Stars: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson
Writers: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Suggested Retail Price: $32.99
Distributor: Marvel Studios / Buena Vista Home Entertainment

There’s a reason why the two best super hero movies of 2014 (so far) are CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY – Marvel Studios knows its character and franchises so well that they’re willing to take chances and do original things with their movies even if it means a potential mass exodus from fans.

That wasn’t the case for either film, and the originality that came from both of them – while still building out the Marvel Cinematic Universe and having the characters and situations having an impact on all of their films.

While CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER was more of an old school origin story set almost entirely during World War II, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER brings the character of Steve Rogers (aka Captain America) to the present day. Having been thawed out from a winter nap at the end of the first movie, and fighting with Iron Man, The Hulk, Hawkeye, Black Widow and Thor in THE AVENGERS, the hero is now back to a solo adventure in his second feature film (though he does get assist from Black Widow and his comic book buddy Falcon.

Rogers is now in Washington working for S.H.I.E.L.D., but he’s suspicious of the organization still and for good reason – it’s been infiltrated by various agents of HYDRA and they’re out to get him and the rest of the good guys.

There are many allusions to 1970s conspiracy thrillers which THE WINTER SOLDIER uses loosely to its advantage. A little ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN and THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR is there, especially with Robert Redford in the film as S.H.I.E.L.D. head Alexander Pierce.

On the hero side, the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is basically a co-lead and maybe even a potential love interest and there’s the great addition of sidekick Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) who becomes the Falcon. Throw in a great arc for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) giving him his biggest role in a Marvel movie to date and you have a really dense and action-packed movie.

There’s also a great story for The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Shaw) which was seeded quite nicely in THE FIRST AVENGER, but thankfully didn’t hit you over the head with it. If you’re a fan of these movies, you know what the twist is, but kudos to Marvel for planning ahead.

What makes the Marvel Studios movies so solid is that they know their worlds so well. They’re not scripting one-off movies – they’re scripting a whole movie universe and even if there are a few mentions here and there to future films, it’s still baked in early on instead of retconned afterwards.

The special features on THE WINTER SOLDIER are standard fare for the Blu-ray only disc – making of featurettes, audio commentary and some deleted scenes. The deleted scenes don’t add much to the overall film, and deservedly should have been cut. The bloopers are way too short for something like this, but it’s nice to see the actors break character during the generally serious style of the film.

Take away the superhero stuff and CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER works as great action entertainment. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo are another solid addition to the Marvel stable of directors. They understand the action beats, but also are great with character and infusing character based-humor. If GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY hadn’t come along, I would say this was the most surprising superhero film of the summer, but that goes to GUARDIANS. It also says something when the two movies people are still looking back fondly this summer come solely from Marvel Studios (we’ll ignore the Marvel shared universe of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 and X MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST).


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