Movie Review: CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014) – Superhero Political Thriller
The 2014 summer superhero movie extravaganza kicks off with an important piece of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe that has now become the reason for years-long anticipation for mainstream movie audiences. This one particular movie though, sets the stage for the others to come, both in terms of scale and impact. This is my Movie Review of CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER. *Note: Contains oh-so many SPOILERS!*
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Phase 2 of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe started with IRON MAN 3 (My Review here) followed by THOR 2 (I didn’t care enough to Review it). While both movies told stand alone stories that dealt with what’s happened in their universes in the aftermath of the events in THE AVENGERS, they were intended to be an introduction to Phase 2, which will end with AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDER not only sets the stage for that end, but blows it up and leaves us in awe, as we rummage through the wreckage in an attempt to piece together what is yet to come. As much as it is a sequel to the first CAPTAIN AMERICA movie, and a bridge to the sequel of THE AVENGERS, this movie is also able to stand alone as it’s own story, with unique and clever means of catching up the audience on past events through exposition and creative flashbacks.
The movie starts off with a Captain America more reminiscent of the first film, commanding a team into battle naturally and being at ease doing so. More importantly, Cap is adjusting well to life after 70 years of sleep, and post the Alien invasion of New York in THE AVENGERS. (My Review here) With a literal list of things to catch up on after his hibernation, Cap and Black Widow seem to have become fast friends, with her even taking it upon himself to course correct Cap`s love life, and set it on the right track.
However, conflict brews from within, as Nick Fury is alerted to some goings-on, especially on the eve of the launch of a weapons system that promises to neutralize any and all hostile threat, through automated targeting systems, taking an enemy out from the atmosphere. The weapon, known as Project Insight, essentially uses an elaborate algorythm to determine patterns and assign which people in the world will be threats in the future for SHIELD and the country itself, and then eliminating them. The estimated casualties are 20 Million people. Is it me, or does this plot point seem eerily similar to the reprogrammed Cerebro in the X-Men franchsie, that was set to target and kill off all Mutants? Coming back… The origin of this threat has direct ties to Cap’s past, as featured in the first movie, and this sequel forces Captain America to deal with how the world has become during his absence, and more notably, how his own government has transformed.
This is done by giving us a Captain America, that’s very in tune with his usual comic book portrayal, as the do-goody soldier, however , one who has severe issues and disagreement with the way the government has become more about control than freedom. It’s a very accurate portrayal, given that this is a character so dedicated to doing the right thing, he actually does oppose his entire country’s government, and even people he considered friends and allies in an infamous comic book storyline known as CIVIL WAR. This characterization go Cap is poignantly captured in his scenes with Nick Fury, where debates of morality and integrity are flanked with national security. It’s also a great mirror of the discussions that are so prevalent in the political climate that we live in today, and to turn a WWII Soldier like Captain America, as being the voice of reason in this movie, gives it a lot of social credibility. [ *Note: Super Spoilers below. You’ve been warned. ]
During the course of the movie, it’s revealed that HYDRA has been secretly operating within SHIELD itself, forcing Cap to question his dedication and prior sacrifice, and only further vindicating his distaste to how Nick Fury ran things. The most significant of this is Cap’s own childhood friend, the long thought to be dead Bucky Barnes’ returning as the brainwashed assassin, The Winter Soldier himself, used by HYDRA for the last 70 years as being instrumental in some of the major events and deaths that impacted history, in secret.
THE WINTER SOLDIER is superbly executed, performed and even more brilliantly written. On top of providing top notch espionage style conspiracies, the weaving in of concepts from the comics, and successfully incorporating them into the Cinematic Universe by laying the foundation for more intricate things to come… is genius. The concepts explored go beyond the superficial, as Captain America’s own purpose of existing and his sacrifices are all questioned during the course of this movie. The story is also able to build, continue and drop nuggets (Steven Strange reference!) into the future of the Marvel Movie-verse, as well directly setting up plotlines and concepts to be further expanded in AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON.
By the end of the film, SHIELD is destroyed due to the influence of HYDRA, the same WWII organization that was thought to be destroyed by Captain America in THE FIRST AVENGER. All the secrets and intelligence of SHIELD are made available to the public, including all identities of Agents, past history and, I assume, all intelligence regarding… well, everything. Thus effectively making SHIELD inoperable and disbanded. Nick Fury leaves. Black Widow goes underground, while Captain America & his new friend, Falcon, plan to search for Bucky. It’s an ending that leaves one with more questions than answers, while effectively concluding a chapter in the story of Captain America, and the over all Marvel Cinematic Universe. The ending felt more like that of an extended and larger than life episode of a TV Series, than a feature length film. Speaking of TV, the fledgling TV Series AGENTS OF SHIELD, ties directly into the events pre and post THE WINTER SOLDIER events, and is a must watch to fill in the blanks and act as supplemental to the larger Marvel Universe. So many things in this movie were snippets of concepts already expanded and elaborated on in AGENTS OF SHIELD.
THE WINTER SOLDIER is also able to incorporate many innovative and finely executed hand to hand action sequences to keep things fast paced and intense. Even Captain America is shown to have some new moves that are consistent with his emotional character growth. The Shield is used almost during every single action scene, and the movie is able to fluidly incorporate the object as an extension of Cap’s own physicality. It’s seamless and effortless and done very subtly, as to not look like CGI. The movie also expands a lot on the style of the character himself, as being not just strong and powerful, but agile, graceful and incredibly creative in his responses to violence.
This movie also sees a complete overhaul on the status quo of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The organization of SHIELD was used from 2008’s IRON MAN, the first movie to set off this shared continuity, and then in every subsequent movie to act as a bridge between all the solo-hero movies leading up to THE AVENGERS. With that unifying concept becoming null and void going forward from THE WINTER SOLDIER, where does that leave all the characters that were so crucial in forming and being a part of The Avengers. What happens to Cobie Smoulders’ Maria Hill? Where was Jeremy Renners’ Hawkeye during the events of this movie, given that he’s a SHIELD Agent as well? How do these characters, including Nick Fury & Black Widow return for AVENGERS 2, assuming they even will? Will we have to wait for CAPTAIN AMERICA 3, to find out what happens to Bucky, or will he have a ‘hand’ in AVENGERS 2?
Agents Of SHIELD
There is no better time to watch and catch up on ALL the episodes of AGENTS OF SHIELD than after the events of THE WINTER SOLDIER. Esepcially given the revelation that Nick Fury will definitely make an appearance in the show’s Season Finale. The experiment of having an in-season TV Series existing in the same Universe as the rest of the Marvel stories, running concurrently to the release of the feature length movies has been a mixed bag of awesome and horrible. The TV Show AGENTS OF SHIELD fluctuated between really good and borderlines boring at times. However, THE WINTER SOLDIER is a great example of how to make use of the limited continuity that the movies share with the TV Show. Similar to cross-over comics, which aren’t necessary comics to read for a certain comics event, you don’t have to watch the TV Show to get an appreciation of the movies, however, the experience is that much more enhanced if you do. The events of CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER occur directly one episode of AGENTS OF SHIELD, as we see an Agent Sitwell leaving the show for assignment on the very same ship that the pirates take over in the movie’s opening action sequence. The aftermath of the movie also directly tied into an episode directly the week after, and has impacted the direction of the show because… well without SHIELD, where does it leave it’s Agents. However, only top of developing the cinematic Universe, AGENTS OF SHIELD have lots of story lines and plot points built into the shows’ story itself, that serve to make a very well rounded show, all of a sudden.
Mid & Post Credits Sequences
Despite the satisfying and somewhat open ended conclusion of CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, the post-credits scenes brings about an unexpected connection. We are well aware of the inclusion of the twin characters of Quicksilver & Scarlet Witch in AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, (if you’re anything resembling a well adjusted person at least) especially with the recent set photos from shooting in Seoul, Korea. What’s surprising is that we see both characters, as apparent, experiments or captors in a HYDRA Facility. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen are on full display as the iconic characters, displaying their full on powers. All that we can get from the quick glimpse is that, while Quicksilver seems to be in distress, bouncing off the walls like a super-speed pinball, while Scarlet Witch seems content, maybe even tranquilized as she plays with some floating boxes. Where does that leave them for AVENGERS 2, or will their breaking out of his Facility feature at the onset of THE AVENGERS sequel? Given what’s happened to SHIELD and its agents, AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON seems to be a lot of explaining to do in the opening sequences of the movie.