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Captain America: The Winter Soldier (3D Blu-ray Review)

5 Sep, 2014 By: John Latchem

Street 9/9/14
Box Office $259.77 million
$29.99 DVD, $32.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 3D Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of violence, gunplay and action throughout
Stars Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson, Toby Jones, Maximiliano Hernández, Garry Shandling, Jenny Agutter.

One of the strengths of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the way it's able to reach into any genre to tell its unique brand of interconnected stories. Viewers can enjoy the sci-fi action of “Iron Man,” the fantasy adventure of the “Thor” movies or space opera such as Guardians of the Galaxy, all with the potential tease that the characters from the various films could eventually interact.

This versatility is especially evident in the “Captain America” brand. Captain America: The First Avenger was a lot of fun simply for being a war film with the twist of having a superhero thrown into the center of it. But that film was also heavy on establishing backstory needed for The Avengers, most notably how Captain America went from scrawny Brooklyn kid Steve Rogers to fighting Nazis in World War II to being frozen for 70 years and waking up in modern times.

The second phase of the MCU cycle has found great success in unpacking all that exposition established in Phase One. From Iron Man 3 to Thor: The Dark World, the films have been much more focused on character and story. Of the 10 MCU films released so far, Captain America: The Winter Soldier might be the best one of them all.

The screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely takes full advantage of the mythology established in the other films to create a substantial narrative, weaving an allegory about the government’s role in a post-9/11 world into an entertaining political thriller that just happens to have a superhero caught in the middle. It doesn’t hurt that it radically alters the state of affairs of the MCU while paying off a lot of story threads for the fans.

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo manage to perfectly balance a wide array of plot elements without the film spinning out of control, and somehow still manage to ground the film as a true sequel to First Avenger (as well as The Avengers). Though transplanted 70 years from his own time, Cap (Chris Evans) finds himself coming face-to-face with old friends and enemies he believed were long since buried. At the same time, he grows wary about plans by S.H.I.E.L.D. to heighten worldwide security with radical new technologies that can identify and eliminate threats before they ever happen.

The freedom vs. security debate that forms the philosophical foundation of the story is a timely one, and the plan outlined by S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to use heavily armed helicarriers to constantly patrol the skies is certainly evocative of drone warfare.

The reason the film’s message is most effective as a Captain America story relates to the fact that Rogers skipped over all the decades that led humanity to this point, which lets him serve as a shot of pure American idealism from a time when it mattered the most.

Cap’s essential heroism, of course, makes him the target of the film’s true villains, forcing Cap to join forces with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) to expose and defeat a conspiracy so massive that its lingering effects carried over to the MCU TV series “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” which probably saved the show from mediocrity.

While it's fun to see several returning faces in action, there are also several great new characters, including Mackie as Falcon, one of Cap’s best friends in the comics, and Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce, Fury’s boss.

One of the primary reasons the movie works so well is the respect the filmmakers show to the material, not just the MCU but the action and thriller genres this specific film is emulating. As is abundantly clear in the fun commentary track, the filmmakers, particularly the Russo brothers, are huge film buffs, and they constantly cite the works that influenced them here. But some of their best observations are made as fans, such as when they quip that the guns on the helicarriers better fire at something so as not to disappoint their inner 12-year-old.

Unfortunately, the Blu-ray doesn’t contain a new “One Shot” short film that has become a staple of the MCU home video releases.

The Blu-ray does include about four minutes of deleted scenes with some interesting but extraneous character moments, and a nearly three-minute gag reel. There are also three featurettes totaling about 15 minutes. The longest spends 10 minutes delving into the fight scenes and stunts, and how filmmakers wanted to stray from the typical action formula into order to give the film a fresh feel. Another featurette focuses on Mackie and the third deals with how filmmakers altered Cap’s list of things to catch up on to appeal to different countries.

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