This entry also appears on Oz’s personal blog Here
Coming off of the first movie’s magnificent execution by Joe Johnston and “pretty damn good” reception by audiences (no doubt overshadowed just a bit by Iron Man’s omega level douchebaggery and Thor’s pecs), I was curious as to how Joe and Anthony Russo would play the sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger. Would they mimic Johnston’s style of paying homage to Old Republic serials? Would they give us a semi noir-ish espionage romp as the comics have been known to dabble in throughout recent years (especially when the movie’s titular character is involved)? Or would they go the easy route and capitalize off his success in the Avengers, letting the star spangled hero smack down larger than life, ultra powerful threats to world in a standard superhero romp? The result, in its way, was the best of all worlds.
To call this movie a rollercoaster ride would be like referring to a bullet train as a taxicab. Captain America: The Winter Soldier took a route that, while safe in its own way, was definitely the most enjoyable for comic fans and civilians alike. Though it does indeed have it’s spy elements, it’s an action spy film that is more Bourne Identity (on steroids) than Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It makes every effort to be as accessible as possible without slowing down viewers acquainted with the previous film as well as the comics they descend from. As you’re watching, no matter how you end up feeling about what you see, you find yourself admitting that, if nothing else, Marvel’s Cinematic Universe seems to take a hardcore attitude of “These movies can’t afford to a). suck or b). alienate outsiders anymore.” Where the first movie asked, “How Does A Weak But Noble Man Become Strong and Save the World?”, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who helmed the screenplay, take the next logical step and ask, “How Can I Be Captain America When America (the powers-that-be, anyway) Sometimes Sucks?”
We find our hero, Captain America (Chris Evans) adjusting to life in modern day America, dealing with his personal life by almost completely foregoing having one. The only real personal time he ever seems to really enjoy is (literally) running laps around veteran/PTSD counselor Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and his pre-mission exchanges where the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) suggests potential dates in an attempt to get him laid. Meanwhile, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) tries to enlighten Cap on the new way of the world, how things aren’t always as black and white as recruitment posters of old would have one believe and how “the good old days” weren’t as good or simple as he likes to believe they were.
Evans has got this “gee whiz”, wide eyed aspect of the hero down to a science, delivering as a wholesome man of conviction without ever coming off like a preachy, sanctimonious asshole. In every scene, we really feel for the guy who, while never wavering in his duty to serve and protect, still wonders whether he’s the symbol that our America needs or even wants. Jackson’s Fury is so thoroughly bathed in cool even when he’s not in control or when he’s shot all to Hell, I’m starting to think that Jackson, with the effortless way he plays him, sees this as his spirit animal, the summation of every badass, smart mouthed action junkie fantasy he’s EVER wanted to live out. He has fun with it and that shows beautifully on screen. Also, while we’re on the topic of “old school heavyweights having fun with their roles”, Robert Redford’s pompous, smug S.H.I.E.L.D. top dog, Alexander Pierce is so delightfully evil and brooding while maintaining a half-smiling Michael Scott quality at all times.
Arguably, this movie’s greatest strength is that even with all the action and obstacles Captain America is given to blitzkrieg through like the all-American quarterback he comes off as, the supporting cast never feels like a lineup of sidekicks. They’re partners who take point, hold their own, come through in clutch moments and save his ass every bit as much as he does for them. I mean, the WHOLE A-squad gives the bad guys more work than a temp agency. This is no more evident than in a scene where Fury, suspected of treason, evades and assaults (interchangeably) a strike team for a solid ten minutes before his run-in with the dreaded Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), who looks like he was ripped right out of a page in the comics and pasted on the goddamned screen.
And the fans will not be left wanting with this one. It features so many easter eggs, familiar faces, name drops and tie-ins to previous Marvel films as well as the much debated primetime series “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, the true nerds and continuity whores are likely already pre-ordering their dvd copies so they can spend plenty of time cherry picking for things they missed in the theater.
Bottom Line: This might just be the best movie the Marvel Cineverse has cranked out yet, photo-finishing next to The Avengers and Iron Man (in that order). 9.5 out of 10.