We Marvel at ‘The Winter Soldier’

In 2005, Ed Brubaker took over as the writer for Marvel’s “Captain America.” His story arcs featured callbacks to the Cap’s WWII days, strong Cold War themes, and, in many fan’s opinions, some of the best stories in the Marvel pantheon. With “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” Brubaker’s stories have been adapted to the silver screen in what may be the best yet film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Set a few months after the events of “Avengers,” “Winter Soldier” succeeds as a sequel to one of the weaker MCU Phase One films, with Chris Evans starring as the Star-Spangled Man with the Plan.

The plot is complicated without convolution, political without proselytizing, and gritty on a real level: with an apparent conspiracy at work within the ranks of SHIELD, who can Captain America really trust? Robert Redford and Sebastian Stan shine as our lead antagonists; without giving away too much, there’s a colossal degree of sophistication to these villains, and they’re about as far from comic book cliché as the Cap’s villains could get.

But Winter Soldier shines brightest in one of its riskiest areas: the supporting cast. Of course, Samuel L. Jackson utterly dominates as SHIELD director Nick Fury; I’ll be damned if eye-patch sales haven’t increased dramatically since he stepped into the role. My only complaint about Jackson’s Fury is that, in a PG-13 film based on a comic book produced by Disney, there’s no room for his trademark “Motherfucker!”  although I could’ve sworn I  almost blurt it out once or twice.

 

RECOMMENDED: Thrilling action, great acting, and smart political allegories make “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” Marvel’s best stand-alone film.

Unsurprisingly, Scarlett Johanssen killed her role as the SHIELD assassin Black Widow, AKA Natasha Romanoff; we’ve known that ScarJo makes the role her own since Iron Man 2, but in Winter Soldier we see her at her most dynamic. This Natasha isn’t just a “leatherclad, ass-kicking bombshell,” as critics have felt the need to describe her in the past. Here we have a capable spy, a brilliant hacker, a rounded person who can maneuver the 21st Century in ways that the Cap simply can’t  not just because of the tired “she does what he won’t” rhetoric we always see dichotomized between ruthless antihero and good-guy-all-American, but because of practicality  the Cap couldn’t hack a computer to save his life, and the Widow’s martial arts skills make him look ever the white belt.

The real delight, however, came from newcomer Anthony Mackie, as the winged Falcon, Avengers mainstay and, historically, the first African-American superhero. I was worried about Falcon, I’ll be honest, not because I didn’t think Mackie could tackle the role (he was perfect), but because, as a comic fan, you get touchy. Falcon’s a tough character –  he’s not a sidekick, but too often he gets written as one. And how do you introduce him, injecting him suddenly into the middle of the story when, effectively, he ought to be Cap’s best friend?

Put your worries aside, fellow geeks: Mackie’s acting and tight writing make this portrayal of the Falcon one of the best adaptations to grace the Marvel Cinematic Universe, even without the red and white spandex and the whole talking to birds thing. In fact, “Winter Soldier” finds its home flawlessly rooted in the Marvel Universe, with little concrete details here and there to appease diehard fans. The mere mention of the name “Stephen Strange,” for example, sent me fanboying into oblivion, and that’s just one bit; the entire film was flawlessly chock full of cameos, namedrops, and some of the best mid-and-after-credit scenes in the history of the gimmick.

All in all, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is a stunning romp for the superhero genre, flawlessly paving the way for “The Avengers 2” and leaving Marvel fans on the edge of their seats.