-Richard "Rikun" Jao
Marvel Studios has been on a pretty good ride since their mega hit The Avengers solidified their mark in cinematic pop culture. With Phase 2 underway, it's time for Steve Rogers to take his solo outing in Marvel's latest outing; Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
After being thawed out to the present day and fresh from facing an army of alien invaders, Captain Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), is slowly adjusting to his new life as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D and coming to grips with just how morally ambiguous the modern era has become. Among his allies include Natasha Rominoff (Scarlett Johansson), Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), and newcomer Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) as an attack against Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) starts off a series of events that will change the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it.
That's just not a tagline BTW. What happens in this movie literally changes everything most people thought they knew about the Marvel Universe in the Avengers and will set the stage for the studio's "Phase 2" series of movies that will lead up to the Age of Ultron. But let's cast all that hype aside and focus on whether or not this entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe lives up to the caliber of the ones that came before it: and in my own humble opinion I'm happy to report that it does.
One may wonder how Captain America's solo stint can hold up when his more powerful allies can shoot lasers or lightning at overpowered opponents, and this movie delivers by having visceral up-close action that reminds the audience of the Bourne series. Cap can't shoot lasers or lightning like his more powerful allies, but he more than makes up for it in up-close and personal brawling action sequences that take advantage of his super-soldier strength and impeccable shield tossing abilities. While the action can be a touch on the shaky side, it certainly fits in with the grounded intensity that the modern era of espionage and black ops has forced upon the good Captain. Add to this the massive set pieces that involve giant helicarriers and the Falcon's airborne combat and Winter Soldier has plenty of blockbuster value for your ticket.
The story for this outing is more in line towards morally grey political thrillers like the previously mentioned Bourne series in contrast to the two-fisted pulp feel of the first movie, and given the nature of the film it fits well. Captain America is a man out of time and while he's the defender of the American way, his idealism is constantly tested by the ever increasingly invasive methods of security S.H.I.E.L.D is willing to take to ensure the safety of the nation. This also contrasts greatly with Black Widow's antiheroics, making her a fantastic foil to Steve's straightforward sense of justice. It doesn't take much to believe that this film could be a stinging commentary of today's post 9/11 world
All of the actors are in top form for Winter Soldier. Chris Evans is just as upstanding and heroic as ever as the Captain himself and Scarlett Johansson gives a great performance as the ever secretive Black Widow/Natasha Romanov. Anthony Mackie makes a great new addition to the cast as Sam Wilson, a military veteran who who dons a winged jetpack as the Falcon and serves as an uncomplicated everyman within a cast wrapped up in deep seeded espionage.
But what of the titular Winter Soldier? Strangely enough he doesn't show up nearly as much as the movie's subtitle would lead you to believe. It's undeniable that he is the catalyst of the entire plot and the scenes where he does show up establish him as a force of nature, but such scenes are few and far between for him to really be considered a major antagonist. Rather, he's another pawn that the bigger bad of the entire film only unleashes when necessary, which further establishes just how grey the modern world has become. To talk any further about what the big conspiracy is and even the identity of the Winter Soldier would dive into spoiler territory, but suffice to say it's well worth anybody who's become invested in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Ultimately, The Winter Soldier is a worthwhile addition to the ever growing Marvel Universe and an overall fun ride with major twists and turns to keep you invested. As is the tradition of every other Marvel film before it, there will be some after-credit goodies that fans will stick around for to further build the hype for Avengers 2, so keep your eyes peeled.