I just watched Captain America: The Winter Soldier for the second time last night. I loved it both times. I liked the first Cap movie as well, but The Winter Soldier leaves that first one in the dust. They found an excellent balance between action, comedy, and serious trouble, striking a note that felt remarkably similar to the delivery of the first Iron Man movie, less the odd bit where I felt a little underwhelmed by the final fight between Obadiah and Tony. Which is to say that it’s pretty frickin’ spectacular. I’d say that it’s worth watching the first Captain America movie in order to better understand what’s going on in Winter Soldier, but it’s not absolutely necessary.
Almost all of the rest of this article is going to be spoiler-rich, so if you haven’t yet seen the movie I suggest that you stop reading before the break. Take my word for it and go watch the movie; I’m almost certain you’ll enjoy its pulpy action-intrigue comic book goodness.
Before watching The Winter Soldier for the first time, my housemate and I watched Three Days of the Condor, which he had heard was used as a direct inspiration for the film. We both liked Three Days of the Condor, despite its truly uncomfortable moments, and I was glad that I had seen it first; The Winter Soldier makes clear use of it as source material when constructing its hostile conspiracy of unknown size and depth, and even goes so far as to have several shots be clear homages to scenes from the older Robert Redford movie. Three Days of the Condor goes much deeper into examining the assholery and justifiable paranoia of a desperate intelligence agent, but I love the way that The Winter Soldier manages to evoke a good deal of the same uncertainty without truly diverging from its comic book roots.
And speaking of Robert Redford… somehow I never quite abandoned my perception of Marvel casting famous and well established actors as being something of a lucky fluke; after The Winter Soldier I clearly have to reevaluate my long-outdated assumptions. If I’d been paying attention to the cast of the original Iron Man I should have caught the hint, right? Regardless, I was glad to see Redford across from the other actors that I’ve already come to know and love in their roles (Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansen, Chris Evans, etc.), and I felt like putting them on stage together really upped the energy of the whole piece. Better yet, it was fascinating to see Redford play the counterpart to his original character from Three Days of the Condor, and he made a wonderfully convincing villain even if his villainous master plan did require a dose of comic book logic in order to make much sense.
I also wanted to mention how much I liked Black Widow in this movie. Despite the fact that the movie is ostensibly about the Cap, it felt to me like Black Widow was really given a chance to grow onscreen. I loved the easy banter between the two of them, and the moment of pain (and maybe also relief of a sort?) that you see when Natasha finds out that Rogers trusts her now and implies that he didn’t trust her before is really excellent. Basically, I feel like this movie is the first time when we’ve really had a chance to see Black Widow open up rather than simply being competent and fun to watch. I’m fascinated to see what will happen now that she has gone Snowden all over SHIELD’s secrets, and my housemate and I suspect that this might be setting up for some version of the Marvel Civil War storyline. It also seems pretty clear that they’re setting up for a Black Widow movie, which makes me happy. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for more hints like this.
In point of fact, I’m impressed by how well Marvel seems to be setting up for more storylines in general; they’ve introduced Agent 13, they name dropped Dr. Steven Strange, they’ve brought Falcon into the main Cap storyline, they’ve introduced the future Crossbones, and I’m pretty sure that they’ve got more people coming out of the woodwork that I simply haven’t yet noticed. I mean, it looks like Bucky will be coming back again, based on the final teaser at the end of Winter Soldier. Somehow, the Marvel movie team has been making pretty consistently good movies, and they keep expanding the range of stories that they’re telling. I can’t figure out how much bigger this will all get, but I’m definitely willing to go along for the ride.
How have I gotten to this point in the article without having written anything about the Winter Soldier and Captain America? Maybe I was unconsciously trying to protect you from even more spoilers? If you’re still reading at this point, I hope you’re not surprised when I say that I liked the Winter Soldier storyline and what they did with it. Giving Steve Rogers the chance to try to find and redeem his friend Bucky is great, and I can’t wait to see what happens next there. I did have a problem with the way in which Bucky as the Winter Soldier was sold as a super-ghost immediately before being very obvious and public with his violence, but I’m willing to make some exceptions for the circumstances. In one case he was called in to deal with Fury’s armored vehicle which had already resisted other attempts to destroy it, and in the other he had to kill Rogers and Black Widow. Neither of those are anything like normal circumstances, even for a specialist assassin.
The Cap, of course, felt perfect. He’s a total paladin of truth, freedom, and the American way (those should probably be capitalized), and his idealism is so sweet it makes my teeth hurt, even as it warms the cockles of my heart. There’s nothing quite like good old American values when you have to deal with all those nasty conspirators who are out to destroy freedom, especially when they’re doing it for the greater good. And now I want to watch Hot Fuzz again.
I’ll probably get around to watching it again some time soon, though I don’t know that I’ll do that while it’s still in theaters. I really liked this movie, and I hope that you do too.