Directed by Joe & Anthony Russo
Starring Chris Evans, Scarlett Johanssen, Samuel L. Jackson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Robert Redford, Cobie Smulders, and Frank Grillo
In my humble opinion, I don’t think Marvel Studios gets nearly enough credit for giving talented new filmmakers a chance with some of their big comic properties. Neither Jon Favreau nor Joss Whedon had ever done anything close to the scale of Iron Man or The Avengers when Marvel handed them the reigns of those two blockbusters, and both turned out to be immensely successful. At this point, with the runaway success of nearly all of the Marvel films, no one would blame them if they decided to hire a superstar director like Steven Spielberg or J.J. Abrams for one of their movies, but so far they have stuck to their out-of-the-box methods by hiring eccentric and wholly original filmmakers like James Gunn and Edgar Wright to bring their characters to the big screen. For Captain America: The Winter Soldier, they chose Joe and Anthony Russo, a sibling director team who up until now have mostly worked on TV, but based on how well they brought the second Captain America film to the big screen, they are sure to have a bright future ahead of them in the movie business.
While I highly enjoyed the first Captain America film from 2011, I was impatient to see Steve Rogers, one of my all-time favorite Marvel characters, interact with a world that is quite different from the one he was familiar with, which was one of the aspects that always endeared me to him in the comics. In The Winter Soldier, the Russo Brothers and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely lift a few key concepts from Ed Brubaker’s celebrated eight-year run on the Captain America comic to tell a wholly effective and exciting action tale that features Steve trying to reconcile his World War II-era values with the increasingly gray moral compass of the modern U.S. political landscape. His qualms with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s increasingly oppressive agendas are expressed early on in the film and are proven valid when a rogue cell within the agency begins to target Director Nick Fury (played once again by Samuel L. Jackson) and turns both him and Natasha “Black Widow” Romanoff (Scarlett Johanssen) into fugitives. With the help of Steve’s veteran pal Sam Wilson, a.k.a. The Falcon (the always-awesome Anthony Mackie) and S.H.I.E.L.D. ally Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), Cap leads a counterattack on the rogue cell that uncovers some old enemies and a former ally in James “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan), who has been physically enhanced and mind-wiped by HYDRA and transformed into a deadly assassin known as The Winter Soldier.
For their first big-budget film, the Russos do not pull any punches when it comes to action, and their filmmaking sensibilities fit the material perfectly. The many action scenes in The Winter Soldier are handled expertly, with just the right amount of Paul Greengrass-style handheld style to ramp up the tension and suspense, as well as a number of impressive physical stunts that put a number of other recent action films to shame. Unlike most action directors that treat action as full-on sensory assaults (Michael Bay), the Russos use these sequences as essential storytelling tools that actually enhance the plot. Balanced among these impressive scenes are some fantastic character-building moments for Fury, Widow, and The Falcon, all of whom are allowed to be seen as people before they are thrown into the action. Even the big bad of the film is allowed to explain his m.o. in a way that elevates it above the standard “talking killer” trope found in most action films, and the real-world parallels of the central threat avoid being heavy-handed and obvious.
Aside from the strengths found in the story and the filmmaking style, The Winter Soldier is also a Marvel fan’s wet dream, with a number of visual and audio Easter Eggs that are perfectly placed into the main plot so that they don’t come across as overly intrusive or showy, as well as a mid-credits scene that offers a thrilling (if not somewhat expected) sneak peek at what’s in store for The Avengers in next year’s Age of Ultron. There are even some sly references to past non-Marvel films peppered in throughout that are sure to elicit knowing chuckles from a number of cinephiles. Like most of Marvel Studios’ best films, Captain America: The Winter Soldier tells a story that will enthrall devoted Marvel fans and casual viewers who are only familiar with these characters on the big screen, which is something all successful superhero adaptations need to do. It’s nice to know that success hasn’t spoiled Marvel Studios and that they are continuing to tell exciting and poignant stories within their films that will not only appeal to the widest possible audience but will also fully satisfy those who have enjoyed these characters for decades prior. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is without a doubt one of the best Marvel Studios films to date and earns 5 out of 5 Possible Fourth-Wall-Breaking Cameos.