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Freedom-Fighting Film Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (3D)

April 4, 2014Ben Mk


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A man for all seasons

By Ben Mk

For truth, justice and the American way. That's the classic motto of Captain America. But in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it's that last part that gives Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) cause for concern. With S.H.I.E.L.D. aggressively stepping up its proactive countermeasures — in the wake of Loki and the Chitauri's attack on Manhattan — the American way is starting to sound less like freedom and more like oppression. It's not exactly what Captain Rogers signed up for some seventy years ago, and if he's to survive in this new world order, he must figure out his place in it — or it will be decided for him.

Even though the big reveal doesn't occur till midway through the film, it's no secret that the titular Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) is none other than Steve Rogers' most trusted friend, James "Bucky" Barnes — who was thought to have perished in 1944 Germany but in actuality has been remade into the ultimate instrument for anarchy. Now a covert killing machine, with a cybernetic arm and a list of high-profile kills as impressive as he is mysterious, he's often dispelled as a myth; but those who've encountered him — like Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) — know better. And after being off the grid for some time, he's resurfaced — just as S.H.I.E.L.D. is on the cusp of entering a new era.

Ushering in that new era is "Project Insight" — a bold initiative spearheaded by high-ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. official, World Security Council head and longtime friend to Nick Fury, Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford, in an inspired piece of casting) — which stands poised to redefine S.H.I.E.L.D.'s entire approach to homeland security. Utilizing their massive, new arsenal of weapons — including three state-of-the-art and armed-to-the-tooth Project Insight helicarriers, capable of eliminating targets millions at a time and with extreme prejudice — Pierce plans on nullifying potential threats before they happen. Case in point, Georges Batroc (Georges St-Pierre, in a small role), a terrorist who goes toe-to-toe with Cap at the beginning of the film.

After Batroc and his brigade of mercenaries hijack a S.H.I.E.L.D. naval vessel called the Lumerian Star, Cap, Black Widow and the elite S.T.R.I.K.E. team — including Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo) — are dispatched to its coordinates in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Their operation isn't an unqualified success, as Batroc manages to escape, but it's what Black Widow brings back to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s new Washington, D.C. HQ (dubbed the Triskelion) that proves to be a point of contention — a flash drive containing encrypted, highly-classified S.H.I.E.L.D. intel that not even Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is authorized to view. After coming under fire from the Winter Soldier, Fury entrusts Cap with the drive's safekeeping, but he also issues an ominous warning: "Trust no one." From there on out, Cap sets out on a mission to uncover the truth. It's one that will see him hunted by both S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Winter Soldier, as both he and Black Widow follow the trail back to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s origin and discover a shocking revelation — about enemies thought vanquished long ago and the true nature of Project Insight.

Unfortunately, there's not much more that can be said about the film without divulging its secrets. And The Winter Soldier has a couple of real jaw-droppers up its sleeve. Suffice to say, the ramifications of its mind-blowing storyline are truly as far-reaching as moviegoers have been led to believe, with ripple effects — make that massive waves — that will no doubt be felt throughout every corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Indeed, the film marks a genuine turning point — not only because of its impact on future Marvel films, but because it will forever be remembered as the film where the studio finally grew up. Not that Marvel's cinematic outings aren't already mature beyond their years, but The Winter Soldier makes a film like Iron Man feel like a Joel Schumacher Batman production. Even with its show-stopping, action-packed climax — which handily tops Thor: The Dark World's third-act showdown and even rivals The Avengers' Battle of New York, in terms of sheer spectacle — it's far grittier and darker than anything that's come before. And that's because directors Anthony and Joe Russo's tale of betrayal and redemption has its foot firmly planted in the reality of modern day espionage thrillers, blending action, intrigue and political subterfuge into a taut narrative that also functions as a timely allegory for the state of our post-911 world.

But the film's darker themes and more adult tone doesn't preclude it from throwing a slew of comic book references into the fray. It is part of a larger universe, after all, and comics fans will delight in seeing the homage it pays to the source material. Joining Batroc (who also goes by "Batroc the Leaper" in the comics) and Rumlow (better known by his alias, "Crossbones") are Sam Wilson, aka the Falcon (Anthony Mackie), and Agent 13 (Emily VanCamp). With the exception of the Falcon — whose prototype military flight suit is a hair out-of-sync with the film's more realistic feel — all of the new comic book elements are seamlessly interwoven into the context of the film. More importantly, the movie never crosses that fine line into campiness, even with the presence of Marvel's trademark wit and humor (including not one, but two special cameos) and the throwaway references to other Marvel cinematic properties — past, present and future — like Bruce Banner, Tony Stark and (Doctor) Stephen Strange.

Of course, being the comic-book-action-extravaganza that it is, The Winter Soldier hits cinema screens in 3D and IMAX 3D, as well as traditional 2D. But unlike rival DC's The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises — and like previous Marvel cinematic offerings — there are precisely zero sequences shot natively in 3D. The film's 3D presentation is entirely the result of post-conversion for the third dimension. That being said, it's still an immersive experience overall — moreso than Thor: The Dark World, but not quite as engaging as The Avengers — with the added dimensionality making its airborne action sequences that much more thrilling, not to mention those moments when the iconic shield comes flying towards the camera.

The Bottom Line

Its end credits sequence aside, Captain America: The Winter Soldier isn't merely a stopgap on the road to Avengers: Age of Ultron — it's the epitomy of everything that makes the Marvel Cinematic Universe unique, pushing not just evolution of the character, but transforming the entire universe. The Russo Brothers trade in standard-issue superheroics in favor of a high-stakes fight for the future, by way of covert warfare and government subversion; and the result is an intense action-thriller that's riveting from start to finish. There's no question — it's the best of all of Marvel's Phase Two films yet; it may even be the perfect Marvel movie. But its massive and influential story arc makes The Winter Soldier mandatory viewing for anyone with any kind of investment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. [★★★★½]








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