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Captain America: The Winter Soldier Blu-ray Review

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) movie poster Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Theatrical Release: April 4, 2014 / Running Time: 136 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo / Writers: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely (screenplay); Joe Simon, Jack Kirby (Marvel comic)

Cast: Chris Evans (Steve Rogers / Captain America), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow), Robert Redford (Alexander Pierce), Sebastian Stan (James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes / Winter Soldier), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson / Falcon), Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill), Frank Grillo (Brock Rumlow), Maximiliano Hernandez (Jasper Sitwell), Emily VanCamp (Kate / Agent 13), Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter), Toby Jones (Dr. Arnim Zola), Stan Lee (Smithsonian Guard), Callan Mulvey (Jack Rollins), Jenny Agutter (Councilwoman Hawley), Bernard White (Councilman Singh), Alan Dale (Councilman Rockwell), Chin Han (Councilman Yen), Garry Shandling (Senator Stern), Georges St-Pierre (Georges Batroc), Gary Sinise (The Smithsonian Narrator) / Uncredited: Thomas Kretschmann (Baron Wolfgang von Strucker), Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Pietro Maximoff)

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Captain America: The First Avenger was one of the weaker links of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so I entered its sequel, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, more out of obligation than excitement.
The move from The Avengers back to those heroes' solo franchises has required downgraded expectations in quality and box office. Iron Man 3 minimized the adjustment by delighting audiences and grossing more than any other Marvel solo superhero film to date. Though I expected The Winter Soldier to display more modest growth along the lines of Thor: The Dark World's $25 million domestic bump, it grossed $84 million more than its predecessor and was the top-grossing film of 2014 domestically until recently being passed by another Marvel film, Guardians of the Galaxy.

As you should remember, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) turned from undersized wimp to strapping super soldier "Captain America" via an experimental serum during World War II. Presumed dead, he was discovered frozen nearly 70 years later, his strength and youth preserved. He teamed up with Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and company to save New York (and, by extension, the world) in The Avengers.

Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Captain America (Chris Evans) discover a security bunker whose old technology remains functional in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier."

Now, the Captain is on his own again. Well, not completely. He gets extensive assistance from all the most focal surviving members of top secret law enforcement agency S.H.I.E.L.D.: leader Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Natasha Romanoff a.k.a. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Maria Hill (Coby Smulders).

The film opens promisingly enough with Rogers running circles around Iraq War veteran Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. A friendship is born, resembling that of Tony Stark and Colonel Rhodes, though with far less cynicism and sarcasm. With his life endangered, Fury turns to Rogers for help. That incident and its immediate aftermath put Rogers in the hot seat with S.H.I.E.L.D., especially Fury's longtime friend and colleague Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford).

At the same time Rogers and friends are uncovering conspiracy at S.H.I.E.L.D., they're being targeted by a mysterious, seemingly invincible metal-armed figure from which the film takes its subtitle. The Captain and Black Widow are on the run for their lives, instructed not to trust anyone but making an exception for their new pal Wilson.

Captain America (Chris Evans) takes a hijacked ship by storm in the film's dynamic opening action sequence. S.H.I.E.L.D. executive Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) harbors suspicions toward Steve Rogers.

Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely return from the first film, but veteran adventure director Joe Johnston hands over the reins to the unlikely duo of Anthony and Joe Russo. Directing their first feature film since 2006's You, Me and Dupree, the two brothers have been keeping busy in television comedy, where their credits include a little bit of ABC's "Happy Endings" and a lot of NBC's "Community."
They don't seem especially qualified to helm a big effects tentpole like this, but that doesn't stop them from trying and from packing as much action they can into the film.

Like the first film, this one suffers from an excess of action that's only sporadically interesting. Of the single hero-driven adventures comprising Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man's three films have by far been the most successful. They offer superior action, but the appeal also lies in the use of characters and comedy. Captain America is light on both of those ingredients. The hero is honest and dutiful, but not terribly fun to watch, through no fault of Evans (who was one of the highlights of Fox's coolly-received Fantastic Four films). Iron Man has his egotism, Thor has otherworldliness, Hulk his split personality (which hasn't yet translated to the most exciting solo films). Steve Rogers hails from a distant generation, but he's acclimating quickly and remains all business. His story is remarkable, but he is not and no one else here has the goods to upstage him.

With that established, we're left with action sequence after action sequence, none of them meaning as much as they would with characters worthy of identification and sympathy. Some of them are creatively staged, like the Captain's opening blitz through a hijacked ship and a me-against-the-world glass elevator duel. But the lot of them grows tiresome. The novelty of seeing Evans fling his star shield with precision from distance and Johansson's stunt double flip and take someone down while hiding her face eventually wears off. By the time the overdue big finale arrives involving three helicarriers and visuals kind of resembling Iron Man 3's finale, we're left wondering in a situation so dire, why wouldn't the Captain ring up his fellow Avengers for their help instead of making us wait until next year's sequel.

Unmasked, The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) wields a familiar face. Make-up enables Steve's love Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) to look her age: 95 years old!

This sequel does an admirable job of seizing opportunities to bring back characters from the first film. To say more than that would probably qualify as spoilers for anyone not reading the cast list above. Mackie draws the bulk of the intermittent laughs, his outsider's perspective resonating with viewers.
There's a death in the middle of the film huge enough for you to doubt. The few new cast members are well-prepared for such material, even Redford, who hasn't really done anything of this sort before and who doesn't get to sink his teeth in the role that much.

It wouldn't be a Marvel film with some things to see during and after the end credits. The first functions as an apparent tease for 2015's The Avengers: Age of Ultron and features Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen as telekinetic twins in neighboring prison cells (Marvel isn't even bothering with the illusion of connecting projects in these tags anymore). The second bit comes at the very end of the closing scroll and hints at what might be coming in the third Captain America movie, which is scheduled to open May 6, 2016.

Adding to Disney's strange newfound aversion to the traditional combo packs they themselves invented, The Winter Soldier is available as a single-disc DVD, a single-disc Blu-ray, and a two-disc Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + Digital HD Digital Copy set. The middle of those was sent for review and is covered here.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
7.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish),
Dolby Digital 2.0 (Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: September 9, 2014
Suggested Retail Price: $32.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Also available on DVD ($29.99 SRP), Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + Digital Copy ($39.99 SRP)
and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

For the most part, Captain America: The Winter Soldier looks excellent on Blu-ray. Perhaps because a film of this scale invites sky-high expectations and close scrutiny, I did notice a couple of shots looked like they weren't as sharp as they could be. That is nit-picking, though, and few viewers should be any less than delighted by this presentation.

Sound is an aspect of obvious importance to this production. If the movie hadn't been released so early in the year and before superior summer blockbusters, it might have had a shot at recognition in one of the Oscars' sound categories. The aggressive sound effects do result in a 7.1 DTS-HD master audio mix that is full of peaks and valleys. That annoyingly means you may have to keep reaching for the remote and adjusting to be able to hear the dialogue yet not be overwhelmed by loud action noises.

"On the Front Line" gives us an inside look at this explosive production. Cut the check! Anthony Mackie proudly holds the slate bearing Captain America: The Winter Soldier's fake working title of "Freezer Burn."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The all-HD video extras begin with a Featurettes section holding three items that run shorter than you'd expect.

"On the Front Line: An Inside Look at Captain America's Battlegrounds" (10:11) throws us into the action and stunts that pervade the movie, with the directors discussing their new version of "Cap."

"On Set with Anthony Mackie: Cut the Check!" (1:55) pours praise on Mackie and then shows off the actor's favorite way of finishing a take, by declaring "Cut the check!"

We get a glimpse of the online polls that shaped "Steve Rogers' Notebook." This rare scene that made Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) the focus wound up on the cutting room floor.

"Steve Rogers' Notebook" (2:26) focuses on Captain America's list of culture and history to catch up on. Tailored to the different international versions of the film, we're given examples of some nation-specific references.

Four deleted/extended scenes run 3 minutes and 36 seconds. They show Maria Hill getting reassigned, a fruitless raid on Captain America, and two elongated Black Widow exchanges, one with Nick Fury and the other with Alexander Pierce. The lot can also be viewed with filmmakers' audio commentary.

The gag reel shows Scarlett Johansson and Chris Evans are still having fun with characters they've played twice before. The Blu-ray's creative menu gives us a digital rendering of the old security bunker Dr. Arnim Zola now calls home.

A gag reel (2:37) predictably entertains with actors fumbling their lines, missing their marks, and getting the giggles.

Finally, there is a feature audio commentary by directors Anthony and Joe Russo

Disney Store
and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. The track is dryer than you'd think, with the first lull coming before the 20-minute mark. Dead air isn't too common, though, as these four talk about how they tried hard to genuinely surprise viewers, the movie's politics and influences. While some may enjoy hearing them detail nuances all the way through the end of the end credits, I didn't find that it added much of interest to the film.

The disc opens with trailers for Guardians of the Galaxy, "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.": The Complete First Season, and the films that make up the first wave of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Sneak Peeks listing repeats those then plays ads for Disney XD's "Avengers Assemble", "Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.", and a Pixar and Marvel-emphasizing spot for Disney Movies Anywhere.

The menu takes us around the old security bunker, with clips playing on the computer screens. The Blu-ray doesn't support bookmarks or resuming playback, but it does remember where you left off in the movie, making it pretty easy to jump back in with a press of the Top Menu button.

I'd love to tell you about the set's packaging, but per their curious, unique practices, Marvel only sends critics the disc in a plain paper envelope, as opposed to the final product others provide.

Captain America (Chris Evans) takes note of the damage he's done in a one-against-all glass elevator battle.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

A slight improvement over its predecessor, Captain America: The Winter Soldier still ranks near the bottom of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies and reinforces this series as the studio's weakest active one. Watchable and with some good moments, the film nonetheless devotes too much thought to action and not enough to anything else. The result is a lot of action for action's sake that is much less engaging than it should be.

The Blu-ray of course boasts the first-rate picture and sound that a big budget new movie should in high definition, though the inconsistent volume levels annoy. The disc contains fewer bonus features than you'd expect such a big, successful, popular movie to elicit and the absence of a Marvel One-Shot short is felt. While Marvel completists will need no encouragement to pick this up, 2014 has been a very good year for big action movies, a number of which I would recommend ahead of this one as we approach the busy fourth quarter.

Buy Captain America: The Winter Soldier from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray / Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + Digital Copy / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Captain America: The First Avenger Thor Thor: The Dark World Iron Man Iron Man 3 Captain America (1990)
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Scarlett Johansson: The Spirit We Bought a Zoo The Prestige | Samuel L. Jackson: The Incredibles Jackie Brown Jumper
Anthony Mackie: Pain & Gain Real Steel The Fifth Estate Gangster Squad Eagle Eye 10 Years | Robert Redford: An Unfinished Life
Sebastian Stan: The Apparition Once Upon a Time: The Complete First Season Black Swan | Emily VanCamp: Brothers and Sisters: Season 1
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New: The Originals: The Complete First Season Draft Day Divergent Trust Me Man Hunt The Railway Man

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Reviewed September 7, 2014.



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