If you like movies filled with thrilling action, breathtaking adventure, and stupendous stunts, you’ll find all of this and more in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Although both “Captain America: The First Avenger” and “The Avengers” boasted plenty of exciting action, the latest addition to the Captain America canon tops them both, and that’s saying something.
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” begins at the reflecting pond in Washington, D.C., where Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) is jogging. Suddenly another runner passes Sam as if he’s standing still, and this occurs several times. While Sam is resting, the other runner stops and introduces himself as Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), and it turns out that both men have served in the armed forces. Steve explains how he is trying to adjust to being back home, and after they exchange some additional pleasantries, a car driven by a beautiful woman stops and whisks Steve away.
This opening scene is key because it sets the stage for an important friendship that will develop between Steve, who of course is Captain America (From here on we will call him Cap.), and Sam, who ultimately will become a prime player in the plot. The woman who picked Steve up is Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and she tells Steve they have a mission to accomplish.
After Black Widow and Cap complete their assignment, the main plot kicks in, and it’s filled with more twists than a bag of pretzels. Cap’s immediate supervisor is Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., who becomes the target of an assassination attempt, but before the assassin strikes, Fury warns Cap that S.H.I.E.L.D. is no longer what they thought it was and to trust no one.
Fury’s enemies manage to convince others that Cap is really a traitor, and he must run for his life until he can figure out how to clear his name. His only allies are Black Widow and Sam, who has a very special skill. To make matters worse for Cap, the deadly assassin known as Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) bears a strong resemblance to someone Cap once knew quite well, and this nasty dude takes his orders from the insidiously evil and supremely arrogant Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford).
In bringing this chapter of the Captain America saga to the silver screen, the filmmakers really have outdone themselves. The cast is consistently excellent, the action scenes are stunning, and the special effects are spectacular. If the film has a weakness, it’s that the plot is a bit convoluted in places because it is so complex.
With his ripped physique and his all-American good looks, Evans is perfect for the lead role. And when you pair him up with Jackson and Johansson, the resulting threesome is just superb. As they are working together, the romantic spark between Cap and Black Widow is undeniable, but they never let it ignite. In the film’s production notes, Evans explained that his off-screen relationship with Johansson makes it very easy to work with her.
“I’ve known Scarlett for over 10 years now. She’s like a sister. We’ve done four movies now, and it’s just so nice having a history with someone off camera because I think that bleeds onscreen. Cap and Black Widow are very different people; it’s kind of like this odd pairing. Her morality is questionable and Cap’s a Boy Scout. She makes her living by lying, and Cap couldn’t do it if he tried. When they are at the point where they really can’t trust anyone, it becomes an interesting relationship because it involves trusting someone you don’t know that well.”
Also in the production notes Johansson offered some interesting insight to her character.
“When we first meet Natasha and Steve, it’s kind of in real time, so a couple of years have gone by, and they have worked on many different missions together. They have gotten to know each other better, so they have more ease and banter to their conversations. I really like the dynamic because their friendship is far more interesting to me than if they were to have a romantic relationship.
“Natasha is a very strong-willed, thoughtful, intelligent woman, but we don’t really know if she is capable of a romantic relationship as she has so many trust issues, and the last thing on her mind is getting a boyfriend. Obviously Steve Rogers is an attractive guy, but I think she’s still learning how to be herself –whoever that is — and she’s starting to realize new things with her friendship with Steve Rogers being the catalyst that allows her to be self-reflective and understanding.”
The irrepressible Jackson brings his unique brand of volatility to the role of Fury, and in the production notes he explained how much he enjoyed portraying the character.
“I really enjoy going back into this world and putting my scar on and becoming Nick Fury. He’s a know-it-all, impervious-to-the-world kind of dude who’s a real patriot but has his own view of how things should be run and how the country should be protected. He has his people around him whom he’s learned to trust, and they trust him as well. His leadership ability is impeccable. So it’s always a joy to come back into this character in this space.”
It also was very interesting in this film to see Academy Award-winner Redford play a frighteningly cool and calculating villain like Pierce. The iconic actor imbues his character with an aura of disdainful evil quite unlike most parts we are used to seeing him play, and he carries it off beautifully.
The action sequences in this film are quite simply some of the best you will ever see on the big screen. From the heart-pounding chase scenes to the remarkably choreographed fights, the action will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout the movie. Add some scintillating pyrotechnics, and you have a film to satisfy the most hardcore action aficionados. In fact the film is so consistently intense that it wouldn’t be a bad idea for theaters to offer patrons oxygen tanks at the concession stand.
There is no doubt other Marvel films will come along in the future, but they will have a tough time topping “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” which has set the bar incredibly high. Give it an impressive, white-knuckled nine, and let’s hope that Nick, Cap, and Black Widow return very soon.