Moving on from the superhero origin tale we were greeted with in Captain America: The First Avenger (a rather poor film that did little other than further the Marvel universe and provide an extra stepping stone towards The Avengers movie), Captain America is back with his latest solo adventure: Captain America: The Winter Soldier; and despite reservations, it’s actually rather good.
Now moved on from the World War II setting in which we first found our super soldier, Cap is attempting to adjust to living in the modern world and, two years after the events of The Avengers (for which you really think the Captain ought to have earned a promotion; Major? hell Colonel America even), is now working for SHIELD, but quickly finds he’s having trouble completing some of his missions when things are being kept hidden from him, and it turns out SHIELD maybe planning to neutralise potential terrorist threats long before they become actual threats (something which doesn’t fit within Captain Rogers’ definition of freedom).
Events then unfold which lead to possible corruption within SHIELD, Cap and his fellow Avenger Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, Don Jon) being declared fugitives and hunted by the very people they work with, and the uncovering of a huge conspiracy which dates back to WWII, and could lead to the deaths of millions of innocent people unless Captain America, Black Widow, their new friend the Falcon (Anthony Mackie, Real Steel), and the quickly diminishing number of allies they have can stop it once and for all.
It’s an interesting setup, and although heightened it’s actually nice to see a superhero movie that doesn’t rely solely on a maniacal super-villain; here we have The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan, Black Swan), a mindless super-assassain who’s actually really well written, portrayed, and quite an engaging character to watch (despite not having many lines), but a mere tool for those above him; it’s regular people here that are the real baddies, and for once, it’s not immediately clear who’s pulling what strings and why (something refreshingly different for a superhero film).
Having said that, basically all plot twists and turns can still be seen coming a mile off (it is not only a Marvel Studios film, but a 12A, after all), but that somehow doesn’t matter, it’s written well enough to still seem different and engaging, full of watchable characters (Mackie’s Falcon is a solid inclusion, even if he’s a perfect mirror image of Don Cheadle’s War Machine in Iron Man 2; the charismatic, black, best mate with a military background, who wears a shiny metal suit), and peppered with some solid action.
In fact there’s action all the way through The Winter Soldier’s two-hour-plus runtime, and while it’s not directed exceptionally well (there are far far too many fast cuts which can make it difficult to fathom exactly what’s going on from time to time, and certainly won’t be pleasant for anyone with motion sickness) it’s big, it’s bold, it’s intense, and it’s fun but, most of all, it’s cool.
Captain America/Steve Rogers himself is actually quite cool and likeable here as well; he’s less the pretty do-gooder he was in The Avengers and his first movie (even though he still has all his morals and rigid ideas it’s far less in-your-face here), and he’s a much more relatable guy; once again played rather well by beefy poster-boy Chris Evans; fully embodying all of the ideals one would expect from America’s symbol of hope.
Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow is becoming more of a feature with every movie she’s in, and she provides a welcome friend for Steve, though while she maybe a talented actress (and do a decent job of squeezing into a catsuit), her character’s a touch irritating, and you can’t help feel that she really needs to up her game and start doing more of the fighting stunts herself (because it’s blatantly obvious every time she’s swapped out for her stunt double).
Supporting stars fare rather well; Mackie is a well placed, welcome addition, as Falcon, Samuel L. Jackson returns as Nick Fury and is as enigmatic as ever, there’s another small appearance from Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother’s Robin), and as well as Frank Grillo (Warrior) playing a member of the SHIELD strike team, and the obligatory Stan Lee cameo, Robert Redford (The Last Castle) appears as the head of SHIELD, and never seems out of place as the corporate master of the world’s leading espionage organisation.
Henry Jackman’s score is solid (building and expanding upon the groundwork laid by Alan Silvestri), the special effects are top-notch throughout, and while the direction may not be the best, Captain America: The Winter Soldier successfully explores the idea of Cap adjusting to modern day living, is easily re-watchable, and while still a clearly very heightened reality it feels far more grounded than The First Avenger.
It may play out like a lengthy episode of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD TV show, could have clearly benefitted from utilising more experienced directors, and remains predictably predictable, but with a solid cast, great action, and a much more grounded plot than that of his first outing, not to mention a cool assassin, funky new sidekick, and a SHIELD-based conspiracy, Captain America: The Winter Solider is definitely one to watch, and Cap’s best solo outing to date.
It’s no Thor: The Dark World, and Cap is still far less engaging than Iron Man, but if you like the first movie you’ll love this (even if you didn’t like the first you’re likely to enjoy The Winter Soldier), and, if you’re planning on watching The Avengers: Age of Ultron next year, The Winter Soldier is really essential superhero viewing.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier was viewed in The Regent Cinema, Newtown.