By: Joel Frehn | The Duquesne Duke
Before seeing Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Marvel Studios’ latest offering, I never thought I would utter the phrase “That was as good as The Avengers.”
The standalone films from the studio have ranged from good (Iron Man) to great (Iron Man 3), but have never reached the five star quality of Avengers. However, the second Captain America film – directed by Joe and Anthony Russo has reached the level of five star quality, and has raised the bar for all films on the horizon.
Set two years after The Avengers, The Winter Soldier focuses on Captain America’s (Chris Evans) attempts to fit in a world that is unfamiliar to him. However, behind this seemingly calm world lurks a menace that is all too familiar for the time-traveling soldier.
On the narrative front, the film is an enjoyable blend of ideas from the 1980’s Marvel comics (Nick Fury vs SHIELD) and the celebrated arc of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run, “The Winter Soldier.” The film is a nice blend of a political thriller and a science fiction story. The narrative also paints some political nightmare scenarios, such as America’s reliance on computer algorithms, whether for shopping on Amazon or detecting potential crime or the infiltration of a large bureaucracy by unsavory powers. Additionally, the film masters a variable that was problematic for preceding standalone films: the ratio of drama to humor. While the film is quite serious, the humor is used with discipline, and does not create tonal discrepancies, like in the preceding film, Thor: The Dark World.
These fascinating scenarios would not have a full emotional impact without well-developed performances to shade them. The cast in Winter Soldier is uniformly excellent. Chris Evans, as expected, supplies a great portrait of Captain America’s disillusionment with the counter-terrorism organization, SHIELD. On the other side of the coin, Robert Redford plays an unrepentant villain who wants the foundation of his ideal society painted in blood.
Scarlett Johansson and Cobie Smulders reprise their roles from The Avengers, and are given time to shine, instead of being reduced to romantic interests, as blockbuster tradition demands. Last but not least is Sebastian Stan, who portrays the title character of the film, the Winter Soldier. He operates in a world that is as gray as his cybernetic arm, and possesses a deep connection to Captain America, which leads to a large and emotional reveal in the third act of the film.
From the visual standpoint, the action in the film is superbly choreographed. Captain America uses his nearly indestructible shield in creative, yet organic ways. Instead of solely relying on gunplay for the fights, the action sequences are also peppered with hand-to-hand combat and acrobatics. The editing for these sequences is top notch as well, a rare presence in superhero blockbusters (see the confusing editing in the armored chase in The Dark Knight, for reference.)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is as good as The Avengers. It is a masterfully written, acted, choreographed and designed film. It is the first blockbuster I have seen this semester that is flawless and I cannot recommend seeing the film enough. It does not require seeing the first Captain America film or The Avengers to appreciate it. However, viewing those films will enrich the viewing experience, as they reveal how certain plotlines were seeded. If you do see it, stay for the two credit scenes: one, which plays in the middle of the credits, serves as a prologue of sorts for next year’s Avengers film, while the last one, which plays after the credits, serves as an emotional epilogue for Stan’s and Evan’s characters.