Saturday, 12 April 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) Movie Review

This week, I traded in my Canadian citizenship, put on some red, white and blue and sprinted to the local cinema to catch Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) starring Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson. It's directed by Anthony and Joe Russo.

With this sequel, our hero finds himself working for the global agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D. It's intelligence work and not straight up military service, so Cap routinely finds himself at odds with the upper management of S.H.I.E.L.D. and some of their more clandestine operations. This also puts him at odds with Natasha Romanov (Johansson) also known as the Black Widow. To make matters worse, there's a new antagonist in town called The Winter Soldier who looks vaguely familiar to our man Cap. A series of events puts Cap on the run with Widow in tow, trying to unravel a mystery while also dodging the various baddies.

First off, I should mention, I was not a fan of the first Captain America movie. The second lowest grossing movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (only Ed Norton's The Incredible Hulk (2008) made less), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) was boring and trite. A period piece steeped in sci-fi, it had major pacing issues throughout. It had it's moments, but most of those were supplied by perennial villain and overall badass Hugo Weaving. Sadly, Weaving has let it be known that, even though he's still under contract to Marvel, he has no intentions on reprising the role of the Red Skull.

What we're left with is a sequel that seems to have examined everything that didn't work with the first movie and jettisoned most of it in favour of a modern day political action drama that borders on the darkest of the recent Marvel films.

In a welcome change from the goofy antics of a lot of Marvel stuff these days, this movie is downright dour. Gone is most of the levity and lighthearted ribbing. In fact, in it's 1 hour 50 minute run time, there's nary a joke to be found.

The biggest issue with the film, however, is the hero himself. This isn't entirely Chris Evans' fault as the character of Captain America is so one-dimensional, it's hard to add any depth to it. If there was one word to describe the character and Evans' portrayal of him, it would be "affable". In fact, he's so damned affable it gets annoying after a while. I'm not saying they need to darken him and make him an anti-hero, but surely we could have him take some risks and break the mold every now and then. At no point in this movie do you ever have to wonder what Cap will do in any given situation. He's the same guy in or out of the costume. A veritable Clark Kent who never actually turns into Superman. It makes for little depth and precious little drama when you always know what the character is going to do and can never die.

I also took issue with Robert Redford, which is a shame as I'm a huge fan. He's wasted in this role. Given very little to do other than to attend board meetings, Redford never really gets a chance to shine and seems to be mostly phoning it in throughout.

Further to that, there is entirely too much exposition going on in some facets and not nearly enough in others. The main plot in regards to S.H.I.E.L.D. is spelled out and explained ad nauseam to the point where you wish people would stop talking and just get on with it. This actually creates some pacing issues in the second act. The Winter Soldier, however, is left shrouded in so much mystery that I walked out knowing almost nothing about him or how he came to be, which left me not really caring about the character one way or the other.

On the plus side, Johansson is great in her role as Black Widow. She has more to do in this movie than she had in Ironman 2 and The Avengers combined. She's the perfect foil for Cap with her questionable methods and motives. She's also insanely easy on the eyes, which definitely helps.

Newcomer Anthony Mackie also shines as Sam Wilson/Falcon. A chance meeting with Cap early in the movie followed by some shared war stories later on make the pairing of the two completely believable. It gets a little bromancy at the end, but Mackie mostly plays it straight and plays it very well.

As to the overall plotline of the movie itself, it seems like it wants to take some chances and risk a little more than most of the safe Marvel movies we're used to. And it does. However, in my oh so humble opinion, it doesn't take enough of them. I won't spoil anything for you. All I'll say is you won't need any tissues nor will you need a roadmap to figure out where it's all heading.

3.5 Stars
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Reviewed by The Bitter Critic on Apr 12 2014
Rating: 3.5

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