Midweek Movie Review – Captain America: The Winter Soldier (3D)

Back in 2011 I was excited for the release of Captain America: The First Avenger. Superhero flicks had started to get a bit samey, and the chance to see comic book action with a setting that wasn’t present day America was thrilling. This said, despite a backdrop of the World War II European Theatre, the film didn’t do anything for me. I found it all as bland as the title character, good guy and obedient super soldier Steve Rogers (Chris Evans).

However, make Rogers a man dislocated from his time, and things become a lot more interesting. Although this aspect of the character wasn’t really explored in The Avengers, I began to appreciate the character of Cap a lot more in that movie; the necessary stability and strategy he brings to a squad of heroes with their clashing contemporary mindsets and typically massive egos. Still, I wasn’t quite sure if Captain America – like the Hulk – was still a bit too one-note to sustain a solo series of cinematic adventures. The character may always be better served when he is part of an ensemble.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier blew my theory out of the water.

Well, it did and it didn’t. In this sequel, Cap remains a positioned as a hero with a support squad – largely in the form of Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Sam Wilson / Falcon (Anthony Mackie). However, this approach continues to emphasise one of the character’s greatest strengths; his major defining feature: how unusually well for a modern day superhero he collaborates with and inspires others.

Cap is no dark, brooding loner. As already said, he’s a man out of his time, and this theme features prominently in the new film; though refreshingly not in the clichéd “fish out of water played for cheap gags” kind of way. In a massively changed world, with all his friends long dead, and the love of his life a heavily medicated old woman on her deathbed, Cap is a tragic figure. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is actually the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to make me tear up. It’s just one of many enjoyable surprises that the film serves up.

For the record, Cap doesn’t deal with his sad situation by going all depro and self-destructive. This man of the 1940s is unmoored and unsure what he wants to do with his defrosted life, but he counters this by keeping busy – whether that’s running laps around Washington DC or running missions for covert security organisation SHIELD, under director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and his boss, Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford).

And so we get to the plot of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In essence, SHIELD has been compromised on the cusp of activating a global “peacekeeping” system that has the capability to neutralise possible threats before they become a reality. This pre-emptive approach doesn’t sit well with Cap as it is, and he certainly doesn’t want the system falling into the wrong hands. He has to expose the security breach, while dodging the various forces sent to stop him.

The plot of Captain America: The Winter Soldier has all the pleasurable twists you’d expect of an espionage thriller. Adding to that enjoyability, though, are wonderfully intense hand-to-hand combat sequences. Cap is an old school man of action. He’s there to get stuff done. He’s not subtle. Plus, he’s super powered. With his shield (and sometimes without), he charges through walls, he skydives sans parachute, he bull-rushes enemies, and you feel every single one of his punches. It’s exhilarating, and so much more satisfying than a billion dollars in CGI’d property destruction conjured from thin air.

For the record, other characters don’t just get a single moment to shine in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. They get several. There’s Black Widow’s intricate grasp of human behaviour, which she uses to her advantage; as well as her matter-of-fact attitude to treachery. There’s Nick Fury’s sardonic wit, demonstrated best during his big solo scene. And Mackie’s Falcon manages to sidestep the wisecracking black sidekick cliché to emerge as a dependable, likeable joe – and the film’s top wish-fulfilment character. Who wouldn’t want to be Falcon?

There are a few gripes to be made about Captain America: The Winter Soldier, of course. As with all the other Marvel Cinematic Universe releases, the 3D is completely unremarkable. The titular Winter Soldier story arc is the most formulaic and contrived thing in an otherwise appreciably twisty film (although, to be fair, that could be because it involves one of the most famous reveals in comic book history). And given the scale of the threat in The Avengers, the events at the end of this movie just don’t ring true – they are worryingly counterproductive in terms of world-protecting security measures.

Still, there are loads of inclusions to tease and please: a Doctor Strange reference, veteran actress Jenny Agutter receiving a kickass scene of her own, and even a wonderfully stylish end credits sequence that’s reminiscent of vintage Frank Miller. And this last thing is even better than the two end-credits scenes that seem to come standard with Marvel productions these days.

For adopting a more grounded – and character-intimate – spy angle, instead of overloading the colourful superhero spectacle, Captain America: The Winter Soldier comes highly recommended. Of the post-Avengers Marvel films, it stands head and shoulders above Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World.

4 stars out of 5.


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