It is rare to have a comic-book-inspired movie actually draw intelligently from the comics that inspired it. Dark Knight Rises took material from No Man’s Land in a new direction, and Spider-man 2 (Tobey MaGuire) faithfully handled “Spider-man No More” (Amazing Spider-man 50). Now that we are also on the other side of Christopher Nolan’s other two Batman films and Joss Whedon’s Avengers, we have higher standards for superhero movies, and I am pleased to say Winter Soldier belongs with the upper-tier of Marvel movies, as opposed to the lower tier (the Thor films, Daredevil, Elektra, the Ghost Rider films).
Those who know comics will immediately think of Ed Brubaker’s masterful Winter-Soldier run on Captain America, but they won’t recognize the other influence here until they’re in the middle of the movie, Brian Michael Bendis’ and Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Warriors, describing Nick Fury’s private war against an infiltrating Hydra. And then there’s a dash of “eliminating the threat before it happens,” along the lines of Philip K. Dick’s “The Minority Report.” The screenplay, written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, effectively blends these story lines in an intriguing new way, making the film accessible, yet rich-with-backstory at the same time.
And the film has Robert Redford–‘Nuff Said, to use the ol’ Marvel expression–despite where his character goes. The interaction between Redford and Samuel Jackson is a highlight. The cast overall does a good job, including the newly introduced Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson (a.k.a. Falcon). Evans and Johansson expand upon their brief interaction in Avengers; they are nice foils for each other. Anthony and Joe Russo know how to pace the film well for an action-packed blockbuster, yet can also pull solid performances from their cast to provide the character moments that make these films.
It’s not perfect–there are several all too familiar tropes (like the setting for the final battle between Cap and the Winter Soldier), but there are enough creative scenes (like the Smithsonian exhibit and the build-up to the elevator fight) for us to overlook the cliches. My biggest problem with the film stretches to so much popular culture, casual violence, the large body count of unnamed extras. Bullets fly wildly in many street scenes in DC and unnamed soldiers fall. Ultimately I don’t think this is a film for young children, despite the ad before the film showing a five-year-old playing with a Captain-America helmet and shield. (But it is not as grossly inappropriate as some other franchises–G. I. Joe and Transformers.)
Overall, I may buy a copy when it comes out, and I don’t say that about many films these days.