Captain America: The Winter Soldier
At multiple points in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” the newest installment in Marvel Studios’ expanding superhero universe, characters justify their actions with explanations akin to, “Out with the old, in with the new.” It’s something that Captain America, a.k.a. Steve Rogers, deals with as he acclimates to the current state of modern warfare. He’s a bright colored model plopped into a grey world that challenges his steadfast resolve as the stakes, both personal and broad, are raised higher than ever for him.
The eponymous hero, still figuratively frozen in his 1940s ideals, struggles to comprehend agency S.H.I.E.L.D.’s overzealous measures taken to ensure national security in the wake of New York City’s alien invasion from “The Avengers.” With leader Nick Fury and partner Natasha Romanoff engaging in secrecy behind his back, Rogers feels that his trust has been betrayed. But when a mysterious assassin, known only as The Winter Soldier, and hostile forces from the past threaten to upend the entire establishment, Rogers must figure out where his true loyalties lie when nothing is as it seems.
Much like with “Iron Man 3,” “The Winter Soldier” shows a side of Marvel willing to inject real world themes into its stories of super-powered beings. The actions of S.H.I.E.L.D. act as a mirror image of the current United States political landscape where paranoia runs rampant and drone armies are being built up. This doesn’t sit well with Steve Rogers, who comes from a time when America put faith in its people without having to monitor every action being they take.
The Winter Soldier himself, with strength and agility that matches the Captain, represents that corrupted side of America, even as he’s underserved within the plot. He’s a man that has lost sight of who he once was, and the relentlessness of his pursuit leaves little in its wake when the paths of him and Captain America cross. The fight sequences in “The Winter Soldier” carry a level of intensity unmatched by any other Marvel entry that sells the danger our heroes experience by grounding the action in the (relative) real world. Only in the climax do the special effects take over, but that hardly matters when the film has so successfully attached us to these characters.
Anthony and Joe Russo’s past in television (“Arrested Development” and “Community”) no doubt informs their work as directors here as they give equal due to the character relationships amidst the conflict. Everything is deftly balanced with new characters such as Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson and Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce making strong impressions even as old standbys like Natasha and Fury are able to become the fully fleshed out characters they never quite were before.
And at the center of everything is Chris Evans` Steve Rogers, whose understated performance carries the weariness of a man still trying to find his place in this world he still doesn’t quite understand. Evans finds the heart and light touch in a hero who doesn’t have the bluster of Thor or jest of Tony Stark, making him arguably the most endearing of Marvel’s super lineup. He’s also got the most emotional baggage too, especially once he learns the truth about the Winter Soldier and everything he thought he was fighting for.
Even with the grave circumstances at hand, the Russo’s remember that this is a comic book movie first and foremost and embrace that sensibility when appropriate. Evans, Mackie, and Scarlett Johansson have an easygoing chemistry between them with lighthearted quips to break the tension when appropriate. The directing duo and returning “Captain America: The First Avenger” screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely carefully weave in references to other Marvel characters in ways that feel organic to the established world, some of which alter perceptions of events in previous films.
With shattering changes for these characters and implications for where their story leads them next, there’s the sense of a new dawn for the Marvel Cinematic Universe going forward. The testing of limits has made their bonds even stronger as they venture off into the new world. Yet in it’s final scenes (both in the main film and the second of two post-credits scenes), “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” also presents a yearning to rediscover the past and reclaim a heroic ideal that has faded over time. Thankfully Captain America, the quintessential Man Out of Time, is here to keep that ideal beating strong and insuppressible.