Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Is This Marvel's Answer To 'The Dark Knight'?

Well it's that time of year again, the month of May is slowly creeping up upon us, and as is the continuation of Marvel's never ending streak of successful box office hits. Admittedly Marvel's Phase 2 of their post-Avengers cinematic universe has gotten off to a rough start, with the critically successful Iron Man 3 not sitting well with many fans, Thor: The Dark World not exactly meeting expectations, and the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy still proving to be a rather risky gamble for the studio. All things considered, Captain America: The Winter Soldier has without a doubt been the studio's safest bet in recent months, and boy does it deliver what we've all been yearning to see from Phase 2.

The Russo brother's Captain America: The Winter Soldier follows Steve Rogers (Chris Evans); who was product of a super soldier serum experiment, in his first solo outing since the events of The Avengers and after being frozen for over seventy years. Now residing in Washington D.C., Rogers still find himself catching up on the many culturally and historically significant things he missed out on since the 1940's. Though keeping him preoccupied in his spare time is his work for the government organization S.H.I.E.L.D., headed by the enigmatic Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), whose methods Steve finds himself troubled by.
Through his new found friendship with fellow Avenger Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), the two find a new use for their talents, working on missions assigned by S.H.I.E.L.D. along with the special forces team S.T.R.I.K.E. But when a mysterious new leader named Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) begins to come into the picture, and a conspiracy begins to unfold, Romanoff and Rogers find themselves questioning their loyalty. And that isn't to mention the masked mercenary who's on the loose, who's more connected to Steve than either of them realize. With former soldier Sam Wilson joining them along the way, Rogers and company find themselves at odds with those they once trusted, and ghosts of their past. 
Now just by reading the plot summary itself, there's a lot to take in here, yet that really only skims the surface of the complex story at hand here. I must admit that my excitement for this film was dulled by my disappointment with Thor: The Dark World's plot and villain, which is an issue Captain America: The Winter Soldier veers right out of its way from the start. While I can't say much without spoiling the plot, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely brought us an engaging story that set the stakes so much higher for The Avengers: Age of Ultron, and proves Marvel's done playing games here (That is until they bring out the talking gun totting raccoon in August of course).
In reality, despite Captain America: The Winter Soldier's expansive cast of talent, the show really belonged to two of its stars in the end. One of those stars being the man playing Steve Rogers himself, Chris Evans, the other of course being Sebastian Stan as The Winter Soldier. While many were skeptical when Chris Evans was first cast in the part, coming off his role as Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four films, Evans was really able to surprise many in The First Avenger. Frankly, I wasn't as fond as I'd hoped I'd been of his performance in The Avengers, but many of the mistakes he made with character there are corrected in this film. Evans is able to find a good balance between the good hearted man out of time side of Steve, while also keeping the strong leader side of him present as well. There's truly some great emotional character moments for him, and he really is able to progress as a person and hero throughout the story.
But of course, you wouldn't have Captain America: The Winter Soldier if you didn't have the unapologetic masked assassin himself. The Russos' adaption of The Winter Soldier takes some liberties from the comics, but his general back story and mysterious identity remains intact. Sebastian Stan is finally able to bring us a fresh and truly menacing threat to add to Marvel's growing gallery of on screen villains, and one that truly feels unstoppable in force and motives. Stan's able to convey so much emotion and intimidation through the only portion of his face uncovered by the mask, and makes you truly feel conflicted over his character and the person he once was. It's also worth mentioning that the character's famed robotic arm was put to good use, and the Russos were sure to make the audience feel the pure strength that it gave the Winter Soldier in combat.
One of the main strengths the films is its numerous talented cast members, who essentially all serve a key purpose in the plot of the story. The supporting cast on the good side of things was very strong, with an especially great performance by Scarlet Johansson as Black Widow. While I wasn't the biggest fan of the casting decision when it was first announced, I've come around to really like it now. Samuel L. Jackson brings us a more personal performance as Nick Fury, which surely makes us feel more connected with the character than in his previous appearances, and even Colbie Smulder's Maria Hill has much more to do this time around. But on the supporting side, the show belonged to new comer Anthony Mackie, who nailed it as Steve's new partner in crime Sam Wilson aka Falcon. His great chemistry with Evans and Johansson, along with his great comedic timing and serious character moments just make this another genius casting move on Marvel's part.
While Winter Soldier may steal most of the show, one musn't forget the many other smaller villains included in the film, who ultimately were much more menacing than we'd thought. Spoilers ahead. Robert Redford gives an interesting portrayal as Alexander Pierce, showing a character with nice contrast to Jackson's Nick Fury, and more subtly menacing nature. Although his character's story arc was quite predictable, Redford does a great job at giving us a character who's basically the face of S.H.I.E.L.D. corruption. The other villain I especially enjoyed was Frank Grillo's Brock Grumlow, who I felt for a supporting villain was well developed and a nice inclusion to the film despite not donning his famous super villain persona.  It'll be interesting to see Grillo eventually reprise the role and take on the identity of Crossbones sometimes in the future. End spoilers.
If there's been one are the majority of Marvel Studio's films haven't exactly excelled in, it's the action department. While The Avengers brought us some really cool CGI fight sequences in it's third act, and as did Iron Man 3, Captain America: The Winter Soldier knocks those both out of the water in the action department. The Russo brothers manage to avoid would could've been a number of redundant hand to hand combat scenes, and in place go all out with fully choreographed and well though out sequences (Minus a few shaky cam sequences). There's so many great scenes, between the car chase, elevator fight, the bridge face-off, etc., it's just too difficult to pick a favorite. And if their was ever any doubt that Steve Rogers would run out of ways to use his shield in combat, this film has cast those aside with ease.  
Now as for one of the most important factors that effect a film's tone, you can imagine that drastic change between this film's OST and that of The First Avenger. Having said that, Henry Jackman (X-Men: First Class) was sure to pay homage to the original Alan Silvestri them a few times throughout the film, which was a touch that helped the connection between the films seem much closer. In all honesty, Jackman's score for The Winter Soldier is not his strongest nor his most memorable work, but it certainly gets the job done. His score this time around really helped sell the espionage feel the Russo bros. were going for, while providing a much needed change of pace for Marvel's last couple of scores composed by Brian Tyler. 
Now with a film that has a scale this large, it's hard to really find too many flaws with such a well crafted story, set of characters, set pieces, and action scenes, but there were some things here and there that couldn't help but leave unmentioned. I was slightly disappointed in the lack of time Anthony Mackie got actually suited up as Falcon in this film, specifically considered how heavily marketed his inclusion was. While he'll probably become much more involved and controlling of his suit in the next Captain America film (Or fingers crossed, in Age of Ultron),  it felt like a bit of a let down after all the build up given to the Sam Wilson character (Though he still had a moment to shine later on).
My other main grip with the film involved the return of a certain character from The First Avenger, hence this paragraph may have some slight spoilers, so treed with caution. Having said that, we've known for some time now that Arnim Zola (Toby Jones), Red Skull right hand man in the first film, would be returning this time around. While we knew he'd return, we didn't know to what degree, and unfortunately his return wasn't in the way many of us fans had expected. Rather than his robotic body in the comics, Zola was speaking through a massive computer. Although I understand this scene was meant to explain a major plot point, I felt it was very out of place in this film, and took us out of the story and a scene that had started out with a nice set-up (Having Steve back at the military camp he trained at in the 1940's with Natasha).
For many who have been very concerned about the direction Marvel's taken with the first couple of films they've released following The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is certainly a breath of fresh air. Being that this was a film given to two director with little experience in the genre, and the difficult storyline that the duo decided to adapt to the big screen, there's a lot that could've gone wrong with this film. Yet thankfully, none of that happened, and in turn we get one of the strongest solo superhero films since Christopher Nolan's iconic Dark Knight franchise dominated the market. Needless to say, Marvel's back on track, and right on course for the Age of Ultron in summer 2015.

I give Captain America: The Winter Soldier 4.5 out of 5 stars:

So what did you think of Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Were you impressed by it or did it leave you disappointed? Let us know below!