[img]http://celebnwall.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/captain_america_the_winter_soldier_poster.jpg[/img]The much-anticipated follow up to Joe Johnston’s The First Avenger, I can happily report, is one of the first successes of the upcoming summer theater season – it fared better and was rendered more entertaining than the Thor sequel, boasted the elements necessary in a solid comic adaptation film – hero/villain fight sequences, more “confidence” from the hero role as he or she gets more “comfortable” with the powers bestowed upon them, etc. – and even had Scarlett Johansson looking even sweeter than she did before, if you can imagine that, with a new straight haircut and nearly fire-red hair that complemented her “take no prisoners” attitude her “Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow” character exuded in spades here. There’s plenty of SHIELD involvement in the film – much more than in any Iron Man – and we see Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury character get some serious screen time as he becomes the first “victim” of the attacks by the rogue “Winter Soldier” and whoever is behind him and his mercenaries.
Unfortunately, the film suffers from some problems – first, we have some misleading trailers that suggest Robert Redford’s “Alexander Pierce” is actually on SHIELD’s side and behind Captain America/Steve Rogers (some dialogue rendered by Redford in the trailers were taken completely out of context here; when you see the film, you’ll know what I’m talking about). Then, we have the always unavoidable trappings a sequel falls into wherein the plot gets way too thick and plodding in certain places for its own good, making it difficult to follow what’s going on after awhile. There’s an “industrial enemies” undertone running rampant throughout Captain America: The Winter Soldier that dipped way too far into Iron Man 3 territory, and that’s what ultimately made that film bomb (in addition to, of course, misleading us with a “real” Mandarin villain). There’s also the problem with Anthony Mackie’s “Falcon” character – while very cool to include, as Falcon was Steve’s unofficial sidekick through a lot of the comic’s run, the whole thing was way too rushed and underdeveloped; in one moment, we have Steve telling his new friend he doesn't have to get involved with him, Natasha and SHIELD and the next minute he’s flying through the air with his specialized “paratrooper wings,” a bonafide superhero like Rogers. It wasn’t fleshed out enough.
The biggest issue The Winter Soldier suffered from, though, was the whole Alexander Pierce/Nick Fury/SHIELD thing; this is exactly what Jon Favreau did wrong in Iron Man 2 with the “Ivan Vanko” character, in which he made a “Frankenstein’s monster” of a villain without really basing it on any substantial comic lore. Here, we have an older, nearly decrepit Pierce as played by Redford when in the comics, Pierce was a much younger field agent. Also in the books, it was speculated that Pierce was a cover for Alexander Lukin – the man who controlled the Winter Soldier – when in this film it’s Pierce who really has a say-so with regard to the renegade super soldier. The whole plot gets way too thick and industrial-esque as the backstory involving SHIELD, the “World Security Council” Pierce is apparently head of and the way Pierce was once in charge of SHIELD and how he hired Nick Fury as its commander develops. It would have been much easier to simply keep a plot involving this Winter Soldier, who comes back to wipe out SHIELD and Steve Rogers as an ex-friend of Steve’s and who has now been transformed into a vicious mercenary perhaps stronger than Rogers himself; however, as the film progresses, all these elements get way too cloudy and thick for their own good, making us wish for the next action sequence to break things up.
Then, there’s the “Amim Zola” character as portrayed by Toby Jones in the first Captain America film and how he “returns” here – the notion is rather ridiculous, and I am uncertain if they actually delved into some of the books for this story or not. According to The Winter Soldier, Zola ended up making it through most of World War II before developing a medical condition for which there was no cure…but apparently SHIELD and HYDRA were able to save his “consciousness” which is now running a secret underground bunker in New Jersey where Steve originally trained before becoming the super soldier known as Captain America – merely by his brain power alone. Does anyone remember the original Star Trek episode named “Spock’s Brain”? That’s exactly what was going on here…and it was one of the more off putting elements of the film.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier finds Steve Rogers living in Washington D.C. outside the new SHIELD headquarters and still trying to adapt to life in our modern time. As he runs his daily course around town, he meets Anthony Mackie’s character, a war vet that councils other soldiers and family members as they cope with the brutalities of battle. As the men get friendly, all kinds of things begin transpiring around Steve – Nick Fury is mysteriously attacked in his SHIELD SUV by a gang of vicious mercenaries dressed as Washington D.C. cops after his security clearance at SHIELD was somehow “erased.” Before the leader of this mercenary group, a dark, shadowy figure known as the "Winter Soldier,” can get to him in his overturned truck, Fury manages to escape his clutches and make his way to Steve’s apartment. This is all after Steve goes on a mission with SHIELD agents to rescue hostages taken by a powerful terrorist on a ship, the Lemurian Star; there, Steve, Natasha and other SHIELD agents make haste to the bad guys but not before Steve seems to meet his match with the powerful leader of the group, Georges Batroc. The hand to hand fight sequence here sets the stage with an exciting, palpable presence but we are left wondering why this guy – who isn’t the Winter Soldier – is so strong and can deal such a wallop to Steve.
Letting that one slide, a plot begins to unravel involving who this “Winter Soldier” is and why he’s seemingly after Steve and many of SHIELD’s operatives – of course, as fans knew before the film even broke, the enhanced super soldier behind the face mask is none other than Bucky Barnes, Steve’s old friend from the World War II era. The story goes like this (as Steve and Natasha learn after having a “conversation” with Dr. Zola’s “living consciousness computer” in the aforementioned underground bunker in Jersey…one of the definite weaker pieces of this plot): Apparently, Zola and some of his HYDRA scientists found Barnes after he fell from the train in the first film, transforming him into a super-strong anti-Captain America for lack of a better term; he had been put on ice, just like Steve, and then was thawed out by someone playing dirty in the SHIELD/World Security Council hierarchy with a mission to eliminate certain SHIELD operatives…and especially Captain America if he gets in anyone’s way. Of course, Steve does end up getting in his way and we are treated to some pretty awesome fight sequences between the two super-enhanced men, one early on in the film when Steve is out of uniform save for his shield, and then later on in the final fight when Steve’s decked out in his original stars and stripes costume (which he takes from the Smithsonian display honoring Captain America – I’m not kidding).
It comes down to not knowing who to trust and a rather uncomfortable, rather unnecessary subplot suggesting the HYDRA division didn’t actually “die” in World War II Germany – and is secretly working within the ranks of SHIELD, plus letting us believe Nick Fury himself may not be the good guy we all thought he was. Some of these essences I thought were completely unnecessary – the whole Alexander Pierce angle and how he is secretly controlling the World Security Council and that he may have been behind a plot to assassinate Fury, plus the HYDRA/SHIELD connection in the current, present day. They should have just concentrated on Cap fighting and finding this Winter Soldier and perhaps had him make Bucky realize he was actually once his friend – which, when you see the film, you’ll realize that doesn’t seem to actually happen.
Then, again, there’s the problem with Anthony Mackie’s “Falcon” element – yes, this was uber-cool to include Falcon as Cap’s quasi-sidekick, watching him fly all around with his super-strong metallic “wings” while shooting with dual handguns. But in the end, he doesn’t really add anything to the story and doesn’t really, to be honest, lend Cap any assistance; during a skirmish towards the end of the film with the Winter Soldier, Falcon is stripped of his wings and rendered powerless, leading me to wonder just what kind of “sidekick superhero” he really was.
That’s all I’m going to give away about The Winter Soldier – there are a ton of twists and turns that you won’t see coming, but in summary, this was a very solid follow up to Joe Johnston’s first film, transporting Cap into modern day society post-Avengers and making the “Captain America” notion not at all too cheesy as interpreted in today’s time. It was better than Thor: The Dark World and I can recommend a purchase on the Blu-ray release day. Oh – and as always with the Marvel films – don’t forget to stay in the theater until about midway through the end credits sequence for a sneak peek at where this franchise could be going next…from what I could tell, the Winter Soldier isn’t finished yet and neither is HYDRA.
Please discuss if you’ve seen it already!