Captain America is one of my favorite superheroes and so far in the Marvel cinematic universe, he’s been portrayed in a way that I believe is faithful to the source material. The sequel to 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger continues that tradition, but wades into darker themes about government corruption, NSA-level spying, and compromising core values for the sake of the greater good.
For those of you who may have missed the first movie–go watch it on Netflix now! Seriously, it’s a great movie–Captain America: The First Avenger harkened back to a time when the Greatest Generation went toe-to-toe with Nazi Germany in World War II. There is a very distinct feeling of who the bad guys are and who the good guys are in the first movie, but the same cannot be said for the sequel. In The Winter Soldier, Steve Rogers is still coming to grips with a modern world which has changed dramatically since the good ol’ days of gramophones and Studebakers. Aside from the technological advances, Cap has to deal with SHIELD’s murky ethical practices, which contrast significantly with Roger’s old-fashioned black and white worldview.
After the Battle of New York in The Avengers, Captain America is now a full-time member of SHIELD and engages in covert ops missions with fellow Avenger, Black Widow. The first action sequence of the movie shows off Cap’s super soldier moves against French pirates who’ve hijacked a SHIELD battleship. I was seriously waiting for one of these French guys to yell, “Viva La Résistance!” Alas, the movie did not deliver. The scene on the ship also provides a nice cameo appearance of a lesser known Captain America villain known as Batroc the Leaper. Unfortunately for comic nerds, Batroc does not do much leaping unless you consider capoeira and MMA-style fighting a suitable replacement for leaping like a frog onto Cap’s shield (casual viewers rejoice).
Aside from a French C-list supervillain, Captain America also goes up against a new threat in the form of the Winter Soldier–a shadowy assassin who’s working with someone inside SHIELD to kill lots of people including Cap and all his buddies. The Winter Soldier is also plucked straight from the comics and he’s portrayed very well in the movie. Besides the antagonists, Steve gains a new ally in Sam Wilson AKA the Falcon, who can use a jet-propelled backpack with metal wings to take to the sky and shoot down the baddies. Nick Fury also makes a return and has a pivotal scene that I won’t spoil for anyone, but suffice it to say, that Sam Jackson is up to his old spy tricks from previous movies.
Overall, the movie delivers a great balance of action, comedy, and drama. The action scenes are fast and furious complete with shaky camera effects ala The Bourne movies, which I think is a good fit for a superhero spy movie. Comedic one-liners has become a staple with Marvel franchises and they don’t fail to deliver in The Winter Soldier, but the movie is a bit more reserved than its predecessors (i.e. Iron Man 3 and Thor 2). And then there’s the drama: the issue of government spying on the common people to prevent terrorist threats and well, create a surveillance state. The movie continually reminds us of this theme and it’s very poignant in a scene where Nick Fury explains to Cap that SHIELD will be able to neutralize lots of threats with preemptive strikes, to which Cap replies, “I thought the punishment came after the crime?” and then he later adds that such a strategy “isn’t freedom, it’s fear.” It’s a very powerful message considering the current government issues with NSA spying and controversial methods concerning the War on Terror. I commend the writers and moviemakers for even touching upon these issues in what many will just consider a superhero popcorn flick. But I believe conveying Cap’s struggle with a worldview seeped in gray makes for a great movie, if only to show how unshakeable the man out of time is in a post-modern world.
I heartily recommend Captain America: The Winter Soldier to both comic aficionados and general audiences who even slightly enjoyed The Avengers (because you know everyone and their mom saw that movie!). It’s a well-done movie and a cut above other Marvel superhero movies solely for touching on some heavy topics relevant to our times.
Oh and don’t forget to stay after the credits! Marvel delivers not one, but TWO short scenes with provide easter eggs for comic book geeks like myself as well as preliminary clues for the plot of Avengers 2.
POSTSCRIPT: When my wife and I went to see this movie, the place was quite packed for a Saturday matinee showing and there were LOTS of children younger than 10 in attendance. We even heard an infant crying in the audience during one of the louder action scenes. A word to parents who have kids that are fans of Avengers or Captain America: please don’t take your young children to go see this movie. It’s quite violent for young, impressionable eyes and the aforementioned themes are too dark and mature for children to comprehend. I know it’s a superhero movie, but this one is not something your child might see on a Saturday morning cartoon, so rent Frozen or watch the new Muppets movie instead with them. Okay, coming off the soapbox now.