Though I have long been ambivalent about the films of the Marvel universe, thinking they were often high on special effects and somewhat low on plot development, I have long known that Captain America is the Mysterious Mr. C’s favorite Avenger, and that we would go see Captain America: The Winter Soldier on opening weekend. What I didn’t know, however, was that it would be the film that would convert me into a fan.
As I mentioned in my review of Thor: The Dark World last November, my main criticism of the Marvel films has been that as the universe becomes more interconnected, the movies become harder to enjoy as stand-alone stories. Indeed, they’ve almost become extremely extended teaser trailers for the next film in the series. While Captain America: The Winter Soldier does follow this set-up to a certain extent, especially with the mid-credit and post-credit scenes, I felt like it was one of the first Marvel movies I had seen in a long time that didn’t require a CliffsNotes guide. Sure there were references to Captain America: The First Avenger and the Avengers, but they were often accompanied by flashbacks or other visual cues that helped explain the connections.
I also just happen to find Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, a more relatable character than Tony Stark with his billions and hi-tech Iron Man suit, or demigod Thor and his hammer. The movie also has more of a “ripped from the headlines” feel with Rogers increasingly facing a world he doesn’t understand, and a military-industrial complex that neutralizes threats before crimes can even occur. It’s a superhero film that takes on the larger debate about freedom and security, and what’s the proper ratio of both.
Another thing that struck me about Captain America: The Winter Soldier was that it was the first film that really gave me a sense of how good the special effects departments on these films are. I know that sounds a bit counterintuitive – that viewers should not be aware of well-done special effects – and it is likely something particular to me since I live in the Washington, D.C. area, where the movie is set. There are a ton of D.C. landmarks in the film, including the National Cathedral, the Kennedy Center, and the Watergate, and knowing where those things are in relation to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s fictional headquarters, the Triskelion, gave me a much greater appreciation for the special effects teams that have to blend in backgrounds, focus on proportions, and make all of these superstructures feel natural.
Fans of the Marvel universe will enjoy Captain America: The Winter Soldier because it is exactly what they’ve come to expect – a big budget, live-action spectacle that brings the beloved comic book series to life and ties in to the other films. But people who are just looking for a fun escape will also find themselves enjoying the ride, and maybe, just maybe, a superhero to root for.