Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review

poster from the Marvel Studios film Captain America Winter Soldier

Marvel has effectively put us on a money treadmill. All of their movies (and now the TV show) interlock, so if you miss one, you miss the clues that lead in to the next one. The best part for Marvel is that no one wants to get off the treadmill. Not even me, and I’m the one cynically pointing out that we’re running in place. The latest mile we’re paying for is Captain America: Winter Soldier.

A patriotic superhero from the 1940s struggles to adjust to modern anti-terror tactics while facing off against an enemy from his past.

I was really looking forward to the Winter Soldier aspect of this movie, so when I watched it and discovered that a more accurate title would have been Captain America and a Bunch of Crap About SHIELD, I was disappointed. If you’re dying to see more Nick Fury, maybe you’ll like it better than I did.


Our hero Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) was unfrozen to help out with The Avengers, but they deferred his synchronization issues until now. His girlfriend is a shriveled Alzheimer’s patient living in a nursing home. His buddies are all dead. And SHIELD, the organization he’s now working for, keeps secrets from him and infringes on people’s personal freedoms to hunt down bad guys.

Nick Fury and Alexander Pierce from the Marvel Studios film Captain America Winter Soldier

Congratulations on another fine day of utilizing the Patriot Act.

One of the bad guys, a mysterious, masked, Soviet-bred metal-armed superman called the Winter Soldier, looks STRANGELY FAMILIAR to Cap (also to anyone who watched the first movie, saw any of the movie’s promotional materials, or read a comic book). Steve needs to stop this guy… but also maybe help him too?

Winter Soldier from the Marvel Studios film Captain America Winter Soldier

He’s not so much the bad guy as the guy who gets punched by the hero.

This is a lot of pressure to put on a 95 year old. His bestie Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) died in the 40s, so it’s time for Cap to make a new friend. Enter Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie), a returned Iraq war pilot who shares some of the Cap’s issues, and unlike his SHIELD partner Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), he’s actually willing to share truthful information with his friends.

Sam Wilson and Steve Rogers go running together from the Marvel Studios film Captain America Winter Soldier

So I’m a pilot… sort of…well, I can fly.

This is all good stuff. Then we get into the parts I didn’t like. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the director of SHIELD, and Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), a sort of SHIELD politician, are launching Project Insight – a series of repulsor powered floating aircraft carriers capable of using satellite data to blast bad guys before they even become bad guys.

Project Insight from the Marvel Studios film Captain America Winter Soldier

I see no way for this to go wrong.

Cap’s doubts about the rightness of such a project are well founded, and when things go to sh** like they always do in a superhero movie, the stakes are (annoyingly) the destruction of the world (again). There are only so many ways for the world to be destroyed all at once, which is why The Avengers felt like Transformers 3 and why this movie feels like Goldeneye.

Black Widow from the Marvel Studios film Captain America Winter Soldier

Oh no, Cap! Target lock in 3, 2, 1…

I get that Marvel feels the need to make things bigger and destructier every time they make a film, but the broader and more nebulous the threat, the harder it is for me to care. The stakes need to be personal. Personal like Tony Stark fighting to preserve the reputation of the company his father founded. Personal like Cap barreling into enemy territory to rescue his fellow soldiers. So no, I don’t give a crap about twenty million faceless, nameless people or about a totally one dimensional character like Nick Fury. I care whether Cap gets his friend back.

Falcon and Cap from the Marvel Studios film Captain America Winter Soldier

You know what’s a great cure for sadness? JET PACKS.

But the Winter Soldier angle is a distant sideline to a ridiculous main plot involving SHIELD and some Nazis. YES. NAZIS. I won’t tell you exactly who they are (though you’ll probably figure it out the first time they appear on screen) and I won’t tell you what they’ve been doing all this time (that part they DID leave out of the promos) but I will tell you that the explanation they expect us to swallow is ridiculous and unbelievable.

Cap in the elevator from the Marvel Studios film Captain America Winter Soldier

I know this is a superhero movie, but COME ON.

On the upside, the fights are pretty awesome. Cap’s fighting style can best be described as superpower parkour. He also regularly flies 300 yards through the air after blocking RPG rounds with his shield, proving that in this action movie at least, the filmmakers are aware of the laws of physics. The best part, though, is Falcon and his winged jetpack.

Falcon in action from the Marvel Studios film Captain America Winter Soldier

I WANT IT.

So I wouldn’t say Winter Soldier is a waste of time. I had fun. There were aspects of it I responded to. But it’s no First Avenger and it’s certainly no Iron Man, even though the potential was there. It’s about equal to The Avengers in its level of maniacal stake raising and plot meandering, so if you liked that movie you’ll probably like Winter Soldier better than the first Captain America movie.

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