Other than being far and away the best film yet to come out of the ho-hum Marvel Universe, “Captain America: Winter Soldier” is a blatant $175 million “screw you” to Barack Obama’s surveillance state, and especially the President’s dishonesty and rationale surrounding it. Obama might have destroyed America’s economic recovery and healthcare system, but we can at least thank him for inspiring a 4.5 star superhero movie.
With the exception of the first “Iron Man,” Marvel’s heavy mythology, even heavier CGI, and over-reliance on flashy Euro-trash villains disguised as non-humans has left me cold. This includes the first “Captain America,” which left so little of an impression I only remember the sensation of my butt numbing.
“Winter Soldier” succeeds mainly because it breaks out of the leaden Marvel mold and aims for something closer to the last two films in Christopher Nolan’s masterful “Dark Knight” trilogy. Working from a top-notch script from Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, brother-directors Anthony and Joe Russo do an outstanding job of grounding their story and characters (even the costumed ones) in the real world.
The Brothers Russo also succeed in doing what George Clooney’s “Michael Clayton” (2007) and Jason Statham’s “The Bank Job” (2008) failed so miserably at: bringing back the visceral thrills of the political conspiracy thrillers and urban actioners that defined the very best of the 1970’s.
After being frozen for decades, World War II hero Captain America aka Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) was thawed out for “The Avengers,” and now, two years later, is still adapting to life in contemporary Washington DC. While he tries to create something resembling an emotional life for himself, Rogers fills his professional time working with Black Widow (a very good Scarlet Johansson) and for S.H.I.E.L.D.
Lately, though, the S.H.I.E.L.D. missions are beginning to feel like dirty work.
Safety vs. Freedom quickly becomes a source of tension between S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Sam Jackson) and Rogers, with the revelation that the espionage agency is preparing to launch Project Insight, the brainchild of a powerful politician, Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford). Three Hellicarriers linked to satellites are set to be launched. From high in the sky, their objective is to patrol the skies while being fed the domestic surveillance information necessary to preemptively eliminate American security threats; people who have not yet found guilty of anything.
If this sounds an awful lot like President Obama’s kill lists (which includes Americans), his drones and dishonest ramping up of the domestic surveillance state, it is meant to. The directors have said so outright. Thankfully, the idea is handled in a thematic rather than political way, which means that “Winter Solder” won’t feel dated after Obama exits office and the privacy issue fades from memory.
Regardless, there is no question the artistic muse at work in “Winter Soldier” is directed at Obama’s outrageous lying, hypocrisy, and extremism on the issue of domestic surveillance. Until it was corrupted, S.H.I.E.L.D. was an espionage agency everyone was comfortable with, including the unfailingly noble Captain America.
This corruption is not presented in the form of the usual-usual left-wing Hollywood bogeyman: the cigar-chomping militaristic general. The corruptor is political and openly expresses the left-wing ethos on just about everything (ObamaCare, abortion, the environment) with a statement along the lines of, “I’m willing to kill 20 million people to save 7 billion.”
Obama, his hypocritical left-wing supporters and media minions, are sure to feel an uncomfortable warmth in their faces as the story of Captain America and Black Widow unfold.
But what a story. “Winter Soldier” never lets up and along the way creates an intensity that actually leads you to believe something terrible could happen. This is another quality that sets it apart from the rest of the Marvel Universe.
The climax climaxes just fine but the real stand-out action scenes are a “French Connection”-style car chase and “Heat”/”Dark Knight”-inspired shoot-out that are nothing like the soulless, CGI eye-candy that fills up too many of these superhero films and makes you feel like you’re watching somebody else play a video game. Like the rest of “Winter Soldier,” these knock-out sequences are grounded, intense, and beyond entertaining.
The best news is that the movie’s fierce shots aimed at our failed president have nothing to do with why “Winter Soldier” is a standalone great movie that would have won a full 5 stars had it stayed away from that g**damned shaky cam.
The side order of Obama-bashing and a perfect Gary Sinise cameo are merely icing.
Near the end of his administration, Hollywood spent somewhere around a billion dollars bashing George W. Bush with a relentless series of awful anti-troop/anti-American films that flopped at a 100% rate. Unfortunately for Obama, “Winter Soldier” is already a mammoth critical and box office hit.
The message against him is being blasted out far and wide.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC