In my 3 decades of film watching, there have been few films that I sing the subtle praises for. These are films so good that I don’t understand that anything need be said about them. One of those films is Captain America: The Winter Soldier. CA:TWS is a brutal, fast, deep, and fun thrill ride that asks complicated questions without ruining the cinematic experience with political preaching. It is the best action film since Aliens, and I prioritize this over The Matrix and Terminator 2, with tight chase scenes, and in your face fist fights and shoot outs that compliment the story, instead of distracting from it. All set to the most claustrophobic, chilling and pulse pounding score in modern times. With so many action, comic book, and Marvel films at the ready, what makes this one so special (apart from centering around a kid from Brooklyn)?
It begins with a friendly meeting between Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson (AKA The Falcon) which is warm and soothing. The conversation is both comedic and gives insight into the lives of post war soldiers. The opening acts as anesthesia, because the following 2+ hours are the surgery. This film is so violent and so balls to the wall, but it still is overflowing with humanity. The tone is very serious, with just enough silliness to keep it from the realm of depressing. It is very much a film about the plight of soldiers, and what they fight for. Soldiers fight for freedom, and they pay a price somehow. It’s a moral tale in which we are asked, “is security worth the cost of freedom?” It’s a valid question, especially since the true villain of the film is authoritarian tyranny. In the previous film, the antagonist was a physical tyrant, and now it is tyranny as a whole, and it tests the limits of Steve and why he even exists. It’s not only timely considering the fear of the forfeiture of freedom but by doing it through the means of complete digital takeover. As we have seen time and time again, our personal data has been compromised, so have those in the MCU.
The film is largely an espionage thriller, but the action never lets up. I do like a fun action film, but this is above and beyond. Though the story is gripping, it is extremely heavy on action. The Lumerian Star is a cornucopia of shoot outs and martial arts. Everything is well shot and choreographed, so we get to feel all the hits, in addition to editing, so perfect that nothing is boring, or excessive. Not since Speed has there been a car sequence that leaves you on the edge of your seat like the Nick Fury assault, and it even has a fantastically timed technology joke during his escape. It’s the first adult contemporary action film in the Marvel library that combines the best aspects of thrilling entertainment wrapped inside a story as seductive as the top Hydra scientist.
Every single track from the score, composed by Henry Jackman (unrelated to Hugh), sounds like the best track from the last film you watched with a noteworthy score. It get’s the heart beating faster than the purest batch of meth that Walter White could ever cook. Seriously, look up the track “Taking a Stand” and leave a comment on this review. The whole soundtrack is a regular on my gym playlist, and it starts strong with “The Lumerian Star” which sets the tone for the entire movie that gets you ready to cheer, and in the end cools you down with the somber, yet intrepid, “Captain America”. As far as scores for a film go, nothing will match this. Sure, there are themes that are more memorable (Back to the Future, Jaws, Halloween), but as far as overall scores go, this one is as perfect as everything else in this film.
Considering this is a monumental action film, with over 2 hours of content, a 5 act structure (over the conventional 3 act), with nonstop character development and plot, it’s hard to unpack it all. It is the most pro freedom and pro America film I have ever seen, and it does it without being schlocky, right-wing propaganda, with an amazing line from Nick Fury, “Peace is not an achievement, it’s a responsibility”. It is film that feels like it is from another era in how it manages to balance character, plot, and action, without sacrificing anything. Even though the music is as haunting and brooding as it’s titular character (a personal favorite character of mine), it has an identity beyond “stock movie music” which far too many films suffer from. I call it a perfect film, in every regard, and I place it in my top 5 films of all time, next to: Aliens, L.A. Confidential, Frailty, and JFK.