“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” Movie Review

     Directors Anthony and Joe Russo leave quite a stamp on the ever evolving Marvel universe with “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, an action spy thriller disguised quite well as a superhero film.  These stand alone “Avengers” character films typically feature one of the main characters accompanied with a number of secondary and supporting characters whose impact is more significant than it is in the ensemble film.  Along for the ride with Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) is the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson), as well as newly added characters the Falcon (Anthony Mackie), an ex Pararescue war veteran, and Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), a senior S.H.I.E.L.D. official.  The Russo brothers pull out all the stops necessary for an all out action slugfest, featuring a dearth of villains installed into a more complex than normal plot, giving Captain America all he can handle.  The script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFreely (“Thor: The Dark World”) balances the standard superhero tropes with an intelligent spy thriller base, resulting in one of the more satisfying Marvel entries.

     Christopher Nolan explored the possibilities of combining the elements of a basic crime film story with a superhero inserted as the lead character three times with his Batman films.  Essentially, the Russo brothers have done the same thing with “The Winter Soldier”, melding the integral parts of spy films such as “The Bourne Identity” and “Mission Impossible” with the established story told in the first outing for the character, “Captain America: The First Avenger”.  The film’s opening feels obligatory, but ultimately I suppose we have to check in on Captain America and see what he’s up to at some point.  Fury dispatches Cap and the Black Widow along with a Strike Team to a large vessel in the ocean that has been hijacked by pirates led by Georges Batroc, also known as Batroc the Jumper and played by famed UFC Champion Georges St. Pierre.  As you might expect, the sequence provides for a reintroduction of the power and skill possessed by Cap, ending in a hand to hand showdown with Batroc.

     Something I’ve noticed about each every one of the “Avengers” characters is neither of them is very well rounded and Captain America may be the one who suffers in that department the most.  He’s strong and fast, yet he’s not superhuman or invincible.  His shield is both his primary weapon and defense, relying mostly on martial arts techniques and smarts to overcome his adversaries.  This puts him in much the same realm as Batman and allows the proceedings in this film to stay, for the most part, grounded in some sort of reality.  The advantage of having a vulnerable superhero lets the Russo brothers push Cap to his limits, thus creating the sense of actual peril and consequences for the decisions the characters make.

     S.H.I.E.L.D. is on the cusp of completing Project Insight which is the construction of three massive Helicarriers (similar to the one seen in “The Avengers”) capable via satellite link of preempting Homeland Security threats around the world before they happen.  Just days prior to launch, Nick Fury is ambushed while driving in Washington DC by an assassin later identified as The Winter Soldier.  Built seemingly in much the same way as Captain America, The Winter Soldier features a metal left arm and has a penchant for high performance military weapons.  He has a strong martial arts aptitude and seems as relentless as your typical “T-800” from “The Terminator” in that he rarely speaks and comes after his target with reckless abandon.  Revelations of The Winter Soldier’s identity are one of the better subplots within the film.

     As the head of the counsel who oversees S.H.I.E.L.D., Pierce brands Captain America as a fugitive after the death of a key character.  This results in Cap and the Black Widow conducting an underground off the radar investigation which brings to light a harrowing discovery.  HYDRA, the terrorist organization Cap thought he defeated once and for all in the first film, is alive and well, residing with the highest levels of S.H.I.E.L.D. and intent on controlling Project Insight for it’s own world dominating intentions.  Having befriended Sam Wilson (The Falcon), during a chance encounter while jogging in the nation’s capital, Cap and the Black Widow solicits his help to eliminate those within S.H.I.E.L.D. who are loyal to HYDRA and keep the three Helicarriers out of their hands.

     The Russo brothers arrive at the film’s third act with everything basically established.  We now know who is and who isn’t on the right side, setting the stage for a bombastic showdown amidst the launch of the Helicarriers.  As expected, the effects work and CGI are exceptional, allowing the characters to operate within the myriad of giant flying ships, explosions, and gunfire.  The results are truly an amazing piece of work by all involved.  Of course the inherent problem with each of these standalone “Avengers” character films always brings me back to the same point.  With S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters literally falling apart and a nefarious organization growing within, what could the other “Avengers” characters being doing that is more important?  Is Tony Stark on vacation?  Is Bruce Banner out of the country?  Is Thor babysitting Loki?  This will always be the fatal flaw of these films.  If the threat is big enough to warrant a worthy story about one of our heroes, then I figure they might as well all join the party.  Wouldn’t that be more efficient?  GRADE: B+