I had heard from a few sources who previewed this film that it’s tone had much in common with Pollack’s Three Days Of The Condor, the least of which is the casting of Robert Redford who starred in that earlier film. If such is the case, then I must immediately go out and rent Three Days Of The Condor. If it bears any resemblance to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it is a must-see as well.
Although this is a comic book film, it does not play like one. Imagine if Paul Greengrass, Christopher Nolan, Sydney Pollack, and Barbara Broccoli (producer of the more recent Bond films) got together and decided to make a kick-ass superhero movie. That is to say, this film plays as a taut, action-filled, realistic, suspenseful Bourne movie or a product of Christopher Nolan’s more grounded superhero universe. So it’s all the more surprising that this movie was directed by two comedy vets, Joe and Anthony Russo, whose credits include NBC’s Community and the brilliant Arrested Development. Apparently, these two have put their comedy careers on hold and have entered the action genre like gangbusters. We the audience should be grateful.
There’s very little that this film doesn’t deliver on. Unlike The Avengers or Iron Man 3, the camp is dialed down significantly, and the tone gives each character substantial weight, thereby instilling consequences for each character’s actions. This is in stark contrast to the aforementioned Avengers, where the final act of the movie devolves into a carefree video game with nameless and faceless aliens. Here we have a superhero film that dares to go deep into the ills of our society today: government overreach, NSA intrusion, water boarding metaphors, corruption of power are all accounted for.
But this doesn’t mean there’s no fun to be had. The action set pieces are phenomenal: car chase? Check. Hand-to-hand combat? You better believe it. Action? Check. Violence? Double check. And yet, with all this on offer, the film still knows when to slow down and deliver what I like to call the “quiet beats,” where we get to see the human side of the characters. One particularly “quiet” and heartfelt scene that really hits home in terms of the “man-out-of-time” aspect occurs when the youthful Steve Rogers visits his onetime love Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) who has aged naturally since their time together in the previous film. She only appears in this one scene, but she makes the most of it; the aging makeup alone is Oscar-worthy.
I’ve read that the casting of Robert Redford is an homage to Redford’s starring role in Three Days Of The Condor. As I mentioned, I haven’t seen that film, so I can’t speak to that, but what I can say is that Redford is formidable in the role of S.H.I.E.L.D. executive Alexander Pierce. Sebastian Stan is icy cool and psychotic as the titular Winter Soldier; his first appearance onscreen establishes him as a true badass villain in the Marvel cinematic universe. But I must tip my hat to Chris Evans. While you get a sense that Robert Downey, Jr. is having fun as Iron Man, his humor and sarcasm after four stints in the metal suit is now bordering on jaded, whereas Chris Evans seems completely invested in the role. At no point do you not believe him as Captain America. In the wake of the Bourne franchise, it’s amazing that the fight scenes work so well here and it’s simply because Evans goes all in. Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury goes all out, particularly in a thrilling car chase that takes place early on. And Scarlett Johannson continues her role as the baddest sidekick since…well, her first appearance in Iron Man 2.
I have to give another tip of the hat to Anthony Mackie as Falcon. Being a comic geek, I was kind of upset that the Falcon was not going to be portrayed in some iteration of the red and white costume from the comics. Here, he’s not so much a superhero as a military paratrooper who suits up in the Falcon EXO 7 jetwing pack. But the instant Mackie took flight, my worries took flight as well. The aerial acrobatics are spectacular. Mackie acquits himself well and I will be disappointed if we do not see him as Falcon in the upcoming Avengers: Age Of Ultron or in his own solo outing.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier deserves to be put on a short list of best superhero movies ever made. It’s not often that a sequel outshines the original. Superman II and the Mission Impossible series spring to mind. This film holds it’s own against any of those movies. I saw the film in IMAX 3D, but I imagine this would play just as well in a traditional theater. And I can say without any hesitation there’s a Blu-Ray with my name on it.
P.S. There are two credit sequences at the end of the movie. The second one, which occurs at the very end, is pointless. It’s not worth sitting through the credits. While I’m 100% certain that won’t deter you, just know you’ve been warned. The first one occurs right after the top billed actor credits and it’s a little off-putting. All I’ll say is that it involves elements that will be prominently featured in the Avengers sequel. But after sitting through a terrific movie that was relatively grounded in reality (for a superhero flick, at least), it was weird to be plunged back into a more standard surreal comic book scene. I think I’m in the minority with this, because the crowd roared at this sequence at the screening I attended.
The other thing is: the Russos will be back for Captain America 3. If DC is really planning to release their Batman vs. Superman film on the same day in 2016, as is reported, DC needs to come with their TRIPLE A game. If the new Superman film is on a par with last year’s Man Of Steel, it could spell trouble for DC; they’ll want to seriously rethink that. Not to say MOS was a bad movie, not at all. But it’s nowhere near the level of CA: TWS.