Captain America finally gets his reinvention story in the form of The Winter Soldier, transforming from WWII soldier to modern day lone wolf/SHIELD agent. Everyone returns to help Cap (Chris Evans) in his endeavors, like Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and even generic SHIELD agents like Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders). New faces include The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) and the titular Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan, who’s not really a new face but portrays a new character). There are a couple of other surprise appearances, but I won’t spoil them here (and no, Red Skull/Hugo Weaving does not return). Needless to say, the dream cast is all here.
The four core elements of Marvel movies seem to be the plot, the humor, the action and the characters. Characters are pretty much a guaranteed jackpot at this point given Marvel’s track record, but the other three areas need discussing.
Firstly, the humor. Iron Man 3 was godawful in the humor department, with the phrase “too soon” coming to mind almost every time a joke was said. Seriously, a bull in a China shop would’ve been a lot subtler than the writers of that movie. Thor 2 actually managed to get the humor down to an understandable level, but still a bit much for my tastes (although the movie as a whole is tied with this one for my personal fav. Marvel flick of all time). The Winter Soldier nails the humor perfectly: It’s snappy, it’s quick and it’s relatively unobtrusive. Most importantly, it’s actually funny, for a change. +1 point for the writer who included a hella funny Pulp Fiction reference.
The action: It’s brutal, it’s uncomfortable and it actually feels scary for a change. Because it’s Captain America, there is no super-powered suit of metal to save him. There is no magical hammer of the Gods to rescue him. He has his fists and a better-than-average frisbee to protect himself with, and that means combating someone like the Winter Soldier can get pretty messy. Cap’s fights are usually fun, energetic beat-’em-ups when fighting grunts, but his run-ins with the Winter Soldier can get downright uncomfortable near the end, in terms of sheer brutality and unflinching cruelty. I like it, as it’s a nice change of pace from the nonsense of Iron Man 3 where Stark remains unscathed from the billions of insta-killing lasers flying by him every five seconds. There was actually one moment towards the very end where I had to close my eyes for a second — it’s that intense.
The plot: Surprisingly well done, with one gargantuan, fatal flaw. As far as positives go, the plot nails everything: It’s got an interesting, extremely well done opening similar to Hoth in Star Wars Episode 5, feeling like its own epic mini-movie that ties in perfectly with the bigger, stronger second and third acts. From there, the plot keeps the predictability, unlike the average superhero flick, to a minimum. The Winter Soldier only including a handful of annoying clichés; some of which just couldn’t be avoided, I suppose, given the nature of the cinematic universe Marvel has worked so hard to build and maintain.
That aforementioned fatal flaw with the plot will be discussed here, as it is my one, heartbreaking issue with the movie as a whole: It’s a prologue. (MINOR SPOILER ALERT) Similar to the theatrical adaptation of The Golden Compass, The Winter Soldier leaves you with a setup for the next movie, but with no payoff of its own. I can equate this to a movie like Gone With The Wind, which was a 4+ hour epic that was divided into two separate parts (one per each DVD). The difference with Gone With The Wind, however, is that it was all released at one time, as the colossal movie it was meant to be. The Winter Soldier feels like Marvel is just giving you a massive preview; just disc one of a two-disc movie. It’s perfect sequel-baiting, done as well as it will ever be done in the history of cinema, but I’ve had enough of this continual carrot-in-front-of-the-mouth shit that studios are continuously pulling these days, egging us on with the promise of closure and payoff.
On a final note, The Winter Soldier is an utterly amazing movie. The more I let it ruminate inside my head, the more I love it. It’s the most adult, most unapologetic and most relevant movie Marvel has released since the original Iron Man, and it might just be my favorite Marvel movie of all time. But, to be frank, I don’t believe it’s the masterpiece everyone claims it is, and I refuse to call it that until Captain America 3 is released and I can watch this one and that one back-to-back, and have a complete godamn movie.