‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ Review: Superheroic, Yes, But Smart and Subversive Too (Video)

A hero who's literally wrapped in the flag must come to terms with the Age of the NSA, in a film that asks some big questions in between stirring fight scenes

(Spoiler Alert: It is nearly impossible to discuss in any detail the merits of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” without giving away a few plot details — which counts as an impressive achievement in and of itself since we're dealing with a superhero movie. Such details are kept to a minimum in this review, but if you prefer not to know any, stop reading now.)

In one of the many Paddy Chayefsky-penned monologues in “Network” that still resonate today, Peter Finch's newsman Howard Beale rails against one of television's dramatic shortcomings: “We'll tell you anything you want to hear; we lie like hell. We'll tell you that Kojak always gets the killer, or that nobody ever gets cancer at Archie Bunker's house, and no matter how much trouble the hero is in, don't worry, just look at your watch; at the end of the hour he's going to win. We'll tell you any s–t you want to hear.”

This isn't always the case nowadays, of course; groundbreaking series from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to “The Wire” to “Game of Thrones” presented worlds in which even beloved characters could suddenly die without warning. And if a character from “Mad Men” threatens to decamp for another agency, the show doesn't contrive to make him or her have a change of heart by the end of the episode.

See video: ‘Captain America: Winter Soldier’ – Watch Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson Kick Ass

Still, in any serialized drama, the norm is to offer the threat of change or imbalance before quickly reverting to the status quo. That's the kind of safety net that can creep into movie franchises as well. In the cinematic Disney-Marvel universe, for instance, SHIELD is always the good guy and HYDRA is always the villain and superheroes have a clear-cut moral agenda with no wiggle room for the complications of the real world.

captainamerica252caf97676fb5Until now, that is. With “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” the corporations behind one of the most lucrative series in contemporary cinema dare to step outside of their safety zone, not only tossing the building blocks of a film and television canon up in the air but also using a mainstream entertainment to ask provocative questions about our own government and about the compromises that we are willing to make in a technological world where privacy is rapidly disappearing around us.

That screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (“Thor: The Dark World”), working from a story by comic book writer Ed Brubaker, and directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo could ask these kinds of questions in an “Avengers” film would be achievement enough, but to bring them up in a Captain America movie feels downright subversive.

Ultimately, of course, this sequel isn't a treatise about geopolitics as much as it's a movie where a ripped guy throws a shield in people's faces, but it does all the things it's supposed to do very well. If you're just here to watch Cap (Chris Evans) beat up a bunch of well-trained tough guys in a tiny elevator, you'll get that in spades, but if you prefer superhero movies that allow themselves to run a gamut wider than A to B, there's that as well.

Also read: ‘Captain America 3' Facing Off Against ‘Batman vs. Superman’

We find Captain America still adjusting to life in modern-day Washington, D.C., after decades in suspended animation, getting music recommendations from a new friend, veteran Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), and fending off matchmaking suggestions from the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). After Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) sends the Captain and the Widow to rescue a SHIELD ship that has been taken hostage, and Cap discovers that the Black Widow has a side agenda involving data in the ship's computers, the shield-slinger gets angry with his boss about being kept in the dark.

Fury and Cap have an argument early on about trusting people, and while you're expecting that a movie like this would end with Fury learning he needs to open up and have faith in his fellow man, it's actually Captain America who discovers that not all things are as they seem, and that even those who wear the colors of democracy and liberty might be in disguise.

Fury's boss in the state department, Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), is the film's major new character, so it's not a big surprise when he winds up being the turncoat who's behind turning SHIELD's domestic surveillance program into a deadly bit of social engineering. And given Redford's past participation in classics like “All the President's Men” and “The Three Days of the Condor,” who better to be part of a vast, paranoia-inducing conspiracy within the U.S. government?

With Fury being taken off the chessboard early on, it's up to Captain America, Black Widow and Sam — whom comics readers know as The Falcon, brought to the screen in a thrilling way — to uncover just what's going on and how to stop it. (Marvel fans will also get a kick out of the inclusion of characters like Jasper Sitwell and Batroc, although their screen incarnations differ greatly from their four-color versions.)

Along the way, Cap will discover that while SHIELD and HYDRA might have different mission statements, both groups’ desire for control over their perceived enemies and the muscle they employ to get what they want make them more similar than different.

Also read: ‘Captain America 2' Sets ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ in Motion, Bob Iger Says

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” — the title refers to a deadly HYDRA assassin (played by Sebastian Stan) whose true identity is a secret even to himself — bounds along excitingly, keeping viewers guessing, launching some successful switcheroos and bringing real stakes to the game. The end results of this film should reverberate throughout the big- and small-screen “Avengers” universe in a way that most franchise entries would never dare.

The first “Captain America” had a lot of great ideas, but its vacillation in tone and occasional failures to deliver the emotions for which it was clearly aiming made it one of the lesser recent Marvel movies. This time around, however, it's a movie that's raising the bar on what we can expect from the ongoing adventures of these men and women in tights.

  • Cool Guy

    Awesome! Should be the best solo movie of phase 2!

    • Jesse Cormier

      Well it obvs wouldn't be Im3 lol

      • QTN

        you mean the one that was better than MOS? lol

        • Jesse Cormier

          LOL Youre an idiot if you think that. IM3 was fucking terrible. MoS was far superior. It didn't need humor to make it bearable.

          • Alex La-Chiusa

            I liked MoS but it had its fair share of short comings, namely a script with ATROCIOUS dialogue and a Superman who seemed indifferent to actually saving people's lives and to me that was a far bigger crime than anything in Iron Man 3.

          • Jesse Cormier

            The script was weak AT TIMES, but Superman was never indifferent. That's not a crime, nor is im3 a better film. The only thing it might have over MoS IS dialogue, and that's it.

          • T-Vo

            “Never Indifferent”?? Even in Superman Returns, Superman goes out of his way to save the citizens of Metropolis from being hit by fallen debris. MOS easily killed 100,000 people during the climatic battle.

          • Jesse Cormier

            Actually, he didn't. The buildings he fought in didn't have any PEOPLE IN THEM. The city was empty, everyone was either dead or gone. Then when they got far away, he saves those people and kills Zod like any smart person would.

            You're one of those idiot-conformist sheep who is convinced Superman killed people. That's the stupidest shit. Any and all civilian casualties were from Zod's destruction. Superman killed Zod and Zod only. Get over it/yourself.

          • ellid

            Sorry, but there is ZERO proof that the buildings were evacuated. Not only that, there were plenty of people milling about in the streets, and only a single cursory mention of evacuation from a cop.

            And if that weren't enough, a professional damage control firm that estimates damages caused by earthquakes, tsunamis, and terrorist attacks estimated that Metropolis suffered TWO TRILLION DOLLARS in damages, that approximately 129,000 people were killed and wounded, and it would literally take decades to repair the city and its buildings.

            Maybe Superman didn't kill anyone except Zod, but he sure didn't do a goddamn thing to draw Zod and his minions away from Metropolis. That city looked like the Hiroshima bomb had gone off, and sorry, but life is too fucking short for me to enjoy that sort of violence porn. That you seem to like it speaks volumes.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Jackson/1469167177 Michael Jackson

            Man of Steel had Superman fighting in populated areas in the name of product placement. Lucrative for the film makers, to the tune of $160 million, but revolting to watch. Logically, Superman would have attempted to move the fights away from populated areas.

          • Ill Communication

            The city was empty?

          • T-Vo

            Jane, you ignorant slut. MOS killed 100,000 people, meaning “Man of Steel” the movie. All he had to do was fly Zod to an empty space to fight, like I don't know, Fucking Kansas where he grew up in empty fields??

          • PainPro

            The city was empty? really? is that why “jenny” olson got stuck under debris?

          • Jesse Cormier

            Did Superman cause that? Oh wait, it was the machine.

          • PainPro

            Was the city empty or not?

          • Jesse Cormier

            It was empty as a glass of water that had just been dumped. There were obviously a few molecules left in the glass.
            It was basically empty. People got trapped, but pretty much everyone got out. He didn't kill anyone, but Zod, and if you think otherwise, you're an idiot. That's the point.

          • PainPro

            Yeah a big city like metropolis can empty in minutes
            Ok so honest are you stupid in that you believe this or stupid in that you expect others to believe you

          • Jesse Cormier

            Who says it was minutes? It might of been in reality, but in the movie it was an entire evening. The sky was darker when he fought Zod, while it was mid-day when the terraforming machine started. That sentence didn't make sense. When you get a grasp of proper grammar, then talk about intelligence. In the mean time, kindly stfu. lol

          • QTN

            he wasn't indifferent. But the movie? ABSOLUTELY. Its sad when at the end, one doesn't care or made to care about the characters and story enough to bother.

          • Jesse Cormier

            I did. So I guess the problem was you, then, huh?

          • PainPro

            So why did zod take Lois lane into his ship… Plot convenience

          • PainPro

            So if jor el says his cells will drink the radiation of our young son and develop his powers why did he lose them when he got on zods ship? He was still in the same solar system just out side the earths atmosphere
            Oh wait for the sake of plot convenience they changed the reason how he has powers
            Yeah top notch writing

          • Jesse Cormier

            Because of the Atmosphere in the ship. It's explain in the movie, you're just a whiny bitch lol

          • PainPro

            So it's NOT the sun that gave superman his powers hmmm shitty writing
            Oh btw how was superman able to fly? JorEl said that the earths gravity was week Well if that's the case then he should just be able to jump around like the hulk not stop and change direction
            Btw if atmosphere is important to superman how is he able to survive in space

          • PainPro

            MOS sucked No way around it
            a scout shipped sent to earth thousands of years beore Krypton exploded has supermans costume on it? seriously?
            The letter S happens to be the symbol of hope on Krypton? really? If I flip the bird to someone on Krypton will he reply “youre welcome”?

          • Jesse Cormier

            You've got a shitty opinion, no way around it. Only weak part of the movie was the script (dialogue). Everything else was top notch.

          • PainPro

            Do I really?
            Pa kent is indifferent to the death of a bus load of kids
            Yeah that's really superman material
            Btw I notice you don't have an answer to the planted costume thousands of years before superman got to earth
            Look I know the cgi was really cool but when you turn 15 you'll start to appreciate story

          • Jesse Cormier

            Yup. Pa Kent is smart enough to realize his son, who can potentially save the world one day, is more important than a bus load of kids. That's intelligence, something Superman himself has a heightened version of. I'm 18, actually. I already appreciate story, thank you very much. Pretentious douchebags these days.

            Get schooled little boy.

          • PainPro

            Did he really? How did he know? Well if he can save the world he could also risk revealing himself to the world
            Movie sucked get over it and guess what the next one is setting up to be a colossal disappointment as well

          • Jesse Cormier

            He has to reveal SUPERMAN to the world eventually, but he wasn't superman at 12, now fucking was he?

          • PainPro

            No his cells hadn't drunk enough of the young suns radiation… Or was it atmosphere no he wasn't superman he was only hauling school buses out of rivers by then I guess he could be SLIGHTLY ABOVE AVERAGE MAN

          • QTN

            MOS was superior in boredom. But yeah go ahead, love a movie that applauds itself for being so edgy and dark for breaking a villain's neck like you're Mark Millar or 14 years old or something. YAWN.
            Oh and Superman cries after he kills the bad guy. WHY? He just killed thousands of evil people, and you killed him so he would be stopped. You're a pussy, supes!

          • Jesse Cormier

            See, you think you're cool. But you're really not.

            You couldn't take a human life PERIOD. He cried because he killed the last member of his race. It was a very emotional and hard time for him. That's human. That's not pussy, you piece of shit. Grow up and kindly, in the mean time, fuck off.

            You're obviously a 14 year old who enjoys Michael Bay Films and explosions since you thought im3 was better lol. Humor was the only thing worth bothering with in that movie. Now please, shut up. You're not helping restore my faith in humanity.

          • QTN

            How about that scene when Supes outright tells Zod that he's siding with humanity over the Kryptonians? I think that was his official “divorce” scene if you will. Then to cry about that? Pffft. See it helped that I actually watched the MOVIE, while you like a 5 year old only paid attention to the super punchy scenes.
            Also you insulted me…. the exact same goddamn insult that I had thrown at you.
            Dear lord son, if you're gonna piss in somebody's Cheeriors, use your own piss at least!

            Also notice how the Internet bitches at DC/WB for not doing anything right. Yup if MOS had been actually awesome, we wouldn't be having this discussion. Now would we? Think big picture.

          • Jesse Cormier

            There's no official divorce, nor did Superman view it that way. He was against Zod from the start and never had the idea to side with him.

            It was awesome, and we're still having this convo. Why? Because stupid people like to bitch. 5 year old … lol Clever. No really. Be a comedian. Who knows, you might get to work on the next terrible Shane Black film.

          • NeoGuyver

            Actually, notice which way Superman snaps Zod's neck. He snapped it in the direction of that family that Zod was trying to fry. He didn't cry for killing Zod. He cried because he failed to save that family. Still, of the two movies, I preferred Iron Man 3. My opinion only, not starting a debate.

          • QTN

            The impression I had from that scene was that he saved the family, but I won't argue since its been like 9 months since I saw it so you might be right for all I know?
            Man Supes if indeed you failed to save that family, you really suck!

          • Jesse Cormier

            He did it up and in the other direction, actually. (Y)

          • Ill Communication

            Actually, IM3 was one of the best MCU films to date. “Humor” has nothing to do with the quality of a film and frankly, the issues IM3 dealt with are a lot more relevant, realistic and “darker” than many ‘fanboys’ understood. The minority of people who didn't like Iron Man 3 were one-dimensional fanboys who were mad about the ‘Mandarin Twist'.
            The script, plot and action scenes were much more intelligent than those of MOS and critics and audiences agreed.

          • Jesse Cormier

            LOL WUT?! One of the bes-hold on. I'm really pushed back… Shane Black TORPEDOED that movie and you think it was GOOD?! Lmfao. It really takes a fanboy to enjoy that movie for anything other than it's comedic aspects. I'm not against the Mandarin Twist at all, I was for it. It was hilarious and I enjoyed that. The rest of the movie was just bad. The end fight sucked, Pepper dying and him not caring for some reason was stupid. Why didn't he call all the suits when the extremis soldiers were after him in the small town? So many plot holes. Terrible movie was terrible, get over it.

          • PainPro

            Plot holes? At least iron man didn't find a suit of armor in a ship buried in ice 1000s of years before he built it

          • The Strokes

            “Why didn't he call all the suits when the extremis soldiers were after him in the small town?”

            Dude, I've read your comments on this thread and you make NO sense whatsoever. Tony could only do that through JARVIS and the Mark 42 armor and if you remember, they were both out of commission when he first got to Rose Hill. Hell, they were out of commission for most of the movie! When he first met the two extremis soldiers, he was just starting to piece together what was goin’ on. He didn't know what these Extremis things were, he hadn't talked to Rhodey yet, he didn't even know where the Mandarin was located!

            Even if he COULD have launched the House Party protocol, why the hell would he play his one and only trump card over the first two freaks he came across in Tennessee? And when did Tony not care when Pepper fell into the fire? Dude, you either have serious ADD issues, dementia or you're just stupid. Take your pick.

    • fred

      True, it might only end up being topped by ‘Age of Ultron’ in ‘Phase 2'.

  • Jamie Waterman

    If you told me 10 years ago that Marvel movies would be kicking DC's ass I would have laughed at you.
    Now, I sit back THUROUGHLY enjoying Marvel's films (I even loved Punisher: War Zone as the CLOSEST to getting Frank Castle right!) and wondering if DC will get their act together. LOVED the new Batman flicks and Man Of Steel, but that's old hat for them-it's been done…again and again! Marvel took BIG chances that paid off. How? They gave fans what they wanted. DC gives us what THEY THINK we want.
    We want a REAL Justice League movie. Darkseid. a decent (NOT reimagined) Wonder Woman and Flash. Green Lantern? Right actor, but the script was not right.
    Now, if Marvel can combine their current flicks with the X-Men universe and Spider-Man? HOLY $HITHOUSE MOUSE!!!!
    It CAN be done.

    Wake up DC, the dust you're eating must be choking you!

    • QTN

      A good babystep for DC would be to launch a new superhero franchise WITHOUT Superman or Batman.
      Also Sony and Fox will never “combine” with Marvel Studios. EVER. A pity really. Imagine Andrew Garfield and Robert Downey Jr. in the same room together.

      • T-Vo

        I think Sony would co-produce with Marvel/Disney sooner than FOX. If FOX doesn't mess things up, they have potential Fantastic Four/X-men crossover films. Whereas Sony has Spidey and has great gallery of Villains but what super-heroes do they have outside of maybe Venom? Spidey would easily fit in a Marvel movie with his fast, witty one liners and he's synonymous with NYC. There's hardly any humor in the X-men movies but Spidey seems like a natural fit in the Marvel Cinenamtic Universe

        • QTN

          You forget that Sony will just create new characters. Nothing is stopping them. Besides lets remember, Sony needs Spider-Man. They'll never let him go.
          Pity because with the new Spidey reboot, I actually could see him existing in the MCU. We have franchises about a billionaire, a soldier, a God, how about a teenager?
          Then again if Marvel had Spidey they probably would've jammed him into the Avengers quicker than we can say “Gwen's neck is broken.” Is that really what people want?

          • ScottS42444

            I agree. If it wasn't for the potential of a Spider-Man/Wolverine/Avengers team up (cinematic universe Avengers, I mean) I would be 100% happy that Sony and Fox have the rights to Spiderman and X-Men. I don't think there would be ANY way we would get Spiderman, Captain America, Guardians of the Galaxy, and X-Men: Days of Future's Past in the same year. I would think AT MOST Disney/Marvel would produce 3 movies a year. We wouldn't have DOFP, with two generations of the X-Men cast, that's for sure. If they could come to some sort of agreement, I would be ecstatic, for just ONE film. That's really only because Robert Downey Jr IS Ironman to me and Hugh Jackman IS the movie version of Wolverine to me. They won't be playing those roles forever and I really just want one movie where they are together. Just once before they retire from playing those roles.

          • nevilleross

            I think that after the Age Of Ultron Robert is finished with Iron Man, (as is Gwynneth, although Marvel could do movies with her as Rescue.)

      • ScottA

        Robert Downey Jr. Would mop the floor with Andrew Garfield. The kid would probably be okay in a third-rate tv sitcom because even I would admit he has some charm… but he is a TERRIBLE actor. I don't care what anyone else says, Tobey Maguire was a far superior Peter Parker.

        • nevilleross

          And yet Tobey couldn't do any wisecracking like Spidey's supposed to-Andy did all of that, and more.

          • Zeno McZipperpants

            Tobey had nothing to do with that…That decision was made by Rami and the screenwriters.

        • QTN

          Eh it would be amusing to see Andrew's dorky Parker trying to deal with the fact that he's meeting this super scientist/superhero celebrity (who probably left a big impression on him) and RDJ's Stark just being flippant with him. and probably indifferent. Though I'm sure he would've been impressed with those web slingers that Parker invented on his own.
          Anyway I thought Maguire was fine. Except boy I never believed him to be a smartass. Garfield? I do. (I mean Spidey mocking that bad guy for pulling a knife on him? I could see that scene happen in the books.)

      • cell989

        those licenses will eventually expire, and Disney is hungry for them. It will come a time when all Marvel films will be done by Disney, and then we will have the best crossovers ever seen on screen

        • ellid

          Uh…no, the licenses will not expire as long as the other studios continue to make films. That's why we're getting a Fantastic Four reboot: to keep the rights from reverting to Marvel.

          • QTN

            Exactly. X-Men still makes money for Fox. Spider-Man is Sony's #1 franchise. Film franchise rights expire when they're not being exercised.
            Its like Daredevil went back to Marvel because Fox failed to produce a new Daredevil film after the last (meh) one came out.

          • nevilleross

            The first Daredevil was great-just not great for judgmental fanboys and girls.

      • nevilleross

        Give us an idea as to what heroes could be introduced so.

        • QTN

          In terms of what, DC franchises or Marvel cross-overs?

          • nevilleross

            DC franchises. And I wouldn't hold my breath about Marvel cross-overs just yet.

      • nevilleross

        Sorry, but both are the prime movers of DC-it would have been like Marvel Studios (as Marvel Enterprises) not launching with Spider-Man, the X-Men, or the Fantastic Four at first. The Trinity is still a part of DC, and what people think of DC, so stop dissing them.

    • PainPro

      DC is really good… at making cartoons

  • Cyclops

    Actually, that SHIELD works in the gray areas was intriduced in Agents of SHIELD. (Outside of the comics.)

    • nevilleross

      It was introduced in Nick Fury Vs.SHIELD.

  • NYJ

    Let's not get carried away. Major characters (far more so than Buffy's mom) were dying long before Buffy and The Wire- Col Blake on MASH , Edith on All in the Family, Bobby Ewing on Dallas, Valerie on Valerie, even Mr. Hooper on Sesame Street, etc. One could actually make the case that modern TV is more contrived than anything since the dawn of television, particularly the plethora or ‘reality’ shows.

    • ScottS42444

      Quite a few of these were because of contract disputes and real life sickness/death. That's not quite the same.

  • John Webb

    I like superhero films and tend to watch them all on the big screen (although I am ready to drop 3D as it is not worth the price boost) hand on heart it is only the Marvel ones that get me excited though. Fox and Warner Bros. are not making terrible movies and yes I am fairly easily pleased but they just can't seem to create that anticipation and buzz that Marvel can. Even the X-Men days of future past film of which I am old enough to have read the original comic books of is not creating any real anticipation with me although I am sure I will end up seeing it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Jackson/1469167177 Michael Jackson

    I expect to see ads for this film during Person of Interest.

  • James Smith

    …obviously the author of the article hasn't read Marvel or any other comics in 40 years… Comics have always been the ones to push subversive ideas, AKA Superman (a Jew) being the saviour of (Christian) America is the easiest that most would understand. X-men furthered the causes of the handi-capped (Prof. X anyone?) African-Americans (sexy Storm!) not to mention Frank Miller and…well…everything? (Hello?!?!?!?) Capt America forcing the USA to live up to it's ideals and promises? Wow! I am almost speechless! Thankfully, I can still type. The ‘Comic’ is a uniquely American device that was almost solely created as an outlet for writers of honest ideas that other publishers wouldn't DARE to touch. Wake up and smell the print type!

    • Yvette54

      How could Superman be Jewish when he was born on another planet???

  • MMO

    Wow. Lot of hate in fandom.