Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, gunplay and action throughout
Written by Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely and more
Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo
Starring Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Redford and more
The best superhero movies make you think about more than why anyone would be willing to wear that particular outfit in public.
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” the latest installment in the eventual world domination of the Marvel cinematic universe, is less a traditional superhero movie and more the kind of political thriller Harrison Ford used to star in. Secrets are being kept, loyalties are divided, and the question of just who the good guys are isn’t as clear as anyone would like it to be.
At the center of the movie is Steve Rogers, the titular Captain America, who is still trying to adjust to modern life after being displaced from the 1940s (if you don’t know how, don’t ask - it took an entire movie to explain it). He works for SHIELD, which is essentially the CIA with less restrictions and much cooler weaponry, but isn’t comfortable with the organization’s belief that the best way to stop a bad guy is to shoot them before they decide they want to become a bad guy in the first place.
It’s a neat little metaphor that touches on everything from military actions to the war on terror without getting bogged down in any of it, and the movie’s exploration of it is surprisingly nuanced. Even Rogers wrestles with the question of where the line between protection and repression falls, and the bad guy (who shall remain nameless, for spoilers’ sake) has some chillingly persuasive points.
Thankfully, the movie also delivers on a superhero front, delivering a killer twist on the larger Marvel universe for those who have been following it through the previous movies. The best thing about the Marvel movies has always been the way they tie together into a larger universe without alienating anyone who might not get the references, and “The Winter Soldier” delivers beautifully with connections and implications both large and small.
Chris Evans continues to make Steve genuinely good without being insufferable, imbuing the character with both humor and an undercurrent of both anger and heartbreak. Scarlett Johansson continues to become both more interesting and likeable as Natasha Romanov (aka the Black Widow), though the movie brings up things about her past that really need a feature-length film to be explored properly.
Anthony Mackie was a delight as Sam Wilson, a surprisingly regular former soldier who fought beside the superheroes simply because he knew they needed his help. His mid-air flight scenes were impressive, but so was his sense of humor and genuine concern for the fellow soldier who just happened to also be Captain America.
In the end, it’s that humanity that is the best thing about “The Winter Soldier.” One of the movie’s greatest moments rests squarely in the hands of a lowly computer tech, who through circumstances completely outside his control ends up with a gun pressed to the back of his head. He’s clearly terrified, yet somehow still finds it in him to make the brave decision.
In a world where the government protects us by spying on us and foreign aid can sometimes make a situation worse, that little guy is the sort of superhero I can still believe in.