A decent toss from the Marvel Cap, but it feels more like a midseason episode than a standalone feature film.
A polished and structured entry into the popular Superhero film genre, Captain America: The Winter Soldier suggests that the Marvel phases are reaching the peak of the Bel Curve and are beginning to rely on their own internal structure more than a single entry can handle. Though it possesses a brilliantly chosen tone and performances which raise the bar, the film dilutes its suspense with a secret everyone knew and stakes that flounder on their own.
The Winter Soldier brings Captain America out of the war to end all wars, and drops him straight into the drama of the Cold War. Starting two years after the events of Avengers, Steve Rogers (Evans) struggles to find purpose in his efforts as he questions his trust of Nick Fury and SHIELD. Just as his doubts reach a head, a mysterious assassin from the East arises and threatens to take down the whole establishment. Rogers becomes a fugitive of his own organization when a meeting with Defense Secretary Alexander Pierce (Redford) goes south. Trust and loyalty are tested as the Captain and Black Widow (Johansson) go on the run to discover the identity of the Winter Soldier and the source of the discord in SHIELD’s ranks.
Born with one of the most open secrets in Superhero movies to date, this film fails to bring normal audiences on a mysterious journey of discovering who the villain is. The wonderful tension and build up of the political drama forming at SHIELD is dampened by the clunky exposition needed to set up a reveal most came into the film knowing – comic book fan or otherwise. Further, without the extended reach of this narrative into other films and the Agents of SHIELD television series, the stakes fall rapidly as they become self-contained, leaving the film in the superhero tar pit of knowing the hero will win.
However, the decision to lift the Captain out of his greatest generation and drop him into the suspense of Cold War trust issues and modern day surveillance worries was a brilliant move. Capitalizing on current technology concerns, the film smartly keeps the Captain in his element while allowing for some Revisionist questions to be asked of the hero organization. Redford gives a wonderful performance, perfectly cast to lend the film credit towards that era’s suspenseful tone. Further, the integration of Anthony Mackie as the Falcon was tactfully handled and felt organic to the narrative.
Yet, this film ultimately leaves the impression of being episode two in a miniseries, only part of a larger narrative being spelled out as the Marvel Phases. While a structurally sound film with good performances and decent writing, one cannot help but doubt that it would matter much without its ties to other franchises and mediums, making this reviewer wonder how many people came for the Captain and how many only for the post-credits stingers?