Captain America: The Winter Soldier Blu-ray Review
The times, they are a changing in the Marvel Universe. In the two years since the Battle of New York that saved the world from an alien invasion, Tony Stark has destroyed all of his Iron Man suits and effectively ended his superhero career; Thor has declined his father (?)’s offer to rule Asgard, distraught over his brother’s “sacrifice” to save their universe. And Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanoff, aka Captain America and Black Widow? They’re about to get a serious wakeup call about the agency they both serve in the latest Marvel Phase Two adventure, Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Soldier finds Rogers living the quiet life in Washington, D.C., still trying to adjust to the modern world while continuing to work for the secret agency S.H.I.E.L.D. alongside Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and their boss, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). When the liberation of a S.H.I.E.L.D. vessel from Algerian pirates has Cap questioning S.H.I.E.L.D.’s motives (Romanoff is more interested in extracting data than saving hostages), Fury reveals to Rogers the real objective of the operation: retrieving classified information regarding Project Insight, an operation involving three heavily-armed helicarriers designed to preemptively eliminate threats. Fury calls this the new face of freedom. Rogers calls it fear.
When even Fury can’t decrypt the information on Insight, he too begins to suspect that something is not right within the agency. Before he can figure out what that something is, Nick is ambushed in broad daylight and put out of commission (but not before handing off the encrypted info to Steve in Rogers’ apartment). Rogers also begins to suspect something is rotten within S.H.I.E.L.D., so much so that he refuses to share the Insight information with Fury’s boss, Alexander Pierce (a great, low-key Robert Redford). Branded a traitor by the agency, Cap and Black Widow find themselves on the run from the agency they once worked for.
Desperate to decrypt the Project Insight information to expose the evil within S.H.I.E.L.D., Cap and Black Widow finds themselves calling on two of the only people they can trust: Rogers’ new friend, a former paratrooper named Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders). As if dealing with the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents weren’t enough to contend with, Cap and his pals find themselves up against an unexpected and formidable new enemy- the mysterious Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).
I wasn’t the biggest fan of 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger. The film wasn’t the total misfire that 2013’s Thor: The Dark World was. Evans made for an ideal Captain America, Tommy Lee Jones was a riot in a supporting role, the movie’s visual style was a welcome throwback to the matinee serials of ole and it was kind of nice to see unabashed, black-and-white Kick-the-Krauts patriotism on screen again. Yet, for all of its flash and spectacle, Joe Johnston’s film felt remarkably undercooked. It lacked the thrills, sense of adventure and fun that the filmmaker brought to his great 1991 feature The Rocketeer, a movie I hoped The First Avenger would become. Unfortunately, The First Avenger became nothing more than an extended trailer for…well, The Avengers.
Thankfully, The Winter Soldier doesn’t feel like a 136-minute trailer for the next Avengers feature due in May of 2015. Darker and more adult (this is not a film for kids under ten), The Winter Soldier is an exciting, surprisingly smart thriller that is, hands down, the best Marvel film to date. The two biggest elements to The Winter Soldier’s success are Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s screenplay and Anthony and Joseph Russo (Community, Arrested Development)’s assured direction. Markus and McFeely take a page from the conspiracy thrillers from the 1970s (having Redford in the film is a nice nod to the genre) and to give us a superhero film with more depth, characters with added dimension and themes that give the viewer a bit of food for thought to go with their action: the possibility of a sleeper cell hiding within the government, the ethical boundaries of surveillance, government misuse of personal data and the lengths the so-called good guys will go to protect our “freedom”. It isn’t often that you get an action film with a degree of smarts behind it. In fact, I would say the last time we got a superhero film with this much on the ball was six years ago when The Dark Knight arrived on the scene.
No matter how good the screenplay is, if you don’t have the right filmmaker bringing the printed page to life then it will be all for naught. Given its political overtones, one could easily imagine the headache-inducing sermon that Oliver Stone would have cranked out. Fortunately, the studio settled on the Russos. Given their background in television sitcoms, they wouldn’t be the first people to come to mind to direct a $175 million action sequel. But they certainly prove they are more than up to the task. They’re just as great when it comes to handling genuinely exciting action scenes as they are directing actors (Evans, Mackie, Johansson, Jackson and Redford are all great). They also know where to place welcome spots of subtle comedy. Perhaps most importantly, the Russos never let the action or visual effects overwhelm what truly drives the film forward: the plot and its human element.
The High Definition Presentation
The Blu-ray transfer for Captain America: The Winter Soldier is about as spit and polish as they get for big budget blockbusters on home video. The AVC-encoded image is impeccable, with strong colors, deep black levels and superb picture detail. No edge enhancement, digital noise reduction or compression to be found anywhere. The 7.1 DTS HD-MA audio track is equally as stunning. Center channel dialogue is as clear as a bell, sound effects and music fill the left and right front and surround channels to full effect and the LFE channel will occasionally test your home’s foundation during the film.
Beyond the Presentation
I am starting to suspect that Hydra is in charge of supplemental material when it comes to Disney’s Marvel Studios releases. Ever since The Mouse House started to release Marvel’s films two years ago with The Avengers, the bonus materials have grown slimmer than your average runway model. The bonus material for The Winter Soldier may contain the least amount of extras yet. While the disc does contain a solid audio commentary track, most of the video-based supplements are nothing more than brief puff pieces that total a lousy twenty-two minutes. Heck, there isn’t even one of those Marvel One Shot short films on this disc! Word to the wise, Disney: if you don’t want a fanboy mutiny on your hands this December, don’t skimp on the Guardians of the Galaxy Blu-ray.
- Audio Commentary: Directors Anthony and Joe Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely offer up a solid, informative commentary track that covers many aspects of the production as well as the various influences for the film. Well worth the time and effort.
- On the Front Line: An Inside Look At Captain America’s Battlegrounds (10 minutes): A brief look at the film’s action scenes and stunt work. This short features some interesting behind the scenes material and its nice to see the film’s stunt people get some due respect.
- Steve Rogers’ Notebook (2:25): A look at Cap’s notebook of pop culture items to catch up on, how the choices got in there and how the notebook’s material changed for various releases worldwide this past spring.
- On the Set With Anthony Mackie: Cut The Check! (1:56): A really brief look at Anthony Mackie’s role in the film. Most of this under-two minute feature centers on Mackie saying the phrase “Cut the Check!” after successfully filming a scene. Guaranteed to be watched once and never again.
- Deleted Scenes (3:36): A handful of deleted scenes, character bits mostly save a lame mini action scene, that are okay at best but wouldn’t have added much to the final cut.
- Gag Reel (3:40): Some amusing bloopers. And oh yeah, more opportunities to hear Mackie say “Cut the Check!”
Near the start of the film, Alexander Pierce tells Captain America that in order to build a better world you sometimes have to tear the old one down, which can lead to creating enemies along the way. Marvel, in an attempt to keep its Pixar-like winning streak going, understands that in order to keep your brand relevant and profitable, you need to take things in new and occasionally risky directions, which may raise the ire of long-standing fans. Captain America: The Winter Soldier took some sizeable chances with well-known and respected material and the end result should make die-hard Cap fans and casual filmgoers quite happy.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is everything that you would want from a big-budget action feature. It’s smart, exciting, funny and one that raises the bar for Marvel films of all phases. Disney’s Blu-ray release offers up a superb video and audio presentation, but comes up remarkably short when it comes to the supplemental material. Still, the disc is worth picking up and adding to your collection simply on the merit of the film alone.
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