Marvel Studios may have finally crossed the point of no return.
With the release of Captain America:The Winter Soldier, the Disney/Marvel powerhouse has given us the first page to film adaptation that truly mimics the internalized feeling of reading a comic book. Avengers came close, I will admit, but Winter Soldier is the first film where established characters mingling organically within a shared universe isn’t treated as a gimmick. There is a significant difference in the way Captain America handles the idea of our central character teaming up with other heroes and the way Avengers did. Specifically, here it is treated as the status quo. In the Avengers, everyone teaming up to save the day seemed like a novel approach to deal with the threat at hand. Here, it’s simply the way things are and it is for that reason that anyone who reads Marvel comics on a regular basis can attest to why Winter Soldier felt the most like an actual comic brought to the screen than even Avengers did.
In any given Marvel book these characters will cross paths and help each other with their various ordeals and the reader doesn’t bat an eye. That is just how things work in the Marvel universe. Winter Soldier is the cinematic equivalent of that phenomenon. The world building that has been in development since Ironman back in 2008 has finally peaked with Captain America:The Winter Soldier. Marvel has successfully translated not only their characters but the overall feeling of their shared comic book universe onto film. A bigger accomplishment than successfully adapting these characters to another medium has been Marvel’s ability to change the way the modern movie-going audience thinks about the idea of franchise films and the importance of each sequel moving forward. Just look at the way audiences react here in 2014 compared to 2008. Now, the idea of leaving a Marvel film before the credits end is absolutely ludicrous. As an audience, we’ve been trained like Pavlov’s dogs to salivate at each teaser sting. We know Marvel’s films are woven together like a web and we’re all just waiting to see where the next thread goes. When Man of Steel was released last year, several reviews remarked at how DC didn’t even attempt to make any hints at connecting a larger universe. Marvel has associated the idea of the larger universe with their own brand and marketed the idea of the interconnected world of superheroes as the only way to be successful in the comic book movie world. In short, much like their reinvention of storytelling in the sixties, making movies “the Marvel way” has become synonymous with success.
In honesty, Captain America : The Winter Soldier is a success on multiple fronts. As a standalone film it breaks the mold set by its predecessor and becomes bigger and bolder than the first film ever attempted to be. When the news broke that the film would be directed by Communty alum Joe and Anthony Russo, the internet seemed ready to decry the move as Marvel’s first major misfire. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Left field choices for directors often yield amazing results and Marvel is never one to shy away from odd choices. Let us not forget that the fella who directed Elf gave us Ironman. Wild-card director James Gunn is bringing us Guardians of the Galaxy later this year. Essentially, what films like Winter Soldier show is that Marvel is gaining ground by making bold choices and trying new things. The Russo brothers show that they can stage an action scene better than anyone else in the game. The fight scenes are phenomenal and, what’s more, they are edited in a manner that makes them vibrant and aggressive without being incomprehensible. The action in the first Captain America film was passable, but not truly memorable. That film was helmed by veteran director Joe Johnston, who brought us action classics like The Rocketeer, and while I don’t want to take away from how effective The First Avenger was, it stands in a very dark shadow cast by its sequel. Everything about Winter Soldier is bolder than First Avenger. The only thing anyone can say about Captain America : The Winter Soldier is that by virtue of being a sequel to, in truth, a number of other films, it doesn’t earn its own effectiveness by its own merits. The film simply could not exist without the rest of the Marvel cinematic universe evolving to create the DNA from which it was spawned. While the film could be viewed by itself on its own, so much of what makes it truly sing is how well it builds on the ideas of others.
That is truly what makes it an honest to god “comic book” movie.
The world of comic books have been building upon what came before for the better part of seventy five years. Ed Brubaker turned Captain America on its head when he wrote the Winter Soldier storyline in the comic series. Nobody can deny that. But the effectiveness of that story arc also owes to decades of sentiment built up over the Captain America/Bucky dynamic that dozens of writers had toyed with in the pages of multiple comics. Dismissing Captain America because it embraces its place in a shared cinematic universe is a mistake. A few reviewers have lamented the ability for new viewers to hop on board the Marvel train because of how dense the world is becoming, and yet those same reviewers are quick to dismiss the idea of rebooting a franchise like Spider-Man or Fantastic Four so quickly. Essentially, walking into a Marvel film from this point on requires the audience to be on board and in a mindset that is not asked of the audience of any other major franchise. Marvel has made movie fans into comic book nerds without them even noticing.
Captain America : The Winter Soldier is equally as ambitious as Avengers was, simply in a different manner. It is a subtle difference, which might seem odd considering that the film is as loud and bombastic as it is, but in the end I feel like it is also will go down as one of Marvel’s biggest victories as it firmly establishes a mindset that the audience has to embrace to enjoy the total package. Only time will tell if theater goers have truly embraced that mindset. I would say the opening numbers for Guardians of the Galaxy will tell the whole story. Until then, Marvel still has a lot to be proud of. This is truly a massive achievement, and comic book fans should be very, very happy about the future of comic book films. At least as long as they’re produced by Marvel.