Movie Review — ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ is a Formula-Driven Action Blockbuster

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While I have loved many Marvel movies of the past (Iron Man, Thor, The Avengers), the first installment of this franchise, Captain America: The First Avenger, just like this sequel, left me disappointed. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (what is it with these super long titles?) is full of action, comedic life, and a twisting and turning narrative — but despite all this, the sum of the parts does not succeed as well as the successful components.

This chapter kicks off with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) carrying out missions for S.H.I.E.L.D., a secretive government agency hell-bent on preventing more incidents like what happened in New York (alien invasion in The Avengers). In an effort to do so, the Nick Fury-led (Samuel L. Jackson) division plans to unleash a seemingly invincible defense system, a network of airships that puts the actual United States drone system to a pitiful shame.

Soon Rogers, or “The Captain” as people call him, begins to unravel the mystery behind this big brother-type project — he crosses paths with the fabled “Winter Soldier” and then discovers just how deep the rabbit hole really goes.

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier works as a good mystery for most of the early parts of the film — investigations are made, alliances are questioned, and no one can be trusted. With all that said, there are times within the film when details on what is really happening become a bit murky. The audience is never lost, but the finer points are sometimes missed when characters are blandly exchanging names, dates and information crucial to the story.

This Marvel flick really tried to say a bit more than its predecessors — it tried to address ideas much deeper than simply, action on top of action (though the last third feels that way). If this movie’s theme of ‘sacrificing freedom for government protection’ doesn’t strike fear into audiences, nothing will. Like the fear of domestic drone strikes and NSA spying, this movie has overtones of the current climate in this country.

The movie asks: should Americas sacrifice their privacy and freedom for institutional protection? I love this aspect of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, ripping themes from current events and turning them into a moral question in a popcorn blockbuster. This film shows that submitting control to one powerful entity can oftentimes lead to corruption, misuse, and institutional overreach — sound familiar? It should, you live in America.

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Enough on that — another huge facet to this film is obviously action, and it is dripping wet with action sequences. There are many sequences that work so well (the opening sequence is a fine example) and others that drag on and simply bombard the viewers with visual vomit, i.e., explosions, fighting, destruction, etc., etc. Unlike The Avengers, which perfectly pulls off elongated action sequences with multiple characters, Captain America: The Winter Soldier does not — as actions sequences carried on and on I found myself wishing for the action to cease.

Within the action, the film also heavily relies on cliché, completely predictable outcomes. Sure, this is a “summer” blockbuster made by Marvel — some predictability is expected — but this film goes further than that and forgoes creativity in lieu of a formula for blockbuster success. I rolled my eyes far too often watching this film.

And once again, I have to ask, just like I did after seeing Iron Man 3, where are The Avengers? How is there a big-time domestic threat (just like Iron Man 3) and not one mention of the other superheroes who defend this world? I get this is a standalone film, but the fact that we know these superheroes exist in this universe means you have to explain why S.H.I.E.L.D is not using them to protect the country against these nefarious forces. A reason, a line of dialogue, anything would work better than simply ignoring The Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, and Hawkeye! Yet these characters are never mentioned in this context, and just like Iron Man 3, I lose a lot of respect for this sequel.

Another piece I adored about this film was the chemistry and banter between Rogers and Romanoff — they are a formidable team together and their budding friendship helps develop both their characters.

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Overall, Captain America: The Winter Soldier has many redeeming features — it’s mostly entertaining, it has a lot of memorable one-liners and funny banter between characters, it has some intense action, and a resounding narrative. But the action is overkill in stretches and most oftentimes it’s so formula-driven it leaves out any tension — in the action sequences I never thought, “Oh no, what’s gonna happen?” — it’s that predictable.

It’s sad there is creativity in the story, yet none in the action, or really anywhere else in the film. Many pieces work well, but when assembled, they don’t really fit together perfectly.

But surely most of you will see this film anyway, especially Marvel fans — but for those casual viewers, or those like me unimpressed with the first Captain America flick, a matinee showing or a rental should be just fine for this sequel.

 

Grade: 6.5 out of 10

 

Photos via: Marvel Studios

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