Marvel films, for me, have always been teetering on the edge of lackluster. Occasionally they’d even dip into regions of being genuinely annoying; the first Captain America was stale, Thor was underwhelming, the first Iron Man was great but the franchise quickly fell apart with its consecutive sequels. There was a beacon of hope with The Avengers, though the main issue with Marvel for me is that their films rarely seem to take themselves seriously. That certainly showed with Avengers, which just barely breached the amount of too many gags. No–I’m not looking for every superhero film to go all Dark Knight (because bad things happen when you try to make non-gritty superheroes gritty), but I’ve always longed for superhero movies to not be too campy. Somewhere there has to be a happy medium between fun action, amusing quips, and solemn plots. Somewhere.Who would have thought that the liberation would come from Captain America. I never was a big fan of Steve Rogers, he was nowhere near close to my favorite superhero. I always found him quite bland, too clean-cut and again, I really did not care for the first Captain America film. However, The Winter Soldier has turned all of that around for me.Maybe it’s an overstatement to say it’s my favorite Marvel film but honestly, when I get to thinking about it, it easily was. The characterization was great, the plot made sense, the plot holes were minimal to none, and the movie actually made me feel. Emotions! Yes, ladies and gentleman, the first summer blockbuster of the year, number one at the box office since it’s release, CGI-fest of caped crusaders ACTUALLY MADE ME FEEL THINGS. Like a real movie! I felt for the characters! I was worried and cared about them! This is Captain Fucking America we’re talking about! What a world!
Yeah there were the issues that every film like this is bound to have–just a little too action heavy and a couple moments in the middle that dragged with a plot hole here and there, but overall it was a fast-paced ride that kept my attention. Somehow it found a genuine symbiosis between that campy superhero-ness and almost Jason Bourne-esque twists and turns. The action was interesting (the car chase was a thrill to watch) and the moments of solace were vulnerable and meaningful. This movie worked. And god, is that a relief. The performances were even good and never did I feel like I got a “phoning it in” vibe–not even from the illustrious Robert Redford (who for half of the movie I didn’t even realize was Robert Redford). Sebastian Stan makes a stellar performance in particular, and I hope he continues on that path with the rest of his 9-film deal with Marvel.
I’d like future superhero films to take some notes from Winter Soldier. The fact that you don’t need to revamp a superhero to make him brooding and dark. The fact that you don’t need to shoehorn in some absolutely pointless love story. The fact that yeah, you can throw in some classic campy superhero silliness (i.e. “I’m going to kill you so I might as well tell you my entire plan” or, actually, just that whole scene in the bunker with the villain’s brain run on computers from the 60’s) but still take the movie seriously enough so that you can create genuine tension and emotional stakes. The fact that even if you market it for children, the movie doesn’t have to just run on gags. Furthermore, Winter Soldier is a great standalone film–you don’t need to bother with the first Cap or the Avengers in order to enjoy it.
It still blows my mind that this sort of character depth came from a Captain America movie, though I embrace it wholeheartedly. I’ve even started reading Captain America comic books–that’s how much this movie got out of me. It’s a great movie, accessible and fun to watch, but still takes itself seriously enough to be a real movie. And in this day and age where we’re used to directors talking down to their audiences and stuffing their blockbusters with mass chaos and shiny explosions, it is an anomoly indeed.