When the commercials for this sequel to Captain America The First Avenger, and the next chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, started showing up on TV, the blurb that kept coming up was “better than the Avengers.” Honestly, on a superhero movie scale, I didn’t think that was possible, and I didn’t believe the hype, but after seeing the film… I have to say… wow, it’s not hype, and yes, it may well be better than The Avengers. Find out why, spoiler warning, after the jump.
There are many elements at work in this film, as a sequel it continues the story of James ‘Bucky’ Barnes who was lost in the first Captain America film, but it also serves as a puzzle piece of Marvel Phase Two which is the road to the second Avengers movie, in which all of the characters are supposed to be changed and coming from a totally different viewpoint. As far as ‘changed,’ consider this movie to be the ultimate game changer, Marvel is playing for keeps, and planning for the long game. This movie blows everything up.
Much like Iron Man Three before it, there’s really no way to talk about Captain America The Winter Soldier without spoilers, so here’s your warning. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, read no further, or read at your own risk. You’ve been warned.
Those who read comics know who the Winter Soldier in the title refers to, and it’s a character that was re-introduced to Marvel Comics continuity to much controversy back in 2005. For decades after Captain America was revived from suspended animation, grieving over his lost partner Bucky, who died in the accident that caused Cap’s frosty sleep, was the catharsis and motivation that both haunted and kept the hero going. Like Ben Parker, and Doctor and Mrs. Wayne, Bucky was a character who existed only as a ghost to motivate the hero. Then writer Ed Brubaker brought him back as the Winter Soldier.
Similarly frozen by the Soviets, but defrosted and brainwashed as a human weapon to assassinate targets before being put back in the deep freeze, the Winter Soldier became an urban legend, a literal ghost, and in 2005, he crossed paths with Captain America and was revealed as his former partner. It was a shock to comics readers the world over, as it was often said, nobody stays dead except Bucky. He has since become a very popular character at Marvel Comics.
We watched Sebastian Stan as Bucky killed off camera in the first Captain America movie, so film audiences were similarly shocked when he reappeared in this one, but then again, that’s not the big shocker in Captain America The Winter Soldier. SHIELD, this one is all about SHIELD. For those unfamiliar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, SHIELD is the spy organization behind both investigating these super-powered beings who have appeared in our midst, but also in corralling them and directing them. Yeah, they created the Avengers, but they’re also the heavies in this film.
Toby Jones, vocally at least, returns as Arnim Zola in a rather intriguing cinematic version of the villain. I like this incarnation, as his comics counterpart is rather silly no matter how you shake it. This version is appropriate and sinister, perfect for Zola. The villain created a program that has allowed Hydra to infest and grow within the infrastructure of SHIELD. It is so devious and subtle, that now SHIELD is Hydra. Its agents are doing evil in the name of Hydra, and those that are still loyal to the values of SHIELD are powerless to stop it.
The cast is phenomenal. Chris Evans is more believable and comfortable in the role of Captain America each time he appears. He is earnest, honest, and good – everything the character should be without being a cartoon. Hey, makers of Man of Steel, please take note, this is what a superhero is supposed to be like. We also finally get to see other sides of Scarlet Johansson’s Black Widow and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury. While I’m not entirely happy with the final destination for Fury, Johansson is given so much more room that usual to stretch and become a real character here.
Speaking of terrific character development, we come to Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson AKA the Falcon. His friendship with Steve Rogers is genuine and believable. The interaction for both is so good that when Sam pulls this Falcon identity out of nowhere (not so surprising in a fictional superhero universe, but slightly more difficult on the screen), we as viewers don’t blink. We believe in the Falcon, because we believe in Mackie’s Sam, and we believe in the Steve and Sam friendship. Great performances here. I do wish they had done more with Emily VanCamp’s Sharon Carter/Agent 13 however.
The aforementioned Toby Jones demonstrates evil with only his mechanized voice. Sebastian Stan is rather cold here, compared to his more human performance in the first film, but that’s the character, not him. Robert Redford gives the piece espionage cred from the 1970s and gives as good as he ever has. Despite the way he talks about being in ‘a cartoon movie’ in interviews, he is at his best with the villainous Alexander Pierce role. Though unnamed, Frank Grillo rocks as Crossbones, and it was pure joy to watch the filmmakers make a believable character of an absurd if traditional Cap villain like Batroc ze Leaper. Loved it!
I loved this movie. I might have some reservations about the violence, and with some of the shaky cam action sequences (and it very nearly is non-stop action), but when confronted with the Avengers blurb I started this review with, I have to say it’s at least a tie, and yeah, maybe better. This is an awesome flick, must see for comic readers and movie fans alike.
I don’t know about the repercussions for the Marvel Cinematic Universe though. Certainly it’s going crush ABC’s “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD,” so keep an eye on my weekly reviews of that program right here at Biff Bam Pop!, you can read them here. And check out The Make Mine Magic Podcast this week for more of my commentary on the film. You can hear that here.