Make mine Marvel!
Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Marvel's latest release in its line of interconnected, live-action superhero movies and TV shows, is both a top-notch action film and a prime example of a multimedia franchise at its peak, hitting all the right dramatic beats like clockwork and rewarding fans for their devotion to an enormous, fantasy-filled universe.
It's hard to write about Winter Soldier without sounding hyperbolic, but what it achieves as a stand-alone movie, as a sequel within a series, and as a key piece within an expanding, multi-threaded franchise is a wonder to behold and something that will impress fans of action and fantasy films. Sure, Avengers was an amazing film too, but Winter Soldier brings into focus what Marvel has in mind in the long run for its movie and TV properties and believe me, it's a glorious thing. Read on for my complete spoiler-free review.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier takes place after the Avengers movie. Like the plot of Iron Man 3 (and to a lesser extent, Thor: The Dark World), the characters are still reacting to the Loki's Chitauri invasion in New York City, and this film begins with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) adjusting to what is expected of him in the modern world and coming to grips with what (and who) he lost since the events in the first Captain America movie. When an unexpected attack puts S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in the hospital, Rogers rallies his fellow Avenger Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and newfound ally Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) to uncover the origins of the attack and dire implications it has for S.H.I.E.L.D. and the rest of the Marvel landscape.
If you thought that the Avengers movie was an extraordinary balancing act of story, action and character (I know I did), then you'll love Winter Soldier. It pulls together narrative threads from the first Captain America movie, the Avengers and some of the other Marvel movies to form an engrossing story that moves both the characters and the world they inhabit forward in a logical progression. Sure, Hulk, Iron Man and Thor each have solid supporting casts, but most of Captain America's supporting cast in Winter Soldier--Fury, Black Widow and S.H.I.E.L.D. itself--have been key connection points within the Marvel movie universe, so their personalities and experiences are just as essential as Cap is to the movie. The fact that none of the characters never feel underutilized in the midst of the byzantine plot and jaw-dropping action sequences reflects how well Winter Soldier works as cinematic entertainment. The movie even works in a reference to Operation Paperclip, a real-life government project that was conducted after World War II, as part of its political conspiracy story. (Fun trivia fact: Operation Paperclip was also referenced in one of the conspiracy storylines in The X-Files.)
someone is going to need serious medical attention.
Everything is top-notch in this movie, but what became very clear to me while watching it is how Marvel is working to translate its approach to superhero comics into the area of live-action entertainment. Before now, superhero movies were regarded as something that had an origin story in the first movie, a few sequels, and then a reboot a few years later--something that most movie franchises do anyway these days. In contrast, Marvel is doing to movies and TV shows what they have done for decades in comics: set up multiple characters with their own storylines within the same fictional universe, and then orchestrate large events through crossover stories that resonate within the individual storylines. Comic book fans who are familiar with Marvel know all about these mega-events, the ones that are centered in stand-alone miniseries and extend into multiple, individual comic book titles; now, Marvel is doing the same thing to a set of movies and TV shows. This is an extremely expensive gamble for Marvel to make (after all, publishing comics and producing big-budget movies are two completely different things) but if Winter Soldier is the new standard by which Marvel plans to follow when moving forward, then superhero fans everywhere have entered a new golden age of superheroic entertainment.
(Hint: Fans should keep a close eye on the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series. It's obvious now that almost all of the first season written as a prequel to the turning point in Winter Soldier, and I suspect that Marvel will use the series as a way of keeping fans plugged in to how these changes reverberate throughout the on-screen Marvel world while new movies are being made. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if a movie-and-TV adaptation of the Marvel Civil War storyline is currently in the works.)
If you've been following the Marvel movies for the last few years, then Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a must-see. Even if you haven't seen any of the Marvel movies but are curious, this sequel is a fantastic example of a superhero movie--and a superhero universe--at its best.