Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the latest movie in both the Captain America and Marvel franchises. Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo (Arrested Development, Community), this spy thriller has Captain America (Chris Evans) unraveling a government conspiracy that involves SHIELD Director Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson), Secretary of State Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), assassin Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and the mysterious Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).
The most important thing going in to this movie to me was seeing how the Winter Soldier would be portrayed. As one of my favorite characters in comics and the movie itself being based on his origin story (which also ranks as one of my favorite stories in comics), I had very high expectations going in. The exceedingly good news is that the Winter Soldier is more than I could have realistically hoped for, and nearly everything that I actually hoped for. He stole every scene that he was in, and his first appearance had my jaw drop. Stan was every bit the extraordinarily talented semi-cybernetic assassin that I know the Winter Soldier to be. It is a real shame that this movie does not delve deeper into the Winter Soldier’s past, as that certainly would have done even more to make audiences see just how great this character is. One thing that The Winter Soldier does do perfectly is set up his future in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), leaving me very happy that Sebastian Stan signed a nine-picture deal with Marvel not too long ago.
Unfortunately, though, the reveal of the Winter Soldier’s identity is not as satisfying as it could have been. Because the Winter Soldier and Captain America do not have the history in the movies that they do in the comics, the moment when the Winter Soldier’s mask falls off and the camera pans up lacks a good amount of weight. My father, who did not know who the Winter Soldier was before this movie, turned to me in that moment and said, “Who is that?” Stan does not have a distinctive enough appearance, nor did he have the screen time in previous Marvel movies, to make this the impactful reveal that it should have been.
The acting in this movie is probably the best that any Marvel movie has ever had, star-studded as its cast is. Robert Redford and Samuel L. Jackson in particular are great, but Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, and Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson/Falcon) are no slouches. Redford has a calmness and quietness about him that belies the power and emotion that he really has. The coolest cameo of the movie belongs to Georges St. Pierre in his turn as French mercenary Batroc the Leaper, almost purely for the fact that Batroc made it into a movie before Marvel titans like Captain Marvel, Doctor Strange, or Ant-Man (though both Strange and Ant-Man have movies on the way). Frank Grillo appears as longtime Captain America villain Crossbones (aka Brock Rumlow), without ever actually donning the skull mask. That is one future appearance that I’m trying to patiently wait for.
Every other review of this movie is going to mention that the story is similar to Three Days of the Condor (with Redford starring, I wonder why), and that is a somewhat apt comparison. Both movies are about governments and conspiracies and both feature main characters that used to be a part of that government and are now trying to figure out the whole plot of said conspiracy. While there do exist better movies of the spy thriller variety, The Winter Soldier is a pretty strong addition to their ranks. There is no way to see all the twists and turns coming, and the reveal as to who exactly is behind all the bad goings-on is a particularly inspired choice. I can think of no better way to make a spy thriller that fits so well in the MCU.
The message of this movie is a little too preachy for my liking. I’d be willing to bet a few million dollars that either of the Russo brothers know who Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden are, in that the idea of leaking government secrets for the betterment of the American people/people of the world is a rather prevalent idea. SHIELD and the World Security Council are planning on launching new helicarriers that are filled to the brim with weapons. Once launched, they will be capable of precision strikes against enemies from high in the sky (kind of like modern-day drones, huh?). Cap and Co. want to make sure this doesn’t happen, and part of the plan to do just that involves spilling the beans on the Internet. These morally gray ideas are presented in such black-and-white terms that audiences are not allowed to come to their own conclusions. Captain America is on the side against the helicarriers and for telling the world all of SHIELD’s secrets, and all the bad guys (e.g. the Winter Soldier) are all on the opposite side. The villains seem to be so simply because the movie tells you that they have to be the bad guys and Captain America has to be the good guy. The Russos missed an opportunity at having made a better movie by making it so easy for the audience to choose sides.