Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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Marvel Studios has been an interesting experiment in franchise building since its first foray in 2008 with Iron Man. From the meager beginnings, the company has become a full fledge juggernaut with no signs of slowing down. Now into its second phase of movies, Marvel Studios is working to up the ante on all their known properties. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the third sequel of Phase 2, and it very well might be the best of the lot. Starring Chris Evans as Captain America, the movie takes on the ideas of corruption, raised stakes, and loyalty.

Directors, Anthony and Joe Russo, deliver an interwoven story that keeps the audience guessing while simultaneously not making things too confusing. Captain America: The Winter Soldier resembles 1970s spy action flicks in the best of ways. Slick technology, good looking and charming heroes, and villains who matches our heroes in equal measure. Winter Soldier is the pitch perfect example of how to keep these superhero genre films from going stale.

Our story begins with the first meeting of Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans). A great start to the movie with a light hearted connection between two characters who will become lifelong friends. Immediately following we are off to the races when Cap gets picked up by Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johannsson) after being called in for a covert mission. Since the events of The Avengers, Cap has been working non-stop on covert missions for S.H.I.E.L.D. and he begins to question motivations of its leadership. When Cap is ordered to retrieve hostages from a hijacked ship our adventures truly begin and really never slow down for 2+ hours. With an appearance from George St. Pierre, famed MMA fighter, as Batroc the Leaper in the first 15 minutes the movie feels to have already surpassed its predecessor in style already; we haven’t even started yet! After the mission is complete, Cap’s suspicions are further validated and his trust in some characters begin to falter. Cap is then introduced to Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), a S.H.I.E.L.D. director, who asks Cap to go further then he has previously. Pierce is a very gray character and his motivations are simply too muddy to glean a clear picture. In an incredibly compartmentalized spy agency things begin to appear less than transparent. For a character like Captain America, these are the best stories. Muddled between what is right and what is his duty help with this type of character's exploration and makes him more interesting. However, even more than that is Cap’s past that just won’t stay dead.

When Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is attacked by a shrouded figure named The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), the spy world is thrown upside down. Cap works to find this elusive character and has some direct run-ins with him, which make for excellent action sequences. The level of action in this movie is sheer spectacle. Showing off more hand to hand combat was a major jump in the right direction. Lacking from Cap in his first outing and in The Avengers was his fighting ability. The Russo brothers fixed this and then some. Showing off Cap’s extensive physical ability as well as The Winter Soldier’s was fantastic. The pacing of the action was fast and intense. We didn’t get much shield throwing in the previous iterations of Cap, but here we get to see Steve Rogers really show off. You can now see why he is the leader of The Avengers, and not just a member.

At this point in time, Chris Evans is Captain America for me and many fans around the world. He will become synonymous with the role after people see this film. Evans is able to embody the pragmatic, no nonsense, and boy scout nature of Captain Steve Rogers. Anthony Mackie as the wise cracking partner of Cap was really great. The Marvel universe, and frankly comic book movies as a whole have lacked minority characters, but Mackie’s addition was greatly appreciated and I look forward to seeing more of him in the near future. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow was better here and more explored than we’ve seen previously. Her character is getting more play in the gray area -- where she belongs. Last but certainly not least, Samuel L. Jackson has played it cool in all these movies with slick one liners, but The Russo brothers show you just why Nick Fury should be considered a badass. Its nice to see the top spy get some serious action moments.

In conclusion, Marvel Studios didn’t meet my expectations...they far exceeded them. Some argued that Captain America: The First Avenger was the weakest of the Phase 1 films. I wouldn’t agree, but what cannot be debated is whether Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the best of Phase 2...it is. While a bold statement, I feel comfortable in saying that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the best Marvel film to date, including The Avengers. Go see this movie immediately, it's your civic duty (even if you aren’t America).

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