21st Mar2014

‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ Review

by Jack Kirby

Stars: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Frank Grillo, Sebastian Stan, Hayley Atwell, Emily VanCamp, Dominic Cooper, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Redford, Toby Jones | Written by Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely | Directed by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

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Back in 2011, when Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor: No Subtitle Required were released, I approached Cap’s first film with considerably more optimism than I did for his Norse buddy’s feature. As it turned out, I rather preferred Kenneth Branagh’s brilliantly ridiculous glam metal movie to the ever so slightly dull origin story of The First Avenger. Thor has already had his sequel, a film that pleasingly retained its predecessor’s sense of silliness. I ask rhetorically, can Captain America: The Winter Soldier improve on the workman-like first film?

We catch up with Cap (Chris Evans), who is going on missions for S.H.I.E.L.D, avoiding getting a girlfriend and generally being genial to everyone he meets (except for TERRORISTS). The aftermath of one mission however, reveals a conspiracy within S.H.I.E.L.D, leaving Cap and Black Widow (Scarlett Johnasson) on the run and without a clue who to trust. Can they solve a mystery that goes right back to S.H.I.E.L.D’s beginnings, work out who the bad guys really are and save the day before American citizens get a right old kicking?

What the first Captain America film had going for it was its period setting, which proved to be a relatively interesting backdrop to an otherwise fairly bog-standard action flick. The whole ‘man out of time’ theme was covered well enough in Avengers Assemble too, which means the onus is on The Winter Soldier to find an aspect of its main character that will engage an audience well enough. The problem is, when he’s not flinging his shield around and punching bad guys in the head, Steve Rogers is just a little bit dull. At one point, a character asks him what he likes doing. “I don’t know,” our hero exasperatingly replies. You end up wishing Cap would be a bit of a bastard at some point, just to liven him up. He otherwise comes across like the kind of perfectly nice acquaintance with whom you have absolutely nothing to talk about with. There’s an attempt to explore the role of Rogers’ patriotism in the modern world, though the film never really gets its teeth into this. It also doesn’t help that in this portrayal at least, Cap comes across as a very passive hero, who reacts to the actions of others rather than taking the initiative himself. He’s a tough lead character to get behind.

Fortunately, there are a lot of supporting characters in the film that are generally more interesting than Cap and at times overshadow him in his own film. Scarlett Johansson does more than enough good work to wholly justify the promised Black Widow solo outing, Samuel L Jackson Samuel L Jacksons it up once more as Nick Fury and newcomer to the series Anthony Mackie is enjoyable as The Falcon. The always-likable Cobie Smulders should be given more to do as Maria Hill, as should The Winter Soldier himself who doesn’t seem to be in the film enough to say his name’s on the poster. Actor Sebastian Stan apparently has a nine picture deal with Marvel however, so I guess that’ll be addressed in future films. Finally, Robert Redford gives a decent performance as S.H.I.E.L.D head honcho Alexander Pierce, though his character’s arc is utterly predictable.

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo (perhaps best known for their work on superlative TV comedies Arrested Development and Community) oversee some strong early scenes – Nick Fury’s car chase and Cap vs. a fighter jet being two particularly well-constructed sequences – but the film eventually loses focus and becomes a victim to its unwieldy running time. It meanders where it should be snappy and the inevitable massive fight scene at the end feels very old hat after eight or nine Marvel films have done pretty much the same thing before (with the exception of The Dark World‘s Portal-imitating fight). The scale of the conspiracy and the maguffin that fuels it are a bit of stretch even by comic book movie standards, which is also problematic. These aspects are also used to make some very blunt points about surveillance culture and foreign policy.

Cap and Black Widow’s on-the-run sleuthing is quite enjoyable however and there are moments where it threatens to break into full on caper mode, which would have been great. And whilst I wasn’t overly enamoured with the film as a whole, the conclusion will have some interesting repercussions in the Marvel films to come. There’s stuff to like about The Winter Soldier, but once again, in the battle of the sequels, I think Thor has won this round too.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is released on March 26th.

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