As a millennial and an avid moviegoer, I’ve seen a lot of superhero movies. The first I remember going to was Batman and Robin in 1997, which admittedly set a low bar. Thankfully, better representatives of the genre soon came along, such as the X-Men and Sam Raimi’s Spiderman films of the early 2000’s. I found most of them enjoyable, full of cool action and actors whose performances weren’t permanently set to “over the top.” But while the overall quality of superhero movies improved over time, I still found them mostly lacking in what I value most in cinema: thought-provoking themes and intense emotional resonance. There had been many “so-so” superhero movies, and a modest amount of good ones, but none were truly great.
That is, until now.
After much consideration, I can safely say that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is not only Marvel’s best movie, but it is the best superhero movie ever made. No other film in the genre has ever had the same depth of emotion, quality of performances and thematic relevance as The Winter Soldier.
Set after the catastrophic events of Marvel’s The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier initially focuses on Steve Rogers trying to find meaning in the America of the 21st century, an America that seems to have passed him by. Seeking to fill the void by working for the international anti-terrorist organization S.H.I.E.L.D, Rogers uncovers a mystery that may have terrifying consequences for himself and everyone he knows.
Just as the first Captain America film incorporated the distinct style of 1930’s and ‘40’s era pulp magazines, so does The Winter Soldier take heavy influence from a specific type of media: in this case, 1970’s-era paranoid conspiracy thrillers, such as The Three Days of the Condor and The Parallax View. The Winter Soldier takes this style and makes it its own, updating it for the modern day while keeping the tension and pacing that made such films so distinct. Just as they where, in part, a response to Watergate, The Winter Soldier examines current issues including government surveillance of citizens and drone warfare in a mature and intelligent manner that never feels cheap or phoned-in. It really is amazing how organically these themes are worked into the plot, with the action and character development never being overshadowed by them.
Among the actors of Captain America: The Winter Soldier it is difficult to pick a standout performance, as they are all so uniformly excellent. Chris Evans continues to make his Sentinel of Liberty feel like an actual human being, while not loosing the intensity of belief that defines the character. Aside from Evans, both Scarlet Johansen’s Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury make significant impressions, having more screen time and development in this film than any previous Marvel venture. Additionally, Robert Redford continues to prove he’s famous for a reason as the jovial but enigmatic Alexander Pierce, and relative newcomer Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson provides a charismatic presence that helps ground the movie. Last but not least, I cannot talk about the cast without mentioning the titular Winter Soldier, whose actor gives an unusual but effecting performance through mainly non-verbal means. Overall, the film has a stellar cast.
Cinematography & Score:
The film’s directors, Joe and Anthony Russo, have been mostly known for directing for television, but their work here ensures that they’re going to get a lot more offers from the studios. The camerawork here is superb, reminding me of a less-shaky Paul Greenglass, with the action sequences being excitingly frenetic without confusing the audience as to what is actually happening. The fights themselves are all excellent, making great use of their environments, in particular an elevator sequence near the halfway-mark of the film. But it’s not all ass-kicking: conversations between characters, whether tense confrontations or emotional confessions, are equally well done.
The film’s soundtrack must be highlighted as well, as it is truly fantastic. Mainly orchestral, it enhances the emotion of every scene, perfectly in sync with what is happening on screen at all times.
As much as I like cinema, I rarely see movies in theaters more than once, even if I really enjoy them. I have seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier THREE times, and each time I saw it I got goose bumps and almost cried. If you want to have your bar raised for superhero movies, or just wanted to see a great film, get your butt in theaters. NOW.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is currently showing in theaters nationwide.