There is only one new movie being released to theaters this weekend and it is the film comic book fans have been waiting for. Whereas The Avengers brought us snappy little one-liners and lots of humor, Captain America: The Winter Soldier ventures into the real world of true grit. Suspenseful and politically astute, the Marvel franchise advances the story while respecting the mythos of the comics.
Before I delve into The Winter Soldier, I would like to present a brief recap about Captain America, who made his comic book debut nine months before the U.S. entry into World War II, in March of 1931. A patriotic soldier created for war propaganda, the character evolved into something of a pop culture icon over the years. It is not the combat fisticuffs that we enjoy reading in the comic panels... it is what Captain America represents that appeals to many. For The Winter Soldier, the script writers established what Captain America stands for and, by extension, what America stands for too. Nothing is more red, white and blue than political scandal. Captain America goes up against this with a little help from his friends.... while combatting an old friend from his past.
The character made the transition to the silver screen in 1944 as a Republic Pictures cliffhanger serial. (If you never watched the serial, make an effort to do so only as an example of how the studio made use of the costume and character name; nothing else resembled the comic version.) Two live 1979 made-for-TV movies were produced with Reb Brown in the lead. Serving as television pilots, the movies went about a contemporary approach to the character that was more faithfully adapted as an animated cartoon series in 1966. In 1990, another motion-picture was made with Matt Salinger, sporting a 1940s hair style in a modern-day world where The Red Skull has since undergone plastic surgery and no longer has a red skull. (Yeah, I didn't like that either.) Then in 2011, Marvel independently produced their own version and succeeded where the four prior attempts failed. Fan boys rejoiced, critics raved and the box office receipts were large. The 2011 motion-picture was originally planned back in 2005, when Marvel Studios received a loan from Merrill Lynch, and planned to finance and release it through Paramount Pictures. After inclusion with The Avengers in 2012, fans wanted more. And this weekend fan boys can flock to the theaters to enjoy another round of ol' Cap.
It is tough to call this a sequel because there are no gruff army colonels, big band music, propaganda posters and violent Nazis; The Winter Soldier is virtually a reboot of the franchise. And perhaps one of the most important in the Marvel movie universe. This is the film that will catapult future Captain America sequels and give us a glimpse of what to expect if and when Captain America 3 is theatrically released. If you have seen all the prior Marvel movies, you probably noticed how the studio wants to do something different with each picture. No cookie cutter format with any given series. But some pessimists of the world doubted whether a new Captain America movie could muster the same strength of The Avengers, citing the latter as a fluke due to public interest of a superhero team-up concept. Iron Man 3 was an overall disappointment with fans (they wrote out The Mandarin? What's with that?) and Thor 2 was appreciated by those who disliked the first film. But could Marvel accomplish great stories and raise the bar again? Motion-pictures today are geared toward a younger audience (hey, it's about demographics) and the focus on the silver screen has changed over the decades. Storytelling is often tossed aside for more action scenes and explosions. For The Winter Soldier, the studio rose the bar and offered a plot that proves the franchise is deeply rooted in Marvel's bank account which can only grow larger with each installment. But don't compare this movie with The Avengers. Seriously, it's a Captain America movie... not an Avengers movie.
It is an espionage thriller, a spy movie, a top-notch action-adventure, and superhero cinema that reflects important social/political questions of our time. Marvel has yet to make a horrible comic book movie. Fanboys will be pleased to know that iron-jawed Steve Rogers still knows how to throw a shield, bust people in the jaw and lay his life on the line for something he believes in. My wife and I had privilege to watch the movie before it got released nation wide on Friday and we both agreed that the insurrection scene between S.H.I.E.L.D. agents before the thrilling climax was about as tense as cinema blockbusters get... and proof that what the world needs is a little guidance from a man out of time but has taken the effort to adjust to his new surroundings.
Along the way you'll meet Sam Wilson, a.k.a. The Falcon, who was also Captain America's sidekick in the comics. Black Widow's past is explored in more detail. Robert Redford was perfectly cast as Alexander Pierce, in a role that reminds me of the political thriller, All the President's Men. Redford gets the best lines and delivers them with equal brilliance. As for Captain America, hunted by both S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and the enemy (that's as far as I will go in revealing anything about the plot), he is able to out maneuver the villains without the need of satellites, computers and advanced gadgetry. Alfred Hitchcock once established the "double chase" with The 39 Steps (1935), later culminating with North By Northwest (1959) -- an innocent man who is hunted down by both the villains and the police. The Captain America sequel rightfully proves that the formula works even in today's movie market. To give away anything about the plot or the best the movie has to provide would mean offering spoilers. Any plot summary will give away spoilers. The entire script is loaded with twists and surprises that you have to go see the movie before other people unscrupulously spoil the fun for you. For those of you who prefer the old World War II setting, you'll be pleased to know there are many WWII elements here in the movie to satisfy your thirst.
If you plan to see the movie, there are three things to know before you go. One, the new Avengers tower can be glimpsed in the background of one scene. Keep both eyes open or you'll miss it. My wife saw it; I missed it. There is a reference to the up-coming Doctor Strange movie during the film. Consider it an Easter Egg but I'll provide a hint: Stephen Strange's name is on the "hit list." Keep an eye out for that one. Lastly, stay all the way through the closing credits. All the way to the very end... not just half way through the closing credits. I mean to the very end...
What makes this film all the more interesting is whether or not Marvel can pull off another great sequel with Captain America 3. We will have to wait till May 6, 2016 for the answer to that one.