Sunday, April 27, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Who Is The Real Enemy?

The 2011 film Captain America: The First Avenger was part of Marvel’s effort to lay the groundwork for their hit superhero team-up adventure The Avengers. Now the shield-slinging hero returns in his second solo film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The world is a bit bleaker as a result of the alien invasion depicted in The Avengers, and the powerful threats seen in other Marvel tales like the recent sequel Thor: The Dark World. SHIELD (the espionage agency of the Marvel Universe) is spearheading a project called Insight. It will consist of three supercharged SHIELD Helicarriers, which will use computer & satellite data to help eliminate potential threats before they happen. Project Insight, which has been spearheaded by Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford, in an excellent performance), one of SHIELD’s leaders, makes Captain America nervous: are we now going after people before we know they’re our enemies?

SHIELD director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, in his strongest take on the role to date) sends Cap & The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) on a mission to rescue some SHIELD hostages from terrorists. It turns out there’s a secondary objective, which only the Widow knows about; she needs to retrieve some high level data from a hard drive on the terrorists’ ship. Once they return from the mission, the story shifts into high gear. A mysterious killer known only as The Winter Soldier ambushes Fury on the way to a meeting; Fury warns Cap not to trust anyone, and that there’s more to Insight than meets the eye. Suddenly, Fury’s dead, and when Cap won’t turn over the information retrieved on the mission over to Pierce, he’s declared a fugitive from justice, and hunted by SHIELD agents, and the authorities. Just what is going on, and is there another force at work behind the scenes at SHIELD ? Who can our hero trust?

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is part superhero film, part espionage thriller & part popcorn movie. Even if you took the superhero element out of the story, this would be a crackerjack political thriller. Fans of espionage & conspiracy movies like Three Days of The Condor should get a kick out of seeing Redford, who starred in that classic 70s film, play a central role here. As the story moves forward, the truth about Insight (and what’s happening to SHIELD) becomes clear, and only Cap, The Black Widow and their new ally, war veteran Sam Wilson (aka The Falcon) can stop the villains from carrying out their plan. But another mystery remains: just who is The Winter Soldier? And why does he look so familiar to Cap?

Directors Anthony & Joe Russo, the fraternal team best know for their work on TV’s Arrested Development, keep the film moving at a furious pace, and there are several fantastic action sequences. Of course, the special effects are wonderful, and Cap’s famous shield gets more of a workout in this film than it has previously. The screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely cleverly adapts a storyline that originated in the comic books, but also adds some original elements & wrinkles to the story, and neatly ties the events into Marvel’s cinematic & television universe. The cast is wonderful, and Evans (who also played The Human Torch in Fox’s Fantastic Four films) has grown nicely into the role of Captain America. Evans & Johansson have a casual, easygoing chemistry & Anthony Mackie (as Wilson) makes a nice addition to the team.

What’s most surprising about the film is that it’s a topical political thriller disguised as a superhero movie. The first Captain America film, set during WWII, reflected some of the optimism of that wartime era, when the good guys & bad guys seemed clearcut. In the present, things aren’t so black & white, and that troubles our heroic Captain. The film asks some important questions about how much power the government should have in using surveillance (similar to themes in the TV series, Person Of Interest) and what they should be able to do to prevent acts of terror from happening. What’s also of note is that the movie significantly impacts Marvel’s TV spinoff, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. It will be interesting to see how the film's storyline affect the TV series in the long run. The show had originally avoided too directly tying into the films, opting for standalone stories. But recent episodes have begun a story arc that clearly reflects the events happening in the current Marvel movie universe.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is one of the best efforts yet from Marvel Studios. This is an amazing film that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It was even better than I expected. If you’re a fan, you’re going to have a great time seeing this movie. There are the usual Easter eggs (pay close attention to Nick Fury’s epitaph) & in jokes for fans, and of course, the post credit scenes we’ve come to expect from Marvel’s movies. But even if you’re not a fan, you might enjoy this action packed conspiracy thriller. The film is currently in theaters. Here’s a link to the trailer for Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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