‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ review: A smartly written political thriller

Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America) and Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanov/Black Widow) in Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America) and Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanov/Black Widow) in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America’s second standalone outing goes where previous Marvel movies have not gone before — into the realm of the political thriller — and I must say: it is a great choice. It shows that Marvel’s movies don’t all fit into the same mould, and cements their credibility in telling good stories.

While the first was a straightforward period war movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier focuses on today’s stealth war with drones, wiretapping and NSA surveillance — asking timely questions along the way — and builds up a conspiracy that our good guys spend half the movie sifting through before they get to the requisite “taking down the villain” part. Who, by the way, turns out to be *extremely* unexpected, because it was supposed to be a threat long vanquished. The repercussions will shake things up not just for Avengers: Age of Ultron, but also, more immediately, for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I will be watching eagerly to see how they reconcile the shows. (Especially Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. They had better have a good explanation instead of just glossing through it, like they did with the events of Thor: The Dark World *cough* Jotunheim monster running around the streets of London *cough*.) There are also a lot more tie-ins than ever to the previous Marvel movies, especially in the Iron Man universe, and even a split-second infrared glimpse of Avengers Tower! (I did wonder what happened to Tony Stark’s plans for it during Iron Man 3.)

Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America) and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury) in the S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters
Cap and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in the S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters

It’s not as quippy as The Avengers and Iron Man 3, nor as side-splitting funny as Thor: The Dark World, though the jokes are still there; rather, it feels more “intellectual” with real stakes. Given the subject matter, and the fact that Cap is viewed as the more “serious” among the Avengers — plus he didn’t have the others and their more flamboyant personalities to highlight his “fish out of water”-ness this time — it is to be expected. He has acclimatised to the modern world since The Avengers too, but he is still adjusting, as seen from a humorous beat when he whips out a list of things to catch up on in the 21st century. (I only managed to catch a glimpse of “moon landing”, “Berlin Wall (Up + Down)” and “Steve Jobs” on it. Would have to rewatch and freeze-frame that part.)

Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanov in Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanov in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Surprisingly, Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) is pretty “goofy” this time round. While as badass as ever, she is slightly less sure of herself, and not the cool assassin we saw in Iron Man 2 and The Avengers — which is understandable I guess, since S.H.I.E.L.D.’s ordered world was crumbling down. (I’m not counting the time she had a mini-breakdown when Hulk was chasing her in the helicarrier.) Her camaraderie with Cap was fun to watch too. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) showed exactly why he is head of S.H.I.E.L.D. in one of the most suspenseful sequences in the movie, and to top it off, they gave him a JARVIS-like car. Newcomer into the franchise Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) had some of the best and funniest interactions with Cap, and even the scenes with the bad guys were great, especially Frank Grillo’s Brock Rumlow. You get the sense that he has a lot of grievances with his team leader, though they never explain why. Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), whom Cap is dating in the comics apparently, though not yet here, had several good action moments, but overall didn’t have very much to work with. And Robert Redford is as enigmatic as the head of the World Security Council and friend of Nick Fury should be, but I do wonder why the esteemed actor decided to take on the role.

Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson/Falcon) and Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America)
Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson/Falcon) and Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America) in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Cap (Chris Evans) is really gorgeous here, all six feet plus of blond-haired, blue-eyed righteous goodness. And the lighting in this movie only emphasised it by bathing him in an angelic glow. Really. (Or maybe his skin is just so fair that he would have been luminescent no matter what.) He looks so wholesome that even when he’s supposedly in pain, he never appears tortured, only extremely earnest and concentrated. Case in point: his fight in the elevator, which also happens to be one of the best action sequences in the movie. (Though the ending of that scene was kind of unbelievable; but ok.) Still, there are moments when you think he really could die, and I’m almost as surprised that they didn’t follow through with that threat as I would have been if he had actually died.

(In off screen drama, Chris Evans has said that he doesn’t want to act anymore beyond his Marvel contract, which should end after The Avengers 3. I hope he gets his wish, because he sounds unhappy and really disillusioned with a not-so-stellar career — as long as he continues being Captain America, since it’s a great role for him. Cap may die in the comics — though comic book characters are always coming back to life, so it doesn’t really count — but he can’t die in the movies. He just can’t.)

All his scenes in this elevator gave him the best lighting any actor could hope to have.
All his scenes in this elevator bestowed on him the best lighting any actor could hope to have.

At the other end of the spectrum is James “Bucky” Barnes, Cap’s former best friend who has been transformed through a horrifying process into the Winter Soldier. (Dark hair, a scruffy look, guyliner and morose tears of inner turmoil go a long way into helping one appear tortured.) He is ruthless — though perhaps not as much as another character in the movie — and the frenetic camera movement and edits in his fight scenes with Cap show how equally matched they are. But since Cap obviously won’t give up on him, Captain America 3 will probably be a continuation of their story.

I love the score too: it really set the conspiratorial tone of the whole movie. The directors Anthony and Joe Russo have directed many of my favourite episodes in the TV sitcom Community, so I expected good things, and wasn’t disappointed. (It also accounts for a cameo by an actor from said TV show, but obviously no one else in my theatre watches it, because none of them gasped out loud like I did.)

Sebastian Stan as the Winter Soldier
Sebastian Stan as the Winter Soldier

The movie isn’t flawless though. Without giving away any spoilers, there are several things that didn’t make sense, such as the scene with Fury’s injured eye and the cryptic line he delivers about keeping “both eyes open”. Also, I really can’t figure out why Fury would do what he did at the end of the movie. It had about as much sense as Tony Stark destroying all his robots. Both of which are problems for future directors to solve I guess. And I think Cap loses his shield for good? Well, I suppose he wouldn’t really, but how ever is he going to find it again? Some kid finds it in his backyard and gives it back? (For a shield made out of the rarest metal on earth, he is really flippant with it.)

Also, there’s a pivotal scene that is rather out of place and made me wonder if they had wandered into another upcoming movie from this summer by accident. And it’s not the one that you would think of immediately.

*Minor spoiler below!*

They also showed Cap visiting Peggy (Hayley Atwell), his first love, in the nursing home, which is really heartbreaking when you see how aged she has become, how young he remains, and think of all the “could have beens” between them. Unfortunately, it was done very abruptly, and thus lost a bit of its pathos, because they cut straight into their conversation and skipped the reunion. It would have been great to see Cap’s reaction when he first saw her again, or even after the end of the visit.

What I said above about lighting. He just *glows*.
What I said above about lighting. He just *glows*.

I’ll cap off my review (pun totally intended) here. Just one more thing: did anyone else catch the Pulp Fiction reference in the movie?