“The world has changed, and none of us can go back. All we can do is our best, and sometimes, the best that we can do is to start over.”
If you read my review of Captain America: The First Avenger (and there haven’t been many posts around here lately, so odds are that you did), then you know that I was a pretty big fan of that movie. However, one big weakness of Cap’s big screen debut, as well as his role in The Avengers, was that you never got to see him kick very much ass. Granted, it’s not always easy to look powerful when your teammates consist of the God of Thunder, an enormous green rage monster and a wise-cracking genius in a high-tech armored suit, but Cap is his own entity, right? There’s no excuse for him not to be a bad ass when those other Avengers aren’t around to steal the spotlight.
Only that wasn’t the case in The First Avenger; the action scenes suffered due to the high usage of montages and thus we only saw glimpses of Cap proving his worth in battle. That was a mistake that I hoped all those involved would avoid in Cap 2, partly because the sequel seemed to be taking all of the other right steps to improve upon the original. Chris Evans as Steve Rogers in the modern day world? He nails that role. Casting Anthony Mackie as the Falcon? Hell of a choice, guy’s a great actor. Bringing back Nick Fury, Black Widow and then throwing the Winter Soldier and Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce into the mix? I’m already on the edge of my seat. That being said, the movie is called Captain America for a reason and it was high time that he proved why he’s the world’s greatest soldier.
And that’s exactly what happened. Captain America: The Winter Soldier improved upon its predecessor in every conceivable way and reaffirmed my belief that Steve Rogers is a hero worthy of our attention and admiration. Not only that, but the narrative that is very carefully weaved here by The Russo Brothers (first time big-budget directors who are famous for Community) is chalked full of intriguing twists and turns with enormous amounts of payoff, and when you combine it all together, you have the finest standalone Marvel Studios film since the original Iron Man. I’ll go as far to say that it even surpasses our first encounter with Tony Stark.
We’ll start with the plot. Steve Rogers has lent his abilities as Captain America to the service of S.H.I.E.L.D., and though he is less than satisfied with the underhanded way that his new comrades operate (particularly the methods of Fury and Widow), he’s willing to overlook all of that so long as he still feels that he’s helping people and making a difference in the world. That all changes when Fury is pursued by “cops” in broad daylight and then fatally wounded in Rogers’ apartment, which in turn sparks a manhunt for Cap and forces him and the Widow to go on the run. I’d be well within my rights to delve even further into the spoilers, seeing as this movie has been out for three months, but I’ll hold back for anyone who was on the fence about this movie because they didn’t like the first one.
If you are a member of that band of ignorant fools, perhaps I can help change your mind. In my opinion, Evans embodies every essential quality of Captain America in this movie and is as relatable as he’s ever been. Once again, Rogers displays extraordinary conviction and refuses to sacrifice his beliefs or values, even when his so-called allies aren’t doing the same. It’s all well and good to do everything in your power to disarm those who present a threat to the innocent, but how do you react when you realize that your superiors have been holding a knife to your throat the whole time? The America that Rogers sacrificed himself to protect during the war is a distant memory, and what he finds in the new world is that the difference between good and evil is that the good guys will at least apologize after they stab you in the back.
On top of all that, Rogers’ entire existence is shaken to its core when he finds out the true identity of The Winter Soldier, the Terminator-esque assassin who carried out the hit on Fury and whose motivation is unclear. To watch Cap try and make sense of everything as he grapples with all of these betrayals and revelations is something to behold, and the only thing to top it are his interactions with his friends. I feel safe calling them that because over the course of the movie, Black Widow, Falcon and even a returning Maria Hill all prove themselves in Cap’s eyes. You already knew that Black Widow was playing for the home team (Scarlett Johanson absolutely owns that role at this point) but Mackie as the Falcon provides a fresh face and kindred spirit for Rogers to connect with. They are both soldiers, after all, and you feel their chemistry and camaraderie being established right from the opening frames. And spoilers be damned, but the reunion between Cap and Peggy Carter is one of the most intimate and human moments from any superhero movie. It provided us with some much desired closure between those two and inspired me to quote it at the beginning of this review.
Of course, none of this would mean a damn thing if the action wasn’t up to par, but it absolutely is. Cap is literally unstoppable as he bashes his way through anyone dumb enough to take him on and his trademark shield is one of the coolest weapons ever. It ricochets off walls and batters everything from helpless thugs to S.H.I.E.L.D. helicopters, proving once and for all that Cap doesn’t need any help in order to dispatch his enemies with extreme prejudice. His showdowns with The Winter Soldier are epic encounters that actually surprise in the way that they’re carried out and leave you wanting more long after the final credits roll. And speaking of that damned soldier, only Loki has left a more lasting impression as a villain that can challenge our heroes both physically and emotionally. All of this leads to a climax that has catastrophic results for the Marvel Universe at large and will surely impact every follow-up to come.
In short, Captain America: The Winter Soldier accomplished everything that we could expect from one of these standalone films: told a compelling story that was unique, action-packed and further developed characters that we love? Check. Introduced a terrifying villain but made him more than just a mindless husk or maniacal mastermind? Check. Provided us with touching character moments that humanized everyone involved? Double check. This movie went above and beyond in terms of where we normally see comic book movies go and raised the bar for Marvel once again. I adored everything about this film and I’m just as excited for the next Cap movie as I am to see the Avengers reassemble next May. Your move, Joss Whedon.
Jesse’s Rating: 10/10