After a decade and a half of watching grown men in tights duke it out with the fate of the world on the line, one might think global audiences would be experiencing a bit of superhero movie fatigue. However, if this year’s box-office grosses are to be believed, that’s far from the case. Right at the top of the list sit two(!) Marvel Studios blockbusters – recent surprise smash, Guardians of the Galaxy, and this week’s DVD pick, Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
As of late, it seems that all the film industry can talk about is four-quadrant hit Guardians, with Robert Downey Jr. practically admitting the picture was the best in the Marvel canon and even Al Pacino heaping praise on the space epic. Meanwhile, after being praised critically for a brief period after its release window, Winter Soldier seems to have been wholly overshadowed. Well, not to – as the kids say – “hate on” Guardians, but I think it’s high time we look back to April and give some more much-deserved praise to what I would consider the best Marvel movie of this (or any) year.
The sequel to 2010’s lackluster ’40s period piece Captain America: The First Avenger, Winter Soldier takes its protagonist out of the past and plunks him right in the middle of an all-too-contemporary world of cloak-and-dagger espionage. After the climactic battle of The Avengers, do-gooder Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) is still trying to find his place in what he considers the deep future. Everyone he knew in his past life is gone, and the dangers and evils of modern society seem almost more than he withstand.
Compounding this unease is S.H.I.E.L.D. chief Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who plans to launch a top-secret project involving three massive helicarriers linked to satellites, which can eliminate global threats with deadly force before they even arise. Rogers and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) become suspicious that there may be a vast conspiracy at work within S.H.I.E.L.D. planning to use the helicarriers for nefarious purposes and begin sticking their noses where they don’t belong. This covert investigation is further complicated by the arrival of the Winter Soldier, a bionically enhanced masked assassin with mysterious ties to Rogers’ past.
What ensues is a dynamite mix of carefully choreographed action and nail-biting suspense that feels more like a classic American New Wave thriller than a big-budget superhero romp. Indeed, that seems to have been the intention of directors Anthony and Joe Russo (NBC’s “Community”), who have publicly stated that their inspiration for conceiving this film was found in the paranoid political thrillers of the ’70s, such as All The President’s Men and Three Days of the Condor.
The sense of homage didn’t stop at the directing either, as evidenced by the casting of Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce, a morally ambiguous bureaucrat who may or may not be behind the vast conspiracy. By wedding the mondo pyrotechnics and blow-out fight sequences of a millennial tentpole with the slow-burn, nail-biting tension of a Watergate-era thriller, the Russo brothers managed to create a superhero movie that truly stands apart from the pack.
Now, after it left a crater in the late-spring box office, this pulse-pounding thrill ride comes barreling onto DVD and Blu-Ray. Special features include making-of featurettes, audio commentary and deleted scenes. If you’re getting tired of costumed heroes running through the same old city-destroying rigamarole, check out Winter Soldier – a film which deviates from the formula while still delivering on its genre’s promises.