Movie Review | Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Movie summary: As Steve Rogers struggles to embrace his role in the modern world, he teams up with a fellow Avenger and S.H.I.E.L.D agent, Black Widow, to battle a new threat from history: an assassin known as the Winter Soldier. (IMDb)
Going back to watch Captain America: The Winter Soldier after seeing where the Marvel Cinematic Universe ended up in Avengers: Endgame almost feels like watching a movie from a completely different studio, even though the same team of writers and directors were behind both films. But this is the type of movie I can't see Marvel Studios making any more.
It seems strange to think that, but the MCU has pretty much gone full-on sci-fi/cosmic level action-adventure movies now, and I don't think we'll see a street-level 'spy'-thriller like this from the studio again (now watch Black Widow and Shang-Chi prove me wrong). Winter Soldier is only just over five years old, but so much has changed since then.
Yes, the technology level here is still higher than in the real world, but it still only feels a little ahead of what we have and not completely unrelatable like space or time travel. And Captain America himself is the most outlandish character involved here - while clearly superhuman, the gap still doesn't feel as big as between other heroes like Thor and Captain Marvel.
What also helps is that the stakes are relatively small: tens of millions are still under threat from the villains, but that's still several orders of magnitude lower than something like Endgame or even Thor: The Dark World, which both have universe-spanning consequences. The laser-focus on the core characters also helps, focusing events so closely on them that they become the audience's primary concern.
Chris Evans admitted recently that this movie was the first time that he truly felt under pressure to perform as Cap, but you'd never tell. He's got a harder edge to him than in The First Avenger or The Avengers, but is still the kind and caring guy that you wish the recent incarnation of Superman had been. This movie firmly cemented Evans' Cap as the 'good is not weak' ideal.
This also feels like Johansson's best performance as Black Widow before Endgame arrived. She's extremely confident in her abilities and Johansson completely sells it, even if most of the credit would probably have to go to her stunt double for the action scenes. It's in the quieter moments serving as the brief respite between amazing action sequences that lets her actually display a greater range than other appearances, with a lot of subtle facial expressions and changes in demeanour that clue the audience in to what she's actually feeling.
Anthony Mackie as Falcon is also great, making his debut here and feeling at home so quickly it's astonishing to think that he hadn't been a part of the MCU all along. From a physical standpoint, he might not be able to match Cap or Widow, but he's just as determined to do the right thing as they are, which makes it easy to see why he's so quick to follow Cap into battle so soon after meeting him.
A quick word also for Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury, who gets one of the best action sequences in the movie to himself as he shows just why he's the head of SHIELD. Fury is tough as hell and is absolutely the kind of guy you'd want fighting alongside you, even if you have to keep one eye on him because he's never entirely trustworthy.
Lastly, there's the Winter Soldier himself. Yes, almost everyone reading this probably already knows who he is under the mask, but I'm keeping this spoiler-free for those who are yet to watch the movie. The reveal of his true identity is actually the moment I knew the MCU had truly conquered all other franchises - the gasps and (yes) sobs from across the audience revealed just how much people had connected with these characters.
As for the action, I don't think the MCU has ever come close to replicating just how brutal and savage it gets at times here. You really feel every impact and each blow that lands is wince-inducingly solid, which results in each piece of action feel like it's actually hurting the people involved. Cap and the Winter Soldier might have the edge over the others, but even they take a pounding here.
The experimental score by Henry Jackman also deserves praise, with the screeching Winter Soldier theme proving especially memorable and feeling more than a little akin to Hans Zimmer's Joker theme in The Dark Knight. It's a real shame that the MCU scores don't make more consistent use of established themes for characters, although it admittedly might not work for this particular character anymore.
One last thing to talk about is this movie's prescience: many critics openly mocked The Winter Soldier for having so many Nazis/fascists operating in a government organisation, then the 2016 US Presidential Election came along and effectively proved this movie right. I can't even imagine the type of reaction The Winter Soldier would provoke from the right-wing and real world Nazis today.
The Russo brothers (co-directors), Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (writers) would almost certainly be receiving the kind of threats that would require law enforcement to get involved, and the cast wouldn't be safe either. Evans would get blasted for playing Cap as someone perfectly happy working with women and black men while treating them as equals.
One of those women, Scarlett Johansson, would probably get the same kind of abuse that Brie Larson suffered for the 'crime' of playing super-confident women who are as competent as you'd expect from the characters they play. It just goes to show how much the real world has changed since then too - and not for the better.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a terrific move from start to finish, racing along and barely giving the audience a chance to catch a breath between each amazing set-piece peppered throughout the movie. This isn't to the detriment of the characters either, with Cap, Widow, Fury and new recruit Falcon all getting their moments to shine. Still the best the MCU has to offer.
Why a 10/10? This is one of those movies that I personally can find no fault with - there isn't a single scene here that I would change, or can see how you could do it any better. Some critics complained about the 'explosive' side to the ending, but that's merely a backdrop to what's happening to the characters and what's happening to them while it's going on.
And that's why The Winter Soldier succeeds: it puts the characters and their story first, over spectacle and bombast. Yes, there are a lot of (incredible) action sequences in this movie, but they're all focused so tightly on the characters that you never lose sight of what's going on or how this will affect the story going forward.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier was the best movie from Marvel Studios when it released, and I think it still holds that title now - something even the Infinity Stones couldn't affect. I really hope that Marvel Studios go back to this type of movie at some point, or it might be a crown that Captain America retains for a long time to come.