written by Marc Morin (@thetwoohsix)
Marvel Studios continues the expansion of its super hero universe with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, an espionage thriller that is set up to change everything we know about the inner workings of the government agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D. Chris Evans returns in the title role and we also see newcomers Anthony Mackie and Robert Redford in addition to familiar faces like Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan and Cobie Smulders.
After saving the world from Loki and his alien army, The Avengers go their separate ways leaving Steve Rogers/Captain America (Evans) and Natasha Romanov/Black Widow (Johansson) to continue working with director Nick Fury (Jackson) as S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. As Cap and Widow are out on missions around the world, Fury is dealing with a threat that could be coming from within the organization itself. Enter a mysterious and powerful figure known only as the Winter Soldier who, after what is rumored to be decades of covert operations, now has his sights directly on bringing down Fury and anyone who might happen to get in his way.
As Rogers continues to adapt to modern times, he discovers how the world is much more gray than it once was when it comes to politics, war, and culture. Where there was once a clear target laid before him based on principles of good versus evil, he now sees hidden agendas and political wrangling as foes he doesn't quite know how to defend against. When things take a turn for the worse, he calls on Romanov and Sam Wilson, a new found friend who has a few tricks up his sleeve, to help save the day once again.
Now that we are well into Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), we are really beginning to see the groundwork laid out for next year's Avengers: Age of Ultron which will basically cause people's heads to explode with how awesome it's going to be. Iron Man 3 saw Tony Stark dealing with the aftermath of what he went through during the battle of New York and Thor: The Dark World showed us how the Asgardian God of Thunder dealt with his brother Loki after his attempt at taking over the world. What I like most about each of those, and the same hold true with Winter Soldier, is how each movie manages to be brilliantly entertaining on its own while also building the perpetual Marvel story line in a manner that doesn't feel too gratuitous or overblown.
The people behind the MCU, Kevin Feige and Joss Whedon to name just a couple, seem to have a very clear plan and agenda on how, where, and when they want to proceed and I love how they are able to sprinkle virtual breadcrumbs throughout each movie that not only leads to the next movie coming out, but sets stuff up for years to come. I'm not going to get into specifics, but it's so exciting to see glimpses of things that you know exist in the MCU, but haven't been fleshed out yet, like when a name is mentioned of a character that may not be officially introduced until two or three years down the road. This also makes me want to watch each movie over and over to make sure I haven't missed any of these little gems or "easter eggs", as they are commonly known.
As for this movie in particular, I could watch it over and over just based on how amazing of a story it is. The brotherly directing team of Anthony and Joe Russo have created a super intense spy thriller filled with so much action and intrigue, there were times I was literally on the edge of my seat from all the awesomeness on the screen. Sure, this is a Marvel movie filled with super heroes and villains so there's all that, but this was still a very well put together effort that I would honestly rank as one of the best MCU movies to date. Ultimately, it plays out more like a S.H.I.E.L.D. movie rather than just focusing on Captain America, but screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen Mcfeely are still able to give Rogers more than enough spotlight and attention so his story doesn't drift too far away.
One of the things I have really appreciated so far with all the MCU movies is the impeccable casting of each and every role and Chris Evans continues to prove how, even though he originally wanted to have nothing to do with the character, there really is no one out there who could do a better job than what he has given to the role of Steve Rogers. Even while Cap has firmly established himself among the ranks of his super powered peers, you still see the undercurrent of pre-super soldier serum Steve Rogers providing the foundation for what makes the man behind the mask tick. Pair that patriotic persona with the multifaceted Black Widow that Johannson expertly brings to life and parts of the movie turn into a sort of buddy action, comedy that really adds a nice touch to the super sized action and big budget special effects that surround the characters.
Speaking of those special effects, I am continually amazed at what can be put on a movie screen now days and this film raises the bar yet again for what is possible. Even though there there is so much going on during some of the bigger action scenes, I never felt like it was too overblown or cartoonish which was nice because movies can easily be ruined by directors and effects houses that try to impress the audience by throwing way too much at them. Everything that you see here fits nicely into the story which, of course is still pretty epic in scale, but that's to be expected from anything Marvel has going on at this point.
As I've stated before in other reviews, I am a huge fan of all the MCU movies and pretty much expect to enjoy whatever is put out, but I can honestly say that Captain America: The Winter Soldier flat out blew away my expectations for how good it might be. Oh, and I haven't even mentioned how this movie has so many big reveals and effectively blows up the Avengers over arcing story line, that you will no doubt be left with your jaw on the floor and wondering what is going to happen next for not only Captain America, the Black Widow, and Nick Fury, but for the entire Marvel universe. Any way you look at it, this movie is a huge success and has instantly locked down one of the top slots in my list of favorite films for 2014.
A couple more things:
Stay all the way to the end of the credits, there are two bonus scenes!
If you're wondering about 3D, I'd say you could go either way. Like all the other Marvel movies, it wasn't filmed in 3D so definitely not mandatory, but they did do a good job with the post conversion. As far as IMAX goes, check out my theater comparison HERE for more info.