So I’ve skipped the past 2 Film Review Fridays, so this is my Film Review Sunday to make up for at least one of them. Sorry guys! I’ve just been busy! Here’s a rather in-depth review for you guys to assuage the damage at least a bit.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) Dir(s). Anthony & Joe Russo Writ. Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely Stars: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan Rated PG-13 136 mins. Action, Marvel IMDB 7.8
I have to start by saying that I was so shocked to find out I’ve never reviewed this movie. This is one of my very favorite movies, and I’m not exaggerating at all when I say it’s the best (in my opinion) Marvel Cinematic Universe film so far. It’s a comic book movie that feels like a straight up Action movie, and I looooove action movies.
Diving right in, we have to start with a bit of an introduction: If you aren’t familiar with the MCU, it is the Universe in which everything is set and all of the events of the other items are factual parts of the world. Captain America: The Winter Soldier takes place after the events of Thor 2 but before the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Technically, Guardians of the Galaxy comes between Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron but most people ignore that since Guardians of the Galaxy didn’t take place on earth. Also, since the Marvel TV shows are also part of the MCU, the events of Winter Soldier begin to happen in Season 1, Episode 16 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Episode 17 takes place while Winter Soldier is happening, but in another place.
Now that I’ve probably confused the hell out of you if you aren’t a massive MCU geek like I am, let’s begin the rundown on THIS film, not the MCU!
I have to admit, I was not as much of a fan of Captain America before this film, and since this film, he has consistently been my favorite Marvel character. I liked the first Captain America film TONS, and I ADORE The Avengers, but his character never REALLY drew me in before I saw Winter Soldier, and now when rewatching any other MCU film, I find myself loving Steve Rogers more and more.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier starts out showing us what has become of Steve Rogers after the events of the Battle of Manhattan. We find out that, now that the dust has settled and he has had to go on and begin a life in the future, he works for SHIELD as one of their top operatives. We see him meeting his first real non-SHIELD friend and just when he seems to be starting his own life, everything goes to shit in the form of a strange assassin, the reveal that SHIELD isn’t all that it’s meant to be, and the realization that HYDRA has been under his nose all along. With the help of his new friend (Sam Wilson played by Anthony Mackie) and his partner, along with a few people picked up along the way, Steve Rogers has to stop HYDRA and prevent a horrible disaster.
That’s the non-spoilery summary for you, and I’m going to let you know now, that while I will TRY to not give away TOO very much detail, it’s absolutely impossible to do this review without spoilers. So SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT! BEWARE!
Now that we’ve established that my review of a 2 year old movie that’s very popular will, indeed, have spoilers, we can continue!
To start with, there are three main aspects that make this movie absolutely amazing: the complex characters, the lack of an unnecessary romance, and the realistic depiction of mental illness.
Now, you may be saying, “But Chelsea, that’s the most random things to like in a movie so epic and badass!” and I would agree! But we EXPECT badass fight sequences, we expect betrayal and intrigue, because that’s what an action movie is about! But what you don’t necessarily expect in an action movie is what makes this movie so freaking good. Don’t get me wrong, Marvel EXCELS at these things, normally. Every MCU character is really well written and complex in every film, there’s plenty of romance but I would say no ‘unnecessary’ ones (as in forced, unnatural, doesn’t add to the plot/character), and every single character displays SOME sort of trauma or mental illness, and Marvel is really good at allowing their ‘macho badass’ characters to show their non-physical suffering. It’s one of the things that makes so many of us love Marvel so much.
When it comes to Winter Soldier we get those things in spades.
Lack of Unnecessary Romance:
There is a very pointed lack of unnecessary romances in this movie, so it is actually relevant that they didn’t stick a love interest in for Steve. From the start, we have his female partner meddling in his personal life and telling him about girls he should ask out. She is constantly listing girls for him to date, and in any other movie, this would be the point where we all thing, ‘well those two are going to end up together later on’ but instead they didn’t. Instead, we get a very clear and definite beginning of a real friendship between the male and female lead of the film rather than a romance. Another important part to this is that there is a woman that it hints at Steve maybe liking who flirts with him a bit, and immediately she is revealed to be a SHIELD agent tasked to watching him. And even when he and the female lead kiss for a cover, it isn’t the cliche ‘didn’t know we had feelings until we kissed’, it was a humorous, ‘haha, you suck at kissing, have you kissed anybody since World War 2?’ little teasing moment between them. It helped establish their friendship. There is such a big lack of an unnecessary romance in this film that the stereotypical RomCom “Meet-cute” happens between Steve Rogers and his soon-to-be new friend, Sam Wilson. It’s a Bro-Meet-Cute instead.
While other characters in the MCU almost all have love interests, they are love interests that made sense to the plot, to the characters, and to the story being told. This film had no need or room for a romance, so the fact they didn’t force one was a MAJOR plus for this film over other action movies and comic book movies.
Realistic Depictions of Mental Illness
This is a huge one for the entire MCU, honestly. Every character has their problems and every problem is handled really well.
But with Steve Rogers, we have one of the best depictions of Depression in a film not about a depressed character that I’ve ever seen. Some of the most typical symptoms of depression (specifically male depression) are key points in this film. He jumps out of a plane with no parachute at the start of the film (recklessness), he has no friends and has not tried to make any (withdrawn from social interaction), this exchange: “What makes you happy?” “I don’t know” (sadness), he goes to the Captain America museum exhibit alone which he had to know would just remind him how alone he is and then later on blames himself for not saving Bucky to prevent what happened to him (Guilt).
Add to that the fact that Sam Wilson is a PTSD group therapy leader and we get to see Steve watching a veteran describe her struggles with PTSD, and we get to see things that were classically considered ‘weakness’ shown as traits that our hero possesses. Rather than be an infallible, superior, hypermasculine male, we see our hero as a regular man suffering regular mental health issues that regular, everyday heroes are also suffering in his world.
In our society where hypermasculinity is a virtue and mental heath is still subject of unending stigma, having CAPTAIN AMERICA, the paragon of ‘Perfect American Hero’, depressed and struggling with it and still managing to save the day is such a MASSIVE thing. As a lover of action movies, I’m used to the ‘walk it off’ and ‘rub some dirt in it’ and ‘men don’t cry’ shit with the heroes of the action film, and Captain America goes to watch a PTSD group session. It’s just so cool.
This one is a bit of an extension of the mental health one when it comes to Captain America, so we’ll just keep from repeating his and say “Our hero fights for Good and Right while battling depression and probably PTSD” for him and then we can move on to the other characters in this film that are SO complex and incredible!
We’ll start with Sam Wilson because, man, he’s just cool, isn’t he? Sam Wilson is a retired para-rescue veteran with no SHIELD affiliation who literally just met Steve like a few days before everything went down, and yet he jumps at the chance to save the day. It isn’t just some, “Soldier itching for battle again” thing, either, because he seems really happy to be out of that life, living a civilian life where he helps people rather than fights in war. The reason he joins Steve is that he wants to help his friend. I’m sure ‘doing the right thing’ has part of it, but he genuinely is just a guy who wants to help his friend and is willing to save the world with him just out of nowhere. We like him because he’s just a regular guy who has the right skills to help save the world. He doesn’t want glory, or recognition, or anything like that, he just wants to do the right thing. He’s just really, very cool.
Then we’ve got Natasha Romanov, the Black Widow, and we get to see a lot more of who she is in this movie than we have in the past (though admittedly less than in Age of Ultron, but that review is for another day!) and we learn that she isn’t just a cold assassin. She’s funny, and the teases her friends, and she likes to match-make apparently. She says that “Truth is just a matter of circumstance”, but she’s showing who she is there. She’s coming from behind the curtain and saying that she’s made herself into the person she wants to be because who she was is not who she wanted to be. We find out that when she joined SHIELD, she thought she was joining the ‘good guys’ and it hurts her to find out she hasn’t been on the right side of things. We know that she’s done bad things before, we know that she hasn’t always been a good person, but we see her now wanting to do what’s RIGHT even at her own expense. It’s just another way that Marvel delivers really good ‘no character is black or white, everybody has shades of gray’ morality with their characters. She’s a changed person and we know now that she’s genuine in that.
And of course, everybody’s favorite discussion topic after this movie was whether or not the Winter Soldier is a villain. Obviously, he’s not. He’s a victim and Pierce was the film’s villain, but all the media outlets described the Winter Soldier as the ‘villain of the film’ and it brings up one of the most amazingly complex characters! We know that he’s Bucky Barnes, we know he’s been brainwashed, and we know that BUCKY is a victim, but what this film shows us is that even the ‘villain’ sometimes isn’t the villain. Ignoring that he’s Steve’s old pal Bucky, for the first bit of the movie, we DO think he’s a villain. We have a man who goes around killing people, a masked assassin who does horrible things to people, and the first impression you get is that this is a merciless killer… and then about halfway into the film the truth is revealed! No, not that it’s Bucky (though that is about the time it’s revealed) but that the Winter Soldier is not a mercenary or an assassin, he is a weapon. And even more amazingly complex isn’t just that he’s been ‘programmed’ and that Pierce talks to him like he’s giving voice commands to a computer (“Mission Report”), or that he’s hit when he doesn’t answer so he’s been abused and dehumanized. The part that’s the most proof of the Winter Soldier being a victim is that even after programming, dehumanizing, and abuse, his ‘handler’ still has to remind him of all the ‘Good’ he has done, and how he’s ‘helped the world’, and basically reassure him that he’s doing things for the Good of the world. Good with a capital G, the same way Captain America fights for Good. The Winter Soldier is so amazingly complex because the viewer is forced to recognize that the ‘villain’ for the first half of the movie turns out to be someone brainwashed into believing they’re the good guy who is saving the day. It suggests that dehumanizing him and turning him into the weapon still wasn’t enough to get obedience, there was enough Good in him that they had to also convince him he’s a hero. HOW COOL IS THAT?! Like, that complexity is just SO GOOD. Gah I love well-written characters.
All of this stuff isn’t possible without some top-notch acting performances. The real stand-out performance of this film is definitely Sebastian Stan as the Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes. The Winter Soldier has not only so few lines in this film, but for half of the film he’s wearing a mask over his face so that all we can see are his eyes, and yet he is still able to speak volumes with nothing but his eyes and forehead. It’s really fantastic acting with his eyes even when we do see his face and hear his voice. His eyebrows and eyes do so much emotional conveyance that I think his eyebrows deserve an award for Best Acting By A Facial Feature.
Funny business aside, this movie is just so good. It’s just SO good.
My Rating: 9/10