The days of being wowed merely by the arrival of a superhero movie are long gone. There was a time not long ago, that a super-powered slug-fest just showing up on the silver screen was reason enough to buy a ticket and cheer. But those days are long gone. Super-hero movies aren’t just expected, now they come in bunches. And if studios want to keep selling tickets, they know they’ve got to supply moviegoers with a quality product.

Marvel Studios has been putting on a clinic in the proper way to do this since 2008’s IRON MAN. Right from the beginning, Marvel realized that for their movies to be successful, it was script first, casting second. The special effects must be top-notch, but in this carefully constructed interlocking film world, if the story doesn’t play to the non-comics fans, it will fail like a house of cards in a windstorm. (Couldn’t think of a Stan Lee quality metaphor here. Sorry.)

Nowhere is the quality more self evident than with the just released CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER. Less of a sequel than a follow-up to 2011’s CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, this outing shows our defrosted hero facing challenges from his past and present. After alien hordes destroy most of New York City in THE AVENGERS, where else is there to go? Taking inspiration from Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s iconic run on the Captain America comic book, this film shows the progression of the Marvel movie from the (wonderfully) outlandish and fantastic adventure, to the (very believable) dark and political thriller.

Cap is doing his best to fit in with his new 21st century life. Making lists of things to check out (The Berlin Wall: UP and DOWN, etc.) he’s also having a tough time making a life outside of S.H.I.E.L.D. When your best friend is the Russian super-spy Black Widow, and you don’t even know if you can fully trust her, well… it’s time to make some more friends. Bringing in veteran Sam Wilson from the 1970’s era comics was a stroke of genius. A more believable bro-mance I haven’t seen lately.

Nick Fury has a bad feeling things aren’t right in S.H.I.E.L.D. With the unveiling of a massively destructive initiative on the horizon, (Did I mention New York was almost wiped off the map? Again, the Marvel movie universe is well-plotted and they reward close attention.) Fury moves to put things on hold until he can pinpoint the trouble. As it turns out, he ends up pinpointing himself as a target from a corrupt faction of S.H.I.E.L.D. Barely surviving the attempt on his life, he tells Cap something is rotten and not to trust anyone. And with the appearance of the Winter Soldier causing untold destruction wherever he goes, and how the Soldier ties into the genesis of S.H.I.E.L.D., it’s all Cap and Co. can do to put the pieces together before everything comes crashing down on everyone’s heads.

Taking inspiration from the political potboilers of the 1970’s, THE WINTER SOLDIER is a massive leap forward for what the superhero movie can do. This is a movie that will make you cheer for those heroes that will do whatever it takes to do what’s right. Even when their world of Black and White has run into horrible shades of gray.


Dan Malmon