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Captain America: The Winter Soldier

by Leonard Maltin
April 4, 2014 4:29 PM
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Scarlett Johansson-Chris Evans-680
Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is everything a comic-book superhero movie could hope to be: smart, original, exciting and funny. It is vastly superior to the first movie featuring the title character—and not just because it draws on one of the most admired stories in the Marvel Comics canon. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have used Ed Brubaker’s concept as a springboard for bold new ideas and infused their work with a bracing sense of humor, along with a serious strain of social relevance. In the hands of directors Anthony and Joe Russo—best known for their work on the TV comedy Community—the movie feels fresh and vibrant. As icing on the cake, The Winter Soldier provides a great part for Robert Redford, who knocks it out of the park. There’s never a sense of business-as-usual here, making it one of the best sequels of all time.

One of the writers’ most impressive feats is dealing with Captain America’s adjustment from the 1940s to the present day, which they do with extraordinary economy (and comedic savvy) in the opening scene of the picture and barely have to refer to again.

At its heart, The Winter Soldier is a political thriller in which our hero is forced to question his loyalties for the first time. What’s more, the movie puts us in the same position, following the admonition of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to trust no one. This throws us all off balance, but the canny filmmakers execute their story twists with skill and panache. I’m deliberately being vague about the details because, having read nothing ahead of time, it all came as a surprise to me, and I loved it.

Robert Redford-680
Courtesy of Marvel Studios

The action scenes are equally original and exciting, from a deadly car chase to a furious fight scene set in a glass elevator. Whether it’s hand-to-hand combat or spectacular visual-effects-driven showdowns, once again the movie goes above and beyond the expected and never loses sight of the emotional stakes in every scene. Nothing ever seems arbitrary: every bit of action is tied to the story and the fate of its leading characters.

The cast is uniformly fine, with Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Cobie Smulders, and Frank Grillo delivering the goods, scene by scene. But there’s particular pleasure in watching the onetime Sundance Kid tackle the most unusual role of his long and storied screen career. I can’t say more without spilling surprises, which I refuse to do.

This is blockbuster entertainment at its best. If you’re wise, you won’t read about it ahead of time and let it work its magic; you won’t be disappointed.


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  • James | August 20, 2014 11:54 PMReply

    Wonderful review. I've always had great respect for Leonard Maltin, and while I respect his opinion, I don't think Captain America 2 was quite as good as he said it was. Don't get me wrong it was a really fun movie, but I think it's been a bit overrated.

  • DBenson | April 5, 2014 10:46 PMReply

    Haven't seen this one yet, but I'd like to put in a good word for the first Captain America. It managed to be unironically fun and entertaining beneath all the CGI and obligatory cliches -- more so than many other camped-up, re-imagined or overproduced comic book epics.

  • Daniel Delago | April 5, 2014 9:53 AMReply

    Sounds like a formulaic plot with a vanilla lead actor in Chris Evans to me. It seems as though many top critics have an "if you can't beat them, join them" attitude toward comic book movies these days. I'll prefer watching Scarlett Johansson in her indie film 'Under the Skin' when it plays in my area.

  • Sarah | April 4, 2014 11:32 PMReply

    I am not a big superhero movie girl although I have seen my share of Batman, Spiderman and Sumerman films but I knew I would like Captain America if I saw it and enjoyed it more then I thought I would when I did. After reading this I hope to get the chance to see this one.

  • Jason | April 4, 2014 9:52 PMReply

    Agreed, this film is outstanding (both as a sequel/tie-in and on it's own). The other superhero movies have a lot to live up to this year.

  • Matthew | April 4, 2014 7:27 PMReply

    Yes, I felt like Marvel had finally produced a film which I and my ten-year-old son could both enjoy in equal measures, without my having to worry (too much) about the graphic violence it contained. I clung to the paranoia aspects, and the fact that the film was self-assured enough to take long breaks from the action to build up the drama. Having said that I would add that the fight scenes themselves were edited far too quickly for my liking. I don't have quite the same level of reservation about the first Captain film, having found myself enamoured by the retro look and feel of it, which haven't had much of a presence in the Marvel/DC adaptations.

  • Norm | April 4, 2014 4:05 PMReply

    Good to know that Marvel's bag of tricks doesn't run out until the 3rd installment. Stan Lee lived off of the fantastic artwork of a very underrated staff of illustrators who are for the most part forgotton. Lets see a film about them...

  • Vin | April 4, 2014 1:00 PMReply

    one of the best sequels of all time? That's a bold claim, Maltin.

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