Blu-ray
Highly Recommended
4.5 stars
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Overall Grade
4.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
4.5 Stars
HD Video Quality
5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
5 Stars
Supplements
0.5 Stars
High-Def Extras
2 Stars
Bottom Line
Highly Recommended

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Street Date:
September 9th, 2014
Reviewed by:
Review Date: 1
September 12th, 2014
Movie Release Year:
2014
Studio:
Disney/Buena Vista
MPAA Rating:
PG-13
Release Country
United States

Editor's Notes

Portions of this review appear in our coverage of the two-disc 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' Blu-ray 3D.

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

Marvel is having a hell of a year. First,  the thrilling 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' and then the supremely fun 'Guardians of the Galaxy'. Heck, I don't know how exactly they're doing it, but I'll tell you this, they're taking some smart risks. Switching up genres. Testing out different ways to tell superhero stories. Trying to redefine what it means to be a superhero and to live in a modern world where fanatical things -- both good and bad -- have started happening more and more. 

My personal theory is, by unifying their Cinematic Universe, Marvel Studios has essentially created the world's most expensive television series, which continues to invest us in the characters as they change and grow and evolve. I'd also argue Marvel's Cinematic Universe Phase Two is a more daring series of films than Phase One. But maybe I just love films that are more in line with darker, troublesome "second acts".

'Winter Soldier' is similar to 'Iron Man Three' in that it takes our confident hero, and tears away everything comforting, changing everything he knows about the world. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) remains a man out of time. An outsider in a world that's moved on, where his only close friends are an assassin, a secretive boss, and a bed ridden woman with dementia (who used to be the love of his life). Cap is a man looking for something to believe in because, while he's still a guy who follows orders and does what's best for the mission, he's also starting to question Nick Fury's (and by extension S.H.I.E.L.D, the intelligence agency for which they both work) need for keeping secrets all the time.

When Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) does reveal one of his secrets -- S.H.I.E.L.D. has built three more Helicarriers to act as a remote, intelligent worldwide defense network against threats domestic, international, or alien -- Cap doesn't agree with this plan. "This isn't freedom. It's fear."

Around this time Fury begins to suspect something's wrong inside S.H.I.E.L.D. His passwords are failing. Files unable to decrypt. Someone is working against him, and he needs to bring in help, but before he can, Fury's ambushed on the streets of Washington DC in a fantastically tense car chase. He barely escapes to Cap's apartment where moments before being shot by the mysterious Winter Soldier, Fury hands Cap a thumb drive (our clue to learning the truth) and telling him to trust no one.

When Cap refuses to tell Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) -- an ex Secretary of Defense who made Nick Fury director of S.H.I.E.L.D. -- why Nick Fury went to Cap's apartment, everything changes. S.H.I.E.L.D. declares Cap a fugitive and starts hunting him. 

Cap must go on the run with Black Widow (Scarlet Johansen) to find the truth behind who has infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D., the identity of the Winter Soldier, and what may happen if Cap can't shut these people down.

Cap and Fury

"A government agency trying to install a 24/7 nanny state with the use of heavily armed drones" doesn't sound like the stuff of typical popcorn blockbusters. But, thanks to some fortunate timing, 'Winter Soldier' was born into this world as our country, and the whole planet, struggles with issues of privacy and freedom and security. How willing are we to give up our freedom for a sense of safety? [insert TSA joke here.]

I love that 'Winter Solider' has been crafted in the style of a '70s conspiracy thriller (in the Audio Commentary, the filmmakers joke they could have called it 'Three Days of Captain America' in a nod to Robert Redford's classic 'Three Days of the Condor'). It works so well from a character standpoint. Over the last few years, I've had a few conversations about conspiracies in the Internet age. My theory was that you can't really do these 70s-style thrillers anymore because way too many people assume everything's always a conspiracy. IE, when the audience's expectation is that there is a conspiracy, it's not really a great surprise when there is one.

However, the filmmakers behind 'Winter Soldier' figured out a new take on the genre. Because Cap is such an earnest human being... Because he's trusting... Because he's working for the Good Guys using all the technology we've seen in the previous movies... Because of all of this, it's terrifying when Cap has to go on the run. When his only option is to fight the very agency for which he's been a soldier. A world where S.H.I.E.L.D. is the enemy, in this Marvel universe, is the emotional equivalent of your parents getting a divorce. It's unnerving, and dramatic.

'Winter Soldier' is also a great character piece. I loved how the first thirty minutes were a slow burn of small moments. Cap with a new friend, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie). Cap with Peggy Carter. Cap with Natasha. Even Cap with Nick Fury. All of these people, save for Peggy, have journeys in the film, where the world they think they know is burned away, and they're forced to rise up and change.

The action sequences, inspired by masters of tension like DePalma and Friedkin, are extremely well articulated. Sometimes gritty. Never repetitious. Terrific geography and a sense of ramping tension.

At the end of the day, much like 'Iron Man Three', this second standalone 'Captain America' film is tons of fun, successfully uses a classic character in a new modern setting, reimagines what possible in superhero films (or, rather, extends beyond the traditional approach), and tears away any sense of safety and security the Marvel Cinematic Universe has established over the life of the franchise.

Everything has changed. It's time for the Avengers to assemble again. And I can't wait.

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray

'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' debuts on Blu-ray as part of a one-disc Blu-ray + Digital HD Combo Pack. Inside, there are instructions to unlock your Digital HD copy as well as some Marvel Extras. There is no DVD. Trailers include  'Guardians of the Galaxy''Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D Season 1', and an older ad for Marvel's Cinematic Universe Phase One.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' battles its way to Blu-ray with a reference quality AVC MPEG 4 encode framed in the film's original 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio.

'Winter Solider' makes for flawless high definition movie watching. Just like its 3D sibling, this movie features crisp black levels, even skin tones, vivid colors and, save for a few soft focus issues, a fantastic sense of resolution. Every real world set, hair follicle, bead of sweat, and stitch of fabric is full visible. The filmmakers, with cinematographer Trent Opaloch, have shot a gorgeous movie augmented by the very best special effect available today (water still looks fake, though). I think this title will be particularly great for those with constant height widescreen projection set ups.

Another topnotch HD video presentation from Marvel.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

'Captain America: The Winter Solider' zooms, booms, and blasts its way onto Blu-ray with a reference quality 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack.

Studio blockbuster sound mixes are too good these days. The filmmakers are really smart to juxtapose moments of tender subtly with punctuated blasts of sound. This is a disc that excels at ramping up and down its dynamic range.  Dialog levels are clear, even during heated action. The panning effects are precise and immersive. And the heart-in-your-throat aerial climax is a nonstop LFE demo session. The climax is an aural assault you'll enjoy again and again.

Equally parts aggressive and moments of quiet atmosphere, it's all but impossible to find any flaws in this 7.1 DTS-HD MA sound mix.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' is pretty light on Bonus Material (let's assume the Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase Two collector's edition will cover more). Here is what you will also find on the DVD.

Steve Rogers' Notebook (HD, 2:26). Each region where the film release got its own insert-shot of Cap's notebook where he writes down cultural events he missed while frozen.

Deleted and Extended Scenes (HD, 3:36). Available with optional directors' commentary, here's what didn't make it into the final film.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

Not much more here. However, the Audio Commentary with directors Anthony and Joe Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely is an entertaining and outstanding listen that really highlights all the smart decisions these men and their hundreds of collaborators made throughout the development, production, and post-production processes. 

On the Front Line: An Inside Look at Captain America's Battlegrounds (HD, 10:11). An all-too-short EPK about what went into the stunt sequences and trying to make this Marvel movie feel less impressionistic from an action standpoint.

On Set with Anthony Mackie: Cut the Check! (HD, 1:55). Anthony Mackie's favorite phrase to describe when he's done well.

Gag Reel (HD, 2:37). Making movies is damned hard work, but is also tons of fun. I usually don't like these, but this one's pretty funny, particularly Robert Redford accidentally talking about Superman.

Final Thoughts

'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' is a terrific homage to '70s conspiracy thrillers and another solid entry in the every-improving Marvel Cinematic Universe. This Blu-ray + Digital HD combo pack offers perfect video and a reference quality 7.1 sound mix, though the Special Features are a bit lacking despite a great Audio Commentary. Your only choice to make -- to 3D or not to 3D? For me, the 3D is good here, but doesn't enhance the overall experience, so I'd say this 2D release is Highly Recommend (while the 3D editions are only Recommended).

Technical Specs

  • TBA

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/TBA

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 2.40:1

Audio Formats

  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles/Captions

  • English, French, Spanish

Supplements

  • Never-Before-Seen Deleted Scenes
  • Making-of Featurettes
  • And More!

Exclusive HD Content

  • Audio Commentary
  • Bloopers

All disc reviews at High-Def Digest are completed using the best consumer HD home theater products currently on the market. More about our gear.

Puzzled by the technical jargon in our reviews, or wondering how we assess and rate HD DVD and Blu-ray discs? Learn about our review methodology.

List Price
$32.99
Amazon
$17.96 (46%)
3rd Party
$17.90
Usually ships in 24 hours Buy Now»