Captain America: The Winter Soldier (United States, 2014)

April 03, 2014
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Captain America: The Winter Soldier Poster

Captain America: The Winter Soldier represents the first film from Marvel Studios since The Avengers to capture the true superhero spirit: plenty of derring-do, action, adventure, and an ending that doesn't fall apart. A sequel to 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger, this film is unlikely to convert a non-Captain America lover into a fanatic but it's assembled with sufficient skill that those who enjoy this sort of motion picture will have a good time. Also, unlike some of the other Avengers-interrelated movies, this one doesn't feel like a glorified prequel or an unnecessary adjunct. It tells its own story and, unlike with Thor 2 and Iron Man 3, we don't feel the absence of the rest of the team.

That's partially because The Winter Soldier in many ways functions as a "mini Avengers." In addition to Captain America (Chris Evans), the narrative incorporates Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie). Also on hand is Samuel L. Jackson's irrepressible Nick Fury, who has more to do here than in any of his appearances outside The Avengers. Robert Redford, who reportedly took this job for his grandchildren, provides a smooth, suave bad guy in the person of Secretary Alexander Pierce.

The first two-thirds of The Winter Soldier almost feel more like a Cold War-era espionage thriller than a superhero movie. The movie concludes with the expected special effects-laden battles and beat-the-clock action but those scenes are composed more coherently than related sequences in similar movies. And, although The Winter Soldier is available in 3-D, it's perfectly capable of being enjoyed in the less expensive 2-D format.

The movie starts with a mission in which the Captain leads a SHIELD team in boarding a pirated ship. The effort is successful but, when it's revealed that the true purpose of the assault is to protect SHIELD assets, not save lives, a rift develops between the Captain and the head of SHIELD. Later, after Fury is targeted for assassination, the Captain, accompanied by Natasha and Sam, goes on the run to discover who's behind the rot corrupting SHIELD. They learn that not only does it go to the very top but Secretary Pierce has his own superhuman agent, an ex-Soviet assassin codenamed The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), working for him. Having taken down Fury, The Winter Soldier targets Captain America.

The Winter Soldier is effectively paced with enough action to keep things moving but not so much that it overwhelms everything. One of the keys to the film's efficacy is that it takes the time to develop the relationships among the four key members. Human interaction is rarely considered an important element in "standard" superhero movies. The way it's handled in The Winter Soldier shows why it's important. The story doesn't become bogged down focusing on character development but it has enough to elevate the protagonists above the level of fast moving avatars.

The narrative contains its share of unpredictable elements and isn't afraid to shake up the status quo. One wonders what kind of ripple effects this will have on the ABC-TV series about SHIELD. By the end of The Winter Soldier, events seem to be pointing more forcefully toward a Captain America 3 than Avengers 2, although there is an obligatory mid-credits sequence designed to set up next summer's blockbuster sequel.

The most obvious asset possessed by The Winter Soldier is that it isn't plagued by the rampant sameness that characterizes so many superhero movies. The decision to hand the reins to brothers Joe and Anthony Russo, whose resume consists primarily of TV work, is an indication that Marvel wanted to achieve a different aesthetic for The Winter Soldier. The Russos' deftness of touch is most evident in the quieter, character-oriented scenes. The action sequences, although capably handled, unfold without distinction.

The Winter Soldier is a rare high profile movie being released outside the Thanksgiving/Christmas or summer movie seasons. The lack of significant competition should give it a box office boost and it will have run its course before The Amazing Spider-Man 2 comes along in four weeks. For comic book fans, this one is unlikely to leave the sour aftertaste of Iron Man 3 or Thor 2. It's effective escapist entertainment - something we need from time-to-time.

(Credit watchers take note: There are two "bonus scenes." The first, which is a direct tie-in to Avengers 2, occurs about mid-way. Then there's another short snippet after the full end credits have completed. This one can be missed but it's there if you elect to stay.)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (United States, 2014)

Run Time: 2:17
U.S. Release Date: 2014-04-04
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1