Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the finest superhero film sequel since The Dark Knight

Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Screenplay:  Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Cinematography:
Trent Opaloch
Cast:
Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Cobie Smulders, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson

Move over, Batman. Cap’s here to steal your thunder.

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Captain America isback. But this time, he’s living in the present and his life and other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents’ are under threat. Members of terrorist organization HYDRA have successfully infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. and made a superhero agent of their own in the form of James “Bucky” Barnes a.k.a. the Winter Soldier. If the name Bucky Barnes rings a bell, that’s because he was seen in the first Captain America film where he fell from a speeding train off a deep cliff. Apparently, the fall didn’t kill him, he only lost his arm which was replaced by a mechanical one. Like Steve Rogers, Bucky was frozen and preserved. Also, he was brainwashed so he would blindly follow HYDRA’s commands.

Now Captain America, Nick Fury, Black Widow, Agent Maria Hill and newly-introduced Avenger Falcon go on a quest to stop HYDRA’s plans to burn S.H.I.E.L.D. down to the ground and initiate anarchy. Spoiler alert: Cap and the gang saved the day. Surprise!

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Admittedly, I have my qualms before watching The Winter Soldier. The first Captain America movie was the weakest among the films in the phase one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It felt like it is the ultimate precursor to the Avengers movie and that it exists only to introduce Steve Rogers in a haphazard manner. But Captain America: The Winter Soldier has redeemed the series and it gives Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight a run for its money.

Unlike previous Marvel film sequels (I’m looking at both of you, Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 2), Captain America: The Winter Soldier triumphs as a fully-realized, stand-alone movie that could carry itself on its own. The film never felt like it’s forced to work with the scraps of Captain America: The First Avenger or even Marvel’s TheAvengers. It’s fresh and it has brought with it a brand new story arc its creators can explore in phases 2 and 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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The Winter Soldier owes a lot to directors Anthony and Joe Russo. Thanks to the Russo brothers’ high-calibre filmmaking, the movie delivered non-stop, heart-pounding action that is at par with the excitement and rush seen in the first Avengers film. The action scenes were all on point, the twists and turns were sharp, and there wasn’t a dull moment – something very rare for a film that runs for almost two and a half hours (including the mid and post-credits scenes). Should Joss Whedon resign as Marvel film’s impresario, the movies would be safe at the hands of the Russos for they clearly understand what the franchise is about.

The film also boasts of a perfect ensemble of actors: Chris Evans once again proved that he’s more than just an eye-candy and delivered a nuanced performance as the titular character; Samuel L. Jackson is as reliable as ever; Sebastian Stan is an effective brainwashed anti-hero; Cobie Smulders maximized her short screen time; and Robert Redford makes for a formidable villain.

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But the breakout performance goes to Scarlett Johansson who delivered, yet again, another stunning performance as Natasha Romanoff a.k.a. Black Widow. This brings me to my next point: Why is there still not a Black Widow film (or any female superhero-driven movie for that matter)? The Winter Soldier is Black Widow’s movie just as much as it is Captain America’s, and we enjoy every bit of it. But Romanoff’s backstory is yet to be told. There is so much to be explored with Black Widow but instead of giving her her own movie, she goes swinging from film to film (get the pun?) as a mere supporting and heavily-sexualized character. Hey, Mr. Whedon, Black Widow needs her own goddamn movie; she needs it decent and she needs it now!

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The Winter Soldier has successfully introduced new premises and characters that may shake up the superhero universe as we know it. S.H.I.E.L.D.’s secret files have been revealed, what’s to happen in the agency now? Is HYDRA really dead? Is Bucky just an anti-hero or will he pull a Loki and turn rogue? Will Captain America’s new sidekick Falcon be seen in the Age of Ultron? Suddenly, there’s a lot to look forward in the next phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – all because Captain America: The Winter Soldier paved the way.

-X

MNL Film Club Score: 1.25

SPOILERS:

The mid-credits scene shows that HYDRA took possession of Loki’s staff and imprisoned siblings Quicksilver and Scarlett Witch, both of whom seemed really disturbed. The post-credits scene, meanwhile, shows The Winter Solider looking at the Captain America display in the Smithsonian Institution.

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