Captain America The Winter SoldierTitle: Captain America: The Winter Solider (2014)
Director: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
Runtime: 136 minutes

I’m really not fond of Captain America. I didn’t like him much in the comics, just like I didn’t like Tony Stark (Iron Man) in the comics. Thor and most of the other Avengers weren’t high on my list either. When it comes to Marvel comics, I’m generally on the X-Men side of things, but do stray into Ghost Rider, Captain Marvel, Hulk, and his cousin, She-Hulk. So for me the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the MCU from here on out, has been kind of a different take on all these characters as I’ve actually ended up liking them on the screen, and actually feel for what they’re going through. I’ll chock that up to some great lines, amazing actors, and a fast-paced set of scripts that never really give you time to breathe. After The Avengers, though, I decided to go all in with the MCU, and am even finding myself excited for Guardians of the Galaxy.  What surprised me, though, was how much I wanted to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier, especially with all the bleed-over characters that I liked from Iron Man 2, The Avengers and the first Captain America film.

The first thing you should know before going into Captain America: The Winter Soldier is that it’s probably one of the darker films they’ve undertaken in the MCU to date.  All of the films after The Avengers have been darker so far, with each of the characters having to deal with the fallout from the Chitauri invasion in the group film in NYC in their own way. While they could have kept playing up the fish out of water scenario for laughs, this time around it’s Steve Rogers morals and ideals that are the fish out of water, as S.H.I.E.L.D. is moving ahead with a plan that parallels what’s going on in the real world with people in the U.S. giving up some of those same freedoms for security. There is some playful banter between Black Widow and Cap, and even a few others as the film moves on, but you can tell from just after the few beginning sequences of the film that they were out to shake up the status quo in the MCU and decided to do it with a political thriller centered around the Captain America character. They also tie into the Winter Soldier storyline from the comic books to give Steve someone on par with his abilities to square off against, and give the audience a good fight, but also to twist that emotional knife all over the place when Steve finds out just who the Winter Soldier really is.

Steve ends up on the short side of something bigger in S.H.I.E.L.D., and finds himself with few friends and no one to trust except Natasha, who’s most definitely with him on his mission to find out just what’s going on.  Much like Iron Man 3, where Tony had to deal without having his armor, Steve has to learn to adapt quickly to being inconspicuous, which is difficult for a celebrity of his status. With Natasha’s help, they uncover all the little details that lead them to the bigger fish. It’s a really well written film that doesn’t add much fluff or room to breathe, and has excellent pacing. The dialogue is fantastic, and well played between everyone. The music helps set the tone, and has that political thriller vibe, but also has a call back to The Avengers and the first Captain America film.

I have to say that the cast does a fantastic job with this. The relationship between Widow and Cap feels like a relationship between a pair of comrades in arms rather than them trying to do any kind of romantic angle, which I’d have been ok with, but I think works much better here as is. Chris Evans has the conflicted Steve Rogers down pat, and he really sells all the scenes he’s in. Scarlett Johansson feels equally dangerous and sympathetic to what Steve’s going through. Robert Redford steals almost any scene he’s in and they wrote him some great dialogue to play around with. And who could forget Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, who actually gets some pretty heavy lifting this time around as opposed to just looking bad ass in command of the helicarrier?  The addition of Anthony Mackie as Falcon doesn’t feel tacked on either as we get some decent backstory about the character before he even joins up to help Steve in the film.

Honestly, this is probably the best – and my favorite – of the solo outing films. While the plot is the big motivator, the characters actually feel involved in this one as opposed to just simply meddling or getting taken along for the ride. Even The Avengers was a bit like that to some extent. It’s a really smart film, and even if you took out some of the comic book elements and played it just straight as kind of a sci-fi political thriller, it’d still be an amazing film, and that’s its biggest strength. There’s some great story telling here, along with some excellent characters, and the film is all the stronger for it. I won’t discount the visual effects, which are equally amazing and believable with strong cinematography.  If you’re a fan of Marvel, or Captain America, or just a political thriller fan, I say give this one a try. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is amazing, and well worth the ticket price.