[Spoilers] Captain America: The Winter Soldier – A Group Review

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After a late-night pre-screening of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the Watching Between the Lines gang decided that the best way to review the film would be through a discussion. Given that we all have different levels of superhero fanboyism and Marvel expertise, there’s something within for all. [SPOILER WARNING] from here on out.

Directing/action sequences:

  • Andrew: One of the most refreshing things about The Winter Soldier was how coherent the adrenaline-pumping scenes were. Every scene had a clear objective, and nothing seemed gratuitous. There was no Zach Snyder bullshit. It didn’t rely on slow-motion to make parts of the sequence make sense; every scene was a complete thought.
  • Jack: I had no idea what was going on in Man of Steel. It was like a Michael Bay film. This had none of those problems. It was well-choreographed, both in the hand-to-hand fights and gun battles. I was pleasantly surprised by how ruthless Cap himself was, using both his fists and his shield in a deadly offensive capacity. He even threw a knife at a guy. Amazing job by the Russo brothers, seeing as they had just come off working on Community and other such TV sitcoms.
  • Rupert: That’s what amazed me about this: the fight scenes in this film are better done than most action flicks, and this is the Russo brother’s first time directing an action film! I remember the first Captain America film had some quite ruthless moments among the period-style pulpiness, but it wasn’t as satisfying as watching Chris Evans barge through mercenaries and kicking them off the side of a boat.
  • Andrew: I mean, it still suffered from the cliché of hyper-trained assassins somehow being the worst shots ever. But seeing Cap take down a helicopter with a combination of shield-throwing and backflips made my jaw drop and my little heart sing.
  • Rupert: I’m still chuffed about all those Falcon flight scenes. Speaking of which, for all that talk of how hi-tech and how dangerous those helicarriers were, they were pretty crap at aiming. Falcon dodged thousands upon thousands of bullets from anti-aircraft guns at very close range. Makes you think SHIELD needs to invest more in their training programmes.
  • Jack: Helicopters did not have a great time in the film, did they? Actually, anything that flew was eventually brought crashing down. Could that be a deeper metaphor? No.
  • Andrew: But Cap jumps out of the airplane without a parachute. Maybe it’s a commentary on social stagnation and meticulous micro-management.
  • Putting all that deep stuff aside, let’s refocus. Golly-god-damn that opening sequence got my squillies in a jumble.
  • Rupert: Captain America. Pirates. Boat. Nuff’ said.
  • Jack: Great way to kick off. Silly, childish giggling right from the get go. Those pirates got wrecked.
  • Wasn’t the Falcon awesome? That’s rhetorical. He was. I don’t think I’ve ever seen flight handled like that in an action movie
  • Rupert: Anthony Mackie was a surprising can full of whoop ass throughout.
  • Andrew: I remember the first time he arrived on-screen, I grinned and grinned and grinned. It was BEYOND cool. And Anthony Mackie did a great job keeping him likable and fun. He was definitely a highlight.
  • Rupert: Also, that gravestone! And of course the obligatory Stan Lee cameo.
  • Jack: The lift scene where Cap takes out about a dozen guys was great too. It was also lovely to see that when he stopped taking orders and became all about the ideals again, he put his ridiculous Star-Spangled Banner outfit back on, having worn something that actually looked practical in the film’s first half (sidenote: I dislike the Stan Lee cameos. Yeah, he’s an important figure in Marvel, but every time he pops up it breaks my suspension of disbelief).
  • Andrew: I never notice the Stan Lee cameos until after they’ve happened.
  • Rupert: I’m glad that the 1940s costume came back; just enough pulp, with just enough realism. Though I am digging the new threads oh-so-much.

The Villains:

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  • Rupert: Robert Redford and his band of merry spies in Winter Soldier almost made me forget Malekith and those turd-tacular Elves from Thor 2. Almost.
  • Andrew: Some of my least favourite superhero films of the past few years seem to have one thing in common: stupendously crap villains, with The Amazing Spiderman and Thor 2 being the most memorable perpetrators. Captain America: The First Avenger wasn’t really great in that respect either, but at least it had its fun tone to carry it.
  • Rupert: Red Skull was at least fun, though I agree that Marvel Studios haven’t had as memorable villains in their films as Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy or other comic book films. I will say that Loki is still one of the best comic book movie villains though.
  • Jack: Loki aside, Marvel have really struggled with their villains in the past. I guess Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus from the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films were good, but those movies were by a different studio. The Winter Soldier was genuinely a threat, with more motivation than ‘I love the darkness, let’s destroy the universe’. That, and he kicked a guy into a plane in order to destroy it. Also, having SHIELD as the villain was great, made the plot more interesting and changed the wider Marvel world dramatically.
  • Andrew: It’s worth mentioning that my knowledge of the Marvel universe rests almost exclusively on these films.
  • Rupert: Heathen.
  • Jack: You are a filthy casual in the realm of comics.
  • Andrew: I’m working on it.
  • Jack: SHIELD have always been controversial in the comic world. They kicked off a superhero civil war by demanding all heroes register their secret identity with the government. Like the movie, Captain America sided against them.
  • Andrew: This may be a symptom of my illiteracy, but I wasn’t that taken with the titular Winter Soldier. It may be because he looked a bit too much like a member of One Direction, or because the conceptual badassery of Hydra overshadowed him.
  • Jack: The emo feel was a bit odd, granted, but I’ve always loved him in the comics, and that metal arm is pretty boss. I also felt that he conveyed a sort of grim, killer’s determination that you don’t often see in 12-rated films. Also, yes, they did a damn fine job with Hydra, who could have been handled far worse. They wear bright green in the comics.
  • Rupert: Winter Soldier as a silent assassin was awesome in my opinion, though for a film with his name as the sub-title he’s not a major role in the film, really. I think with everything that was going on though, the Russos couldn’t use him to his full potential, which is why he felt slightly understated. Yet, they definitely set him up for one hell of a character arc for the sequel.
  • As spoilerific as this is, my favourite bad guy in the film (despite appearing for less than 10 minutes) was Arnim Zola. You could not have a more bizarre and stupid looking villain in your film, yet their update of him as one giant metaphor for NSA – and the retro vibe you got from his appearance –  made him a memorable threat. What worked about Hydra was the fact, in a way, they had already won from the beginning.
  • Andrew: They had a subtlety that made them incredibly threatening.

Subversion of the Superhero Genre

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  • Andrew: One thing I was extremely surprised with was the observational depth of the whole thing. While many people talk about Marvel films being a lot of fun, Winter Soldier managed to keep the stakes high and mount the pressure as the film progressed.
  • Rupert: Oh totally, it’s nice watching adrenaline-fueled action, but it’s even better when there are stakes and actual ideas lurking amongst the fists and bullets.
  • Jack: Yeah, the references to the NSA were on the nose, but the fact that they existed at all, especially in a film about the most patriotic hero in comics, was a relatively risky move which worked out really well, giving the whole thing an element of timeliness. And of course the presence of Robert Redford lent the whole thing a 70s conspiracy film vibe.
  • Andrew: I think the film also had a lot to say about totalitarian regimes, and the mindset behind them. Hydra was weirdly compelling, and beautifully integrated with the semi-realist tone the film set.
  • Rupert: It was actually a nice evolution from the nazi-esque militia from the first Captain America film. We just assumed they had fascist ideals in that film, but here we get a legitimate philosophy to their methods, which creepily resonates with interventionist politics and dilemmas today.
  •  Andrew: That said, there was a pretty holocaust-y feel to the extermination of millions of ‘undesirable citizens’ in the blink of an eye. That harrowing reality and parallel actually touched me and felt more poignant than contrived. That’s surprising to say, given that this is a Marvel film.
  • Jack: Of course, they thought they were doing good. I like seeing that. No real-world ‘villain’ has ever woken up and thought ‘today is a day to be mindlessly evil’. They all believe in what they’re doing.
  • Andrew: It made a nice change from ‘I’m going to destroy the universe! I don’t care that I’m in the universe! I like EEEEVIIILLLLL’.
  • Cough, Thor 2.
  • Also, I’ve already gotten some flak for this thought, but I liked the fact that the film operated entirely outside of the magical balderdash of the Thor universe. In both Thor and Avengers, they alternately faced down character-less aliens or motivationless wizards. Even Tony Stark had panic attacks coming to terms with all the bollocks.
  • Jack: I quite like the magical balderdash. I think it works in a universe as inherently ridiculous as the comic-book one. Also, he’s the only leading character with actual superpowers, so that renders him necessary, in my book.
  • Andrew: Hulk seems pretty super.
  • Jack: But I highly doubt he’s getting a standalone movie any time soon. Possibly in the very long term we’ll get a Planet Hulk/World War Hulk set of films. I personally hated both of those story arcs in the comics, but they were relatively successful, so a film is plausible.
  • Andrew: Yeah, I think we’re all Hulk-ed out. Which is a shame, because I think Ruffalo could carry a standalone.
  • Rupert: He could, but Hulk works better in small and intense doses of epic than 2 hours of drawn out epic, as shown in the Avengers. Then again, Captain America was my least favorite super hero on the team. After this film I’ve changed my mind.

How it sits within the rest of the Marvel Films:

captain-america-2-winter-soldier-chris-evans

  • Jack: This is going to be a pretty spoiler-heavy section, because I think Winter Soldier had a far bigger effect on the wider MCU than Iron Man 3 or Thor 2 did. For starters, SHIELD is gone and everyone thinks Nick Fury is dead. My theory is that this will lead into a standalone film for Nick Fury (possibly with Black Widow, they’re both leaving the country) hunting down the remnants of Hydra. That could be awesome if done right, a proper Europe-set spy thriller.
  • Rupert: Well, when you compare Winter Soldier with the likes of other Marvel movies, it certainly has the most ties to the MCU; but unlike Iron Man 2 or Thor 2, the Russo brothers do it with a lot more style. The name drops and connections to the other films are much less distracting, serving more as easter eggs or actual plot points. You do get the impression that Winter Soldier has set the stage for bigger and better things to come from the Avengers and all the other spinoffs we’re likely to get soon.
  • Andrew: I question the broader appeal of a Nick Fury film, but do agree that it would be completely kick-ass, given the precedent that Winter Soldier has set.
  • Jack: This obviously doesn’t make it a done deal, but I’m pretty sure that Johansson and Jackson have solo films in their contracts.
  • Andrew: I do remember Jackson saying he has a notably reduced role in Avengers 2, maybe they’re saving him.
  • Rupert: I’ve also read in a recent interview with Kevin Feige that they have films planned up to 2028. If that’s true, I’m sure a Nick Fury/Black Widow/Falcon movie is in the mix for the future.
  • Jack: Also, you don’t really need to market a film like that in the conventional Marvel way. Make it appeal to the Expendables audience, rather than the Avengers one.
  • Andrew: I think that brings up a really interesting point; I personally adore the various directions that Marvel Films take. It certainly shatters the traditional idea that Marvel audiences are part of the blockbuster monolith.
  • Jack: All the films do have a separate flavour. You’ve got your war film/thriller with Captain America, your fantasy worlds with Thor and ‘proper’ comic-book superhero stuff (like the old Richard Donner Superman) is saved for Iron Man and when they all come together as the Avengers. That and the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy is a sci-fi space adventure. There was also the more minor, but for nerds like me equally exciting, name-drop of Stephen Strange. This means Doctor Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme is confirmed to exist in this universe and should present something completely new with all his magical abilities and enemies.
  • Rupert: I must admit, when Dr. Strange was name-dropped, my inner nerd squealed with joy. It just goes to show how neatly interwoven these Marvel films are nowadays compared to the end credit teases from Iron Man and Hulk back in 2008.
  • Andrew: I recognised the name, but my squillies remained notably un-jumbled.
  • Rupert: Oh, they will be once  the Sorcerer Supreme graces the big screen.

The Bottom Line:

  • Jack: I’m really torn between a four or five star rating. It entertained me consistently, and is possibly the best Marvel film ever. It definitely hits my top 3 comic book movies ever. Then again, it didn’t have that surprise factor, where it delivered something truly unexpected and imaginative, like, say, The Lego Movie did. Ah, screw it. I’m a comics nerd and this is possibly the best comic adaptation ever. It’s a 5 from me.
  • Andrew: Here’s a grenade from me: I liked this markedly more than Avengers.
  • I don’t think it quite deserves a 5, though it was a spectacular superhero film. I’m content with a 4, maybe erring on more of a 4.5. As far as action movies go as a genre, even outside of the superhero sub-genre, this is almost certainly a must-see.
  • Rupert: This is definitely one of Marvel’s best comic book films, and certainly in the ranks of best superhero flicks in general. Out of sheer nerdiness and entertainment value I do prefer Avengers, but of course I’m biased with comic-based films. For the most part I’d say it’s equal to Iron Man at the very least, though I need to rewatch it to make sure.
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier works on the level of both nerds and casual movie-goers. It’s a spy thriller of epic proportions with a bit more mental spunk than other superhero films of late. It also is a bundle of fun in general, with lots of memorable moments. It’s getting a 4 from me, though it’s a damn high one. Now let’s see if the rest of this summer’s blockbuster’s can go head to head with the Winter Soldier!

Directed: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Written:  Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

Starring: Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford

Run Time: 136 mins

Consensus; Jack: ★★★★★, Rupert: ★★★★, Andrew: ★★★★

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