Movie Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier
By Matthew Huntley
April 9, 2014
After seeing Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a friend informed me that Marvel Studios currently has movies slated through 2028. Given how popular the Marvel comic book characters have become with movie-going audiences, this is hardly surprising. In fact, I imagine the date will be pushed out even more, probably through the middle of the century.
But with great popularity comes great responsibility, and that means the onus is on the filmmakers to make each installment stand out. Considering their ubiquity, though, I wonder, is that even possible? When anything in life - not just movie genres - becomes so commonplace, it’s difficult to make it fresh and distinct.
The Winter Solider, an otherwise acceptable and well-made sequel, unfortunately succumbs to this inevitability. A week from now, I’ll have likely forgotten the specifics of the plot and the state of the characters. I’ll only know there was a plot, which added another layer to the cinematic Marvel universe and that once again disrupted the status quo, forcing the heroes to defend the world from bad guys who have the usual ambitions to take it over. I’ll also remember the movie developed the characters a little more while simultaneously introducing new ones.
Such characteristics are more or less standards of sequels, and with The Winter Soldier, they’re serviceable but not exactly special. The movie is basically entertaining and exciting, but I remember a time when superhero movies went beyond “basic.” When we think about Superman: The Movie, Spider-Man 2 or Batman Begins, we think of them as truly awesome, innovative and energetic experiences. I didn’t feel that higher sense with The Winter Soldier. And now that such movies are a dime a dozen, will I ever feel that way again? In order to enjoy these countless superhero films, should I lower my standards?
The film takes place two years after the events of The Avengers, and Captain Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America (Chris Evans), has settled into a fairly routine lifestyle of carrying out special missions for S.H.I.E.L.D., which he does alongside the slick and curvaceous Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). Both take orders from leading agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who doesn’t always disclose all the organization’s key objectives.
During a rescue mission of S.H.I.E.L.D. intelligence agents from Algerian pirates, Captain America catches Black Widow downloading data from the ship’s computer system, something Fury instructed her to do separately. This irks C.A. because he doesn’t believe soldiers working for the same army should have different tasks. Fury later briefs him on Project Insight, a secret operation in which S.H.I.E.L.D. plans to launch three helicarriers into the sky that would sync up with satellites in order to detect terrorist threats early on - essentially by spying on the entire world. Or as Rogers puts it, “Holding a gun to everyone on Earth and calling it protection.”
The project, along with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s secrets, forces Rogers to question his entire value system. Plus, he’s still trying to acquaint himself with the modern era (you’ll recall from Captain America: The First Avenger he was frozen for nearly 70 years and recently awakened in the present day). There’s a funny moment when he takes out an old-fashioned pencil and paper and adds to his laundry list of things that would help bring him up to speed, including listening to Marvin Gaye’s Trouble Man and watching Star Wars and Star Trek. Rogers confesses his uncertainty to a fellow soldier named Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), who will later aid him in the fight against evil as The Falcon.
Said evil comes when Fury uncovers a dark truth about S.H.I.E.L.D., which may or may not be linked to one of its alpha officials, Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), and a mysterious and extremely powerful assassin known as The Winter Soldier, who comes equipped with a metal arm that yields one hell of a grip. Fury warns Rogers that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been compromised and to “trust no one.” This sends Captain America and Black Widow, both considered fugitives, on a mission to expose the organization’s hidden agenda or die trying.
What we get out all this is a semi-intriguing espionage plot and one explosive action sequence after another, which demonstrates, once again, the heroes are trained for anything and everything that could potentially threaten their existence. This leads me to a problem I have with modern superhero movies, which may explain, along with their overabundance, why their efficacy has started to wane: the heroes themselves never seem to be at risk of losing their lives. They’re always ready for just about anything the enemy throws at them and there’s never a real sense of danger lurking underneath the fight scenes, which unfortunately makes them less consequential.
For instance, in one sequence, Captain America is shot twice in the chest, and yet he’s still able to maneuver and utilize all of his upper body strength. If that’s the case, why even have him be shot? I’d rather watch an action movie where it seems the heroes’ lives might actually be at stake.
All this isn’t to suggest the events and developments in The Winter Solider aren’t at least interesting or exciting to a degree, and die-hard fans of the comic book, as well as anyone who hasn’t yet grown tired of this genre, will have little cause for complaint. But in the grand scheme of things, the movie just didn’t bear much relevance to me, even though its plot will likely have ramifications in later sequels, particularly Avengers: Age of Ultron. I concede my reaction is likely due to “Marvel superhero movie” overload and not the movie itself. But it’s sometimes a cold truth that movies are a product of their time, and, in this case, The Winter Soldier also happens to be a victim of it.