A film review by Craig J. Koban April 9, 2014

RANK: #15



2014, PG-13, 136 mins.


Chris Evans as Steve Rogers / Captain America  /  Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury  /  Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow  /  Sebastian Stan as James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes  /  Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson / Falcon  /  Frank Grillo as Brock Rumlow / Crossbones  /  Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill  /  Toby Jones as Arnim Zola  /  Emily VanCamp as Sharon Carter  /  Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter  /  Georges St. Pierre as Batroc the Leaper  /  Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce

Directed by Joe Russo and Anthony Russo  /  Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

WATCH my review of the film on CTV Morning Live Saskatoon HERE



CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLIDER Ė the ninth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and arguably its most richly written and thematically complex Ė does what all superior and ambitious sequel should do: It takes established characters and thrusts them into an enthralling and new story that segregates itself substantially from its predecessor.  

The first CAPTAIN AMERICA film explored the origins of the once diminutive Steve Rogers and his journey into becoming a super serum induced, Nazi butt kicking patriotic force.  That film was a gloriously realized World War II era adventure film, which I loved, but CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLIDER is an even better and more confident film, placing the time displaced super hero in the modern age and right smack dab in the middle of a vast political conspiracy that has him questioning his own nationalistic loyalties.  

Thatís the endlessly fascinating hook to THE WINTER SOLDER: Not only does poor old Steve have to acclimatize himself to a world thatís foreign to him (remember, he was frozen in suspended animation in the 1940ís and later discovered and thawed out in the present), but his once flag-waving level of derring-do and sense of justice are really thrown upside down by the inherent cynicism of today.  In WWII, his enemies were clearly defined and motives for fighting them seemed crystal clear, but now the Captain finds himself occupying a paranoid post-9/11 world where enemies are faceless and ill defined and his very countryís methods at taking them on are questionably oblique.  The real genius of THE WINTER SOLDER is how it portrays Captain Americaís growing disillusionment with the country heís sworn to defend, especially when heís battling forces unnervingly close to him.  Like, perhaps, THE DARK KNIGHT, this film entrenches the super hero film aesthetic and milieu within a story that coldly reflects out own times, which helps makes these films simmer with more immediacy and relevance than its other comic book adaptation counterparts.   



Two years after the battle of New York (as detailed in the climax of THE AVENGERS), Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) finds himself still trying to find a place for himself in a contemporary world while living in Washington, DC and working for S.H.I.E.L.D. (amusingly, he keeps a list in a journal of things to catch up on, which includes, among other things, STAR WARS, disco, Thai food, and Marvin Gay music).  Early in the film the Captain finds himself on a routine, yet still dangerous S.H.I.E.L.D. mission for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) that involves infiltrating and stopping the hijacking of a shipping freighter.  Captain America is joined on his mission by his new partner, Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), but the more embroiled they become in it the more the Captain begins to realize that Fury may or may not have been straight with him about the real governmental imperatives behind the mission.  After completing their covert assignment, the Captain grows jaded and conflicted not only about his relationship with Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D., but also with the U.S. government in general. 

Steve's malaise turns to outright paranoia when Fury becomes the target for assassination, which leaves a huge rift between the Captain and just about everyone he closely works with at S.H.I.E.L.D..  Trusting virtually no one beyond himself, Natasha, and a new ally in Sam Wilson (a war vet with unique skills in aerial combat that does not involve planes, played by Anthony Mackie), the Captain and his partners go on the run and evade capture to discover the seedier underbelly and history of S.H.I.E.L.D..  Along the way, the Captain has verbal confrontations with high ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. official Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) and, more severely, comes face-to-face with his new enemy, ďThe Winter Soldier,Ē an ex-Soviet assassin that suspiciously seems to have most of the laboratory concocted abilities that the Captain possesses.  When the real identity of his new enemy is revealed, the Captain finds himself fighting a new war with a deeply personal slant that even he wasn't prepared to take on. 

Unlike perhaps just about any of the other Marvel films to date (the first CAPTAIN AMERICA included), THE WINTER SOLDIER greatly benefits from its decidedly more old school approach as a savvy and suspenseful potboiler thriller in the same vibe as 1970ís political paranoia classics like THE PARALLAX VIEW and THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR.  Granted, the standard and obligatory accoutrements of the super hero genre are here in abundance, but writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFreely seem less interested in eye-popping action and spectacle as they are in telling a tightly wound and tense conspiracy story that really taps into the Captainís increasingly troubled psyche.  The writers seem equally keen and daring enough to force Steve Rogers to deal with the disheartening reality of what existing as a square-jawed crusader means in a modern age of omnipotent technology, a lethal military industrialize complex, and unscrupulous politicians that turn a blind eye to ethics at any moment.  THE WINTER SOLDIER is an alarmingly accurate portrayal of the socio-political nihilism we live in, and the shrewd manner that itís adeptly sew into the fabric of a super hero genre here is one of THE WINTER SOLDIERís crowning achievements. 

Thatís not to say that the film is bereft of action and spectacle, mind you.  Gone out of the directorís chair is Joe Johnson (who pitch perfectly crafted the first filmís nostalgic glow and flavor), and in now are Joe and Anthony Russo, a duo that previously directed episodes of TVís COMMUNITY, ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT and helmed the comedy YOU, ME, AND DUPREE, which hardly seems like worthwhile credentials to helm a blockbuster popcorn film.  Alas, and rather astoundingly, the Russo brothers prove themselves to be remarkably equal to the task of marrying the filmís more introspective and character driven moments with rock solid and dazzling action sequences that have a propulsive energy and clarity.  Thereís a spectacularly realized scene involving the Captain literally crashing his way through apartment walls while in foot pursuit of the Winter Soldier, not to mention a brilliantly mounted combat scene set in a tightly confined elevator pitting Rogers versus multiple armed opponents.  Perhaps more so than in the last CAPTAIN AMERICA film, the Russos really amp up the stunning dexterity and lethal blunt force of their title hero here to thrillingly bombastic effect.  

Yet, for all of the filmís multi-million dollar sheen (it is a super hero film, after all), THE WINTER SOLDIER still finds time to refreshingly hone in on character dynamics.  Chris Evans has certainly eased and matured into his role as his star spangled avenger, but there still remains those that find the actor too low key and lacking in charisma in the role.  Yet, what makes Steve Rogers so endearing, relatable, and arguably the most identifiable persona in the Marvel Universe is his everyman soul.  Heís not the loveably narcissist that is Tony Stark or the grandiose Norse God that is Thor; Captain America is a relaxed, self-assured, but internally guilt-ridden hero caught between a huge rift of serving and protecting his country and exposing those that work within his nation as criminal fiends.  Evans commands himself nicely to his tricky role, which is complimented by equally refined supporting work by Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson, both of whom have had their roles more thoroughly expanded this go around.  The real casting coup may be Redford, whose appearance here reflects and ironically comments on his own participation in classic conspiratorial thrillers of yesteryear that THE WINTER SOLDIER is trying to emulate. 

I thought that CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER was a grand entertainment.  Iím frankly astonished by how much more I enjoyed the breathlessly paced and authoritatively directed THE WINTER SOLDIER.  It elevates itself far above the other pantheon of Marvel films by driving Captain America head-on into a gripping and highly topical story that not only has a tremendous ripple effect for him as a character, but for the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well.  That, and it balances its slam-bang action, stunning visual effects, and quieter and reflective moments with a real poise.  The film has a sense of relative closure for its narrative while simultaneously ending on a cliffhanger, of sorts, to propel the further adventures of Steve Rogers forward.  I await them with great eagerness.


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