Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Switching directors and tones on a grand scale, Winter Soldier ushers the Avenger seamlessly into the complicated worldview of the 21st century.

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BY RYAN MILOWICKI

Remember in Captain America: The First Avenger when there was a literal song and dance number? That intentionally campy, patriotic, and all-around serial-esque feel couldn’t be farther removed in Cap’s latest adventure.

Switching directors and tones on a grand scale, Captain America: The Winter Soldier ushers the Avenger seamlessly into the complicated worldview of the 21st century. Whereas as the first movie spent most of its time setting up the emotional layers of Steve Rogers (he spent nearly the first hour as the CGI skinny version of himself), Winter Soldier drops us right into the action, making for a 2+ hour high-octane ride.

This is a much more serious film than we’re used to seeing from the Marvel canon, and it is not afraid to ask some difficult questions about the modern world. If this is the road Marvel is setting out on, then count me in. We’re now nine movies into the Avengers universe, so an evolution like this is most welcome.

As Steve Rogers (played again by Chris Evans) struggles to adapt to his role as a S.H.I.E.L.D. operative in the modern world, he begins to reveal a web of deceit being woven underneath his nose. As he fights (literally) to discover the truth, he uncovers plenty of secrets regarding his past and his present.

As you might have guessed, this is far from the jovial origin story from 2011. In its own way, this is an origin story of another kind. By the end of the movie, a new Captain America emerges: one firmly entrenched on the values of the past, but steeled by the horrors of technology and ambition which plague modernity. Marvel certainly took a risk in departing from the formula which has been so successful for them in the past. For the most part, it pays off big time, granting this cinematic universe its most mature offering yet.

That being said, transitions are not easy, especially when dabbling in the genre of massively profitable blockbusters. Thus, when the trademark Marvel quips inevitably find their way into the script, something seems just the slightest bit off. Not that humor is unwelcome in a serious tale; there’s just a lingering tonal disconnect that wasn’t a concern in the more lighthearted Marvel offerings.

Easing this transition is some very well-executed chemistry between Evans and Scarlett Johansson, who mirrors her Iron Man 2 role as the titular role’s co-protagonist. The sexual tension between the two is frequently palpable, taking a break only when they need to beat up any villains in their way. I for one smell something brewing for Avengers 2.

Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury is one of modern cinema’s greatest guilty pleasures, and he doesn’t disappoint. His role is much larger than it’s been in prior installments, and Jackson delivers. He even gets his own extended action scene, in a car chase sequence that was one of the movie’s most thrilling. Also lending a hand are Anthony Mackie as a retired soldier who lends Cap all the help he can, and Robert Redford as a S.H.I.E.L.D. leader with more secrets than his eerily calm demeanor betrays.

As for the top-billed “Winter Soldier,” his role is a bit of a dud. As far as villains go, he’s pretty forgettable, and his backstory requires more than a little suspension of disbelief. While he’s certainly a force to be reckoned with, as a character he is the bizarre combination of underwritten and not worth elaborating.

But when it comes to pure action, you’re unlikely to find anything better for a while. I was nervous at first when the opening scene on a ship is fraught with shaky camera, far-too-tight shots, and a pace too abrupt to ever hope to keep up with. However, the action evolves as the movie does, granting me an audible sigh of relief in the theater. There’s no magic or mysticism associated with Captain America’s story arc, so gunplay, car chases, and hand-to-hand combat are the extent of our violent delights. If that sounds good to you, then you’re in for a treat, because over half of the movie takes place with some sort of fight transpiring.

So at the end of the day, Winter Soldier is far from the cash grab we all expected. As the last main-character spinoff before Avengers 2, I can only hope that the tonal shifts hint at the onset of serious themes in the upcoming blockbuster. We all know that the Marvel films are nearly unmatched in their ability to blend violence and a rollicking good time. Winter Soldier has both of these qualities, along with that added level of awareness which gives it an inherent sense of importance. And while its execution of these more difficult ideas is not exactly perfect, it’s a step I’m glad to see the franchise take. All told, Cap’s latest is a very worthy kickoff to blockbuster season.

RYAN’s RATING: 3 Stars out of 4

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