Starring Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America), Scarlett Johanssen (Black Widow), Anthony Mackie (Falcon), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Robert Redford (Alexander Pierce), Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill), Sebastian Stan (The Winter Soldier)
Directed by Joe Russo and Anthony Russo; Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley; Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
With each major comic themed film that’s been released over the last year, I couldn’t help but think about when the tide would turn and the genre’s popularity might start to wane. But with over $400 million in worldwide box office since it’s April 4th opening weekend, Captain America: The Winter Soldier proves the comic book film is still popular among U.S. and international audiences.
Anyone who knows me knows that Captain America is one of my all time favorite comic book characters (see The Captain America Project in my previous posts), so The Winter Soldier is one of the films I’ve been looking forward to the most this year. The character really is timeless, with each generation of creators since Joe Simon and Jack Kirby creating stories of pure comic book fantasy (The Silver Age Avengers comic books) and weaving issues and events of the last 70 years into storylines to keep Cap relevant over the years (World War II, Communism, distrust of government in the 70’s, the post 9/11 world). During the film’s opening weekend I caught a screening of Captain America: The Winter Soldier with two of my amazing friends (I’ll call them Wonder Woman and Phoenix), and the movie didn’t disappoint.
Chris Evans as Captain America
Steve Rogers doesn’t lose his soul or his hope for America when Project Insight and Pierce’s true motives are exposed. As a man out of his time with 70 lost years to make up, he retains his ideals and moral compass without being jaded or effected by the modern era. The fish-out-of-water element of his character doesn’t overpower the story, and it’s his introduction to the returned veterans in Sam Wilson’s support group that provides Cap with a sense of familiarity in a complicated world.
The Winter Soldier
I have to admit, when it was first announced this sequel would focus on the return of Bucky Barnes (played by Sebastian Stan) as HYDRA’s walking death machine The Winter Soldier, my first reaction was mixed. Writer Ed Brubaker and artist Steve Epting crafted an amazing run with The Winter Soldier in the Captain America comic book, but there was a part of me that was put off by the “resurrection” of Bucky Barnes. In my opinion, Bucky was one of the Marvel characters (along with Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben and Gwen Stacy) that should not have been brought back from the dead. But after seeing the film, I’m sold on bringing Bucky back.
Anthony Mackie as Falcon
Falcon/Sam Wilson brought me back to the Bronze Age Cap/Falcon stories I grew up with, and actor Anthony Mackie was great in the role. Sam Wilson was more than Cap’s wingman (sorry for the pun), he’s a leader that holds his own. His backstory as an Air Force veteran of the War on Terror was the perfect origin for a contemporary Falcon, and his empathy for Steve Rogers as a veteran struggling with a return to normalcy is the backbone of their friendship.
Robert Reford as Alexander Pierce
Going into the film it was Robert Redford’s performance as S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Anthony Pierce that I was looking forward to the most. This inspired casting elevated Winter Soldier from a high octane comic book/superhero film to an engaging political thriller. Redford’s portrayal of Pierce and his true motives for Project Insight within S.H.I.E.L.D. was reminiscent of the ambiguous government characters in Alan Pakula’s conspiracy films of the 70’s. Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley referenced the classic films Three Days of the Condor and The Parallax View as influences on their story.
I won’t name all of them because the fun is in discovering them. But one name dropped in the film got me thinking about the future of Marvel’s films: Stephen Strange. I’ve been saying Doctor Strange was deserving of his own feature film for years. Let’s hope it’s sooner rather than later.
Different tone from Captain America: The First Avenger.
The first film (directed by Joe Johnston) had a look and feel that showed direct inspiration from the pages of the comic books. Winter Soldier had less of this tone, but I felt it was appropriate for this film. To me it was representative of how comic book stories have evolved over the last seventy years. First Avenger was the Golden/Silver Age comic book, but Winter Soldier was the modern age comic book. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is more than a comic book film, it’s an action film/political thriller with comic book characters.
For me, there weren’t any.
When I first read that part of the story was influenced by current events, particularly a government “kill list,” I was concerned the film would be too heavily focused on the idea of government as evil/untrustworthy and possibly insert a sucker punch or two. But I was happy to see the film did not take that route and instead showed the honorable, patriotic members of S.H.I.E.L.D. putting their lives on the line (with many making the ultimate sacrifice) to fight a HYDRA infiltration of their organization. Great job by writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley and directors Joe and Anthony Russo.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a solid film with equal parts adrenaline and emotion that raises the bar for comic book movies as Marvel Studios works toward The Avengers: Age of Ultron in 2015. Last week Marvel announced that Captain America 3 will be slated for May 6, 2016, the same weekend as Zack Snyder’s Superman/Batman film. We’ll see who blinks.