I’ve been more excited for this movie than any other Marvel sequel thus far, and it did not disappoint in any way. This is a hold-onto-your-seat, gasp-ridden, action-packed emotional roller coaster – and I loved every minute of it, right down to the last sequence after the credits.
FAIR WARNING: This review contains spoilers and previews of upcoming MARVEL UNIVERSE films and plotlines. Read at your own risk!
It’s All About Past Meets Present
We get to see some familiar faces/characters in this film, from Agent Hill (Cobie Smulders, How I Met Your Mother, Agents of SHIELD), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, The Avengers, Django Unchained), Natasha Romanov/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, The Avengers), Peggy (Hayley Atwell, Captain America: The First Avenger) and the Captain’s old friend Bucky/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan, Captain America: The First Avenger), but we also get introduced to a number of new characters, including Sharon (Emily VanCamp, Revenge), Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford).
Since the Battle of New York, Captain Rogers has been playing “clean-up” on a lot of Fury’s assignments, and while he’s glad to be kept in the loop, he still isn’t sure he can trust Fury and is a little uncomfortable not knowing exactly what he’s fighting for.
The story starts out simply enough: Natasha steals some data off a hard drive on a ship whose hostages she, Steve, and some other SHIELD agents were supposed to rescue, and they do rescue them, but Rogers is more interested now in what she took and why it was so important that she was willing to put their rescue mission at risk. He finds out that Fury had her on another assignment, and the more he learns about what was on that flash drive, the more the plot thickens into a complicated global threat that dates back decades to when Steve Rogers first became Captain America.
Despite Steve’s doubts about the director’s motives, when Fury takes a couple bullets and dies on the operating table, both Steve and Natasha have to overcome their distrust of each other and work together to find out just how SHIELD has been compromised and how they can put a stop to the new threat. While Steve recruits his new friend Sam, a veteran soldier, aka Falcon, and at the last moment, Agent Hill proves her loyalty is to Fury and the Captain rather than the now free-falling SHIELD organization, the small band of heroes is vastly outnumbered, but the Captain has a way of inspiring people in such a way that they discover what they’re really made of.
The story does an excellent job merging past with present and showing how past effects have led SHIELD and the rest of the world to the point where they are now. Not only is Bucky back from the past (not to mention, back from the dead), but he’s a huge, almost indefatigable villain for the Captain to defeat. It makes that task all the more difficult once Rogers realizes that the Winter Soldier is his old friend, transformed and rebuilt into a weapon, an assassin, for his old nemesis, the Hydra organization he thought was extinguished.
The Tesseract is gone, back to Asgard, but it turns out that Hydra never fully dissolved – it was continued by Dr. Zola (Toby Jones), Schmidt’s (Hugo Weaving’s character from the first film) right hand man and lead scientist, and has infiltrated SHIELD so completely that even Fury didn’t see what was going on until the final act. Hydra means to tear down the world it has built, removing millions of people who pose a threat, in order to restore peace and order to Earth’s seven billion others. And, right at the top of the whole thing is our new “friend”, Alexander Pierce. It is a conspiracy so complete and so potentially disastrous, it has taken seventy years to bring to a head.
…And the Rock Star Performances
I cannot begin to tell you just how good this movie was. Mackie as Steve’s new friend and ally was amazing. He fit so seamlessly into the new storyline and into Steve’s life, it’s almost like he’s been there the whole time. And the wings he has are supercool. I thought those glider suits they had in Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life were cool, but Falcon’s are WAY cooler.
While I would have loved to see more of Agent Hill here, she was great in the few scenes she had. I believe her time/major role in the ‘verse is coming, but it hasn’t arrived yet. Smulders rocked it, as usual, and I must say, I think I prefer her as a badass superspy in the Marvel Universe as opposed to a sassy newswoman on HIMYM.
And, while I still feel Whedon’s Black Widow in The Avengers kicked the most ass of any of her appearances in the ‘Verse so far, I have to admit she was very good here and really had the Cap’s back, not to mention Fury’s, at every turn.
As to Fury, he has been mostly in the background, pulling the strings, especially as of late on Agents of SHIELD, much to the chagrin of Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), but this is our first real look at the man behind the eye patch, the one calling all the shots, the one deciding who lives and dies, in many instances. And you know what? I’m on pins and needles for Tuesday’s ep of Agents of SHIELD, because I want to know just how this plays out!
Coulson has recently become suspicious of Fury because of his role in bringing Coulson back from the dead, but Fury has been dealing with his own problems, and while he didn’t see the entire Hydra plan coming, he’s been doing his best to stay on top of it and save the world. He’s no longer an emotionless trigger-happy top-of-the-food-chain puppetmaster: he’s human, and he’s pretty fucking awesome. Also, Sam Jackson gets one of the COOLEST car chases I’ve seen in years. And believe me, I’ve seen a lot of them. I love a good car chase, but I have to say, this may be my favorite.
Let’s Not Forget the Tie-ins, Crossovers, Rumors, Cameos and Sneak Peeks!
I know a lot of people have been a little unsure about Agents of SHIELD, especially as a piece of the Joss Whedon canon of work, but this movie is the perfect example of why the series works and why Marvel fans should embrace it and why I believe they will love it. It fills in the gaps and gives just enough background to set up the stories that play out in the films. It’s a part of the Marvel Universe, and I love how it feeds into the characters and history of universe as a whole. I definitely felt I grasped a few of the characters and plot elements more having followed the series from the beginning than I think I would have had I skipped the show altogether.
If you’ve read some of my past reviews, you know I have had my complaints about action movies – even though I tend to be extremely forgiving of the typical action movie faults and faux pas – but I didn’t need to be in this case. This was a great action film, and neither the dialogue nor the pacing nor the special effects made me cringe. I wish every action movie could be this good. There were plenty of explosions, fancy futuristic tech devices, an awesome car chase, and hand-to-hand combat sequences like there are in most modern action films , but I have to tip my hat to the directors (Anthony and Joe Russo) for laying out the scenes and all the toys and piecing them together in such a fun and compelling way.
As to all the rumors that were making their way across the internet prior to the film’s release about the relationship between Natasha and the Cap, I think it’s fair to say that those two are fated to be friends. By the end, they trust each other far more and are much closer than they were before, but the kiss they shared was a cover in a moment during an escape and it wasn’t pursued as a part of the plot. Realistically, it looks like Sharon might fill the role of love interest for Rogers at a later date (I have full faith in Emily VanCamp’s ability to tackle that role!), but based on some of the final scenes, where we see Agent Hill applying for a position at Stark Industries and Sharon at a firing range with a CIA jacket on her back, it’s uncertain whether she’ll turn up in the Captain’s life again or not.
As to the major end-of-film spoilers, sneak peeks at the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver!! It looks like they were actually a part of the Hydra organization’s experiments, and I cannot WAIT to see how this plays out in the Avengers sequel! There have been rumors that the twins are not on the Avengers’ side of things in the new film, and now we have a hint as to why: they were raised under Hydra’s influence, so it may take some convincing for them to see the other side of things.
But that’s just the teaser from the end of the “still-dark” credits: the final teaser comes after all credits have rolled and the lights in the theater have come back up. That teaser has to do with the Winter Soldier, and his discovery that he has a past with Rogers and has been a pawn in a grander scheme of Hydra’s. He saves Rogers from drowning at the end of the film, but doesn’t stay to reminisce. He drags him to the safety of the riverbank and then walks off, utterly confused about who he is and what lies ahead for him if he doesn’t have to be the Winter Soldier anymore. In the final scene, he ends up at the Smithsonian and listens to the display about himself as Bucky Barnes, and who he was during WWII, who he was when he knew Steve the first time around.
Speaking of the Smithsonian, that’s where we get the Stan Lee cameo! Those cameos are some of my favorite scenes in all of the Marvel movies – Lee as Hugh Hefner in Iron Man, Lee as an old man playing chess in the park in The Avengers, Lee as one of the decorated soldiers in the first Captain America film (“I thought he’d be taller,” he quips), and here, Lee as a security guard in the museum who discovers that someone (Rogers) has stolen the uniform off the display of the band of soldiers that Rogers fought alongside in the war. “I am so fired!” he says in disbelief.
I think I’ve rambled on long enough now, but it really was THAT GOOD! Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a hard-hitting, explosive journey for both Rogers and the audience, tempered with a wistful nostalgia, and, at last, a shaky hope for the future.
It’s a no-brainer must-see for Marvel fans, but anybody who loves a good action movie, Chris Evans, or Robert Redford (or any of the cast, really) will have a blast checking out this film!
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