Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review

Posted: April 22, 2014 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

captain-america-the-winter-soldier-imax-posterWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

I have a somewhat frustrating relationship with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’ve enjoyed more of them then I haven’t, and there’s only one in the series I’d call straight-up bad and even it has some redeeming elements. Still, I find myself often annoyed with Marvel. This is in large part because I think their films tend to play things really safe, have weak elements which can’t be overlooked, and just the sheer amount of films Marvel releases every year. It doesn’t help that the last MCU film, Thor: The Dark World, is by far the weakest entry they’ve put forth yet. Still, Marvel has a pretty strong record, and the buzz for Captain America: The Winter Soldier was and is very strong. Sure enough, not only is The Winter Soldier a return to form, but a step-up for the entire series.

The film opens two years following the events of The Avengers and Captain America (Chris Evans) has been an active S.H.I.E.L.D agent during this time. On a seemingly routine mission, he and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) begin to uncover shades of a larger conspiracy. This leads to internal conflict within S.H.I.E.L.D which quickly results in Captain America and Black  Widow going rogue and being pursued by senior S.H.I.E.L.D official Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford). The duo’s attempts at uncovering what exactly is going on is complicated by the presence of The Winter Soldier, a former KGB agent and assassin who is now targeting Captain America and Black Widow.

If I had to single out one element which elevates The Winter Soldier over many of its Marvel counter-parts, it would be the story. Most Marvel films’ plotlines are either uninspired or just not very well-thought out. Here however, the story is quite gripping and takes a lot of fun turns. I actually had to be careful when wording the plot synopsis as to not give too much away. The filmmakers have said they were inspired by 70s thrillers and this film definitely works as a throwback to that era, albeit in the form of a big budget superhero film. Some of the plot twists are a bit goofy, but the film hits the right tone where they work and are a lot of fun. The plotting is also effective in that it sucks viewers in early and makes the ride that much more enjoyable. The end result is not only a genuinely engaging film throughout, but when the inevitable large-scale action climax arrives, it actually feels earned rather than a foregone conclusion.

I remember thinking the Russo Brothers, most known for directing episodes of comedy shows like Community and the forgotten Owen Wilson vehicle You, Me and Dupree, were a really odd choice for a large scale superhero film, but the pair prove quite adept at the material. The action scenes crafted in particular are excellent, and among the best from The Avengers and Iron Man 3. I was most impressed by the fight scenes. Captain America’s style of superpowered martial arts is a lot of fun to watch and his fight scenes are very well choreographed, particularly his bouts with The Winter Soldier. The film also spots a really cool car chase, an ambush which transforms into a great shootout, a cool opening set-piece, and a big action finale which works on a multitude of levels. What is also great about the action scenes is there is a real sense of weight to them. The characters seem genuinely in danger at it often seems plausible they might die. This is a feeling none of the Marvel films have been able to instil in me until now.

Chris Evans is of course, back as Captain America. Being a man now out of time, his character now has more to deal with, a fact amplified by issues he has with the way S.H.I.E.L.D is run. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury are also given more to do than in previous films and it’s fun to see them in action. I also really liked the inclusion of Anthony Mackie as Falcon, whose flying powers make for some interesting action scenes. On the villain’s side, I really liked The Winter Soldier. The character himself is interesting, but more importantly, he works as a real threat to Captain America and his allies. The film does a good job building a sense of mystery and menace around the character so that when he shows up you know he means business. I also really liked Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce. He isn’t exactly stretching himself, but his presence brings a sense of prestige to the affair.

Many have also pointed out the extra emphasis on character and theme, and it’s on this point I sort of disagree. While the film touches on a number of different elements including Captain America being out of time and the nature of security and freedom. However I don’t think the film explores these elements with any real depth, or at all for that matter. They’re still there for those looking, but I can’t say I was too impressed with what the film did with them. Still, I do admire how the writers at least had the sense to add some thematic insight on some level. Most of these films seem content to be empty action, so the attempt to bring something more to the table is appreciated. While we’re on the subject of things The Winter Soldier doesn’t do so well, the film is a bit too reliant on sci-fi S.H.I.E.L.D gadgets to get their characters out of trouble. These issues are mostly nitpicks, but I still feel it important they be addressed.

The fact that I liked the film should probably be evident by now, the question is where does this fall within the canon of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Well, I have no hesitation calling this the best standalone entry of the series. In fact, an argument can definitely be made that this trumps The Avengers. It doesn’t have the awe factor or the colourful cast, but it has a better story, a more threatening villain, and a general sense of weight The Avengers lacked. It’s too early for me to really make a judgement on which is better, but the point is The Winter Soldier is the first post-Avengers film to really hit that high a level.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier doesn’t re-invent the wheel for comic book movies, but it is a very well-crafted film which succeeds at almost everything it attempts. It’s an engaging, action packed, and entertaining ride which delivers everything one wants from a Marvel film. This works as both a contained film in and of itself and as a continuation of Marvel’s universe. Not only that, but I’m genuinely excited to see where the story goes from here in a way I really haven’t been before. If you haven’t enjoyed the other Marvel films, it’s unlikely this one will change your mind. But for fans of the series, this one’s a treat.


  1. CMrok93 says:

    Good review Daniel. It’s practically impossible for Marvel to put out a “bad movie”, however, if they continue to get so damn convoluted with their stories, as they did here, they may come pretty close.

  2. There’s a reason I follow your blog and its for reviews like this. Strong review. I was a little throw off by some of the tech they used in the film too and also by the lack of explanation of where Falcon got his wing suit back AFTER it got taken away (when Cap had to get another suit). A few small things made me smh but overall I loved it too.

    • PG Cooper says:

      This may be one of the nicest compliments this site has ever received. Thank you :)

      I never even thought about Falcon’s second suit. Never mind, this movie sucked :P

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