'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' Review: Changing The Landscape Of The Marvel Universe, And Doing It With Style
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'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' Review: Changing The Landscape Of The Marvel Universe, And Doing It With Style

By TK | Film Reviews | April 4, 2014 | Comments ()


2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger was a bit of a surprise. Not a surprise that it was a hit — the Marvel train was moving full speed ahead at that point, with Thor, The Incredible Hulk, and two Iron Man films under their belts by then. No, it was more a surprise because it was pretty good, despite a character that doesn’t have quite the cachet as a god of thunder, a giant green bipolar monster, or a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist with a nifty robotic suit. Yet it managed to make what sometimes seems like a relatively generic hero into one that could be quite engaging. That character, portrayed by Chris Evans, was further advanced in The Avengers, which saw him developing from a soldier into a leader, with a few bumps in the road.

Now that he’s had the chance to play the role a third time, Evans finally feels at home with the character, and his performance as Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, is easily the best of the three. He’s comfortable and confident in the role now, and that sense of satisfying sense of self that he exudes is what ultimately grounds the film and serves as its bedrock. Evans never quite felt at home in the first film, but now he’s made the role his own, and The Winter Soldier is a better film for it.

Of course, what also makes Captain America: The Winter Soldier such an enjoyable film is that it’s simply an extremely well-written and well-directed story. The screenplay, by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (who collaborated on the first film as well as Thor: The Dark World) is firmly entrenched in the new universe set up by The Avengers. Unlike the second Thor film or the third Iron Man film, it doesn’t remove the character from that universe and tell a separate story. Instead, it hurls Rogers into a fascinating and labyrinthine tale about SHIELD itself, and about the dangers and pitfalls of such a vast, deadly entity charged with, essentially defending the free world from both all manner of global threats. It’s a solid narrative bound together by some great performances, and all handled expertly by Anthony and Joe Russo in the director’s chairs. Continuing Marvel’s trend of picking unlikely directors to helm their pictures with great success, the Russo Brothers (Welcome To Collinwood, You Me & Dupree) brought a decidedly non-action pedigree, but managed to balance a massive budget, sprawling story, sharp group of actors and intense action demands quite well, creating a film that surpasses anything in the Marvel Cinematic Universe short of The Avengers itself.

It does this by using some of the same storytelling techniques that made Iron Man 3 so effective. While it concerns a massive conspiracy that threatens to undo the very society that SHIELD has hoped to protect, it often does so in a very non-superhero fashion. Yes, there’s wild action and crazy technology, cyborg super soldiers and helicarriers and, you know, a 95 year-old man who was frozen in time who is super-strong and carries a vibranium shield. But once the film establishes itself and cracks the story open, it becomes less a barrage of action and more a sleuth-and-spy thriller. Similar to Iron Man 3, Evans spends a surprising amount of time out of the suit, and instead he’s simply learning about himself and the world around him, as well as trying to navigate this complex world of deadly geopolitics that a man who was until recently simply a super-powered grunt is wholly unfamiliar with. It’s a bit of a coming-of-age tale for him, as he tries to find who to trust and who to fear.

I’ve come this far without really telling much about the plot itself, and that’s fairly deliberate. While the titular Winter Soldier is perhaps the film’s worst-kept secret, the story itself is fairly startling in how profoundly it will affect the larger Marvel universe, and as such deserves to be unspoiled as much as possible. Suffice it to say that Rogers finds himself on shaky ground with SHIELD and the world at large, and must come to depend on a handful of allies to uncover a huge and terrifying plot spawned by enemies both old and new. It’s a tightly plotted story, with a healthy dose of intriguing detective work mixed in with some absolutely terrific action sequences, but it’s also an outstanding ensemble piece.

Evans’s castmates are a big part of its success. Like Evans himself, Scarlett Johansson has also come to embody the role of Natasha Romanoff, The Black Widow, and she plays a large part as friend, ally and confidant in the film, while also holding her own as a decidedly serious ass-kicker. Anthony Mackie is the newcomer as Sam Wilson, aka The Falcon, in one of the absolute highlights of the film. Falcon is a longtime ally of Cap in the comics, and it’s great to see the evolution of that friendship come to life on the screen, albeit in a somewhat rushed fashion. But Mackie is excellent in the role, becoming far more than a simple sidekick but instead a fully formed character in a very short period of time. As an added bonus, the action sequences featuring the Falcon and his mechanical wings are absolutely stunning and some of the best in all of Marvel’s cinematic history. Yes, I mean that. The rest of the cast acquits themselves exceptionally, with Samuel Jackson’s Nick Fury back in the forefront, his machinations playing a large part of the crisis at hand, but also the new addition of Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce, Fury’s boss. Supporting roles by Emily VanCamp and Frank Grillo round things out nicely.

When the film does kick into a higher gear, the action is absolutely spectacular. The physicality that Evans brings to the role is now a brutal, visceral thing, and the choreography uses that to outstanding effect. Watching him barrel through walls and bounce around corners, using the shield as an extension of that same frenzied energy is more fully-rendered here than ever before. The fight scenes are completely devoid of slow motion, and are instead fast, hard, breathless affairs that feel powerful and effective. The film’s third act, where things blow completely open and the inevitable giant action set-pieces come into play, is wild and intense and vividly rendered, but never so big as to make the viewer lose sight of the action, and more importantly, always feels like it’s serving the story, not the other way around. Yes, it’s a fairly bananas sequence that of course comes down to the last second, but it’s all so well-packaged that you don’t mind the occasional cliche.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a huge, fun, deeply satisfying film, and not just because it’s a well-made comic book movie. It’s a well-made movie that tells a fairly impressive story about the dangers of absolute powers, about corruption and greed and betrayal. But it’s also about heroes, and it gets the audience behind its heroes without devolving into jingoistic bloviating or ham-handed, corny imagery. There’s no flag-waving, no ridiculous speeches or lectures on freedom and justice and all that. Those ideas are there, but they’re subtly woven into the script, made a part of the story (as they should be) so as to make him a better and more engaging character, but not used as a club to beat the viewer into submission. It’s a collection of capable performances and beautifully-rendered action sequences combined to build a well-crafted, energetic and interesting story, and is unquestionably one of the best in this increasingly-large and now far more complicated universe.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Annapurna

    OMG this film is surprisingly awesome!! I didn't like the first Captain America, so i went with a low expectation. This film went into a completely different direction (from the first movie) and came out as the best Marvel film to date (along with the first Ironman). I dare say this is even better than the Avengers and Thor! The fight scenes are the best I have seen in Marvel. I felt like it was like a nod to Hong Kong action films, the X-Files, Bourne, Mission Impossible, and Bond. I may even go see it again!

    Marvel, thanks so much for finally giving us a superhero movie with a good, convincing plot.


    1. Yay to Abed!
    2. What was the weapon in the first mid-credit scene and why was it there? I remember Loki had it in the Avengers?

  • VohaulsRevenge

    Easily the best of the franchise so far, perfectly balanced between action, humor, suspense, and thinly-veiled (but highly relevant) social commentary.

  • BobbFrapples

    I held off from reading reviews until I got to see it for myself last night. I was grinning like a lunatic after the final end credits scene rolled. This is by far the most satisfying Marvel film out of the post Avengers crop. Such happiness abounds!

  • Dominic

    wow no negative reviews ....
    Is it worth $20 to see it on IMAX ? Now is the question

  • I didn't think anything could top the teleporting fight scenes from Thor 2. I was wrong. The action in this movie was incredibly well done - we were literally on the edge of our seats during Nick Fury's big scene especially.

  • Some Guy

    Anyone else have who saw it have that moment when the one curious looking engineer opens the door to find a superhero and he gives that "Cool. Cool Cool Cool." Look?

    I thought it was an enjoyable but strange casting for such a small roll.

  • kinoumenthe

    Abed and Captain in the mooorning !

  • TacoBellRey

    Nearly not enough footage of the Cap Ass.

  • Swellcatt

    I must admit, after seeing this movie, I am VERY interested to see what happens on Agents of SHIELD. First time I can honestly say that. I'm glad I kept watching. (there was a set up to this movie (a little) on this week's ep which was cool)

  • Buellie413

    Loved it. SO MUCH. The fights were ridiculous and Anthony Mackie needs to marry me tomorrow.

  • Also, the French guy. Kicking is hot.

  • NO, MINE!

  • Daniel Lewis

    Cindy, the French guy you are referring to is Batroc the Leaper. Also known as Batroc ZE LEPAIR

  • Even his name is great! That kickboxing was AMAZING.

  • Daniel Lewis

    In the comics, he has a jaunty mustache.

  • So I've been seeing.

    I really like how the Captain America films manage to feel like there's a foot still in reality. (I love his old costume.) Not all CGI fighting to the point of ridiculousness. It's one of the things I don't love about the Iron Man films.

  • BlackRabbit

    The reason I enjoyed this movie was simple-I knew what was going to happen, and I still liked it. I guessed the big twists early (admittedly one of them wasn't a big secret) but kept watching because I enjoyed how it got to where it was going. The relationships were well-written, the fights were great (though I'd have liked to see more of Mackie in action) and all of the little name-drops and nods were amazing. Damn good stuff. Incidentally, the ParaRescue guys that Falcon was a member of before he joined Cap? I wiki'ed them-some hard-core fellas. Never again will I think lightly of the Air Force.

  • TheAggroCraig

    Count me amongst the big fans of this movie, I really enjoyed it. One of the reveals (don't worry, no spoilers) hit me kind of hard. I felt betrayed by a fictional character.

  • AvaLehra

    I loved it -- but can I just say how much I really loved that Black Widow was sporting a teeny arrow necklace?

  • Swellcatt

    Oh I noticed that too. LOVE!!

  • AvaLehra

    I wholeheartedly support that ship.

  • Orleanas

    Your review beautifully and accurately highlights and captures all that was great about Captain America: Winter Soldier. I was, myself, surprised with how good it was since the first film didn't make a good impression on me (I fell asleep and am now interested in re-watching it).

    Captain America: Winter Soldier.is truly a very good film, not just a good super hero film, and it is because, at its core, it's a hero's journey story--and Chris Evans deftly brings these elements to life. The supporting characters (Black Widow, The Falcon, Nick Fury, Alexander Pierce) all meaningfully contributed to the story. I agree with you that Mackie is a highlight of the film--I absolutely love his scenes with Evans. ScarJo was kickass and I found myself cheering whenever she was kicking ass, and the casting of Redford was superb in that his look / feel is so typical of what I imagine a character like him looking like on the pages of a comic book or animated in a cartoon.

    In any case, this Captain America had the right amount of darkness and lightness, with a particularly realistic message about the dangers or our emerging dependence on technology and desire for "security." It is by far my favorite (along with The Avengers) of The Avengers superhero flicks. I want to go see it again.

    Bonus: This movie also features my favorite cameo of Stan Lee to date and includes TWO closing credit sequences, one of which made me want the next installation of Captain America NOW.

    Chris Evans's sex appeal just went through the roof for me with this film.

  • Daniel Valentin

    The reason this movie worked so well for me is the same reason The Dark Knight did as well: it's a great genre movie which just happens to have a superhero as its protagonist. Just like The Dark Knight was an amazing mob/crime thriller, CA:TWS is a great Tom Clancy/Jason Bourne political thriller.

    The movie also worked for me because of Cap, both Chris Evans' performance and the character himself. You see him much more used to the present, confident in his role as a leader, unflinching in doing the right thing, and protective of his friends and loved ones. That scene with certain someone from his past in the beginning of the movie was a scene that was pure heart, it genuinely made me choke up a little. Chris Evans really gets across that the reason Cap's so great is because he's the kind of nice guy best suited to be a hero.

    Also, his chemistry with his fellow heroes is awesome, especially with Falcon. Anthony Mackie fucking nailed the character, and I loved how, even though they lived different eras of warfare, they both identify with each other as veterans of war and good people trying to make the world a better place the only way they know how. Their friendship didn't feel forced at all. This'd better not be a one-time thing with Mackie, cause he was spectacular, and the Avengers still need a black guy in their roster.

    Oh, and the headline for this article hits it on the head: this movie's a game changer for the Marvel movie universe. Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World are sequels to their respective precursors, while this movie is more a continuation of Avengers itself and it sets up some MAJOR events for the upcoming movies. Here's crossing fingers that Guardians Of The Galaxy is a hit too, that'd make Marvel rule this summer season :)

  • chanohack

    I'm disappointed by the lack Emily VanCamp kicking people in the head. We all know she can do it. I mean why put Emily VanCamp in your movie if she's not going to ninja anyone OR pour herself into tight dress? She's very pretty in her scrubs and all but GOD DAMN that lady can wear a dress/pretend to kill people. It just seems like a real missed opportunity.

    Other than that it was awesome and I loved it and want to see it again, right now.

  • Ben

    If it's any consolation the character she's playing is a major part of Captain America and we will deffintly be seeing her again.

  • chanohack

    THAT IS consolation! Thank you.

  • Ben

    I missed the second credit sequence, can someone let me know what happened in it?

  • AvaLehra

    Man! I missed it, too. I left after the first one.

  • chanohack

    The final scene features a survivor in the Smithsonian and is understandably angsty.

  • Ben

    Batroc the fucking leaper is in this movie. BATROC THE FUCKING LEAPER IS IN A MAJOR MOVIE PICTURE!

    Can we just appreciate this movie.

  • Guest

    "Batroc Ze Lepair" to you English swine! FRENCH-KICK!

  • Sean

    He isn't wearing purple. And doesn't have the mustache. I was so sad about that.

  • BlackRabbit

    I think he IS wearing purple, actually. May be wrong.

  • That dude rocked.

  • Tracer Bullet


  • TK


  • manting

    TK is right - in the first film the shield is clearly made exclusively of vibranium.

  • Tracer Bullet

    I care nothing for what the vagaries of film contracts have to say about the matter. It's an alloy and I will brook no dissension.

  • Hawkeye Fierce

    There should be a special punctuation symbol that you can use for retconned information to prevent comic book geek feuds. (Not criticizing, you boys are behaving quite well).

    But, something like "his bone claws^ are blah blah." But then again, you would probably do nothing but notate then. Since he grew up in Canada^, and Sabretooth is his brother for reals^, then when Silver Fox fake eats it, he does a reverse-Dexter......

    You know, I can't even finish typing a dumb example. Never mind. Carry on. Nothing to see here.

  • manting

    in the comics it is - after it was retconned.

  • Whee! Loved it. And I love the fact that we get to see the Captain (and others) as just people--it's not *all* superhuman action--as with that ridiculous Spiderman trailer.

    No spoilers, can anyone tell me if there was another credits scene following the final credits? I saw the first, but wasn't able to stay through the entire credit roll.

  • P.S. Adored Mackie.

  • Daniel Lewis

    There is a second scene, but it's not plot heavy.

  • Thanks!

  • Stephen Nein

    Survey: is it PG-13, or is it PG-13? 9 year-old girls wanna know.

  • yetipuncher

    HARD PG-13. I took my 7 and 9 year old sons today. It is the most intense and visceral film in the Marvel universe. High body count, some creative deaths, and some straight-up executions. That being said, both my boys loved it and are now sleeping soundly.

  • Daniel Valentin

    This is a HARD PG-13. It has a huge body count and some VERY nasty kills. Bloodless, but still pretty brutal. And the fight scenes are CRUDE brawls. It's not nicely choreographed chop-socky fighting, it's people beating the ever-loving shit out of each other. It's fucking great.

  • Hawkeye Fierce

    Yeah, I'm pretty inured to violence in cinema but I found myself noting several times how visceral this was for a PG-13. The violence is realistic, hand to hand combat, and shitload of guns. I mean, at one point, literraly EVERYONE in a room pulls a gun on everyone else.

  • Tracer Bullet

    I took my 9-year-old and she seemed fine. Of course, she's morbid and has a thing for skulls, so use your best judgement. There's lots of violence but no gore and little blood.

  • In other words, she's 9 (going on 15) like all girls?

    I kid, my 10-year-old (in a couple days) is excited to see it, but the intensity can get to her.

  • Donna SHerman

    Excellent, excellent. I am so excited to see this.

  • Dennis Albert Ramirez

    i was never even a fan of Captain America, but I liked First Avenger and The Avengers. Reading interviews with the writers/directors about the sequel and the awesome trailers finally convinced me to checkout the Winter Soldier storyline and a couple others.

    i already knew the twist, because it was a such a big deal at the time if you were into comics, breaking one of the big (unofficial but official) taboos regarding character deaths, but goddamn. Goddamn

    The Winter Soldier storyline was perfect. I felt i finally got what Captain America was supposed to be and stand for, and it was such an intriguing Cold War with a dash of WW2 flashback spy thriller as opposed to a standard cape comic. The Winter Soldier comes off as a truly tragic villain, and it all wholly justifies the aforementioned broken taboo as more than just a stunt.

    I've been a Brubaker fan ever since (Velvet is fantastic) and if the movie is half as good as the comic storyline, i have a feeling this will be my favorite. i am going today and am super psyched

  • Dennis Albert Ramirez

    it was soooo good. and i almost think the lack of spoiler-guarding on Marvel's part re: the winter soldier's identity (as well as some clever trailer dialogue cut to seem like it's for one character, but really for another) may have been intentional, to take any possible speculation away form the major plot point that, just as the title of this article implies, changes the entire game of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. im really excited to see where they go with this.

  • MarTeaNi

    How about a plug for Ed Brubaker, without whom this story would not have been possible. He's one of the most solid and enjoyable writers working in comics today.

  • TK

    I think he's got all the plugs he needs, considering that he's IN THE MOVIE.

    Which is pretty goddamn awesome.

  • jollies

    The local paper today had a review that crapped all over this movie. The reviewer had lots of reasons why he thought the movie was a "big yawn," but -- reading between the lines -- it was clear that the negative review boiled down to it being a superhero movie.
    Then on the way to work, I heard the radio reviewer give what sounded like a completely positive review, but ended by giving it just 2 stars (and even that sounded like a painful consession). When she was asked why she didn't rate it higher, especially given all the nice things she had just said about it, she said that it's just hard to feel like a smart or sophisticated person when you are watching people run around in superhero costumes.
    Why do media outlets send reviewers to a superhero movie if they simply don't like superhero movies? What value does it bring to have someone who dislikes the Dark Knight and Green Lantern equally tell me what he or she thinks about the newest superhero movie?
    Anyway, I glad to hear from TK that this movie is worth my time.

  • Dominic

    welll don;t read or listen to them
    but this is residual hollywood hate for this genre , As the reason the female radio reviewer gave was consistent with how Hollywood felt about Star Wars and Star Trek , no matter HOW much money those franchises made .... But Now Hollywood NEEDS us or they can't finance their artsy films . So call her up and tell her she's stupid for hating the genre . As this is just THE New Medium , to tell the same OLD stories in ...

  • I love superhero movies and Green Lantern was a steaming pile of crap. However, I would love to know those reviewers thought of the last few Bond movies, because Cap 2 is way closer to that than a classic superhero movie.

  • That was exactly what I thought while watching the closing titles. Something very Bond about the whole thing.

  • Hawkeye Fierce

    Right on. Nice catch. I think the brutality and intimacy of the fight scenes and the loads of parkour-esque stunts are the Bond link.

  • The latest Bond films have also focused a lot on just how much Bond is a "company man" (or patriot) when it comes into conflict with his personal values/feelings. That dynamic was a huge part of this film, as well.

  • I can't wait. I'm hearing nothing but good things about it, and that's just so damn rare these days I'm all jumping in my chair to go watch it.

    And without spoilers: any post-credit scenes? I feel like it might be an obvious yes, but it doesn't hurt to ask.

  • TK

    Two of them. The first one is far more important - and entertaining - than the second. The second just feels like unused footage that got tacked on.

    But the first one is amazing.

  • Hawkeye Fierce

    While I recognized the two unnamed "guests," I didn't catch Mr. Expositions title or name. I am a bad geek for not knowing who dat was.

    (Also, Guardian of the Galaxy trailer looked about 234X more awesome than I ever expected. And was that Benicio del Toro in that clip?)

  • TK

    Baron Wolfgang Von Strucker, one of the big baddies who runs HYDRA.

  • lowercase_ryan

    When are you reviewing Transcendance?


  • Addy

    Absolutely love this movie. I can not wait to go see it again. I think this might be my favorite Marvel film to date. The story was brilliant and the actors were great. Cap is really the best. Black Widow is awe inspiring when she is in action. Still excited to go back and see it after having seen it last night. So happy!!!!

  • Classic

    I am waiting until Sunday until my movie running buddy can come along!

  • chanohack

    MOVIE running...? Fascinating. I have been running wrong.

  • Classic

    Lol most of my friends don't like movies so I have a running buddy for movies :-)

  • AvaLehra

    LUCKY! I am my own movie running budding when there's a movie the husband doesn't want to see.

  • lowercase_ryan

    I wasn't excited. I am now excited.

  • Ian Fay

    I'm actually really hoping Agents of SHIELD can turn itself around in the aftermath of this movie.

    Also, the Dr Strange reference and the Pulp fiction joke were both just amazing.

  • Ozioma

    I'm giddy because apparently Star Wars AND Star Trek exist in this universe. I wonder how Cap will feel, watching the Trek reboot and seeing Thor's face.

  • Dominic

    lol funny .... why not pump up Lucas ...
    yes my take from this review is that this makes the TV show
    Agents of Shield better , if they keep tying into it ...
    never been much of a Cap fan so I'm not pressed to see this
    However this IS the main reason why Marvel is better than DC , as they make better movies , and wrap their universes together much better ..

  • Ozioma

    I'm seeing this movie for a third time tonight. It only gets better with each viewing.


  • Snath

    Seriously, I LOVED THE NAME DROP. I did a little dance in my seat.

  • Houston Shearon

    The most impressive thing about this movie is that while it wasn't that hard to figure out some of the 'surprises' and ways that it was 'game changing' it was so well done that it remained immensely enjoyable. Falcon was awesome. Cap is great. Black Widow was brutal. So good. So fun.

  • Going tomorrow night. Cannot wait.

  • I. Love. This. Movie. Seriously, as a Marvel nerd, it might even beat The Avengers as my favorite of the group. I've already seen it twice.

  • Nick Cowling

    Seeing it for the second time tonight. So much awesomeness

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