The ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe (that’s a proper noun, by the way, like United States of America — and no less a global juggernaut) lives and dies on its characters. The Iron Man flicks aren’t about terrorism and munitions, really; they’re about Tony Stark. Thor isn’t a treatment on space politics, it’s watered-down Shakespeare writ on another plane. Even The Avengers got less fuel from its story than it did from the collision of the oversized heroes created by the preceding flicks.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
By Sean Collier
April 7, 2014
That’s why it’s very easy to remember the character crossovers and Tesseract-related mythmaking in older installments, but nearly impossible to recall who the central villain actually was. Seriously — what was the actual story objective in Iron Man 2? Beats the hell out of me. I can’t even remember what the struggle of Thor: The Dark World was, and that came out last Thanksgiving.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier, though, bucks the trend. Not only is it not really about Cap, it isn’t focused on the overarching Marvel mythos, either.
This one’s about politics.
Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) gives Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) a tour of SHIELD’s next big innovation: gigantic airships that look like floating aircraft carriers and are capable of identifying (and eliminating) any target on Earth at the push of a button. Rogers questions the implications: what of due process? What of human rights? What of freedom itself, Fury? The eye-patched leader’s response: We need this stuff. Trust me. I can’t tell you why, but we do.
Uncredited story work was completed by, uh, the news.
Before Rogers can reconcile this Orwellian struggle with his commander, though, Fury is attacked by a mysterious police force. Rogers and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, in her strongest Marvel performance) are left to piece together who’s after them, what side SHIELD is on and a half-dozen other lesser mysteries.
It’s a movie about trust, and freedom, and the thin line between dystopia and highly functional society. Which means it’s not a movie about assembled superheroes and mysterious space forces; I’m sorry to report that no other Avengers make even a brief appearance. But it works — the script is good, the performers are good and the action keeps up. Compared to The Avengers, The Winter Soldier is just a nice little superhero movie — and, surprisingly, a somewhat flawed but refreshing change of pace.
My Rating: 7/10
Aggregate Rating from CriticsChoice.com: 88/100
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark