This movie is actually good. As in “almost real movie” good, not just “comic book on screen” good. The basic thrust of it harkens back to all those official corruption movies from the 70s, of which “Three Days of the Condor” is probably most iconic. That starred Robert Redford, who cycles back in this one as Mr. Corruption himself, with a smile and a capitol C.
The theme is an adult one: when you create giant power structures within government, those structures inevitably transcend the stated purpose for their creation, becoming means to an end for people who want to exploit them. It’s certainly a topic with relevance in these days of NSA headlines and killer drones. And a comic book movie, of all things, kind of does it justice.
The movie opens with Steve Rogers meeting discharged vet Sam Wilson while jogging around the Capitol Mall. It’s a setup for the thrust of the tale. Sam is a guy who served his country and found himself after getting out. Steve Rogers is a guy who served his country and never stopped, while unbeknownst to him, he’s about to be forced out. There’s also plenty of humor from the get go. Like with most of the recent Marvel movies, it’s deftly woven. That’s a huge selling point when sitting through a two hour and fifteen minute movie. The first chuckle comes when the Black Widow (Natasha) interrupts Steve and Sam: “You guys know where the Smithsonian is? I’m looking for a fossil.”
That quip leads to a fast-paced Captain America-led rescue mission for a captured SHIELD naval vessel. Tempers flare when Cap finds his assignment to rescue hostages in conflict with Natasha’s assignment to retrieve SHIELD data. Back at the massive SHIELD Headquarters (The Triskelion) along the Potomac, Cap has it out with Director Nick Fury. They talk about trust and compartmentalization. About the greater good and how to achieve it. Fury ultimately lets Cap in on a secret: Project Insight. The future is three massive helicarriers linked to satellites and operating autonomously to preemptively eliminate threats. That’s how freedom will be assured. Cap’s response: “That’s not freedom—it’s fear.”
Fury tries to access the data Natasha recovered from that ship earlier. Something about it isn’t right. He goes to senior SHIELD executive Alexander Pierce (Redford) and asks him to support delaying Project Insight: “It may be nothing, but if it’s something, you and I will both be very glad we did this.” What follows is a superb action set piece where Fury’s vehicle is set upon by an assassination team in the streets of Washington DC. It’s a brutal getaway. Fury almost makes it until an unbelievable hard ass called the Winter Soldier flips his car over. From there, it’s a quick retreat to Cap’s apartment to hand over a critical thumb drive before Fury is shot. And dies?
One by one, the good guys start getting cornered. There’s a great sequence where Cap is in an elevator in the Triskelion. More and more big guys get on at each floor until Cap says: “Okay, before we start this, does anyone want to get off?” It’s a great line in context. The end result is Cap and Natasha on the run, trying to trust each other amid well-written banter. The highlight is Natasha kissing him to avoid detection in a crowd, then asking later if that’s the first time, you know, since World War II? Cap: “Was it that bad?”
The big secret? The remains of Hydra (from World War II) have taken over SHIELD from within. They are about to use the Project Insight helicarriers to kill twenty million people, all in the name of Order (with a very big Capital O). Freedom through fear indeed. And Alexander Pierce is the head honcho, busily breaking lots of eggs to make that proverbial omelet that never quite seems to materialize.
Cap and Natasha work through their issues. Fury turns up alive. Some SHIELD folk rally to his side, and good old Sam Wilson turns out to have a very modern paratrooper, complete with exoskeleton wings. Bust one of those out and he’s flying faster than you can say “Falcon.” The revolution is on, with one final revelation—the Winter Soldier is Cap’s old friend Bucky Barnes from World War II, augmented and mind wiped by Hydra as their very own super soldier operative.
Can Fury’s ragtag band save the day? Does Cap make a stirring speech about where duty really lies? Does the Triskelion go down spectacularly? And can Cap reach the Bucky buried deep down in a Winter Soldier?
What do you think? It’s still that much of a comic book movie. But it’s also a surprisingly taut and suspenseful thriller for grown-ups.