The great Marvel movie juggernaut (no pun intended) has kind of been on the skids lately. The Wolverine self-immolated in the final act. Iron Man 3 was a huge disappointment. Thor 2 was decidedly mediocre. Then you see trailers of how Guardians of the Galaxy is apparently a comedy, and you start to wonder if the whole company is just mailing it in now and living off the brand names.
If you’re like me and had these kinds of concerns, go see Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Pg-13, 2014), and you’ll feel a lot better.
The plot picks up with Cap still doing missions for SHIELD, oftentimes in tandem with Black Widow, who is trying to get him to date. We see snippets, some very moving, of how he is trying (with varying degrees of success) to mesh into modern society. What keeps him centered is his keeping up the good fight for our nation and making the world a better place. Ah, but is that really what he’s doing? Through a series of events, our hero’s faith in his commanding officers is brought into question, culminating in the assassination of a main character and Cap on the run as a fugitive.
Sounds good, right? That’s because it is. I didn’t get a whole lot of warm and fuzzy vibes when I heard Joe and Anthony Russo were directing Winter Soldier. Their biggest job to this point was handling episodes of Community, which, while awesome, wouldn’t seem to lend itself to helming an action thriller like this. First off, they intentionally kept the CGI to a minimum. Sure, it’s there, but it isn’t overwhelming the film. Second, they didn’t trade plot for cheap laughs (Iron Man 3), mindless tangents (Thor 2), or absurd “twists” (The Wolverine). The action is intense, the effects are seamless, and the exposition points are engrossing. Moreover, Winter Soldier has an almost Robert Ludlum type of story with super-hero trappings, and it’s played straight the entire way through to great effect.
Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley wrote the screenplay for the first Captain America and have returned for the sequel. They took a lot of stuff in sort of “ripped from the headlines” fashion without being ham-fisted. You get drones, NSA-ish privacy invasions, shadow government operations, and all the other foundation pieces of current events and espionage fiction, sans melodrama.
You’ve seen most of these characters before, so I’m not going to get much into the casting, except to say that Scarlett Johannson is getting a tad hammy and Anthony Mackie was fantastic as Sam Wilson. With regards to the latter character and his treatment, this was another area where the Russos really did well. A lot of people unfortunately write-off a guy like Falcon because “all he can do is fly.” Winter Soldier shows you how effective “just flying” can be.
I guess you might be wondering why nothing of the above mentions The Winter Soldier character. That’s the weird thing about the film. The Winter Soldier, despite the shout-out in the title, is a pretty minor part of the story. He makes the most of his screen time, but you might find yourself forgetting at times that he’s even in the mix.
Like with the first Cap film, Winter Soldier is also a celebration of virtue. The government conspiracy stuff does give it a darker tone, but the underlying goodness of Steve Rogers is still the driving force. As I indicated in my review of the previous installment, Rogers is good because people are supposed to be good. He isn’t “grim and gritty,” and anyone who wants him to be just doesn’t get it. While this doesn’t make for explicitly Catholic content, it’s valuable for everyone to take note that you can have virtuous heroes, even almost over-the-toply so, that are entertaining.
The content is tame. Yes, there’s violence, but you knew that already. No sexual content. Maybe half a dozen instances of mild profanity.
I’ll go on record here as saying that the sequel is better than the original. It’s just a rock solid effort from top to bottom. Other than the weirdness of there being less-than-expected Winter Soldier, the movie has no weaknesses. It’s literally an outing the whole family will enjoy. Oh, and there are TWO credit sequences, so make sure you catch them both.
Review by Throwback