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Overall Rating
3.91

Awesome: 30.43%
Worth A Look43.48%
Just Average: 19.57%
Pretty Crappy: 0%
Sucks: 6.52%

4 reviews, 22 user ratings


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Captain America: The Winter Soldier
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by Brett Gallman

"Excelsior!"
5 stars

Considering Marvel's refusal to rest on its laurels, it's not surprising that "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" diverges from its predecessor, as it trades in Joe Johnston's brand of World War II for another retro flavor in 70s conspiracy thrillers. What's more impressive is how the films form an insightful duology about America's gilded age and its more unsettling present, all while refusing to sacrifice the property's four-color roots. Like "The First Avenger" before it, "The Winter Soldier" is a Comic Book Movie to the core, even as it tackles heady, politically charged subjects.

Granted, the nature of this franchise demands that this sequel head off into different territory, what with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) having become a man out of time after his defrosting at the hands of SHIELD. Far removed from the idealistic 1940s, he finds himself in a more morally ambiguous era and has grown wary of serving as SHIELD's errand boy. His suspicions come to a head during a raid on a ship that's been overtaken by pirates; while he's been charged with rescuing hostages, fellow Avenger Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) also has secret orders to retrieve precious data. Alarmed by this "compartmentalization," he confronts director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who provides little comfort but plenty of cryptic comments that lead Rogers down a conspiratorial rabbit hole, one that's lined with threats new and old.

It's no coincidence that one of the new faces is Robert Redford's, here taking the opposite side of the desk in a political thriller as Alexander Pierce, the leader of the World Security Council. "The Winter Soldier" evokes previous films in Redford's career, particularly during its middle stretch, which finds Rogers and Black Widow unravelling a sinister plot while on the lam from, well, everyone. With no one to trust, the two hit the road and form an odd couple, a motif that has quickly become the calling card of Marvel's "Phase Two." And, like most second acts, this phase has been preoccupied with putting its heroes through hell.

None are more adamant about it than this sequel, though. Where "Iron Man Three" and "Thor: The Dark World" inflicted plenty of physical devastation on its heroes, "The Winter Soldier" attacks Steve Rogers's faith and idealism. Already reeling from losing his previous life (which he can only revisit in museum displays and bedside chats with a now elderly Peggy Carter), he now realizes that he is losing his country to an insidious plot involving state surveillance and draconian security measures.

When a new threat arises in the form of the titular Winter Soldier, the film is able to glide between past and present to reveal just what has been lost and corrupted during Cap's 70 year hiatus. Gone is the uncomplicated, two-fisted idealism of "The First Avenger;" in its stead is an ominous sense of disorientation, as the villains' plot essentially gives Rogers a crash course on America's political morass. It's Watergate, the Cold War, and the recent NSA scandal all rolled into one.

With such lofty ambitions and heavy thematic obsessions, "The Winter Soldier" could have taken the expected--and perhaps easy--route by dragging Captain America down in a grim-and-gritty quicksand. If it seems like that phrase has popped up in nearly all of my reviews lately, it's because most of Hollywood keeps insisting on it, and I'm pretty goddamn tired of it. Luckily, Marvel seems to be as well, as the studio has refused to anxiously chase the shadow of Chris Nolan and has remained true to the spirit of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, the two titans whose stories frequently mixed serious issues with lightweight fantasy. Sure, "The Winter Soldier" grounds Captain America to an extent by forcing him into a modern milieu as a government agent, but he's still the same, scrawny square that was all too eager to fall on a hand grenade because it was the right thing to do.

Here, that familiarity serves as a comfort. Steve Rogers is the rare character that can get away with not having a discernible arc: we want him to be the same guy because he represents the best of us. In "The Winter Soldier," he's a reminder that we're better than what we've resigned ourselves to, even if the film slightly pulls some punches by revealing that SHIELD has actually been compromised by external forces (though it is still noteworthy and unsettling that Fury himself is in charge of a massive spy program in the first place). Evans is an unwavering, steady presence in the role--he's just the perfect sort of cornball who carries himself with dignity rather than haughtiness or self-importance.

Likewise, the film itself is a frantic reminder that comic book adaptations can be better than the self-serious trappings that other attempts have fallen prey to. "The Winter Soldier" has its cake in its thematic weight, but it also slathers it in icing and devours it, too. The Russo Brothers are unafraid to embrace levity, humor, and downright badassery at every turn, as they've crafted a breathless action-adventure film. As much as "Iron Man Three" felt like a Shane Black movie, "The Winter Soldier" also resembles a throwback to other classic action vehicles, particularly in its wonderfully choreographed hand-to-hand combat sequences (Cap's showdown with Batroc the Leaper--and, hell, the entire pirate ship rescue mission--is a wonderful bit of fisticuffs) and its quip-heavy dialogue. If "The First Avenger" was Captain America by way of Indiana Jones, then "The Winter Soldier" Cap by way of "Three Days of the Condor" and martial arts flicks (a wacky combination to be sure, but also one that confirms the film's greatness).

In their transition back to film from television, the Russos exhibit a nice handle on constructing intricate action sequences and balancing screen time for the enormous cast. While their herky-jerky camerawork sometimes leaves one yearning for a bit more clarity and steadiness, they effectively cut together a huge, action-packed climax that bounces between multiple locations with ease and hits all of the right beats.

Once Rogers and Black Widow untangle the particulars of the plot, the film becomes its own makeshift version of "The Avengers," as the two team-up with Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), a war veteran who specializes in piloting a winged jetpack (an interpretation that allows for a more realistic version of The Falcon, Cap's longtime sidekick). The potentially world-breaking climax (of course the stakes are enormous) affords everyone a moment to shine, and the Russos especially tap into the potential for every scene and every story beat to rouse and amaze audiences--this is spectacle in its highest form, where the participants aren't merely figurines in an elaborate sandbox but rather fully-realized characters with palatable chemistry (it takes all of one opening scene for Evans and Mackie to click).

Marvel's long-game strategy pays off especially well in this respect, as audiences have spent ample time with many of these characters over the course of the past few years. There's an investment here that's not unlike the comic books themselves because the studio has translated the form marvelously. World-building on this scale is a massive undertaking and a considerable gamble that's paid off in spades, particularly since Marvel has become more adept at containing each story. This franchise's interlocking nature asks us to consider each entry as a piece of a larger puzzle, but, if "The Winter Soldier" and its predecessor stood alone, they'd be exemplary models of the form.

Some recent chatter in critic circles have mused if comic book films can be considered their own genre because Marvel has effectively unchained itself from that notion by infusing each film with a different flavor. The "Captain America" duo is the strongest example because both entries are so distinct, a clever move that not only keeps the franchise fresh but also allows different filmmakers to retool the character and fling him around in a different sandbox. And, by doing so, Marvel actually reinforces the original comic book format, which sees various artists rotate to different titles to provide a new take. I love that Marvel has committed that approach to celluloid and has maintained a measure of cohesiveness. For all their aesthetic differences, these two films line up thematically and narratively remarkably well.

Of course, I also love that we're at the point where we have a living, breathing on-screen Marvel universe that mixes and matches its parts without feeling gimmicky (in fact, Black Widow fits in far more efficiently here than she ever did in "Iron Man 2") and casually references the greater universe without feeling too obtrusive. "The Avengers" might have been the formal gathering, but "The Winter Soldier" is the first film to truly settle into this world and shake it up considerably.

Most impressive is that Marvel has managed to weave this universe around a stretch of five consecutive films that have consistently raised the bar. They're not just delivering empty continuity porn--they're delivering top-notch pop entertainment. It's an age of miracles indeed.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=25849&reviewer=429
originally posted: 04/05/14 02:15:18
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User Comments

2/13/17 morris campbell awesome sequel 5 stars
2/13/15 zenny entertaining w/o having to see the other Marvel schlock 4 stars
1/28/15 Bents Enjoyable - exceeded expectations - an improvement on the 1st Cap movie 4 stars
10/01/14 Horror Lover Well- written and spectactular action sequences makes this one a winner. 4 stars
9/02/14 Dude Don't listen to the fanboys 3 stars
8/09/14 lee meh 4 stars
8/06/14 Albert Valentin Fantastic sequel with best A-list style action seen in years 5 stars
5/23/14 The king terrible cheesy comic book crap and overlong too 1 stars
5/22/14 KC Really enjoyed this Marvel installment! 5 stars
5/04/14 Usfdstrz Giambi japan and Brown both have degrees. The government took action to local authorities., 3 stars
5/02/14 Toni Peluso Really enjoyable... will have lots of impact on the Marvel Universe 4 stars
4/22/14 Avery Hemming The WInter Soldier was a worthy opponent for Captain America! 5 stars
4/19/14 Koitus I liked it. "Agents of Shiled" familiarity discounted it for me, though. 3 stars
4/09/14 KALUNAKIMO BEST COMIC BOOK SEQUEL SINCE "THE DARK KNIGHT"! CAN SPIDERMAN 2 AND NEXT XMEN TOP IT! 5 stars
4/08/14 mr.mike Best Marvel flick since Iron Man 1-4.5 stars. 4 stars
4/07/14 Heisenberg One of Marvel's best outings 5 stars
4/06/14 KingNeutron Well done but still falls short of Avengers. Some action was over the top but want 2c story 4 stars
4/06/14 glzcarl very good film. Gallman calls it well. 4 stars
4/06/14 Snoop Dopey Dogg Minority Report Retort 5 stars
4/05/14 Darkstar Freaking amazing! Liked it better than The Avengers 5 stars
4/05/14 Bob Dog I agree with turner. 1 stars
4/04/14 turner garbage garbage garbage 1 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  04-Apr-2014 (PG-13)
  DVD: 09-Sep-2014

UK
  26-Mar-2014 (12A)

Australia
  03-Apr-2014 (M)
  DVD: 09-Sep-2014




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