Film Review: 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier'
Opened: 26 March 2014
Cast: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell, Robert Redford and Samuel L. Jackson
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Producer: Kevin Feige
Having been marketed without a single nod to the first of the Captain America franchise (The First Avenger) Marvel Studios’ take on the espionage thriller is surprisingly sequential to the action of that initial outing for the star spangled hero. The narrative is far from linear and a large cast of recognisable copyrighted characters obfuscates its direction up until the final showdown. The words ‘trust no one’ early on set the tone for a paranoid action thriller that owes more to Jason Bourne than it does to lycra clad comic book characters. Having said this, there are still plenty of fantastical elements and insane superhuman stunt sequences to keep everyone on the edge of their seats. Slick choreographed action, street mauling destruction and urban bullet fuelled chaos are executed with all the techniques at the disposal of directors Anthony and Joe Russo, who are already confirmed for the threequel.
Moving the action from the Second World War to present day places the good Captain, Steve Rogers, played deftly again by a gym-maxed Chris Evans, in a new world where the lines of good and evil are not so easily defined. He is joined by fellow Avenger Black Widow, Natasha Romanoff (played by Scarlett Johansson) the cynical ex KGB spy who was first clumsily introduced in Marvel’s less loved Iron Man 2 and more recently providing a much needed female presence to The Avengers. As Roger’s partner in the emerging crisis, ignited by the Winter Soldier, Romanoff provides not only her skills in combat but also a counter to Roger’s unquestioning ideals of right and wrong. Unlike the honourable era of the Second World War the security forces of the present are compromised by morally questionable decisions, which to Roger’s sensibilities go too far. Resiliently navigating his way through this new environment of paranoia and fear, Cap has a chance to show his true character distinct from those around him – that he will always find a way to do the right thing, no matter what.
Of course for audiences the cynicism, intrigue and darker tone of this movie will be the real draw. The Black Widow is deliciously contrary to whatever cinnamon sweet moralistic musings Cap has for her and even new recruit Sam Wilson, delivered with preppy sexy aplomb by Marvel newcomer Anthony Mackie, has serious questions for Rogers about his insistence on saving and rehabilitating the Winter Soldier. There has been some early criticism for the inclusion of the jet pack gliding Falcon (Sam’s codename) as out of place in this grittier chapter of the Marvel film cannon, but these critics are definitely losing the plot and missing the point. As Cap struggles to acclimatise to the new world and come to terms with the loss of those he left behind, including his best friend Bucky Barnes, Sam’s friendship represents Cap’s future mirrored by the Winter Soldier who represents his past. For fans of social history and politics, Sam Wilson was also the first African American comic book superhero, a departure from the ostensibly racist ‘noble savage’ characterisations of black characters before him, perfectly embodied in Marvel’s very own chromatically labelled avenger the Black Panther.
True to form for Marvel now, the cast is of an exceptionally high calibre, on this occasion adding Robert Redford to the list of esteemed acting nobility who have taken their place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Maintaining a dramatic edge throughout, while dropping occasional dry one-liners, Captain America: The Winter Soldier has put Marvel’s Phase 2 back on track in the lead up to Avengers: Age of Ultron. Following the light and breezy 'Disneyesque' treatment given to Iron Man 3 and the dreadful comedy ‘lols’ during the climax of Thor: The Dark World, the Marvel machine certainly needs this credible boost before the arrival of Ultron in May next year. As well as being one of the best Marvel movies to date, possibly just behind The Avengers, it also boasts the best post credits sequence of any of the movies, briefly introducing two massive fan favourites and leading directly into Age of Ultron. Perfectly balanced in every respect Captain America: The Winter Soldier ticks all the boxes, perhaps the only thing his team is missing is a Hulk!
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