Two years after the events of The Avengers, Captain America is still struggling to adapt to a modern world that is becoming increasingly governed by technology. Being a man placed out of time, he has to accept that the old values that he once knew have changed, while also coming to terms with the fact that good and evil are no longer so plainly black and white. Therein, the people of today are consciously willing to sacrifice some of their freedom for a better sense of security. The good Captain is troubled by this submission of basic liberties and is well aware of its potentially terrible ramifications. Captain America: The Winter Soldier explores these concepts of command and control, imploring us to question who we can trust and at what expense.
The movie plays with a lot of interesting and socially relevant ideas, especially in an age of heightened national security. While Captain America trusts in the general morality and goodness of man, he finds that most of the world has grown fearful and no longer believes in the common good. But are countermeasures that could jeopardize innocent lives really the solution? Or is there a better way? These questions are fundamental to The Winter Soldier, although when coupled with the film's ambitious agenda that includes setting up future events for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the fast-paced plot regrettably becomes overly complicated and congested.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier plays out like a fast-paced spy thriller where Captain and his companions are trying to unravel a large-scale conspiracy that threatens the entire globe. It leads us on a wild good chase in search of the villainous Winter Soldier. The stakes are higher than they’ve ever been in any standalone Marvel movie to-date, and yet unfortunately, the emotional weight behind these events is lacking. The Winter Soldier plays things too safe, resulting in a movie that’s predictable, and egregiously cheesy and over-the-top. As a viewer, I found myself increasingly disengaged from the film the longer it went on, leaving me in a frustrating position where I wasn’t able to enjoy the movie as much as I wanted to. Despite how great certain aspects of The Winter Soldier may be, it’s frequently reduced to being too ridiculous to be taken seriously, or to truly stand out from the crowded pack of conventional superhero movies.
It's a real shame, too, because a lot of The Winter Soldier is quite good. Yet it pushed me to the point where I had had enough. There were just too many close calls -- too many improbable, overly-dramatic, last-possible-second escapes. It becomes easy to dismiss the dangers in the story when everything is cleaned up ever-so-neatly, time and time again. It takes away from any genuine sense of struggle and eliminates any fear of failure. The result is that it made it hard for me to care about what was happening, as the drama of the movie was never anything more than a tease.
Frankly, though, I find this to be the case with many Marvel films. If the incessant teasing of danger is not an issue for you, then by all means, I'm sure you're going to have a great time with this one. After all, the action sequences are undeniably impressive in both scale and visual effects. One of the film's highlights is a long overdue action scene starring Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury. It's a wildly entertaining car chase and it concludes with a fantastic and chilling introduction to The Winter Soldier. Captain America also has his share of standout moments, including an awesome elevator brawl, and also his stealthy infiltration of a cargo ship. Though as the film moves on, the action ventures into truly ridiculous territory, even for a superhero movie I'm afraid. So as the stakes increased, my level of belief decreased, reaching the point where it became tiresome to care about at all.
It also doesn't help that the movie's central character is somewhat difficult to relate to. While Captain America was one of my favorite characters in The Avengers, I found him to be largely uninteresting this time around. He's still a swell guy, but rather than appearing as a courageous and honorable leader, Chris Evans' performance has him looking mostly stoic and dumb. He also lacks chemistry with Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow, leading to some occasionally awkward dialogue. Fortunately, Anthony Mackie makes a strong debut performance as ex-soldier Sam Wilson. His only downside is that he all-too-quickly transforms into the superhero Falcon. He ends up literally jumping right into the action alongside Captain, jarringly out of nowhere. Nick Fury gets a good amount of screen time, which is a pleasant change, and Robert Redford gives a solid performance as Alexander Pierce, a senior representative of SHIELD. There's also the titular Winter Soldier, who ends up being one of Marvel's strongest movie villains to date. Not only does he look cool, but he's intriguing and even fairly frightening.
There's undoubtedly more good than bad in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but if like me you're growing weary of Marvel's mode of operation, then you'll probably feel similarly frustrated by the film. While there's plenty to respect and appreciate in The Winter Soldier, I walked away from the film feeling that all of its coolest moments were largely overshadowed by its more cheesy moments. Additionally, the film fumbles with its emotional aspects, and thereby fails to capture the severity of its own chaotic circumstances. The stakes never feel even remotely as large as the film makes them out to be. However, if you can look past the overblown action and predictability (and many of you will), then you may find this to be a pretty solid superhero movie after all.