Cap 2 has done something I’ve desperately wanted these Marvel flicks to do more of and that’s to play within different genres. Captain America: The Winter Soldier dabbles wearing political spy thriller clothes while telling a superhero story, propelling it past the other solo Marvel movies. The Russo brothers take over directing and they’re known for their TV directing on the greatest show ever, Community. It just goes to show how hard directing comedy is (so under appreciated). If you’re good at directing, you’re good at directing.
The film picks up sometime after The Avengers. Steve Rogers is still adjusting to our world and we get plenty of fish out of water jokes. He’s working with Shield, which is essentially the CIA. When Shield becomes compromised, Steve Rogers and Black Widow team up to figure out this conspiracy and punch a ton of bad guys along the way. Sounds like a lot of the same superhero stuff? Maybe, but it’s more than fresh enough to warrant you paying 10+ bucks.
Chris Evans is back as the boy scout but this time he’s allowed to explore the character properly along side Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. Then you have Samuel L. Jackson and newcomers Robert Redford and Anthony Mackie who add supporting strength. The comedy injected here isn’t silly, but instead organic and the Russo brothers are the ones who deserve the credit. They absolutely nail a balance of humor and action.
Plot-wise the conspiracy thriller plot is engaging until around the third act when it fizzles out and the supersize action finale takes over. It’s a conventional spy thriller, but when mixed with a superhero story it has a freshness that puts it a cut above most superhero films. It hinges on the theme of who do you trust? That’s where Captain America is currently. He’s the all American war hero of the 1940’s thrown into a world that’s corrupt and not black and white. How he handles that is why the film works on a character level.
Let’s be real though. The reason you should buy a ticket and see this on the big screen is for the action scenes. The Russo’s are able to capture intensity and fire power not seen in Marvel’s films to this point. Bourne feels like a major reference point here. The choreography is impressive, though I wish it had the blocking and spatial understanding to make it great.
It’s not just trading punches, it’s full body Kung Fu fighting. The Russo brothers shoot mostly in singles and while I wouldn’t call it cinematic, it’s involving. Sometimes it’s much too quickly edited to hide the stunt doubles, which is a minor crutch. The shot composition and cinematography aren’t anything to brag about but there’s a verve and aggressiveness to their one on one fights that get you pumped up.
This is the most thematically interesting and focused of the Marvel films. It stems from Cap trying to find his place in the world. The banter between Captain America and Black Widow is fun and helps build their relationship and trust. The film also lightly questions character’s pasts and if they should affect how we see them in the present.
There’s one iffy scene where a computer dumps a ton of exposition that’s quite distracting. It’s basically just their to cover up a bunch of holes and realign the plot but that’s the only script issue. The Winter Soldier as a villain has an intimidating screen presence and while we don’t actually come to learn much about him besides what we’re told, a reveal at the end allows for some good character moments. The third act slips up slightly by having too much going on for the Russos to handle. I also have issues with a how few twists are revealed and how the people behind everything use their plan….. but damn you’re so drunk on the action that you can look past it for enjoyment.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier has involving action with an entertaining spy plot and strong character drama utilizing the “fish out of water” theme to create some smart and funny moments between Evans and co. The plot employs a basic, but well executed conspiracy spy plot. The story treads the line of becoming somewhat absurd in the final third (I’m looking at you FALCON) but the Russo brothers wrangle it in enough to maintain a sense of fun. Chris Evans is such a blast to watch that you just accept everything that’s happening.
Cap is what makes this film interesting. His past returning to him in a shifting world has some character complexity to it that I haven’t seen in Marvel’s previous film. The film balances the political spy thriller beats while maintaining the fun superhero protagonist that we’ve come to expect from Marvel. The Russo Brother make this fresh with their comedy and fast paced action. It’s conventional in its exploring of genre but it’s a blast of an action movie that has more identity than most of Marvel’s flicks.