“Before we get started, does anyone want to get out?”
That’s the question Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, asks a group of attackers in a fantastic elevator sequence. Like the entire movie, it’s wonderfully directed and edited, with a palpable tension and heart racing pulse. But I wish the directors would have asked themselves the same question before diving headfirst into such a complex story. It’s a big budget blockbuster with a script that mirrors a taut political/conspiracy thriller. After a while you can’t help but feel overwhelmed by everything going on. As the Marvel universe delves deeper into its canon of stories, it seemingly has become harder for them to feel engaging. You’ll be confused if you don’t remember everything from the previous movies.
We come across Steve Rogers, the worlds most in shape 95 year old, sometime after the little New York scuffle he partook in during The Avengers. The beginning was my favorite part. Chris Evans is great as Captain America. We follow him and get a quick recap of previous events as he sneaks around an exhibit dedicated to himself. This is a man that prefers to live in isolation, not because he’s inhuman or callous, but because nobody really understands him. I’m a bigger fan of the major DC Comics characters such as Batman and Superman. They’re grounded and relatable in a way that Marvel characters simply can’t be. But Captain America treads a fine line between the two. He’s a synergistic character that helps mesh the real world with something more ethereal and unknown.
The story then transitions the focus towards S.H.I.E.L.D. and its leader Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who gets more screen time here than any other Marvel movie. Tagging along with Captain America most of the film is Natasha Romanoff, also known as Black Widow. Played by Scarlett Johansson, she’s a seductive femme fetale who’s lethal with a gun and deceptively gifted in hand to hand combat. Most of the wisecracks and jokes in the movie come between her and Captain. She eggs him on about women he should date. He says he’s not scared, but rather just too busy. Later on Nick Fury is ambushed and presumed to be dead. Or is he…(watch the movie and you’ll find out.) Captain meets with S.H.I.E.L.D. senior official Secretary Pierce (Robert Redford). Pierce vows to avenge his friend’s death and eliminate anyone who gets in his way of doing so. It’s almost too obvious that there’s something shady about this man.
Everything gets thrown into overdrive once we meet the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). He’s an assassin with powers almost identical to Captain, with a bionic left arm to boot. This element gives the movie the feeling of a 70’s political commentary film. It’s full of impending terror and an ominous presence. Even Captain America himself is not presumed innocent, and the movie shifts over to an all out manhunt for the hero. We don’t know what the danger is, but all things point to old evils negatively affecting the present. And of course millions of lives end up hanging in the balance. Captain America must come to the rescue. He enlists the help of former pararescueman Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie). With added help from Black Widow, the three will surely save the day.
Just watching this movie, it’s evident that the budget was enormous. There are excellent, action-filled set pieces that sprawl across the screen. It’s well done and finely acted. The fight scenes have fluid choreography and are intense. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo use great tracking shots inside tight quarters as well as out in the open, and one suffocating fight scene in an elevator is almost too much fun to watch. It’s full of setups that pay off, somewhat surprising twists, and it methodically crescendos towards the finale. These guys know how to make an action movie, and I hope they get to make more for Marvel.
As much as I liked it, the movie has its fair share of faults. Sometimes the story gets too convenient. Captain America is not immortal, and despite being a superhuman, he can be hurt. But that’s never addressed. And the biggest threat in the story is barely even developed. It’s just kind of there looming the entire time. The biggest problem is how convoluted and heavy the narrative feels. At 136 minutes, it’s not a fast movie to get through. But even with that length I was still asking myself “What did they say?” and “What is happening?” on multiple occasions.
I think there is a really good movie here, but it’s so busy trying to fit into the broader scope that Marvel is aiming for that it never really feels unique. Sometimes complexity can completely disengage the audience. We shouldn’t have to dig into our memories for what happened in Iron Man 3 or recall every detail of The Avengers. There’s a difference between dumbing down a story and making it slightly undemanding. Steve Rogers, even in his Captain America garb, is a simple guy. I wish the movie would have been a little bit more like that.
“This isn’t freedom. This is fear.”
Rating: 3 out of 5