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Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

| April 4, 2014 | 0 Comments

I’ll be honest, I haven’t always been kind to the Marvel Cinematic Universe that opened with 2008’s Iron Man.  Save for the original Iron Man and Captain America: The First Avenger, the films in this series have been, for me, a case of noisy fan gratification, with more posturing then pondering.  Don’t get me wrong, I welcome this series, but amid the eye candy of flashy costumes and crashing metal I find myself wishing for something for the grey matter.

I’m happy to report that this is the case with Captain America: The Winter Soldier possibly the closest approximation of what a thoughtful superhero movie might look like, at least out of this series.  While it isn’t deeply psychological like The Dark Knight, nor the rock star epic of Iron Man, this second adventure for Cap does something refreshing – it actually tells a compelling story.  More than that, it plays like the great espionage thrillers of the 1970s like The Parallax View or Three Days of the Condor or Marathon Man, back in the days before movies got lazy and replaced brain power and good writing with shaky-cam and kickboxing.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier builds its story almost from nothing.  It begins without ominous foreshadowing and allows the clouds to form.  It builds slowly, slowly, step by step so that we only understand the story as our beloved Captain America (aka Steve Rogers) does.  In other words, it has the patience to tell the story as it unfolds, and not just creating a predictable straight line from the beginning to the end.

The story: someone has compromised S.H.E.I.L.D., and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) appears to be a suspect in a plot that leaves Steve on the run with no one to trust, not even at headquarters.  In the elevator, on the way down, he quickly surmises that the ten ordinary-looking men who have joined him in the elevator aren’t just along for the ride.

On the run with Agent Natasha Romanov (Scarlett Johansson) aka Black Widow, the two quickly discover that they have no place to hide.  There is literally no one they can trust.  Quietly Steve becomes so paranoid that, for a while, he even keeps an emotional distance from Natasha.  What serves the story best as character drama is Steve’s disorientation of the digital age.  Smart and tough as he is, he’s still a kid from the 40s who has woken up in the present after 70-years in hibernation.  He needs friends at his side, and with the dark forces closing in, he draws closer to Natasha despite his misgivings.  He also draws faith in his closest buddy, a PTSD counselor named Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) who’s other identity will not be spoiled here.

What he and Natasha and Sam uncover is something that has festered within S.H.E.I.L.D. since the days when Steve was still busting Der Fuehrer’s Face.  Trust me, I’ve given nothing away.  Actually, the most potent secret has been given away by the film’s title.  Yes, there is such a thing as The Winter Soldier and he is impressive.  He’s a ninja-like assassin with a metal arm and a Hannibal Lector-style face mask who has a connection to Steve that leaves him trying to figure out how to deal with him in some way other than putting out his lights.

A welcomed addition to this story is the inclusion of Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce the double-dealing senior member of S.H.E.I.L.D.  His casting is not a stunt.  Redford’s intelligent manner is an asset here.  He’s at the head of something underhanded but his stature leaves you with the unnerving feeling that he’s smarter than everyone else.  What does he know?  Who does he know.  And what will he do next?  Redford’s presence is his best (and in this case scariest) asset.

What is also new is Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a better investment of the characters.  Steve is still a kid of the 1940s, and in this adventure he finds that while he can trust no one, that means he must draw closer to those next to him.  He and Natasha and Sam have a curious and touching rapport.  You can note the intimate bond of friendship that exists between them in the quiet, thoughtful moments when they are simply think and talk.  That’s unusual in a movie in which the chief selling point is how loud things can get. 

The economy of characters even extends – refreshingly – to Samuel L. Jackson, who’s Nick Fury has thus far remained a minor supporting player.  Up till now he has walked on, given a short quip and then left the rest to the costumed heroes.  This time he gets intimately involved in the plot as (if you saw this week’s “Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D.”) he finds himself under attack from whoever.  A lot of Jackson’s dialogue is flat, boilerplate speech to further the plot along.  The gift of Sam Jackson is his ability to elevate even the driest of line readings into something that makes you giggle with delight.  Note a scene midway through the film when he utters a boring line like “it’s about damned time” and makes it a quietly funny comic quip.

Needless to say, despite all its positive traits, the film does boil down to one of those smash and bash finales with lots of firepower, crashing planes and smashing buildings.  It’s a noisy picture for sure, but you’re deeply invested in what is at stake – that’s key.

Of the films in this series, Captain America is now two for two in my book.  I liked the first Iron Man but felt let down by the sequels.  Hulk is interesting, but has stumbled twice as a solo feature.  And Thor, for all his defenders, is a character whose appeal escapes me.  I thought the first Thor was boring and the second, just plain silly – he’s a character that I am not sure that the screenwriters really know what to do with either. 

I’m an outsider to this genre.  I am more familiar with The Muppets then I am with The Avengers, and so my view of this series is a bit narrow.  I’m looking for something that elevates these multi-million dollar comic books into something more than just noise and crashing metal.   I sense that there is something more to these characters than just thrashing about.  They’ve been around for 70s years, so I have to assume that their appeal is more than skin deep.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2014) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized