The snow hasn't melted away for most movie-goers (north of the broader that is), yet the summer movie scene is already upon us. Since Marvel gave Spidey/Sony the coveted opening May weekend spot audiences get a month's head start of the block-buster season as Captain America: The Winter Soldier hits theaters today ...and its pretty damn awesome.
Like Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, this next Captain America film picks up a couple years after the events in the Avengers (aka the battle of New York). Captain America/Steve Rogers has been re-enlisted, just this time with S.H.I.E.L.D., and has been running covert missions alongside them and his fellow Avenger, Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff. Still adjusting to this new world Cap also struggles with the grey areas Nick Fury & S.H.I.E.L.D. operate within. When deadly treats from Rogers' pass begin to resurface he doesn't know which side he is on or who to trust.
This flick might not have any competition for a few weeks but its already the bar pretty high for this type of summer action flick to follow. Marvel not only delivered a solid film here, they also delivered a very different Captain America than audiences saw in the First Avenger. Add in the fact that Winter Soldier was directed by the Russo brother (Anthony & Joe), who are more known for their work in TV comedies like Arrested Development, Community, and Happy Endings, this film has a fantastic balance of comedic elements throughout the incredible action you expect from a Marvel film.
Lets talk about that incredible action for a minute shall we? Much like a Bond film, Winter Soldier kicks off the movie with a gritty action sequence less than five minutes in. Some of this opening scene has been on the web for about a month now but for those didn't see it you really get to see what Captain America can really do. The first film did a good job of showing most of his abilities but in this opening sequence audiences really get to see Cap let loose with some stunning fight scenes that fell like they were ripped straight from the comics. From there forward the film barely takes its foot of the gas with stunt after stunt and explosion after explosion; all with an actual story attached. This movie goes bigger than big and I can't see how any action junkie won't there fix here. Even the 'smaller' (I'm using that term modestly) sequences are some pretty remarkable feats. What you see the elevator scene you'll know what I mean.
This film isn't all about the spectacle and CGI, it probably has one of the best casts of any stand-alone superhero movie I've seen. Chris Evans (Cap), Scarlett Johansson (Widow), and Samuel L. Jackson (Fury) are the main returning heavy hitters in the cast, and they are all great, but the new members are what make this film fun. Particularly Anthony Mackie, but I'll get back to him in a minute. The iconic Robert Redford has a substantial role as high ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Alexander Pierce. Comic movies are already legit but having an actor like Redford just gives this one legitimacy on top legitimacy. Sebastian Stan returns to the Captain America franchise as the titled character; the Winter Soldier. I won't go into his character because I won't spoil his role for those who don't already know or haven't seen one of the many revealing trailers that already do just that. There is one other returning character of sorts, who again goes into spoiler territory, which some movie fans might be on the fence about but comic readers well absolutely love.
Back to Mackie. The only problem I have with Anthony Mackie's portrayal of Sam Wilson (aka the Falcon) is that there wasn't more of him. This is Evans movie, and he rocks every minute of it, but when Mackie and him have their scenes together its so much fun to watch. The Russo brothers saw the comedic talents these two actors have and didn't let them go to waste. But Mackie isn't just there for laughs, he understood how much of an impact the character of Sam Wilson was in the comics and took that in stride. I've even seen interviews with him leading up to this film pushing for the red and white costume Falcon is known for. The suit Mackie dons in this interruption is a modern take that still works without the spandex and the feathers.
I really only have two minor beefs about the film. First is just from a comic-fan's perspective wanting my cake and to eat it too. That being I would have liked to see some form of a cross-over between film franchises. Granted Scarlett's Black Widow has moved from the Iron Man franchise to the Captain America, but I was more hoping for maybe a quick Mark Ruffalo/Bruce Banner scene (after all they mention him twice). Or since Winter Soldier centers around S.H.I.E.L.D., as a form of a military, maybe could of had Don Cheadle's Lt. Col. James Rhodes have a brief cameo. Since the 'Stark Industries' logo is in a ton places throughout the film it would have worked best since RDJ probably won't. Again, not a big deal, just would have been cool to see some characters together outside an Avengers flick; like Evan's cameo in The Dark World for example.
My second problem isn't with the film itself, it's with the way Marvel's marketing team has crafted some of their previews and trailers for The Winter Soldier. The film has its share of twists and turns with certain characters, their direction in the overall plot, and even a few notable reveals. The problem going into the film and seeing some of these particular promos is that it kind of cheapened the shock value for certain scenes. Audiences will know a character isn't in any real jeopardy because he or she still have scene they saw in a trailer coming up later. I know this isn't anything new for most movie-goers today, just wish they would have the sense to hold back a bit that's all.
In short this film is the best of the post-Avengers films thus far. I don't like calling these films sequels because they aren't really your traditional follow up film. Since Marvel is spacing these stand-alone franchises in-between each Avengers flick it feels more like a new issue of a live-action comic rather than a sequel. In doing so I think it allows more room for these films to have character growth and alternative story direction without being constrained to that 'out do what we did last time' mentally most sequels feel the need to strive towards. That being said, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the best of both worlds in that it upped the ante with its scale and action, while going in a completely different direction with its characters and its story.
You'll understand what I mean when its all over, and if you follow Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (which is also connected to the Marvel films) Winter Soldier leaves some massive questions in its wake. Start your summer off right, see The Winter Soldier, and stick around for both secret scenes. Yes there are two this time, and one of them is definitely worth sitting though some extra credits for.
Extra Note: pay attention to all the dialogue in this movie because they hint at future Marvel movies that aren't even supposed to be coming out from 3-4 years.
Andrew Burns loves film and comics, and can be found writing about when those worlds converge. You can follow him on Twitter at @myAndrewBurns.