‘Winter Soldier’ a major step in Marvel movies

By Rich Heldenfels
Beacon Journal popular culture writer

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Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) in a scene from "Marvel's Captain America: The Winter Soldier." (Zade Rosenthal Marvel)

The ongoing, interlocking tales in Marvel Comics-based Avengers movies (including the Iron Man, Thor and Captain America films) have a largely unquestioning fan base. Just about any title in the series is going to bring in the bucks. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is no exception, having brought in more than $75 million in its first weekend overseas before it even hit U.S. theaters.

In other words, many of you don’t care a whit whether I liked the movie or not. You are going to see it. But if you are a bit more on the fence about Winter Soldier, let me strongly recommend that you see it. Besides the exciting action sequences, besides the Cleveland-area locations, Winter Soldier is both an idea movie — asking a lot of questions about what people will do in the name of national security — and a major shift in the narrative arc of these Avengers films. It’s all too common these days for movies or TV-show episodes to proclaim they’re game-changing, to vow that nothing will be the same. But, without getting into spoilers. The Winter Soldier really does.

And that happens in a framework that asks some basic questions not only about who Captain America is, but also what America is — and what the security organization S.H.I.E.L.D. can and will do in the name of global safety. By the end of Winter Soldier, some of the most firmly held audience beliefs will have changed.

Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and directed by Cleveland brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, The Winter Soldier takes place after the battles in the movie The Avengers. S.H.I.E.L.D. is still on guard and one of its major guardians is Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), better known as the superhero Captain America. But Rogers is still trying to make the transition from his World War II origins to the present day. He keeps adding to a list of things to learn about, reads a lot of histories — and questions how the idealism of his former life can be reconciled with what seems to be a more cynical, modern approach. In one telling scene, Rogers visits a museum exhibit celebrating his World War II self and team — a group whose mission seemed far more clear than does that of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Of course, Rogers is not the only one facing threats around the world. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is on hand, as is Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johannson), the fighter better known as Black Widow. As powerful as Fury has seemed to be, he has to answer to a S.H.I.E.L.D. council and its secretary, Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford). But the world is not a safe place, threatened at first by a terrorist named Batroc (Georges St.-Pierre) and then by the even more formidable, super-powered creature known as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).

That should make clear that The Winter Soldier offers plenty of action, especially the up-close kind shot with handheld cameras and more reminiscent of Matt Damon’s Bourne films than most superhero tales. But the action is mere companion to the storytelling, and to the way Rogers finally emerges as more of a fully defined character.

I was not a fan of the first Captain America movie, and the character seemed one of the less interesting members of the Avengers team (though not, of course, as uninteresting as Hawkeye). But The Winter Soldier takes us more fully into his background, and the sense of dislocation he feels. Evans conveys that very well.

The Winter Soldier is still weak on some character points. Even after appearances in three movies, Black Widow is sketchy. Part of the plot is a very old action-movie trope. The Marvel movies, indeed most contemporary superhero films, take on an inevitability in their later stages as they head toward the big, final action sequence, and Winter Soldier is no exception.

Still, Winter Soldier has much more going for it than the well-staged action. It has ideas. It has feelings. It opens the door to darker, more complex stories in the future films. And, of course, it makes me want to see what those later films will hold.

Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio,com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com.

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