom through fear. It makes a fear we all have in this age of data collection and drones, and hackers, and whatever else you can think of and makes it more immediate. Fury sees something is up, potentially based on concerns voiced by Cap. This kicks off a flurry of bullets, a reveal of a secret foe, and a superhero on the run.

I have to say that the movie was a lot of fun. It has a nice mix of poignant moments, highlighted by the pairing of the squeaky clean good guy Cap with the flawed Black Widow. I liked the revelation of the conspiracy, highlighted by ties to the first film. I liked Cap learning to navigate the new world and his sadness for the years he missed and the people he lost. I liked the Winter Soldier and his ties to Cap's past, plus how imposing he comes across as.

As I sit here and think about the movie, I realize I am not sure exactly what to say about the movie. Although, I might just be tired. Still, the movie works really well. It solidifies a character I did not think could successfully be translated to the current cinematic landscape. It further develops the Marvel movie universe. Nick Fury is nicely incorporated, probably the best of the series thus far. I liked the reflection on real world privacy/security concerns. I liked how the villains from Cap's past are still involved in the present. The fights and action are also really well done. The movie has some real humanity to it and it succeeds because of it.

Highly Recommended.

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