Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2013): Dir: Joe and Anthony Russo. PG-13
This film is currently playing in theaters.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger, and a semi-sequel to The Avengers. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) returns as Captain America, along with Natasha Romanoff aka. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) from The Avengers, a new friend Falcon (Anthony Mackie), and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Captain America (who had awakened from decades of suspended animation), while still fighting bad guys with a sense of traditional American idealism, has to now face a world of subtler threats and difficult moral complexities. Right before Nick Fury, the leader of the government organization SHIELD, is shot by a mysterious soldier named The Winter Soldier, Fury tells Captain America that SHIELD has been subverted by its enemies and can no longer be trusted. Captain America and his friends, Black Widow and Falcon, are soon branded a traitor by SHIELD as they delve deeper into uncovering the conspiracy behind the organization.
To be honest, I didn't expect Captain America: The Winter Soldier to be anything new or even be all that good. Surprisingly, I found it to be the opposite in both accounts. It feels new, and it is quite great. I did not see the first Captain America: The First Avenger, but I did watch The Avengers, which I loved. The Avengers was particularly noteworthy for its complex juggling act of making all the characters equally interesting and fun while using witty banter, fun situations, and character chemistry to fill in for any possibility of boring-ness. The story itself wasn't overly complex (from what I recall) and there was mostly one main bad guy (Are you listening, Amazing Spider-Man?) with some flying, generic minions. Things were always happening (which could have become dull) yet there were plenty of unexpected moments (which made it not dull). The Winter Solider, on the other hand, is punctuated by both slow and fast-moving scenes, and just enough little twists in its complex, if convoluted (as comic book stories should be), plot, taking things more seriously than expected in an action film. With that said, I found myself having to actually pay attention to the story to keep up with everything.
The Winter Soldier feels very much like a sequel, of sorts, of The Avengers, a continuing, long story thread (with three of the characters returning from that movie) about SHIELD in general. Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury plays a substantial role here, and one may even call him the main character of this story if the film wasn't called Captain America. Samuel L. Jackson's serious (and quite action-packed, I might add) side is in full display here, and he does it really well. Chris Evans is particularly great in this film as Captain America, where he gets to display his full range as an actor. A nice, slow moment between him and an ex-sweetheart (who is now very old and sick) is particularly poignant. It is hard not to root for Captain America, an American idealist who is struggling with his ideals in an increasingly modern, cynical world. Scarlett Johansson is quite excellent as Black Widow, looking better, funnier, and more relevant than she was in Iron Man 2 and The Avengers. Anthony Mackie does quite well as Falcon, a soldier who can fly around in a metallic, winged suit--the only downside is perhaps the fact that it is not really explored in detail how his suit really works. Veteran actor Robert Redford adds a good amount of gravitas as a governmental villain, Alexander Pierce.
The action scenes are surprisingly intense and extremely well-choreographed. If The Avengers action scenes felt like a comic book, the fighting scenes in this film is The Dark Knight style of hard-hitting, violent action. I was somewhat surprised by how violent it is (given its PG-13 rating) with all the intense gunplay and bone-cracking martial arts. Captain America's fighting style is very cool and flows really nicely like a very fun side-scrolling video game, making good use of his trademark shield, and bouncing off walls like an acrobat. Black Widow's bone-cracking martial arts moves are beautiful to watch. Nick Fury's car chase scene is first rate, with plenty of danger, bullets, and intense moments. Falcon's flying scenes definitely feels more like The Avengers and Iron Man style of action, which is still cool.
The political-thriller style storyline is interesting in how it's different from the usual comic book fluff, which usually involve external forces and aliens. There are touches of Watchman-influenced plot points. Interestingly, Captain America, as a representation of old school American liberty and idealism, appears to look at the increasingly surveillance-heavy, modern government and ideology with a bit of a critical eye, at a population that is increasingly looking for safety and "security" while willing to sacrifice freedoms in doing so. Yes, there are bad guys and good guys and people fighting, but Captain America reminds us that war is really more about the ideas behind these guys who are fighting.