Captain America: The Winter Soldier is very much three movies in one. It’s a chapter in the now-ongoing series of the “Marvel Cinematic Universe.” It’s a buddy-cop movie. And it’s a warning that we’re all one small step away from something very bad happening.
For all of these things, The Winter Soldier fortunately does a decent job of staying self-contained at the same time it threads into a larger tapestry. Cap (played by Chris Evans) is drawn into S.H.I.E.L.D. business when S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) comes under attack. The attack reveals a conspiracy running deep within the S.H.I.E.L.D. organization, with roots going all the way back to Cap’s earliest days in World War II. And one of the pawns that conspiracy can move across its chessboard is the enigmatic Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).
The plot is simple enough to stand alone if this is your first dip into the Marvel Cinematic Universe pool, but the presence of Fury — who’s now appeared in six Marvel movies — is the central string that will connect The Winter Soldier to 2015’s Avengers sequel, Age of Ultron. Producer Kevin Feige has made no bones about the fact that these movies are indeed designed to be interconnected. Fortunately, The Winter Soldier does a good enough job of telling its own story, while throwing out some breadcrumbs that will be picked up in other flicks.
Another recurring character featured in The Winter Soldier is the Black Widow. Scarlett Johansson makes her third appearance as the super-spy. When Cap goes on the run and tries to root out the corrupting elements within S.H.I.E.L.D., the Widow gets equal billing. It’s very much a team-up scenario, the likes of which are very familiar to comic readers. A couple very light comedy elements between the two almost take the movie into buddy-cop territory, and when the Falcon (Anthony Mackie) joins forces with Cap and the Widow, the team-up is enhanced.
But ultimately, the movie is about A Very Bad Thing that almost happens, and how the relentless drive for control is a horribly corruptive influence. Brother-directors Anthony and Joe Russo have been very explicit in that they made The Winter Soldier to be both a comic book adventure and “a political thriller.” And this cannot go understated: The movie is a decidedly darker turn for Marvel movies. The bad guys in Winter Soldier exhibit that quality where they almost believe their own rhetoric. Does evil really think it’s evil? The villains of Winter Soldier seem to think that their ultimate goals will certainly benefit themselves, but hey — wouldn’t society be better with them in charge, too? The themes of security, freedom, and ultimately, control are strong and prevalent throughout the movie. Even Nick Fury comes across as the tiniest bit of “bad guy” himself — doesn’t any puppet-master? — although an ultimately redeemed one.
Per Marvel usual, you’ll want to sit through the credits — all of them [mild SPOILERS AHEAD]. There are two credits sequences, the last of which is very short and rather inconsequential. But the mid-credits one with “The Twins” elevates breadcrumbs to the entire loaf of bread. Start your speculations at will.
And the end of the day, Winter Soldier hits its marks, and hits most of them strongly. If you’re a fan of the ongoing Marvel movie saga, there’s a lot to chew on. If you enjoy “which side are you on” conspiracies, the twists and turns satisfy. If you like team-up action with great chase sequences where you can put your brain in neutral and let the screen wash over you, a medium popcorn is probably required. Just make sure to engage your brain again for the ending.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier hits theatres everywhere on April 4, 2014. For more like articles, feel free to follow @McLauchlin on Twitter.