Note from STinG: You will probably notice something strange, I don’t have any pictures besides the above one and none of the movie titles are linked to IMDb. The very immediate post after this one will explain hopefully.
I find it immensely necessary to address something before I go so bold as to state that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is not my favorite of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – I really really wanted it to be. I really really thought it WAS going to be. There was not much in the first couple of hours of the film that suggested it was going to be any lesser than its predecessor Captain America: The First Avenger, which was my favorite MCU film at the time (now since overstepped by Guardians of the Galaxy). Hell, it even started off IMPROVING things from the former picture, like having a focus on plot (as much as it suffered for style) and Chris Evans now having a more confident certainty than his original hesitance in the titular role of Captain America. It could have been something to stand against The Dark Knight, I swear to fucking god! (Keeping in mind that I don’t necessarily consider The Dark Knight the best superhero movie, but it seems more brethren to The Winter Soldier than any other MCU film). But alas, the film turned about to being superhero film boilerplate and then ended on a sour note for note for me – only further ruined by Avengers: Age of Ultron actively erasing any sense of consequence The Winter Soldier has left as a picture.
But fuck that noise for a moment, I’m going to rewind to a much better time.
The beginning of the picture.
The ninth picture in the MCU finds Steve Rogers/Captain America now working under Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in S.H.I.E.L.D., seeing as how he completely has no place to go and the world has turned without him. As it turns out, the world has become less one of ideals and more one of back-turning, even within the man Rogers is forced to trust. Particularly S.H.I.E.L.D.’s pet Project Insight – based in Helicarriers in the sky killing enemies of S.H.I.E.L.D. preemptively – give the biggest implication that S.H.I.E.L.D. no longer believes in a fair fight.
Nor really in the trust of others, as almost immediately after we are revealed Insight, Fury is assassinated and S.H.I.E.L.D. official Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) demands Rogers is himself investigated for responsibility. Rogers knows better and escapes with the help of Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johannsson) to help him get to the bottom of the matter and see just how broken S.H.I.E.L.D. has been since he left.
Most of the consensus has been that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a paranoid government thriller in the same vein as Redford’s more popular 70’s fare such as All the President’s Men and Three Days of the Condor, but it makes me think that nobody who says that has ever seen one of those pictures. Sure, The Winter Soldier is verily a movie based on secrecy and mistrust, but it’s not nearly as asphyxiatingly with the atmospheric lack of certainty that defines that genre of picture. Points for trying.
Still, I hope that plot summary sounded awesome (as much I wanted to keep hidden in the case that any reader hadn’t seen the movie) because the movie absolutely is so awesome for the first 2/3 of the movie. Writer/Director Team Anthony & Joe Russo (from Community of all things! There’s even a cameo by Danny Pudi!) are able to meet with the pacing demands of a story where our two main protagonists are on the run, so on fucking point, even at the moments where it is essential we sit down and gather information alongside Cap and Black Widow. There is always a knowledge that we’re one step ahead of the unseen enemy and yet an urgent necessity to catch up with the next scene. In the meantime, both Evans and Johannsson are able to keep the picture alive with remarkably natural patter to their dialogue, it doesn’t take much to believe not only in the characters the same way we just buy Robery Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, we also believe in what they mean to each other. Johannsson lets up a little bit later on, but by that time Anthony Mackie joins in the cast to make the exchanges quite a juggle anyway.
And for all I will state that The Winter Soldier feels a little bit too washed-out in style (which is quite the same for The Dark Knight anyway), it still started off wowing visually, kicking us off with a sea rescue that introduces all the intense yet clear cutting that we expected of any action movie are surprised we’re getting in this type of picture. A lot of the thrilling chase and fight scenes also happen to carry that same level of fun going all-out (especially the elevator scene that was kind of shown in the trailers of this movie, taking advantage of the geography of the scene to make itself cramped and heavy – although it cheats its way out at the end of the scene). And the movie even takes care to have at least one scene that smacks of expressionist shadowplay borderline-supernatural horror works (well, supernatural enough for a superhero film) with the help of Toby Jones returning to give a very creepy twist to his presence in the form of voicework.
I’m telling you, it was promising to be… well, a Marvel!
And then it all came crashing down by the end of the picture. The third act of The Winter Soldier starts off by taking back everything that happened except what is essential to still promise some kind of climax and then pays off by giving us the most bloated and confusing mess of a climax we could have ever received, the single worst setpiece in the MCU since The Incredible Hulk’s BLAHTHROWSOMECGIATIT finale. I mean, it’s not even how the CGI seems to attempt to compensate for bigness in a manner that is entirely visible to any audience member or even how the final fight has some clear cut objectives for the heroes and WAYYYYY TOO MUCH TIME for them to get through it (I swear you could make a drinking game out of all the moments where they should have failed by now and certainly not expect your liver to function ever again). It’s how it obviously runs out of ways to make itself interesting, becoming increasingly repetitive so that it’s attempt to be a triple threat of spectacle just comes off as waiting for the resolution already. The closest it gets to interesting is on Nick Fury’s front where the conflict is more verbal and character-based than on the moment when, ashamedly, Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt seem to have just dropped their shit as editors.
It really busts my balls to see that the movie doesn’t deliver on its initial promises, but oh well! It’s not enough to make Captain America: The Winter Soldier fail as a picture, since it still has plenty of fantastic storytelling and visuals in its first two-thirds and the main thematic twist of the film is shown to linger a bit longer within the Marvel franchise (namely with the tv series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) but it could have been so much more.
It could have been so much more. And the finale of Captain America: The Winter Soldier was the beginning of my outright disillusionment (fuelled by my fatigue) of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (briefly stilted by Guardians of the Galaxy being amazing, but anchored back by Age of Ultron).