While Warner Bros.’ and DC have been indecisively dithering over just how many superheroes they can pack into the next Batman v Superman (or whatever it ends up being called), their counterparts at Disney and Marvel have been churning out quality adventure after quality adventure. The Marvel model, which sees stars tied down with long-term deals, directors chosen who will produce films as required, and a whole world view that means they know what film is coming out when and how the pieces fit until at least 2018, has been producing billions for its parent studio. The latest film in the Avengers franchise sees Welcome to Collinwood and You, Me and Dupree directors Anthony and Joe Russo take the reins of a political thriller centred around Captain America. That’s right Marvel have that much self-belief that they are now taking their characters outside their comfort zones and into a wider genre of film.
Post Avengers Assemble the collective group of misfits have all returned to their days jobs. For Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America, that means going back to work as an operative for the US counter-intelligence group S.H.I.E.L.D. War won this man from the 1940’s is still adjusting to life in the 21st Century, and to his role in an organisation that he cannot fully comprehend. A diligent soldier he goes about his missions as instructed until a sinister turn brings the action closer to home and he is forced to question the trustworthiness of the very organisation he works for.
One of the most positive things about the original Captain America was just how well Chris Evans fit as Steve Rogers, both pre and post super-serum. In Avengers Assemble he added the core-strength of team dynamic, the rock around which they could assemble. And here again he proves that his mix of charm, old-fashioned manners, and humour makes him the superlative choice for Marvel’s patriotic warrior. Evans can also more than hold his own in the fight sequences, with a physical presence that feels otherworldy, while conveying enough emotional range to make an audience believe this is a guy who has lost a great deal. In The Winter Soldier he is paired with Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, an intriguing character whose duplicity and cunning is expertly handled by Johansson. The two make a logical pair and have an easy chemistry. Newcomer to the series Anthony Mackie slots in as third party member Falcon as if he’d never been absent, establishing a natural buddy role right from the off. Mackie gets some of the films better stunts and looks confident and composed doing them. Elsewhere Samuel L. Jackson remains strong and stoic as Nick Fury. This film widens his back story, but after a brief action sequence he is mostly relegated to the background as per usual. Robert Redford as Fury’s boss Alexander Pierce brings his extraordinary acting abilities to the table, but sadly is not given a very nuanced character to play with. Sebastian Stan too is not given much character to play with, but takes what he is given and runs with it. Stan makes the titular Winter Soldier more than just the one-dimensional villain he could have been and should he make future appearances would be more than welcome.
As a political thriller featuring superheroes this film is probably as good as you could ever wish for. Granted there are problems, but on the whole the mix of intrigue, action, and emotion will keep you strapped in for the films 136 minute runtime. The plot snakes and turns as it barrels along, which serves to paper of the obvious narrative cracks in the film. Keeping the film focused on S.H.I.E.L.D. allows for the dismissal of most of the other Avengers characters in a believable way, yet the absence of some, namely Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, is not handled well. For never handled action on such a scale before the Russo brothers perform more than admirably. There’s a kineticism to the camera during the action sequences that keeps you on the edge of your seat, with wide framed fight sequences perfectly blended with closer, almost claustrophobic, hand-to-hand-scenes. They even managed to come up with some inventive new uses for Cap’s shield. The final action sequence, as is often the case, is more over-the-top than it needs to be, but the pacing of it is spot on. Unfortunately that is not true for the film in its entirety as it does falter in the second act, as exposition is forced in rather than being teased out.
Minor issues aside, and they are minor, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a well-crafted, brilliantly acted, entertaining start to the 2014 blockbuster season, and a worthy addition to the Marvel universe. Guardians of the Galaxy cannot come soon enough!