Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

Best And Worst Of 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier'

Features
by The Playlist Staff
April 7, 2014 12:01 PM
33 Comments
  • |

This past Friday, after opening worldwide a few weeks earlier and performing like gangbusters, "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," the ninth Marvel Studios movie to date, arrived in the U.S. and swiftly proceeded to be the biggest opening of 2014 to date, smashing April records with a hefty $96 million weekend. That's a big step up for the second adventure to topline Chris Evans' super-soldier Steve Rogers to date, no doubt helped by very positive reaction from fans and critics alike.  

Our official review was a touch more cautious than some, while still finding a lot to like, but when we ranked every Marvel movie last week, we acknowledged that it's among the best of its sort. All that said, with the film now widely seen by many of you, we wanted to tighten our focus a little and delve into spoiler territory by examining what was good, bad, and just kind of baffling about the movie. The team have weighed in below, and you can let us know what you think about the film in the comments section. And if you haven't seen it yet, heavy spoilers follow, so you may be better off bookmarking and coming back when you've discovered the film's surprises for yourself.

The Good

The Evolution of Captain America's Patriotism
With 'The First Avenger' getting to play in period territory in delivering the Captain's origin story, and "The Avengers" being part of a team up in which the interplay between the characters was more important than any one of their stories, the real proof of whether Captain America could survive his own franchise was with this sequel. And in fact he thrives, as the writers made the canny choice of, if your character is called Captain America and you don't want to induce eyerolls, better make sure he stands for a fairly progressive idea of America. And so this is a Captain America who, far from being a government lackey/mouthpiece for the machinery of power, in fact brings down existing power structures (S.H.I.E.L.D. included), necessitating a period in which he goes apparently rogue. It's a timely, clever move, aligning the Cap with the "America" of everyday people who both in that universe and our own, are having their freedoms eroded, rather than the "America" of the government, its politicians and institutions (the fact that they're H.Y.D.R.A. is almost an afterthought) of whom distrust is already widespread. It's also emerging that decency, and a common-sense, common-man idea of what's right is actually Captain America's real superpower (along with leadership), especially important when his own superstrength has been somewhat outdone by the Gods, robots and big angry green monsters that he's recently met.

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow
So with two of the most straightforwardly entertaining (read: tricksy, rug-pulling) scenes in "The Avengers" under her belt (her introduction in the warehouse and her outwitting of Loki), and no movie of her own to overexplain her background, we were already anticipating good things from this story in terms of Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff. But those expectations were in fact slightly surpassed, with 'Winter Soldier' delivering the most individualized impression of the character to date, carving for her superspying abilities and conflicted background an actual deserved place in the Marvel pantheon of more supernatural/scientifically enhanced/otherworldly superheroes. While of course she's still second fiddle to the guy who's got his own franchise, Romanoff, abetted by the fact that Scarlett Johansson seems to be growing ever more comfortable and convincing in the role, is the one to face down the movie's Big Bad at the end (with Nick Fury) while Cap's away battling a more personal nemesis, and it's her strategic smarts that eventually wins the ground war. And as a personality, what's refreshing about Romanoff is that despite the fact she's, you know, Scarlett Johannson, she's not some brazen seductress (not that we don't believe she's done that kind of spying in the past)—in fact her kiss with Captain America is a ploy, and provides her with some friendly joshing material later, as well as more fuel for the running gag of trying to set him up with a woman. Romanoff, this time out, as well as being usually the smartest person in the room, is conflicted and secretive yes, but she is also nice. It's almost subversive, to be given a female superhero who we're not just "rah rah yeah, she kicks so much ass!" but who we actually like, the way it's expected that we like her male counterparts.

The Conspiracy Thriller Tone
There was a lot of talk before "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" came out that the movie was going to be an homage of sorts to '70s conspiracy thrillers. And no one really ever believed this because, hey, it's a Marvel movie and Marvel movies aren't Marvel movies unless there's some kind of mystical doohickey that throws the universe into jeopardy. But this movie really does fit the genre, with much of the first two-thirds of the movie devoted to Captain America and his confidants uncovering a vast conspiracy, whose complexity is somewhat ungainly (but never becomes too much to bear). The down-to-earth tone is refreshing and does much to humanize the Captain America character (and the Marvel universe as a whole). It also makes things a whole lot easier to figure out. (It's also a complete 180 from the intergalactic hooey that cluttered "Thor: The Dark World," arguably the worst Marvel movie since "Iron Man 2"). At our screening, during the mid-credits sequence that reintroduced Loki's scepter, pulsing with some kind of otherworldly energy, you could feel the audience roll its eyes (there might have been a handful of audible groans too). It turns out that a Marvel movie focused on mystery, centered around actual human beings and free of unnecessary cosmic MacGuffins is outrageously appreciated. In fact, it's downright super.

A Welcome Degree Of Diversity
Diversity should be a given in a superhero universe as vast and complicated as the one that Marvel is taking great pains to establish. But so far almost every project has been centered around a bunch of white dudes. Which makes "Captain America: The Winter Soldier's" emphasis on female and African American characters all the more refreshing. Not only is Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow basically the second lead, but we also get sharp, finely tuned supporting performances from Emily VanCamp (as Sharon Carter—this will probably be a much bigger deal in future movies), Hayley Atwell, and Cobie Smulders. Hell, there's even a nice moment with Jenny Agutter, who plays one of the members of a mysterious global security council. Additionally, Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury sees an expanded role in the sequel, offering up an actual character instead of a black-leather-clad cipher who just screams at various superheroes to attack things. And what's more—Anthony Mackie's Falcon is introduced. Falcon was the first African American superhero in mainstream comics, and proves a more memorable and better used premise here than, say, Don Cheadle's War Machine in the "Iron Man" movies—his presence not only expands things in interesting ways but feels like a better message to be sending kids. Up until now, it seemed that the Marvel Universe was saying that anyone can be a superhero… as long as you're white and male. Now anybody can truly be a superhero. Or a kick-ass secret agent. Or a daredevil pilot. Why it took so damn long to diversify the movies is really the issue… and one that we hope they continue to address.

Free Indie Movies and Documentaries    

33 Comments

  • Underground Anthem TX | April 27, 2014 3:01 PMReply

    Very good article. While I enjoyed the movie for what it did right (solid action, Cap and Black Widow's characters were handled well), it had some glaring problems that you addressed here. The fanboys who are decreeing this "the best Marvel movie ever made" are simply not being objective. That designation still belongs to Iron Man 1 or The Avengers.

  • Mustard Water | April 18, 2014 9:10 PMReply

    "The Largely Incomprehensible Third Act" paragraph reads like it was written by someone who didn't pay attention during the first two acts.

  • Truth Powell | April 15, 2014 12:26 AMReply

    About the "bad" things listed above: The writers of the article seem to forget it's a comic book. And everything they listed are just standards of the medium. Captain America 2 is a classic comic book film. It's up there with the 1989 Batman, the Dark Knight, Avengers, Iron Man 1, the 1st Sam Raimi Spiderman, those kind of films. I thought Marvel made a bad decision picking "the guys who did Community" to make a Captain America movie but they clearly have a respect and love for the comic itself. Like how he emphasizes putting on the suit at the end. That's beautiful. I was sick of seeing superhero movies where the last fight was the hero with his suit destroyed and his face showing. The action scenes were beautifully shot. Nice wide angles so you can see the action. Almost like a Hong Kong film.

    But I'll never forgive these movies for eliminating the original Bucky.

  • Lance | April 11, 2014 7:06 AMReply

    TL;DR

  • sadfadf | April 9, 2014 12:09 PMReply

    this article is too long for me to give a shit...

  • Joe | April 9, 2014 11:30 AMReply

    I'm not sure if I'm just missing a joke, but that isn't Larry Sanders. That's Garry Shandling.

  • Underground Anthem TX | April 27, 2014 2:55 PM

    Garry Shandling is best known for his television show "The Larry Sanders Show".

  • Josh | April 8, 2014 4:03 PMReply

    I liked the computer Zola, it was a nod to the pulp that worked in the first movie. They had to replace the guidance chips on the Hellicarriers(one of which seemed to be commanded by Grand Moth Tarken) to get control of their weapons systems. That was pretty easy to follow and a huge step up from whatever the heck was going on in the dark in Iron Man 3. The carriers make for better "stand off weapons" then drones. The action ratio seemed fine but that may be because I'm used to Michael Bay levels of insanity, this seemed just right. The highway overpass scene was the best action sequence in any Marvel movie. I was pleased with everything EXCEPT the Black Widow hearing at the end. Not sure what she was saying about wrecking the world but being the right ones to rebuild it.

  • Wilma Faynes | April 8, 2014 12:22 PMReply

    my co-worker's half-sister makes $69 hourly on the internet . She has been without work for 7 months but last month her check was $13132 just working on the internet for a few hours. browse around this web-site Best96Dotcom

  • Kristen | April 8, 2014 12:02 PMReply

    are you JOKING ME?!!! Bucky's arc, while woefully underdeveloped in the movie ("hey let's see what's going on with those drone-planes!") was incredibly sad, heart-wrenching, and well-acted. That B-plot was easily the most exciting and successful part of the movie, and Sebastian Stan brought a sort of bewildered loneliness to the role of terminator-killer-dude. I can't believe what I just read.

    You liked the car chase scene? That was so boring and derivative! Why do people even make car chase scenes these days?!!

  • DarkSoliton | April 21, 2014 2:23 AM

    I don't agree with a lot of what's been said by the reviewer, and I wonder why they even bothered to review a film they obviously have no real interest in. But...
    I agree that Sebastian Stan was incredible in this film as the 'enigma' that is known as "The Winter Soldier". Of course we didn't get a lot of him in this respect, (except through exposition by Widow about her first disastrous 'experience' with him, and of course by Steve/Cap's memories) but what we were given onscreen only moreso piques the interest of those interested in his story as Bucky. His eyes and his face told us all we really needed to know in this particular story/movie. One does get the distinction of his inner struggle whenever Steve urged/pleaded with him to remember who he once was. It broke my heart to see him so briefly turning into a questioning, emotional human being only to be brutally tortured back into his amnesiac state of (MK Ultra?) 'killer' on orders by Alexander Pierce. For that alone I wanted Pierce defeated! (lol) There is so much more I would like to say about this film, but for brevity's sake, I will just say that I like the fact not everything has to be piled onscreen all at once, that the viewer has room to think about what may or may not have happened to Bucky after he fell from the train: Like a good book, (or comic) not all things are told at once... I eagerly await the next chapter of Steve and Bucky/Cap-Winter Soldier.

  • kristen | April 8, 2014 12:03 PM

    er, I guess I mean "are you KIDDING ME?!!!" lol woops

  • pjdizzles | April 8, 2014 10:26 AMReply

    Sorry, but I felt like Widow was a weak part of the film.......
    Felt like a robot everytime she talked and what she said most the time was irrelevant.

  • Garrett | April 8, 2014 9:28 AMReply

    I think Fury is a clone and we actually did see one of his clones die in the car with the hospital bound Fury either being the original fury or a fresh clone. The idea of cloning is being toyed with in the agents of SHIELD show and I think the whole thing will lead nicely into an adaptation of the civil war story arc in phase 3.

  • fan | April 8, 2014 9:09 AMReply

    Great article. thanks

  • Matthew Green | April 8, 2014 8:46 AMReply

    WTF did I just read here :

    "...The Evolution of Captain America's Patriotism
    With 'The First Avenger' getting to play in period territory in delivering the Captain's origin story, and "The Avengers" being part of a team up in which the interplay between the characters was more important than any one of their stories, the real proof of whether Captain America could survive his own franchise was with this sequel"

    Is it supposed to be a heading followed by a sentence? If this is the case, what on earth is being said in the sentence?

  • Roneldo | April 8, 2014 2:11 AMReply

    Just pointing out that Frank Grillo played the supervillian Crossbones, a very major Captain American enemy and he will definitely have a bigger role to play in the future

  • InternetGuy | April 7, 2014 4:48 PMReply

    Wait, "progressive idea of America" = "far from being a government lackey/mouthpiece for the machinery of power"?? progressivism is 100% statist pro-government machine.

  • INTERNETGUY | April 8, 2014 9:07 AM

    Progressiveism seeks to deny unalienable rights and grant further power to the government, so yes, you're correct. Progressiveism is fascism. Thanks.

  • nawleegeispowher | April 7, 2014 11:08 PM

    That would be fascism dip$hit.

  • Emperor Zerg Rush | April 7, 2014 3:50 PMReply

    What's this about diversity now? Man, some commenter with a dumb Toy Story/StarCraft mash-up name must've written about that in the comments for another article...

  • Sexton Blake | April 7, 2014 2:53 PMReply

    'the idea that in response to an extra-terrestrial attack a government would be able to sell its population on increased internal (on-planet) surveillance seems kind of odd.'

    Substitute ET for 9/11 and you will see that it isn't so odd.

  • Cranx | April 7, 2014 3:05 PM

    9/11 was not an extra-terrestrial attack. That's the point being made.

  • Slen | April 7, 2014 1:44 PMReply

    I agree that if a tag impacts the story, that particular story, then put it in the actual film.
    As for tone, that's shit when it comes to Thor 2's supposedly awkward, goofy tag.
    That movie featured Kat Dennings trying to act quirky with nothing but quips in her back pocket and a naked Skarsgard. I don't think a scene with a upcoming 70s David Bowie looking character baddie is far of a stretch in tone from the rest of the movie.

  • Hans | April 7, 2014 2:52 PM

    I didn't know they movie has 2 tags! I missed the 2nd one which sounds like a pretty big thing for the Winter Soldier's next appearance.
    The bad thing about the Thor 2 tag w/ del Toro is that it looked really cheap. The thing Taylor did the best on the movie is creating a lived in world and the tag looked like it was shot (by James Gunn) for a cheap B-movie.

  • Andrew from Troy | April 7, 2014 1:37 PMReply

    Armin Zola read off Black Widow's birth year as 1984, so she can't have been living for decades due to an Infinity serum. Unless her past is so secret, even SHIELD didn't know about it...

  • InternetGuy | April 7, 2014 4:58 PM

    1984 birthdate is a reference to the George Orwell book 1984, which is a book about socialism ruling society through omnipotence... big brother is watching, and so is SHIELD.

  • Alex | April 7, 2014 1:02 PMReply

    Um, the Black Panther was the first modern black super hero, not Falcon. Although as part of Captain America and The Falcon he was the first to have his name on a monthly series.

  • HarveyDent | April 9, 2014 5:09 PM

    Falcon was = WAS NOT

  • HarveyDent | April 9, 2014 5:08 PM

    And the Falcon was the first Black comic book character to have his name on a comic book. That honor belongs to a western gunslinger named Lobo who had a two issue run in the mid-Sixties that ended before it started really because vendors in the South and other areas would not carry the book because of racism yo.

  • anonymous | April 7, 2014 7:41 PM

    Black Panther was first African superhero. Falcon was African American superhero.

  • cirkusfolk | April 7, 2014 12:57 PMReply

    I'll agree the Nick Fury car chase was the best part of the movie but that's still not saying much. For one thing, if the goal of the goons was to kill Nick Fury, why did they waste their time shooting a bulletproof car for 5 minutes only to then waste even more time by setting up an anchored hydraulic ramming machine (that somehow still didn't break the glass) which let him get away, only for The Wintet Soldier to somehow get in front of Fury and use a simple explosive device to blow up the car. So why didn't the goons just blow the car up in the first place? Of course stupid fan boys will use the excuse it's just a movie and otherwise they wouldn't have the cool car chase but that's a lazy excuse.

  • 7007 | April 8, 2014 7:43 AM

    of course "smart people" will try to overANALyze a movie just to get attention.

    oh my. i'm so stupid. i replied to the turd.

Email Updates