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Monday, April 7, 2014

A Watershed for the Larger Universe — Captain America: The Winter Soldier [Review]

[Image Source: Mashable.com]
At first watch, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Marvel Studio's latest installment in their larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, may seem like a filler movie that one needs to get through—you know, to get the full effect of the larger Universe. The fact that the movie drags in some places only reinforce that line of thought. It does not help matters that Marvel seems intent on throwing in every Easter egg [1][2][3] that did not make it into the previous eight films or the 16 Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television episodes to date. Overall, the action sequences (and there's a whole lot of them) seem to take a back seat to slower moments of expositions and treatises. But, at first what appears to be weaknesses might actually be the foundations on which Marvel Studios can build a stronger mega-verse.

{WARNING: SPOILERS AFTER THE JUMP!!!!}

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Structurally, Winter Soldier is less like a superhero movie and more like the bastard love-child of the Bourne Films and James Grady's Six Days of the Condor (the basis of the 1975 film Three Days of Condor in which Robert Redford also stars). The slow parts are there to throw plot twists at the plot twists and serve to remind the audience that nothing is what it seems. Much like our heroes, we must unravel a mystery in which the clues and half-revelations only bring out more questions, reminding us that, like our heroes, we know less about the truth than we think.

As a sequel to the first Captain America movie, this film does a great job tying up many of the loose ends from the first film. We learn what happened to the rest of Capt.'s Howling Commandos, and we finally learn if Steve Rogers ever sees his World War II love interest Peggy Carter again. We also see what life is like for Rogers as he tries to assimilates into modern times and, much like the plots of Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, into life post-Battle of New York.

Winter Soldier's use of storytelling replete with literary devices and subtle (and not-so-subtle) social commentary makes it arguably one of the better movies in the franchise to date and quite possibly the biggest game changer for Marvel Studios and the characters of the bigger Avengers universe. Unlike the two previous post-Avengers sequels, the plot of Winter Soldier goes beyond the confines of putting its protagonists through the ringer of a darker Phase 2 second act while making casual in-universe references and homages to Marvel lore. As Christopher Rosen of the Huffington Post puts it:
There's so much crazy stuff in "The Winter Soldier" that not only does the film serve as a sequel to "Captain America: The First Avenger," but it feels like a prequel to "Marvel's The Avengers: Age of Ultron" (not to mention a game changer for whatever is happening on the ABC series "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.").
To say that Winter Soldier is a game changer for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. may be an understatement. The link between the two titles definitely goes beyond the business-as-usual model of tying-in elements from different film plots. This film could have just as easily been a mid-season (3/4th of the way?) S.H.I.E.L.D. movie featuring Captain America and Nick Fury.

Up until now, AoS had been making cursory references to different plot lines along the way—you know, just in case you forget that it's part of the MCU. At the same time, these references also served to separate the show as it's own entity. The AoS pilot, for example, established that it is set after the events of Iron Man 3 by rolling in all the technology from previous titles into the Centipede Project while the events of Thor 2 are peripheral to the series' overall story, serving more as a jumping off point for that week's evil-thing-o-mabob-of-the-week plot line. But now, who knows how the events of Winter Soldier and the dark denouement that signaled the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D will play into the remaining episodes of the season?

I know I was so preoccupied with with the obvious Bucky Barnes plot line blatantly flaunted by the trailers that I did not see H.Y.D.R.A. coming (Maybe if I were a big fanboy, I would have.) or that last week's episode ended in a cliffhanger that not only foreshadows but leads directly into Winter Soldier. We will have to wait until next week's episode to find out how closely the two entities will be tied-in, but what is certain is that the TV series' plot is about to change completely, never mind dynamic of the rest of the upcoming films. I, for one, am hoping to see some heavy film reference and a cameo or two.

Overall, this was an excellent, action-packed movie full of twist and turn and some top-notched writing. But don't take my word for it. Go to the movies. Don't skip this film especially if you are a fan of the TV series. I expect the two to go hand-in-hand. But even if you are not a fan of AoS, this is by far the best of the films in the franchise so far, both as part of the larger universe and as a stand alone sequel.