If you follow Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., watch this movie before Tuesday. Also, be aware that this isn’t really a super hero movie, but is really a James Bond movie with much fancier technology. As always in a Marvel studios production, stay through all of the credits; there are two additional scenes in this one.

Cast and Crew Information

Chris Evans as Steve Rogers / Captain America
Scarlett Johansson as Natalia Romanova / Black Widow
Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury
Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce
Sebastian Stan as the Winter Soldier
Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson / Falcon
Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill
Frank Grillo as Brock Rumlow
Maximiliano Hernandez as Jasper Sitwell
Emily VanCamp as Agent 13
Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter
Toby Jones as Dr. Arnim Zola
Stan Lee as Smithsonian Guard
Jenny Agutter as Councilwoman Hawley
Garry Shandling as Senator Stern
George St-Pierre as Georges Batroc
Ed Brubaker as Scientist #2
Danny Pudi as Com Tech #1
Gary Sinise as the Smithsonian Narrator
Alan Davis as National Mall Jogger, but this isn’t the “Alan Davis” comic fans might think it is.

Three other significant characters that only appear during the credits who shall not be named.

Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on a story arc by Ed Brubaker, with elements of work by Jonathan Hickman, Brian Michael Bendis and Bob Harras in there as well.
Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo

What You Need To Know

A friend of mine has never seen a Marvel movie before, but asked me if she’d be able to understand this one. The answer is a definite “yes.” The only piece that isn’t recapped in detail is how a World War II soldier still looks so young in 2014. The answer: he spent about 70 years frozen in the Arctic ice, surviving only because of the experiment that turned him into Captain America. S.H.I.E.L.D. found him, thawed him and recruited him. That’s the only piece of the puzzle that isn’t right there on screen very naturally within the first 15 minutes. (It does still get touched on, though.)

Premise

Captain America learns that there are activities within S.H.I.E.L.D. that he does not approve of. Going down the rabbit hole, he learns that there are activities going on within S.H.I.E.L.D. that absolutely must be stopped.

High Point

It’s nice to see how perfectly they brought the Falcon to the screen. It is difficult to decide whether the high point is that or the way they brought in current political themes without being preachy.

Low Point

Those of use who know alter egos from the comics will not be surprised by things that should be surprises.

The Review

This is an original Marvel Studios film, particularly in the tone. These characters are spies and soldiers much more than they are super heroes, and that comes across in their actions and concerns. Even though it’s adapted material, they adapted from enough sources and made enough minor changes to make it feel like their own story. I give it 5 out of 6.

The effects are extremely well done. Some are physical, and some are CGI, but I can only be sure about which are which when we are talking about effects too large to be done physically. Utterly seamless visual effects are a very good thing. I give it 6 out of 6.

The story is very tightly structured and well paced. They drew from a lot of source material, but it never feels like they crammed too much in. Of the 13 major comic characters, 6 have never been on the big screen before, yet none of those 13 ever feel shortchanged for development. I give it 6 out of 6.

The acting is great all around, at least as far as the script demands. (Some are only in the movie for under 10 minutes, but they do feel as though their purpose was fulfilled.) There are some emotionally powerful moments that play out here, and the cast handle them well. I give it 6 out of 6.

The production was top notch. Director teams sometimes become pedestrian and bland, as we end up with the common denominator, but this doesn’t seem to suffer terribly. There aren’t any greatly innovative moments in the direction, but there are no problems either. The story clearly comes first. The direction doesn’t call attention to itself, instead serving the story. The musical score accents the screen action wonderfully, but isn’t a score I’d listen to in isolation. The editing puts story first and doesn’t “play up” or over emphasize the numerous cameo characters and actors. The story comes first from start to finish, and that’s something I want in my summer blockbusters. In fact, I could name a summer blockbuster or two that I really couldn’t stand because they put story in a back seat. I give it 6 out of 6.

The emotional response is undermined only slightly by my foreknowledge of the source material and the corresponding lack of surprises. I give it 5 out of 6.

Overall, this may be Marvel’s strongest film. I enjoyed The Avengers more, but if you watch The Avengers in isolation without the lead-in films, I don’t think it holds up as well. This does. In fact, this could be your first Marvel film and you can still expect to enjoy it. I give it 6 out of 6.

In total, Captain America: Winter Soldier receives 40 out of 42.