Action Adventure

Red, White and Blu-ray Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

September 16, 2014Ben MK

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This time, it's personal...

Fighting megalomaniacal supervillains hellbent on world domination is one thing, but it's something else entirely to have a little skin in the game. It's a staple of comic book writing: at some point, every superhero — whether it's Spider-Man, Batman, Wolverine or Superman — has to face their worst fear or confront the demons from their past. That's usually when the stakes really become interesting. And that's exactly where Chris Evans' Steve Rogers (aka Captain America) finds himself in the ninth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain America: The Winter Soldier.


The Film For Cap, confronting his demons means confronting the Winter Soldier, who's in fact none other than his closest confidant, James "Bucky" Barnes (Sebastian Stan). However, Bucky's no longer the man he once was. Originally thought to have perished in 1944 Germany, he's been brainwashed and remade into the ultimate instrument for anarchy. And after being off the grid for some time, this covert killing machine with a cybernetic arm has resurfaced, just as S.H.I.E.L.D. is on the cusp of entering a new era.

Ushering in that era is "Project Insight" — a bold initiative spearheaded by high-ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. official Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) — which promises to redefine the nation's approach to homeland security. Utilizing a massive, new arsenal of weapons capable of eliminating targets with unprecedented efficiency and prejudice, Pierce plans on nullifying potential threats before they happen — threats like Georges Batroc (Georges St-Pierre), a terrorist whom Cap, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and the elite S.T.R.I.K.E. team are dispatched to apprehend at the beginning of the film.

But when Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) comes under fire from the Winter Soldier, Pierce's motives are called into question, sending our hero on a mission to uncover the truth. Hounded by both S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Winter Soldier, Cap and Black Widow follow the trail of clues back to the very origins of S.H.I.E.L.D. itself, where they unearth a shocking conspiracy — about enemies thought vanquished long ago and the true nature of Project Insight.

To divulge any further details about the storyline would be to spoil its mind-blowing twist. Suffice to say, The Winter Soldier has a bonafide jaw-dropper up its sleeve, and the ramifications of its storyline will be felt throughout every corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Indeed, the film marks a turning point, not only because of its impact on future Marvel films, but because 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 feet firmly planted in the reality of modern day espionage thrillers, blending action, intrigue and political subterfuge into a taut narrative that's also a timely allegory for the state of our post-911 world.

But the film's darker themes and more adult tone don't preclude it from being the fun roller-coaster ride that it is. From its show-stopping climax — which even rivals that of Thor: The Dark World and The Avengers — to the slew of comic book references thrown into the fray — including Brock Rumlow, aka Crossbones (Frank Grillo), Sam Wilson, aka the Falcon (Anthony Mackie), and Agent 13 (Emily VanCamp), not to mention the throwaway nods to other characters, like Bruce Banner, Tony Stark and Stephen Strange — there's no shortage of spectacle splashed across the screen. After all, the movie is part of a larger, more colorful universe.

Audio/Visual Fidelity Speaking of spectacle, Captain America: The Winter Soldier upholds Disney/Marvel's stellar Blu-ray track record, kicking some serious butt on Blu-ray with a top-tier A/V presentation that's flawless from start to finish. As usual, image defects are non-existent, with not a single instance of macroblocking, artifacting or banding in sight. Colors are vivid — although cinematographer Trent Opaloch keeps the film's color palette fairly subdued — and contrast is solid, with the hi-def image boasting inky blacks and no visible crush (which helps in resolving the detail on the all-black S.T.R.I.K.E. uniforms). And of course, it's all rendered with razor-sharp clarity, showcasing the smallest detail in every frame: from the individual rivets holding down the armor plating of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s new helicarriers to the fragments of flaming debris that rain down over the Potomac during the film's climactic battle. Likewise, the disc's robust DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack never fails to impress, immersing the viewer in all the action — especially during the explosive third act finale, where the sound of missiles, jet engines, gunfire and explosions can be heard coming from all directions, accompanied by composer Henry Jackman's thrilling, pulse-pounding score.

Special Features A separate 3D release is also available, but the bonus features are identical to Disney's 2D Blu-ray release. Here we get 21 minutes of HD special features, beginning with the 10-minute featurette On the Front Line: An Inside Look at Captain America's Battlegrounds, which takes a look at the effort that went into making the film's visceral combat and action sequences a reality: from the actors' fight training and the stuntwork to the classic films that informed the Russos' gritty moviemaking aesthetic. This is followed by the cheeky On Set with Anthony Mackie: Cut the Check!, a 2-minute piece that makes light of Mackie's predilection for yelling "Cut the Check!" after every take, and the 2-minute Steve Rogers' Notebook, which shows how the items listed in Cap's notebook differ from country to country. There are also 4 minutes of Deleted & Extended Scenes ("Hill and Sitwell Talk Loyalty", "In Pursuit of Captain America", "Nick Fury's Circle" and "Widow Reveals Her Past"), all playable with optional audio commentary, and a 3-minute Gag Reel. And last but not least, there's a thorough and informative feature-length commentary with directors Anthony & Joe Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. In it, they discuss such things as the film's cinematic inspirations, the storyline's political overtones and various narrative decisions and share other anecdotes from the film's production.

The Bottom Line Trading standard-issue superheroics for a high-stakes fight for the future by way of covert warfare and government subversion, Captain America: The Winter Soldier isn't merely a stopgap on the road to Avengers: Age of Ultron — it's a riveting action-thriller, with a massive and influential story arc that makes it mandatory viewing for anyone with any kind of investment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Likewise, fans won't want to miss out on Disney's Blu-ray release, which features an eye-popping, room-shaking A/V presentation, as well as an insightful and entertaining assortment of extras. There's no conspiracy here: Captain America: The Winter Soldier on Blu-ray is a must-own for Marvel's true believers.  Ben Mk

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  
Special Features  —  

* Reviewer's note: Portions of this Blu-ray review were adapted from my original review of the theatrical release, published on April 4th, 2014.

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