Tuesday, April 1, 2014


At this point, Warner Bros. should just get Marvel to produce their superhero movies. Superman Vs. Batman (or whatever it’s going to be called) is looking more and more like a desperation move, while Marvel’s latest cinematic offering, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, raises the bar and sets a new standard for the genre. It continues Marvel’s remarkable winning streak, delivering a film that manages to be highly enjoyable in its own right, while remaining faithful to its comic-book roots.

Like last year’s Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, it opens some time after the events of 2012’s blockbuster The Avengers. Steve Rogers—Captain America (played once again by the perfectly cast Chris Evans)—is now working for the international peace-keeping organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D., partnered with agent Natasha Romanoff—the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, who more than holds her own)—under the command of Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, of course). But as Fury is about to launch a new initiative called Operation: Insight, designed to stop threats before they happen, Cap finds himself having difficulty reconciling his personal values with the activities of the agency giving him his orders. Meanwhile, as Fury discovers that S.H.I.E.L.D. itself may have been compromised, enemy forces make their move, aided by a near-mythical assassin called the Winter Soldier—a brutal and merciless operative who also serves as a painful reminder of Cap’s past. 

The Winter Soldier. No, this is not a crossover with The Six Million Dollar Man.

That’s about as much as I can say without getting into spoiler territory (although Marvel did a pretty thorough job blowing one of the movie’s biggest surprises—at least for those not familiar with the comic-book lore—in its Assembling a Universe TV special that aired on ABC on March 18). 

Even if you’ve read the comics upon which the film is based, there are plenty of twists and turns that should leave you reeling. Even I, a jaded comic-book reader who actually worked at Marvel for nearly seven years, found myself gasping in surprise—and delight—by the revelations sprinkled throughout.

The Winter Soldier is a high-octane thriller with jaw-dropping action sequences and eye-popping special effects. But it also has substance. It explores the difficult question that we’ve all been asking ourselves since 9/11: How willing are we to give up our freedoms and our rights as American citizens in the name of security? What’s especially thrilling to me is that the film also has so much heart. The character dynamics are simply fantastic and touching. There’s one scene in particular, early on, that picks up on some key continuity from the first Captain America movie, and it’s both bittersweet and absolutely heartbreaking.

As an aside, I love the fact that, as with the previous Cap movie, the filmmakers make no apologies for the fact that Captain America is not some complicated, angst-ridden figure filled with inner conflict. He’s a straight arrow, completely noble, and sure of himself and what’s right. If that makes him seem boring or square to some audience members, tough. 

And I have to note that while there are long stretches in the movie where Steve Rogers is dressed in his civilian clothes, he does get to wear two versions of the Captain America uniform, and I heartily approve of both.   

The interaction between Steve and Natasha is one of the main highlights of the film—the chemistry between Evans and Johansson is rock-solid. 

Expect some major character building for the Black Widow in this film. 

Ditto the burgeoning relationship between Steve and incoming character Sam Wilson, aka the Falcon, played by the excellent Anthony Mackie. I’ve liked the Falcon ever since I first encountered him in Captain America #230, published in 1978, and I’m extremely pleased that his live-action debut has been handled so well. 

Captain America and the Falcon: Teaming up on the big screen at last. 

Samuel L. Jackson has an integral role in this film, and is given more to do than usual—and of course, he’s great. (There’s one particular in-joke having to do with Fury that should give the more observant—and in-the-know—viewers quite a chuckle.)

And it’s very gratifying to see an actor of Robert Redford’s stature showing respect for the material. This may be a “comic-book movie,” but Redford is not slumming here. He turns in an effective, nuanced performance as Alexander Pierce, a major Washington, D.C. power player who also just happens to be Nick Fury’s mentor. (It’s interesting to note that had this movie been made about 40 years ago, Redford would have been perfect for the role of Steve Rogers/Captain America himself).

Pierce and Fury discuss the trouble brewing within S.H.I.E.L.D.

As is the norm for these movies set in the interconnected Marvel Cinematic Universe (namely, the movies produced by Marvel itself, which excludes the Spider-Man, X-Men, and Fantastic Four films), there are references to past events and established characters. Iron Man and the Hulk are each referred to more than once. But there’s also a seed planted for a possible future film, one starring a character we haven’t met before: A certain master of the mystic arts. Wow. All I can say, is bring it on!

And yes, you have to stay to the very end to get the full experience. There are two brief epilogues, one during the end credits and one after. The former is the more intriguing one, as it helps set up the upcoming film Avengers: Age of Ultron.

What’s also of note is that this film can’t help but have a significant impact on the TV series Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which is set in the same universe. No lie: The Winter Soldier is a genuine game-changer for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and for S.H.I.E.L.D., so I’m very curious to see how the TV series—which has improved in a big way over the course of this first season—will be affected going forward.

Marvel has already announced that they’ve given the go-ahead for a third Captain America movie, to be released on May 6, 2016. It’s a vote of confidence that is very much deserved. Go see The Winter Soldier, and enjoy. 

© All text copyright Glenn Greenberg, 2014.


  1. Thanks for keeping it spoiler free! looking forward to seeing it

  2. Reading your and Bunche's spoiler-free reviews has got me really excited for a movie I really wasn't that jazzed about. While I liked to the first Cap flick (First Avenger, not 90s crapfest), when I've looked back at it, I found it the least compelling of the Avengers' characters first films. But advanced buzz like yours makes this sound really special. Glad you got to see it and share the good news.

  3. Maybe there were one too many twists by the end, but at least it still kept my interest for the most part. Good review Glenn.

  4. A solid example of meat-and-potatoes popcorn filmmaking--befitting that most meat-and-potatoes of comic book heroes.