Bias Alert #2: I am hyper-vigilant when it comes to the portrayal of black folks on screens, especially in Sci-Fi/genre contexts. This is a trauma response induced by too many horrible portrayals.
Now that you are aware of the above biases, let’s get to it. (Minor Spoilers below.)
What sets both Cap films apart from the rest of the MCU is that the films are both action and adventure. I felt as if I was on an actual journey, not just hopping from one action set piece to the next. What Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer is the shit!) did in the first film and the Russo brothers did in Winter Soldier was inject chills, and jeopardy, and the feeling that there was some kind of stakes — physical and psychological. They humanized a character that is about as bland as I can think of. Chris Evans gives us just the right amount of “I can whoop your ass” and fish out of water to make Steve Rogers interesting — there is a kissing scene that is played between Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Cap that is hilarious — not to mention a running joke of the world’s premiere assassin encouraging the world’s greatest soldier to, basically, get laid. Evans’ acting as Cap is more nuanced and human than I’ve seen before — not too dissimilar from his performance in 2009’s Push (great performance; almost decent film).
The fights. The damn fights. They were so dope. From the amazing opening set piece of the invasion of the Lemurian Star ship that shows Cap as the ultimate black ops operator, to the piece’s concluding fight with Batroc (played menacingly by Georges St. Pierre), the choreography was spot on.
There was a little too much shaky-cam in some scenes, but when it counted, the fights were great and told a story — what all good fight choreography is supposed to do. Another noteworthy fight is when Steve Rogers and the Winter Soldier meet for the first time. The fight is filled with such brutality and anger that you knew almost all you needed to know about each character. When fight choreographers take the time and care to give a character their own unique fighting style and then take pains to show us the differences when they encounter another style of fighting, we are so much better for it. After this particular fight, I wondered if the stuntmen who filmed the scene suffered any real injuries.
I may have dragged the Falcon earlier in this piece, but he is a great addition to the MCU. I was skeptical about how they were going to show his wings, but damn! Artist and toy creator, Roy Miles (aka the Ghetto Geppetto) said he felt the Falcon’s flying scenes were the best flying scenes he has seen on film. I have to agree.
The flying wasn’t too hard to follow and I felt my stomach seize up a few times. Damn the physics of his mechanical wings, I want a pair. Anthony Mackie played Sam Wilson as the cocksure fighter pilot/para-rescue spec ops soldier he is meant to be. While part of me did not feel the… presence?… I wanted, I feel that his first outing in the MCU bodes well for his continuous character development. And while we’re on character development, the Winter Soldier was downright scary.
Any worthy hero needs to have a villain that invites us to root more for the hero because the villain is just so kickass. The Winter Soldier stalked the film in such a way that we could (almost) question the idea of the hero’s winning. He was that good.
Maybe I went too far in calling him a villain — this label should be reserved for the government, S.H.I.E.L.D., and the personification of the two embodied by Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce. While he didn’t have too much to do, Redford took what he had and presented himself as a credible threat. He was so confident and sure of himself that I wanted to kick him in the nuts — I guess he did his job.
The Winter Soldier (we all know who he is, but I won’t spoil it here) was more a tragic hero. When we are made privy to how he became the way he is, it was heartbreaking — especially in light of what we can read about conditioning real world soldiers. I am so very interested in the next stop on his journey. We got a little hint of it in the second post-credits scene. Yes, there are two post-credit scenes.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier works as an action film, an adventure film, a superhero film, as well as a tech-spionage film. How does it do all of this simultaneously? This film takes something as silly as superheroes, grounds it in a world that has established rules, never breaks those rules, and uses its kinetic energy to not dazzle us with scenes, but to invite us in and to develop empathy for the characters. Most of the beats had a purpose, and the fights told a story. This story had an arc with a satisfying, albeit with “what the hell is the fallout going to be?” aftertaste — and no, I won’t be watching Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to find out.
Ya’ll know I cannot stand that show.