As we’ve all come to expect from a movie produced by Marvel Studios, there was a post-credits sequence (actually, it was more like a mid-credits sequence) at the end of Captain America: The Winder Soldier. In it, we are introduced to a couple of characters that will apparently play a major role in the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron, which is the sequel to the ridiculously successful blockbuster known as The Avengers. That little glimpse into what’s ahead in what people are calling the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” (or MCU) might very well have been the straw that broke the camel’s back in regards to my opinion of the movie that I’m here to review. After sitting through all of The Winter Soldier, I was starting to question whether or not I should keep watching these Marvel movies. Watching a little sequence that was supposed to get me excited for the next movie only made me think: “what’s the point?”
Now, let me make things clear. I do know why I go to see these Marvel movies. First, because I was a gigantic Marvel Comics fan when I was growing up. Second, because the Marvel movies (Iron Man and The Avengers especially) usually have a loose and comedic tone that ends up being incredibly fun to watch. The thing is I tend to enjoy these movies, even if I don’t always think they’re “good”. However, what I was asking myself at the end of The Winter Soldier was if it was worth it to have any kind of investment on the MCU beyond casually going to the theater in order to have a good time when there’s nothing better to do on a saturday afternoon. This is all to say that my biggest problem with The Winter Soldier –and one that seems to be inherent to both the corporate mentality of a massive conglomerate like Disney, which owns Marvel, and to comic book culture itself- is that this movie didn’t have any god-dammed stakes.
I’m referring, in particular, to the fact that there is way too many “fake deaths” in this movie (at least three or four). It is a well-known fact that one of the criticism of mainstream comic book’s narratives (meaning mostly Marvel and DC Comics) is that characters that die come back to life very quickly. The MCU is more than following this line, and not just in Captain America. The most outrageous example is Agent Coulson, whose death is one of the most important plot points of The Avengers, but has been revived to star in the lackluster tv series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Captain America: The Winter Soldier takes this concept way too far, and by the time we get to the final battle, I am completely out of the movie, because I know that if something major happens, well, they will just reverse it for the next movie.
It’s a shame, because apart from its flaws in the reviving characters department, The Winter Soldier is a pretty decent movie. Most of the critical reception has been positive, with critics happy to point the similarities the movie shares with conspiracy thrillers of the 70s such as Three Days of the Condor and The Conversation. I can’t really argue that much with this response. I mean, the 70s influence is obvious, and the movie is at times very fun, and very funny. But like the weaker entries in the Marvel movies, it felt more like a factory line product than a movie. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo do know how to stage a cool action sequence (the best one takes place entirely within an elevator), but their artistic vision isn’t strong enough (or maybe they don’t have enough clout with the producers) to really put a stamp on the movie, which looks and feels like what you’d expect a Marvel movie to look like.
This doesn’t mean that I’m giving up on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though, like that last sentence implies, I still find that a strong auteur can bring something interesting and beyond merely entertaining to these movies when they’re given the chance. I loved what Joss Whedon did with The Avengers, as well as Shane Black’s mostly personal take on Iron Man 3 last year. I’m still looking forward to what Whedon will do with the next Avengers movie, as well as how much of Edgar Wright’s voice comes through in Ant-Man. And for now, I do think that James Gunn might have something cool in store for us in this summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy. But what Captain America: The Winter Soldier makes me question, as adequate a film as it may be, is if anything these directors do will have any meaning once the corporate machine brings everything back to normal in order to sell more dolls.
Grade: 6 out of 10