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The best feeling in the world is going into a movie that you have high expectations, and walking out satisfied. It’s a whole other thing entirely to leave the theater slack jawed by what you just saw, just taken aback by how great a movie is. It’s one of the highest compliments you can give a film, and it’s one that ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’, the ninth entry in the ever expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe series, has earned. Chris Evans once again returns as Steve Rogers, a man out of time, dealing with what it means to be alone and who feels lost to the world around him. Along for the ride are returning cast members Scarlett Johansson as Agent Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow, and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, while also introducing us to Anthony Mackie, the man who will become known as the Falcon.
Following the events of ‘The Avengers’, Steve Rogers (Evans) has begun working as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. full time. But the longer he’s inside the system, the less he trusts it, because the farther in he digs, the more that seems to be hidden from him. It doesn’t take long for that paranoia to reach a new high when an attempt on Nick Fury’s (Jackson) life, by a phantom assassin known as The Winter Soldier, turns the world upside down. Steve finds himself on the run, and with the aid of Natasha (Johansson), and his new friend Sam Wilson (Mackie), the group plans on finding out the truth behind what S.H.I.E.L.D. is hiding, as well as finding out who lies behind the Winter Soldier’s mask.
The most impressive thing about ‘The Winter Soldier’, other than the fact that the movie is so great, is that it was directed by two guys who have never made an action movie before in their life. Joe and Anthony Russo, whose most notable work comes from work on sitcoms such as ‘Arrested Development’ and ‘Community’, are in a whole new element with this film, but you would never know it. The film is so exceptionally directed, that you’d think it was being done by someone who had been making action movies their entire lives. You can tell that the Russo Brothers have a keen eye for action, and they deliver it beautifully here. It’s well shot, tense, and unrelenting, but never to the point that it’s too much. There are some larger than life set pieces in the film that rival some of the best action films, while bringing ‘The Winter Soldier’ incredibly close to ‘The Avengers’ level of fun. In particular, the freeway chase, and eventually firefight between Steve, Black Widow, and the Falcon, against the Winter Soldier and his men, really stands out as the most memorable action scene in the film. It’s just so well put together, and the hand-to-hand combat between Steven and the Winter Soldier is so well choreographed.
It definitely helps though that for all the action, there’s a very intriguing story underneath it all, giving it a chance to breathe, and settle down before it pushes us forward. There’s an aura of the classic political thrillers that many of us grew up that just fully encompasses this film. It’s part Tom Clancy, mixed with ‘Three Days of the Concord’, with a bit of ‘Enemy of the State’ thrown in for good measure, which makes the film twist and turn in the best of ways. While the middle does meander a little bit, making sure we’re always invested in the story, it’s never enough to hurt the film. The pace, even in the slower parts, moves solidly, and before you know it, the movie is off and running again, and you’re trying to catch your breath. It’s also really good when a film can suck you in using real issues we’re facing ourselves, which this film does magnificently. The idea of government surveillance, cyber spooks, and cyber terrorists is a very real problem that our world has been facing, and it’s one that fits this world so perfectly. Seeing the themes like that handled so well, and delicately, is really impressive, and makes for a really compelling viewing.
You can tell that one thing that the Russo Brothers did bring to the table from their TV days was how to work with actors, because they managed to get some of the best performances in the MCU out of this cast. Chris Evans is the best he’s ever been as Steve Rogers. The character’s high morales have always been a big part of him, and this film not only forces him to call them into question, but also call into question the morality of those he’s working for. It’s a great story arc, and it gives Evans a lot to work with. It’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role at this point. Samuel L. Jackson also got a lot more to do than he has before as Nick Fury, and he’s great this time around. His character has a great story, one that parallels much of Steve’s, but also dealing with the Sins of the past, and it works. It’s nice to see Fury really getting out behind the desk and into the action as well, really rounding out a character we’ve barely gotten to know.
Scarlett Johansson is quite good as the Widow, and while we don’t get a lot more of her backstory as we did in ‘The Avengers’, she’s still a lot of fun. She works will with Evans and Mackie, and her character gets a lot of action, and you can tell she’s really enjoying herself in the role. But it’s really Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson, or The Falcon, who really steals the show. Mackie is so great in the role, and he’s a perfect fit for the MCU. The way he and Evans play off each other is electric, which makes you like the character even more. This could become a really great onscreen duo down the road, and it’s one that needs to be utilized even more in future films. It would be a shame to see so much potential not get used. Of course, you can’t not mention the great Robert Redford, who turns up as one of the head’s of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the film. The man is a legend, and he’s so good as Alexander Pierce, you never want him to leave the screen. It’s great seeing him doing a role like this, when he seems to be so choosy in his roles, and helping legitimize the comic book genre for people who may not see it that way.
‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ is easily in the top two of the Marvel Studios films to date. But not only that, it’s one of the top films in the comic book genre, period. Marvel has proven now that of all their characters, Captain America is the one they get the most, and he is the one who is really pulling the best films in the MCU series, thus far. Filled with excellent action, a fantastic script, and great performances from everyone involved, it’s hard not to absolutely love this movie. This is more than the typical popcorn blockbuster, which is something we should all be thankful for. The Russo Brothers have proven their skills to an insane degree here, and it’ll be great to see where they go from here. For those who may be disappointed in Marvel’s Phase 2 so far, this one will turn you around. This is just an insanely great film, check it out.