Nerdy Girl Goes to the Movies: Captain America: The Winter Soldier


Title: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Rating: PG-13

Cast: Chris Evans (Steve Rogers), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson), Robert Redford (Alexander Pierce), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes), Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill)

Director: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

The Basics: Captain America: The Winter Soldier begins with Steve Rogers (aka the eponymous Captain America) still struggling to adjust to the modern world after being awoken from a frozen state that he remained in since the 1940s. His sense of unfamiliarity in this colder, bleaker world is made worse by his growing sense of distrust for S.H.I.E.L.D., the government intelligence and defense agency he’s a part of. Steve’s suspicions turn out to be more than just unfounded fears; a faction within S.H.I.E.L.D. is planning to use advanced surveillance methods to kill millions in the name of the greater good. Steve—along with Natasha Romanoff (aka Black Widow) and Sam Wilson (aka Falcon)—must confront old and new enemies, but one new enemy (the mysterious Winter Soldier) might not be so new after all. Captain America: The Winter Soldier succeeds not just as a highly entertaining superhero blockbuster; it also feels darker and more thematically complex than any Marvel Cinematic Universe film that came before it, while still being driven by the sharp writing, strong character development, and charismatic performances that have made Marvel films huge box-office draws season after season.

M.V.P. (Most Valuable Performer): Like all superhero movies, Captain America: The Winter Soldier could sink or swim based on the performance of its central hero. Thankfully, this film is once again in the capable hands of Chris Evans. This film allows Evans to balance Steve’s genuine sense of patriotism and his innocent charm with something deeper that was only hinted at in The Avengers. This Steve Rogers is a man disillusioned by the changes brought by the passage of time; there’s a heaviness to him that Evans subtly brings to the surface in powerful moments, such as a walk through a Captain America exhibit at the Smithsonian and a moment of reflection as he watches a group of young veterans talk about the burdens they’ve brought home with them. Evans somehow manages to make you believe that he’s a 95-year-old man trapped in the body of a twenty-something super-solider; you never forget that he’s a man out of his time, but it’s only occasionally played for comedy. Often, it’s heartbreaking in a quietly powerful way because Evans makes you feel not just Steve’s sense of lost years but also his sense of lost purpose and lost innocence. However, there’s still a part of Evans that radiates the innate heroism and genuine goodness that made his performance in the first Captain America film feel so fresh. Yes, Steve may feel lost, but he still knows who he is at his core—and so do we. He’s a hero in an age of anti-heroes and morally ambiguous characters, and he makes it fun and rewarding to root for a genuinely good guy to win.

Scene Stealer: After watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I dare anyone to say that Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow shouldn’t have her own movie. Black Widow was the perfect partner for Captain America in this movie, and Johansson was the perfect partner for Evans. While Evans succeeds because he makes viewers believe Steve’s innate sense of loyalty to his country, Johansson works her magic by painting a picture of a woman deeply tormented by a life that has given her no sense of loyalty to anything—until the one thing she puts her trust in (S.H.I.E.L.D.) betrays her. Of course, she kicks even more bad-guy butt than she did in The Avengers, but not enough is being said about the emotional aspects of her performance and the layers she was able to give this “supporting” character. Natasha Romanoff isn’t just another one-note, sexy, female action hero. She’s strong and she’s beautiful, but she’s also funny, calculating, and surprisingly warm. Johansson is so good at conveying Natasha’s ability to read people and situations—from using her sensuality to throw male opponents off their game to knowing exactly what actions would keep her and Steve from being spotted in a crowd. (For the record: Kissing works.) And that’s such a perfect detail to set her apart as a superspy rather than a superhero. Natasha gets her own story to tell beyond being an accessory to Steve’s journey, and Johansson hits every note of her character development perfectly.

Bring the Tissues? If you got emotional at the ending of the first Captain America film, there’s a scene in this one that will make all of those feelings of “what could have been” for Steve and Peggy come rushing back. It was a beautiful moment of closure for those characters and the audience that I don’t want to completely spoil, but I will say this: There’s a moment when Evans says “my best girl” that will turn anyone who loved Peggy and Steve’s relationship into a crying mess. Also, if you were devastated by Bucky’s fate in the first film, there are a couple of scenes in this movie that will probably have you wiping away tears. Sebastian Stan is so good at breaking hearts, and here he does it once again by making you want to plead for Bucky to remember who he is and what Steve means to him.

Should I Stay or Should I Go? Stay until the main credits are over for a scene that appears to be a setup for the next Avengers film, and stay until all the credits have rolled for another “Sebastian Stan breaks your heart” moment.

Most Memorable Scene: There are many worthy contenders—both of the flashy variety (an elaborate car chase involving Nick Fury, a Black Widow disguise no one saw coming, and lots of impressive fight sequences) and the subtle variety (a moment between Steve and Peggy, Steve and Natasha talking about trust, Sam leading a support group for veterans, Steve in the Captain America exhibit). However, my favorite moment was the revelation of who was behind the parasitic evil that had contaminated S.H.I.E.L.D. When Hydra’s connection to the story became known, I couldn’t contain my glee over such a perfect way to continue the central conflict from the first Captain America film while still making it relevant and fresh within this movie’s framework. I didn’t see it coming at all, and it was a brilliant way to further make this a personal fight for Steve. Project Insight was another kind of Holocaust waiting to happen, and I really enjoyed the way this movie—like Steve himself—reflected the past while incorporating it into the present in a way that really worked (and was also really unsettling with a scientist’s mind preserved after his body’s death in a massive computer system).

Strengths: My favorite thing about Captain America: The Winter Soldier was the way it managed to surprise me on many different levels. I’ve seen a lot of superhero movies in the last decade, and it’s easy for them to start blending together into one mass action sequence. But what I’ve enjoyed about this current group of Marvel films is the way each one—even the sequels—has its own style and tone. This film felt more like an old-school conspiracy thriller than a blockbuster action film (until it got to its big conclusion), especially with Robert Redford bringing his own mature, stoic kind of charisma to a villainous role that was much more realistic than some of the more campy villains of other superhero films. It made for a more compelling and realistic conflict because the darkness was perpetuated by men in suits who believed they were serving the greater good and not some alien baddie with an ax to grind.

Another way this film surprised me was in its handling of Steve and Natasha’s relationship. It could have easily been developed in a romantic light, but the film chose to focus on their development as partners and friends instead of potential lovers. Putting the most morally ambiguous Avenger with the most honorable Avenger was a genius move because these two characters (and actors) bring really interesting things out of each other. It’s especially true for Natasha. Her scenes with Steve revealed a more vulnerable and—dare I say it?—sweet side that never made her any less of a superspy. In fact, it made her a more human and more interesting character.

The women of Captain America: The Winter Soldier were handled so well—from Natasha’s character development and her continued fighting prowess to Peggy’s past leadership of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Maria Hill’s important role in the story. Maria’s appearance in the film and her inclusion in the final mission made me so happy; I thought she was a fantastic part of The Avengers, and it was such a fun moment to see her back on the screen and proving to be even more impressive as an action hero than I’d remembered.

The characters in this film were generally written with a deft touch for real relationships. I enjoyed Steve and Sam’s friendship because it felt genuine and came from a real place: two veterans bonding over the transition to life back home after everything’s changed. The dynamic between those two and Natasha was a lot of fun to watch.

All of the characters got more than a few sharp lines of dialogue that have come to define the sense of humor in this Marvel Cinematic Universe. But it was the poignant writing of Steve’s sense of devotion to his best friend Bucky and Bucky’s fight to break free of his Winter Soldier conditioning to find out who this man was that stuck with more than any quips. I was surprised by how much Stan made me care about Bucky’s inner turmoil. The whole cast made me want to reach through the screen at points and hug these characters, which is not an emotion I usually associate with viewing a superhero film.

Weaknesses: Despite its surprising tone, Captain America: The Winter Soldier had some predictable elements. After Coulson’s non-death in The Avengers, I had a feeling that Fury wasn’t going to stay dead despite his emotional surgery scene, which made the impact of his “death” less powerful. And some of the action sequences—especially the final one—could have been shorter. If I’ve seen one helicopter blow up in an action film, I’ve seen them all; there’s no need to drag out action scenes in a film that is entertaining enough without 100 explosions in a five-minute period.

Final Verdict: Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the most pure fun I’ve had watching a movie in a long time. It’s not quite as entertaining as The Avengers, but I think it comes closer than any other Marvel film has to reaching that pinnacle of achievement. And I actually felt more emotionally connected to this film than I did with The Avengers. With a strong script, confident tone, and some great surprises along the way, this film is the perfect way to kick off blockbuster season. As soon as it ended, I would have gone back in and watched it again right away.

Grade: A

6 thoughts on “Nerdy Girl Goes to the Movies: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

  1. Carved out some time to see this Monday night, and I enjoyed it. For the comic lover that I am, I am actually not a huge fan of comic book movies, and I had never even seen the first ‘Captain America’ movie until this past weekend, but it was getting good reviews so I thought I would give it a try.

    I am a sucker for any plot that involves main characters in unfamiliar worlds, so that part of the movie never stopped being enjoyable for me.

    I thought Steve and Natasha made surprising, but great scene partners. I never once got a romantic vibe from them. There interactions were very much rooted in friendship and it was refreshing to see a movie that didnt have a half-assed romantic subplot thrown in. Even the scene where they were forced to kiss as a distraction was played more for comedy than romance, and I thought it was hilarious. There interactions for me were the most successful parts of this movie and made me feel it was worth watching.

    Sadly however, this movie fell victim to the weaknesses of every Marvel film, and superhero films in general. One, there is a ridiculous amount of over the top violence. I could not get over the amount of gunfire in this movie. I reached my tolerance level about 30 minutes in. I am not anti movie violence, but if you are going to make something violent, I feel like it needs to have purpose and impact, and violence in action movies these days tend to have neither. Then there are the never ending action sequences. If there hasn’t been a spoken word of dialogue in 5 minutes you have completely lost me. Right around 1 hour and 30 minutes into every comic book movie I am either a) falling asleep on the couch if watching at home, or b) completely zoning out in the movie theater. This is why I prefer comic books. There is constant action, but there is a constant stream of thought and speech bubbles that drive the story forward that you lose in TV and movies.

    Between this and Thor I think I liked Thor a bit better, but both were enjoyable. Thor was actually one of the few that kept my interest with the action sequences. Also, is S.H.I.E.L.D. funded by taxpayers, cause seriously, who is footing the bill for all this destruction? This is what I think/worry about during all of those action sequences.

    • I’m always interested in knowing how fans of comics feel about comic book movies because I don’t know much about comics beyond what I was taught by my cousins while growing up, but I love comic book movies. I completely understand your point about the violence and starting to zone out. I thought this movie did better than Iron Man 3 did (the last superhero movie I saw), but it still had moments where I kept thinking ‘Is this really necessary?’

      I’m happy that you also felt that Natasha and Steve’s relationship was wonderfully platonic. Both of them need friends, and it made me happy to see them find that in each other. Friendship between men and women (and really friendship in general) is something that’s not celebrated enough in the media, so it was nice to see a major blockbuster movie where the core relationships were all platonic ones.

  2. Loved your review Katie! I also enjoyed this movie quite a bit! Like you, I appreciated that this movie had villains who were more realistic than aliens trying to take over our world, and that the central conflict really makes you think about things like what it means to be free, what the price of freedom is, and how to maintain that balance between freedom and protection/safety. Captain America was the perfect hero for this film’s plot, and I also really enjoyed seeing him readjusting to the world’s technology and pop culture (that list of things he needed to research was priceless – Star Trek and Star Wars, Apple/Steve Jobs, etc).

    My favorite part of the movie was probably the core group of friends and seeing all their interactions. Sam and Steve’s friendship was so wonderful and it was nice to see Sam be someone who still believed in Steve but wasn’t just sidelined to that “supporter” role – he has his own talents and was essential to the ultimate defeat of the baddies. He fits with Steve really well because I feel that Sam also has a genuineness to him that is in the same refreshing tone as Steve’s personality, and I love that they gave Steve a friend who he can talk with about being a war veteran and all the things that come with adjusting back into society. I was vaguely aware of Sam before the movie but didn’t know much at all about him, so I was quite pleasantly surprised to see him stick around through the whole movie and have a major role! I hope they bring him back in future movies because I loved his character, and from what I have seen the actor appears to be a quite fun addition to this wonderful cast.

    The other major part of the friendship group is Natasha and Steve, and I think you described perfectly what was so interesting about their growing friendship in this movie when you said, “Putting the most morally ambiguous Avenger with the most honorable Avenger was a genius move because these two characters (and actors) bring really interesting things out of each other.” The way these two played off of each other was so much fun to watch, and I loved that their scenes weren’t all just about banter – they explored deeper issues of trust and what the right thing to do is, feelings of betrayal, and some talk about what makes up your identity. I too really appreciated that they kept this friendship platonic in an era where male-female friendships in movies are quite rare, and I thought one of the funnier running jokes was Natasha trying to set Steve up with someone. I sort of hope they keep that going through the next Avengers film just as a little nod to everyone who watched CA:TWS.

    Overall I think this film didn’t quite take over my favorite Marvel movie spot from The Avengers, but it’s definitely up there as probably my favorite of the one-superhero-focused movies from Marvel so far (pssst, Marvel, get on with making that Black Widow movie please!). I will definitely be trying to see this movie in theaters for a second time and will be preordering the DVD whenever it comes out!

    • Thanks for the comment, Leah—I was hoping you’d stop by this review and share your thoughts with us! 😀

      You are 100% right when you say that Captain America was the perfect hero for this film’s central questions about freedom, secrecy, and the loss of national innocence that has happened in our post-9/11 world. It was just a perfect fit.

      And I loved reading your thoughts on Steve and Sam’s friendship, too. Sam is a fantastic addition to this group of characters, and Anthony Mackie just has so much fun playing him. I really hope he’s going to continue to be a part of more Marvel films because both the character and the actor are such joys to watch.

      The Avengers is still my favorite Marvel film, too, but I think this film is a close second in my ranking of those movies. 🙂

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