The first Captain America movie was fantastic, so I crossed my fingers that Captain America: The Winter Soldier would deliver.
I was not disappointed!
This film starts with Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America (Chris Evans), struggling to find his place within S.H.I.E.L.D., led by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Missions are not always what they seem, he never gets all the information, and Steve has a hard time fighting for and with people when he can't trust them. Can he fit in? Does he want to? But when Fury is betrayed, Rogers realizes there are bigger problems that need solving.
The plot was tight but balanced, with room for character development as well as action. The humor added to the movie instead of distracting (*cough*Thor*cough*). There was not a single moment or scene wasted! Everything had a purpose. And all the actors did an amazing job with the emotional core of their characters.
Here are the specific things I liked the most, that really struck me while I was watching it Thursday night and have stayed with me.
This is a TEAM movie. Because that's what Steve Rogers does. He's a leader. He finds the best in people and brings it out. His relationships with Black Widow, Falcon, Nick Fury, and Maria Hill are so important, and their teamwork are so important, even though as the title character he's going to face the final challenges alone. I love seeing this man work with people instead of making himself out as a hero above everyone else.
The team's demographics work out to be 1 white man, 2 black men, and 2 white women. I'm still waiting for the filmmakers to stop ignoring women of color, clearly, but compared to the Avengers this team much better reflects the reality of today, and I'm happy about that.
Three strong female characters that put Marvel Films' damsels in distress Pepper Potts and Jane Foster to shame. With Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), and Agent 13 (Emily VanCamp), there is no crying, or getting kidnapped, or getting magically transported to an unknown location alone and reaching out to touch the glowy red malevolent stuff so you can get infected and spend part of the movie after that sleeping. There's just doing what needs to be done. Doing the right thing. Agent 13 doesn't have a big role in this film but I'm hoping to see more of her in future installments.
I particularly appreciated that Scarlett Johansson seems to be getting more and more comfortable playing Natasha. Her first appearance in Iron Man 2 underwhelmed me, but she's really learning what it feels like to be this woman.
FALCON IS SO AWESOME! I love Anthony Mackie, the African-American actor who plays him here. Falcon (a.k.a Sam) and Steve establish a pitch-perfect friendship in which both men respect each other so much, both as warriors and as people. I loved Falcon in the Brubaker-authored Cap comics and this Falcon has a similar spirit. Plus, his wings look completely badass. I'd seen Mackie before in The Adjustment Bureau and really enjoyed his performance there, so it was wonderful to see him get a bigger role and a chance to shine.
The portrayal of the Winter Soldier made sense. I was extremely worried after seeing the trailer since you primarily see him operating out in the open in daylight. What the what? Clandestine assassin much? Ghost story, like Natasha said? But the mission he's deployed on in this film is not like all his previous missions, in both the canon the film is establishing and in the comics. That difference makes his masters' decision to deploy him out in the open comprehensible. And he's really scary. Really, really scary. Not quite Terminator 2 scary, but when he shows up you definitely get nervous. I love the groundwork they're laying for a future film with him as I think it will be true to that character's struggle from the Brubaker-written comics which I adore.
Cap's shield. I never got such a strong feeling of the power behind that shield hitting a person or an object until this movie. It's not just a fancy boomerang, y'all.
The fight choreography was intense, and the filming let you see what was happening. I love good fight scenes, but so many films these days try to make them more dramatic by shaking the camera or cutting so much that you can't see what's happening. This film got it right. The athletics of the stunt doubles and actors are amazing to me. Everyone has their own fighting style without it feeling like a shlocky . (C-Man looked it up and says the choreographer was the same guy who did the fights for Raze. Interesting. And this movie is so not like Raze.)
They made Batroc the Leaper not a stupid character. That's quite an accomplishment given how ridiculous he is in the comics! They gave him a distinctive fighting style which was fascinating to see against Captain America's, and Batroc was actually scary.
THE TWINS. For those of you who've seen it, enough said. For those who haven't but are familiar with a lot of Marvel comics, you'll know soon enough...
Are there things I'd have liked them to do differently? Of course, mostly around diversity, since that's my entertainment passion. Here are three key issues for me:
- With so many S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, I'd love to see some with visible physical disabilities. It would happen in their line of work, and I can't imagine that field agents with permanent injuries don't end up working as analysts. At a bare minimum you could easily place someone using a wheelchair or sign language, going by in a scene where people are going down the hall, or in the lobby. It's well established in the Marvel-verse that despite advanced technology, not every injury or illness is 100% fixable. Obviously there are disabilities that are harder to show on camera with minor roles, but we can start somewhere.
- I'd also love to see more women. There's a fight scene in an elevator where ALL of the agents are men, and there's like 12 of them. Why? Do we just not want to show Captain America hitting a woman? And let's not fix this problem by casting only white women, please and thank you.
- On GLBT issues in the Marvel film-verse, I'd encourage everyone to read this: Gay punchlines and Marvel’s ‘All Hail The King’.
Between Jackson, Mackie, and Maximiliano Hernández who plays Jasper Sitwell, plus Johansson, Smulders, and VanCamp all with significant speaking roles, plus Bernard White, Chin Han, Hayley Atwell, and others in small speaking roles, this is possibly the strongest showing yet for expanding the "white guy" focus of comics-related movies.
But you can tick off all the diversity checkboxes that make Skye happy, though, and you still need to make a really good movie! Which they did.
WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR GO SEE IT!