Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Directed By: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grilli, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell, Robert Redford, and Samuel L. Jackson

"On your left..."
-Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans)

Shared movie universes are the new thing in Hollywood.  With the imminent The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Sony is laying the foundations for the Sinister Six and an unfathomable nine films surrounding them and their web-slinging nemesis between 2016 and 2025.  With the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past several weeks later, 20th Century Fox is bridging the gap between the old and new X-Men casts and setting the stage for X-Men: Apocalypse in 2016.  Though Batman Vs. Superman is much further down the road, Warner Bros. is fixated on building a DC Universe centered on the Justice League.  All of these studios owe a debt of gratitude to Marvel for ushering in this era with its Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Not resting on their laurels, Marvel is setting the stage for The Avengers: Age of Ultron and expanding their universe with the Guardians of the Galaxy series later in the year.  Like 95 year-old Steve Rogers runs effortlessly on the left of Sam Wilson in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Marvel runs circles around these other studios.

It's been two years since the Battle of New York.  Steve Rogers/Captain America (Evans) lives in Washington, DC and works for S.H.I.E.L.D. as a spy.  Still struggling to adjust to life in the 21st century, Rogers finds wisdom in PTSD counselor Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) who understands his disillusionment with the secretive field of battle of today.  Leading a team of spies for S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to neutralize a hostage situation off the coast of Algiers alongside Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Captain America's disillusionment grows.  Because of Fury's habit of "compartmentalizing" assignments, Cap finds that he's there to save the hostages from Algerian pirates while Black Widow is on another secretive assignment to retrieve intel.

After the hostage crisis is resolved, Captain America returns to DC where he openly voices his distrust of S.H.I.E.L.D.  Cap also voices his concerns with several new helicarriers S.H.I.E.L.D. is preparing to deploy to preemptively fight crime through an initiative known as Project Insight.  Director Fury respectfully disagrees with the super soldier on both counts and goes about reviewing the intel Black Widow has delivered from the mission.  There's just one bizarre problem.  Nick Fury can't access S.H.I.E.L.D.'s classified materials on the disk drive supposedly by a direct order from Nick Fury.  Sensing that something is awry and that the agency has been compromised, Fury reaches out to Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) for assistance.  Before she arrives, however, he's attacked by a mysterious brute known as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) and seeks refuge at Captain America's apartment.  Little does the elder Avenger know that a storm is brewing in which he'll have to trust those with whom he's recently had a few trust issues to say the least.  He'll also be revisiting a chapter of his life he thought to be long over.  Meanwhile, World Security Council secretary Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) takes more direct control of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Yet again, the comic book movie genre has turned in another direction with Anthony and Joe Russo's Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  Fueled by intense, fast-paced action sequences akin to movies like the Bourne series or the Daniel Craig 007 flicks, Captain America feels far different from any other Marvel film and delivers gripping thrills, and a cast full of badasses.  Setting it apart from the other solo Marvel series (i.e. Thor, Iron Man, and Hulk), Cap's second outing has far more continuity with Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers.  Offering commentary on the delicate balance between freedom and security, it even delivers an unexpected political message.  All in all, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a step back in the right direction for Marvel after the so-so Thor: The Dark World.  It's the best Phase 2 entry so far.

The Winter Soldier is miles above The First Avenger.  It's edgy.  It's sleek.  It's thrilling.  Highlighted by taut action sequences, dark cinematography, and a bombastic score, it's in essence the first comic book movie to effectively double as a spy movie.  More than this though, Cap's second outing is far more connected to its predecessors than other Avengers films.  Despite being seven decades apart chronologically, The First Avenger and The Winter Soldier are far closer in terms of storyline than Iron Man and Iron Man 2 or Thor and Thor: The Dark World.  Ingeniously bringing back Hydra and many of the familiar faces of the previous film to foster a certain connectedness in the series, Anthony and Joe Russo simultaneously take Captain America to a new level in The Winter Soldier and elevate The First Avenger in the Marvel canon, a film that has widely been considered a weaker installment.  That's quite a feat.

Chris Evans has cemented his place as one entertaining Avenger.  On a mission to kick ass and take names, Evans brings a raw physicality to the role of Captain America that shines above any of his previous work in Marvel flicks.  Whether wielding his shield like Xena's chakram or delivering furious flurries of kicks and punches, the red, white, and blue super soldier is better than ever this time around!  Beyond his terrific action sequences, Evans is no longer giving us a man out of time.  He's not struggling to understand technology or keep up with pop culture references.  He's done his time as a Cap-sicle.  Now, he's becoming a hero who understands the world of today and wants to protect the delicate balance of freedom and security.  Though traditionally viewed as the boy scout Avenger, Evans is nothing but a badass with integrity this time around.

The other cast members bring quite a bit to Captain America: The Winter Soldier as well.  As the other Avenger in the film, Scarlett Johansson is undeniably alluring.  Beyond beating her nemeses to a pulp, the veteran S.H.I.E.L.D. agent with trust issues gives Rogers a companion with an ever so slight hint of romantic chemistry.  Johansson brings a surprising amount of heart to the film as her friendship with Rogers blossoms as well.  As the supporting hero Falcon/Sam Wilson, Antony Mackie delivers some sick action sequences and plenty of laughs.  As Nick Fury, Samuel L. Jackson gives us Samuel L. Jackson.  He's entertaining as hell.  Enough said.  We also have the slippery Alexander Pierce by way of the great Robert Redford.  For his part as the World Security Council secretary, Redford brings some much-appreciated old school flair to the screen.  Last but not least, we have Sebastian Stan as the Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes.  He certainly decimates anyone who gets in his way and burns a path through DC.  His most menacing trademarks, however, are looks that can kill.  Similar to Tom Hardy's performance as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises a couple of years ago but to a lesser extent, it's all in his eyes.

Despite the outstanding filmmaking and impressive performances, what's most memorable about The Winter Soldier is that it's a movie that speaks directly to our time.  In an era during which we are continuously faced with the choice between freedom and security to protect the delicate balance of order and chaos, Anthony and Joe Russo deliver a sly rebuke of current public policy.  The social commentary they've baked into the film is something that will be seen by the masses.  It's effectively blockbuster filmmaking with a message, and I've got nothing but love for that.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier gets a sober rating.  Though I don't have a drink recommendation, I've got a music selection.  Sit back and listen to Marvin Gaye's "Troubled Man" to get in the mood for Cap!  Make sure to stick around for the post-credits scenes.  This is the penultimate stop on the road to The Avengers sequel.