In my opinion, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has the most overrated movies in the history of cinema. They are fun and enjoyable but by no means as good as given credit for. Iron Man was a great movie, but Iron Man 2 was disappointing and Iron Man 3 was a train wreck. Thor, Marvel’s weakest film, was basically put together just to introduce Thor, Loki and the Tesseract. The Avengers was, by far, the most overrated movie of the past decade: throw some heroes together on the big screen with little to no plot and predictable conflicts and Marvel fanboys and girls go wild and overlook how mediocre that movie actually is.
The only movie, up until Thor: The Dark World, that involved Marvel characters that could be labeled as a “damn good movie” was FOX’s X-Men: First Class; superior acting, legitimate plot lines, complex characters and better pacing trump some enjoyable action scenes from Avengers.
As I mentioned, though, Thor: The Dark World was just the movie Marvel needed to point themselves in the right direction.
After sitting through the disappointing Captain America: The First Avenger three years ago, I wasn’t expecting much from The Winter Soldier. Luckily, for me, Marvel delivered with their best movie to date. That’s right — better than the Avengers. I’ll explain.
If I wanted to keep it short, I could just write one word, “plot.” This is the overriding factor that left me wanting so much more from the Avengers and what had me hooked on The Winter Soldier. While I was never a big fan of Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America, I feel that the writing in this movie was good enough to overlook my personal feelings towards the actor’s portrayal.
The Winter Soldier offered a realistic plot in a Marvel Universe that has dabbled in the fantastical — and there’s no problem with that, but sometime’s in world such as this, it’s nice to stay grounded. What made The Winter Soldier so enjoyable was that it would have been a good movie even without Captain America, Falcon and Black Widow — their inclusion makes it that much better; a great comic-book movie.
This movie brought up some big questions that are being asked in this world right now: Are we really safe? Are we really free?
The Winter Soldier makes the argument that we have given up our freedoms, slowly, over-time and given the government total control of our lives. This is not a stretch of the imagination — Marvel took aspects of real world problems and history (like the US hiring Nazi scientists after the war) and combined them with their fictional themes and characters. But, there was a point in the movie, before the final action scenes, when the audience could think, “how much of this is actually fictional?” Take a moment to think how a WWII veteran would perceive the world we currently live in. Those veterans fought for what they thought was freedom, what would they think if they were thrust into today’s society and made aware of laws like the PATRIOT ACT? They would think that they had risked their lives for nothing.
This brings us to the character conflict in the movie, which is how Captain America, a WWII veteran, perceives this society. He struggles with thoughts of abandoning SHIELD and retiring as a soldier. This personal conflict is one which we have yet to see played out within the Marvel Universe. Sure, they have had their chances — but The Hulk wasn’t given enough screen time in the Avengers to delve into personal demons and Tony Stark kept, disappointingly, shrugging off every attempt to get into his psyche in Iron Man 3.
But now we have a soldier who doesn’t feel that he’s a part of today’s society, misses the people whom he loved and feels that he never got a chance to live his life. Now, add the fact that he feels he’s been used and lied to by the people he’s trusted and served for and with for years AND the fact that his best friend from 70 years ago is back and trying to kill him and… now we have successfully developed a character and his personal conflicts in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Another part of the movie that I enjoyed was the expanded use of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. She has been woefully underused (and understandably so) in the previous movies she’d been featured in, so it was nice to see her given a legitimate supporting role, in which she was used to reveal the more personal side of Steve Rogers. I’m still not sure if I can see her leading a movie, but I think that we are moving in the right direction, in that regard.
Sebastian Stan did a great job portraying the Winter Soldier, whom I thought had very little screen time for being the second titular character. This was another character, though, that offered some complexity regarding his motives and past. It’s hard to watch him regain some of his memories only to be wiped clean and released back into the battle. But the fact that he saves Cap in the end proves that he regained some of his memories and should be an interesting character in the future, as I doubt Marvel will allow him to walk off into the sunset.
To be a fair critic, there were also some aspects of the movie that just didn’t do it for me — the pacing of the movie was a little off, I found that it started to get a little slow after the boat scene, but it picked up nicely when Nick Fury was being chased down and continued throughout the movie. Speaking of the Nick Fury car chase, I hated this scene. I felt like Samuel L. Jackson told everyone that he hasn’t had enough action so they threw this scene together. I think that it could have been much shorter and it was just a little too much. It was also obvious that he was never really dead because they would never announce the death of a major character in the movie’s trailer. So that took away from the shock value of being led to believe that he was dead for a quarter of the movie.
The solution to and destruction of the three helicarriers also seemed to be a little too easy. Like they were just trying to wrap things up in the end without making it a three-hour movie, and I understand that, but I would have liked a less predictable ending and maybe even a little more destruction. What are the odds that all three helicarriers fall straight down and only damage SHIELD property? The scene with Black Widow speaking to Congress could have had a little more substance, as they scratched the surface of complexity regarding her character, but again seemed to feel that they needed to wrap things up quickly and move on.
Marvel has finally discovered what it means to have a complex, layered plot accompanied with a troubled and conflicted character, which does a movie much more justice than a few good action scenes. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was by far Marvel’s best movie to date, and if they keep making films like this we are all in for a great treat, until, at least, 2028!
Bringing out the inner nerd in everyone!