Captain America Winter Soldier shield

Captain America is back, and he’s better than ever. In just a few short days, audiences have rewarded Marvel’s latest effort with cash — lots of it.

The Hollywood Reporter tallied the numbers:

Continuing Marvel and Disney’s enviable winning streak, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is making history at the global box office, debuting to a record-breaking $96.2 million in North America for an early worldwide total of $303.3 million.

Reviewing ‘Captain America: The Winter Solider’ is tough to do without adding spoilers. How do you critique an espionage tale without giving away the best parts? I’ll give it a shot.

Long story short: Chris Evans (Captain America), Scarlett Johannson (Black Widow), Anthony Mackie (The Falcon) find themselves in a situation where it’s essentially them against the world as they try and unravel the mystery behind an attack on Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury. They handle the situation with wit, intelligence, strength, speed, and agility. The chemistry between each of them was great, and Marvel would be wise to continue keeping the three of them together moving forward.

At one point in the film, Cap manages to find a way to directly address agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. He wants them to disobey a direct order — one that may end up costing them their lives — and in doing so he tells the audience what the film is essentially about.

Attention all S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, this is Steve Rogers. You’ve heard a lot about me over the last few days. Some of you were even ordered to hunt me down. But I think it’s time you know the truth. S.H.I.E.L.D is not what we thought it was. … They almost have what they want: absolute control. … I know I’m asking a lot. The price of freedom is high. It always has been. That’s a price I’m willing to pay. And if I’m the only one, then so be it — but I’m willing to bet I’m not.

What is the price of freedom? If you’re a wise guy who enjoyed ‘Team America: World Police,’ you might say “freedom costs a buck-o-five.” If you’re a serious person, you might say that it’s a tough call because those in positions of power have to find a way to maximize both individual liberty and security.

Winter Soldier

How do you protect a nation when there are individuals and organizations tirelessly plotting ways to take down free societies? When you’re facing down enemies who see no difference between civilian and military targets — when you’re up against an opponent who has erased any notion of the traditional battlefield and replaced it with one where everything is fair game, how much power are you willing to grant your protectors? As Captain America says to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s agents: our leaders want “absolute control.” But then the question becomes: Who watches the watchmen? What happens when the ones who protect us lose their way?

Captain America

Director Joe Russo fills in the details during an interview with Mother Jones:

“[Marvel] said they wanted to make a political thriller. […] So we said if you want to make a political thriller, all the great political thrillers have very current issues in them that reflect the anxiety of the audience. … That gives it an immediacy, it makes it relevant. So [Anthony] and I just looked at the issues that were causing anxiety for us, because we read a lot and are politically inclined. And a lot of that stuff had to do with civil liberties issues, drone strikes, the president’s kill list, preemptive technology. [etc.]”

While I’m actually rather shocked that a Hollywood director had the guts to say that concerns over President Obama’s “Terror Tuesday Kill List” helped inspire a top-notch Marvel movie, on some level it’s no surprise given that the industry’s old-reliable when it comes to political thrillers is to blame America.

As I said in October when the first trailer came out:

The trailer for Captain America: Winter Soldier is finally here. The good news is that it looks like it has all the makings of solid espionage fare: Robert Redford? Check. Russian spies? Check. Shady spy agencies? Check.

The bad news? It has all the makings of a blame-America espionage flick. …

Mullah nuts in the Middle East who deny the Holocaust and call for pushing the Jews “into the sea”? Eh. Chinese Communist intelligence agencies who have never met a U.S. business or defense contractor they wouldn’t hack? Eh. Nebulous terrorist organizations that don’t fly under a flag, even as they plot and plan to kill military and civilian targets on a massive scale? Eh. CIA attempts to “connect the dots” and “neutralize” threats before thousands of Americans die on their way to work on a Tuesday morning? Now there’s a movie!

Is it annoying that Marvel went for the easy layup by once again putting America in the cross hairs? Yes, slightly. Was the movie entertaining? Of course. In fact, I highly recommend it. It’s just odd that critics of ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ would have a point if they said it would have been better off going with ‘Captain America: Disillusioned with America.’ The movie has an assassin with a big red Soviet star on his metallic arm but no one talks about Communism, except for a passing reference? If the next installment doesn’t get into KGB agents and the world-wide espionage perpetrated by the Evil Empire, then Marvel should just openly admit that its favorite movie bad guys are aliens and Americans.

At the end of the day, there isn’t much to really complain about regarding Cap’s second solo outing. If Marvel continues churning out quality products like this, then Phase II, III, IV and V should roll along quite nicely. If you get a chance to see ‘Winter Soldier’ in theaters, check it out. You’ll be glad you did.

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About the Author Douglas Ernst

I'm a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance. I believe seeing yourself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe in God. I'm a USC Trojan with an MA in Political Science from American University.

25 comments

  1. Good review, Doug. I’ll be seeing it sometime later in the week. I read that interview with the Russo brothers too and was surprised they actually brought up Obama’s Terror Tuesday list. Still, however, as you know I hate how in virtually every Hollywood film America is the villain.

    1. This was a hard one because I don’t want to give away spoilers. There’s quite a bit I’d like to talk about, but it just didn’t seem appropriate for this review. My wife told me to just do two reviews, but to have one of them with spoilers. I think it’s a good idea. We’ll see. Most likely I’ll just let the comments section take its course. If someone brings up ‘x’ in the comments section, then I’ll talk about it, but for now I don’t want to give anything away.

      If I was going to review the movie solely through a political prism then I’d probably by rather annoyed. However, I have to try and step outside that and also just try and look at it from an objective point of view. Was the acting good? How was the screenplay? Did the action scenes deliver? Was it a solid espionage flick? On so many different levels it worked with what it was trying to accomplish. I can’t in good faith just totally dump on the film because it wasn’t the movie I would make…

    2. I agree. I’ll see the movie because I think it looks good and I’ve also heard that it’s going to impact Agents of SHIELD in a major way. When I do see it, I’ll let you know what I think, as always. It’ll be nice being able to discuss it without a certain former commenter comparing my opinions on superhero movies to some anime character’s stool and accusing me of being the reason comic book movies used to suck.

    3. Looking forward to it! And if anyone gets out of line in the future regarding personal attacks or weird attempts to start needless flame wars…I’ll stamp that out quickly.

    4. That’s good to hear; here’s hoping that the certain former commenter (who also called me a “sexist” because of a disagreement on how Wonder Woman should be handled in Man of Steel 2 of all things) has done some growing up in the past couple months. I’m also looking forward to the other two Marvel movies this year, Days of Future Past and Guardians of the Galaxy.

  2. It might just be because I enjoyed the movie so much, but rather than a statement that America is evil, I took the plot as more of a warning that even the best intentioned compromises of freedom in the name of safety can be devastating if the power is put into the wrong hands.

    In response to your opinions on the movie’s content, I actually hope Black Widow does not appear in the third movie and she’s replaced by Agent 13. Alternatively, I would love to see a movie discussing Black Widow’s KGB past and the implied relationship with Winter Soldier (that she otherwise denied).

    1. It might just be because I enjoyed the movie so much, but rather than a statement that America is evil, I took the plot as more of a warning that even the best intentioned compromises of freedom in the name of safety can be devastating if the power is put into the wrong hands.

      It was sort of a coin flip for me on that one. I understand what you’re saying and in many respects I agree, but in other respects I think they were pretty hard on the U.S. One can argue that the directors accused the U.S. of being behind the vast majority of the wars, civil unrest and violence around the world for decades. Was it Falcon who asked Cap what it felt like to know that he “fought for nothing” after the truth was revealed? It was something along those lines…

      In response to your opinions on the movie’s content, I actually hope Black Widow does not appear in the third movie and she’s replaced by Agent 13. Alternatively, I would love to see a movie discussing Black Widow’s KGB past and the implied relationship with Winter Soldier (that she otherwise denied).

      My main reason for wanting her in the next movie would be so that they could explore her KGB past. I suppose if she got her own stand-alone movie that it could be addressed then, but I’m a little skeptical about that one. If they went with Agent 13 for Capt 3 I’d be cool with that as well.

    2. I think a solo Black Widow movie is indeed in the works, probably in Phase 3; Scarlett Johansson has been lobbying hard for one.

    3. Apparently they’re going to explore Black Widow’s past a bit in the next Avengers movie, as a subplot of sorts.

  3. I saw the film Thursday and enjoyed it immensely. Maybe as I’m British I chose to see SHIELD and HYDRA as international organisations. The film flowed quite well and there was logical progression from one scene to the next.

    I felt it was a vast improvement over recent Marvel films, especially Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World. Especially T:TDW as after watching it again it feels like filler before the next Avengers film.

    I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we find out that IM3, T:TDW and CA:TWS all happened at the same time.

    I think a Black Widow film would work, maybe with Hawkeye as support.

    I can see why Captain America 3 has been scheduled for only 2 years away. Hopefully we will see more Agent 13 as I was pleasantly surprised by Emily VanCamp.

    The mid-credits scene is worth staying for but you won’t miss much staying for the end credits scene.

  4. Thanks for a great review, Doug. Despite the government’s politics of the time, Cap is supposed to stand for the ideal. Sounds like that’s what he does in this sequel. Thank goodness.

  5. I can’t wait to see this, thank you for the review. I plan on watching this next weekend! My wife and I don’t get out much so this will be a big deal for us.

    1. I just watched the movie and I will say that it was very entertaining. It did go the way of we should not police everywhere mentality but it did keep it light. Overall I was very happy with the movie and I hope they learn a lesson from this.

  6. I had intended to pass on it (tired of Marvel’s blame-America-first PC party line), but some friends invited me and the tickets were already paid for (Groupons), so…

    It could have been worse. S.H.I.E.L.D. seemed to be an international organization, with its “council” having representatives from various countries. I was hoping against hope for the conspiracy to be a UN New World Order plot, but it appears that the members were duped, and, of course, the main bad guy had to be an American.

    On the plus side, the Falcon is a Gulf War veteran, and he is not a psychotic serial killer or terrorist. His background as a USAF pararescue medic provides a plausible explanation for his abilities. (In the 1970’s, Hollywood portrayed Vietnam veterans as whacked-out homicidal maniacs. An exception was allowed for medical corpsmen and medevac pilots, who could be portrayed sympathetically. Now, we’re seeing the same thing with Gulf War vets.) There is a scene with some PTSD patients in group therapy at a VA clinic, and, again, at least they are not a bunch of serial killers or mass murderers.

    The “message” or “moral” about freedom vs. security could annoy both liberals and conservatives. Civilization is a constant juggling act between the rights of the individual and the common good, and democracies/republics are constantly trying to balance the two. What happens with S.H.I.E.L.D. could be seen as a case of how a well-intentioned operation could get out of hand, or could be infiltrated and corrupted. “Progressives” might consider that when they are advocating some “reasonable” anti-gun law, or a ban on 20-ounce soft drinks, or laws against “hate speech,” or whatever. (And, of course, liberals are usually more willing than conservatives to sacrifice individual rights and freedom for what they consider to be the common good.)

    Comic book fans may be annoyed by some of the changes, but movies are aimed at a much broader audience. The Winter Soldier’s identity will be obvious to anyone who knows the original comic book story. For most viewers (who only know the characters from the movies), the revelation will not have the same emotional impact as it would on long-time comic book fans. But there’s a sort of catch-22, since the comics fans already know the answer, and won’t be shocked. And anyone who didn’t see the first Cap movie will probably have no reaction at all.

    The plot also borrows from the “Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D.” mini-series ca. 1990.

    There are several Easter eggs, including the obligatory Stan Lee cameo (as a security guard), a brief reference to Doctor Strange, and the post-credits epilog hinting at the line-up for the next Avengers movie. Maybe the Kooky Quartet will make a comeback. But I’d rather see a Black Widow solo movie.

    It has enough fights, chases, and stuff blowing up to entertain the kids.

    1. I think that in general the movie straddled the line between appealing to guys like me while still coming at it more from a liberal point of view pretty well. It could have been a lot worse…

      I saw another review that was knocking the VA hospital scene that rather annoyed me. After hearing plenty of stories about disabled vets from my wife (she worked in VA hospitals during her rotations for medical school), I quite liked that they broached the subject about the true “cost” of war. While it’s frustrating that Hollywood has a history of portraying veterans as drugged-out basket cases, I think it’s entirely within bounds to shine a light on what these guys go through after having served overseas.

    2. Tom: Supposedly there will be a Doctor Strange movie as well. No word yet on who will play him or what the plot will be. Hopefully it won’t be as awful as the 1979 TV movie, intended to be a pilot episode for a show that was thankfully never made. I watched that online a while back and couldn’t believe how bad it was.

      I do know about the post-credits scenes from Captain America: the Winter Soldier and that one of them directly ties to next year’s Age of Ultron.

  7. Don’t forget Big Hero 6, Carl… that’s a Disney movie, but it’s based on the comic and has quite a few Marvel staffers (e.g. Quesada) working on it.

    1. I’ve heard of the movie, Starfire, although I’m not sure if I’ll see that one. Maybe I will. Disney’s last CGI superhero movie, The Incredibles, was extremely well-done.

  8. Just saw it. Good review. As former military AND intel I found the attempts to make them black and white / good and evil a bit childish and a little insulting to a lot of the folk from the intel world that are REALLY devoted to the freedoms that our country represents. I will say that I do always feel stronger bonds of brotherhood with people that also served in uniform. Loved that Falcon was a USAF PJ (sorry for that small spoiler).

    But it was a great movie overall. Felt a serious moment of empathy when he was talking with his first girl about being lost in time in this Brave New World…

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read an comment, AC. I agree with you — especially on being able to relate with others who served.

      My wife has been joking around with me lately because we’re going to a wedding this month and an Army buddy of mine is going to be there. We didn’t serve together, but I met him through my wife since he was a classmate of hers. She’s like, “Grandpa [his nickname] is really excited about seeing you. He says that he wants you to be his date for the night…” I don’t know how to explain it, so I’ll just use his words. One time we were having a few drinks and he’s like, “You ‘get it,’ man. You just ‘get it.'” I think that’s the way that Steve Rogers felt in the movie when he met Falcon.

    1. Yeesh. I always knew Ruffalo was a liberal idiot and 9-11 Truther to boot. Yet another example of the left’s nastiness toward minority conservatives.

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