In writing this column I was forced to abandon my original idea of a spoiler-free review. The movie came about 6 days ago and you can find all sorts of spoiler-free reviews online, and all of the really interesting stuff I want to discuss requires this to be a pretty spoilerific article. So here is the warning: don’t read any further if you have not seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
The movie begins with a quiet scene of Captain America meeting Sam Wilson (Falcon) for the first time while running laps around the Washington Monument. The audience is reminded of Captain America’s super-human abilities, his status as a man out of time, and his wonderful aww-shucks sense of humour. It is well-written and expertly paced, easing the viewer back into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and subtly reminding us of all that has preceded. The action shifts quickly to the Captain leading a strike force to free hostages from a SHIELD ship that has been taken over by Batroc. Here, no time is wasted in showing the efficiency and brutality that Rogers uses when in the field. The first time the shield rebounds off a henchman is cringe-worthy, and the ease at which Cap dispatches a ship full of enemies is played for comic effect. Throughout the film the fight choreography is excellent, and on par with any classic martial arts film. The use of the shield as both a defensive and offensive tool speaks volumes to Captain America’s personality, and is shown in contrast to the deadly tactics employed by the Black Widow. The mission culminates with an epic fight between Cap and Batroc (played by expert kicker Georges St. Pierre) and Cap realizing that Fury had ulterior motives for sending the Black Widow on the mission (she was stealing secret data).
These first two sequences in the movie (intro, rescue mission) show where the movie really shines: the explosive fight scenes and the quiet scenes between Cap and trusted friends. The other scenes in the movie are where it all gets a bit muddled. In fact, at several points if you stopped to think about the plot you would realize that several things make absolutely no sense. And that is okay because you are having such a great time being rocked from fight sequence to fight sequence. For example, the data that Black Widow steals from the boat turns out to be an algorithm so Hydra can use weaponized helicarriers to kill those it deems a threat. All that is fine, but why was the algorithm on the boat in the first place? It wasn’t the only copy, so it isn’t some kind of macguffin. Hydra has the algorithm already in place on the helicarrier. And why would the data also turn on Zola later on in the movie?
Further to these little points is the larger problem of living in a large shared universe. When we read comic books there is an understanding that Thor and Iron Man might not be able to help Cap because they have their own books, but in the movies, because they don’t happen at the same time, we are forced to wonder what happened to the other heroes and need to make the assumption that they must be doing something else. There were literally three times in the movie when if I were Cap I would have just called Iron Man for help. And even if I didn’t call him presumably when he saw me on the news getting arrested or saw a giant helicarrier fight he would fly over and help out.
I’m not pointing out these flaws to nit-pick or to get into some sort of nerd internet debate, but rather showing some examples of where logically the movie doesn’t work, and how this ultimately doesn’t matter. When the movie works it works really well. The two fight scenes between Cap and Bucky would be Oscar-worthy if there was such a category. In addition, the directors do a good job of reminding the audience of who Bucky is and why he means so much to Cap. Readers of the comic books had been used to Bucky being dead for sixty years, so when it was revealed that the Winter Solider was Cap’s long dead sidekick there was real emotional impact. Flashback scenes build the emotional story for the viewer (who may or may not remember that dude who fell out of the train in the last Captain America flick). However, I was disappointed that they removed (or didn’t mention for some reason) the connection between the Winter Soldier and the Black Widow. I understand that you can’t fit everything in the movie, but this is an excellent facet to both characters.
The big revaluation that Hydra was secretly SHIELD for 60 years is simultaneously nonsensical and supremely awesome. Nonsensical in that it took them this long to decide to strike in a big way, but awesome in that it adds a whole new dimension to parts of past Marvel movies. Gary Shandling trying to take over the Iron Man armour now has a whole new twist. And the fact that SHIELD was building Hydra guns in the Avengers movie is far more sinister. I also found myself immediately wondering what was going to happen to the Agents Of SHIELD television show.
The extra scenes are neat, introducing Von Strucker, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch to the cinematic universe, but don’t really hint at what will happen in Avengers 2. They do remind those of us in the know that Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch get to be in Disney and Fox movies, and that Disney can’t use the word mutant (maybe Von Strucker will lead the Brotherhood of Evil Miracles?). The final scene shows the Winter Soldier trying to see the man he once was but also shows the reader how much Bucky likes techno music, I guess. Also, who out there doesn’t know that you need to stay to watch the credits in a Marvel movie? People STILL got up right away and then stopped in the aisles when the scenes came on.
Finally, I would note that the movie is one of the strongest entries in the cinematic series (I think that the Cap movies might be my favourites) but that strength comes from allowing us to see a universe that we so want to visit. The movie achieves what a great comic book achieves: I want to see what happens next. I read to see the next issue. ‘Nuff said.