One of the best movies in the Marvel universe, Captain America:The Winter Soldier is suspenseful, well-made and captivating.
Even though neither of the titular characters are the film’s most interesting. Who is? Natasha Romanoff, AKA Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). Why? Partially because Natasha is the most complex and layered character in the film, and partially because Johansson is captivating, registering the The Winter Soldier’s most intense emotional moments, especially when in a hospital, where she reveals Natasha’s emotional core with a few subtle facial expressions. Indeed, Johansson’s Black Widow threatens to steal this Captain America movie from Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and his new nemesis (Sebastian Stan). Actually, at times she succeeds, and, for a while, owns the film.
Remarkably, the project doesn’t suffer for it, courtesy, primarily, of an engaging plot-line that advances Marvel’s superhero universe more than any of the studio’s most recent entries, including The Avengers (2012). Here S.H.I.E.L.D. is on display, in ways it hasn’t been previously, at least not on the big screen, and Marvel’s world benefits for it.
Moreover, The Winter Soldier cleverly plays with genre just enough that it feels less formulaic than most superhero movies. It is a tense conspiracy thriller, one riddled with mystery and intrigue, a fact that makes it unique, at least amongst the films to which it will be most compared.
It does make a few missteps, however. Scenes involving Arnim Zola (Toby Jones) are too expository, so much so that they slow down the story. Plus, the scenes’ reliance on science fiction clouds The Winter Soldier with one too many genres.
Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie), both the man and the technology he uses, is underdeveloped.
So is Maria Hill (Cobie Summers), who appears and disappears so haphazardly that she oft seems like an all-powerful bogeyman.
While disappointing, the development of Zola, Hill and Wilson are still relatively minor flaws, if only because the most central characters, including Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), Steve, Director Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and, of course, Natasha, are sufficiently-developed and engaging.
And because much of the action is gripping. Fights between The Winter Soldier and Cap are some of the best such sequences Marvel has yet created, and Natasha’s whirling martial arts are almost poetic.
Universally strong performances, especially from Johannson, Redford and Evans help as well.
In the end, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is very good and warrants a strong recommendation.