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REVIEW: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

AP2HYC have just got back from a screening at ODEON Marble Arch courtesy of #SkypeMarvel. It was a great event: we met some great people, got to pose with Captain America standees; they even gave us goodie bags!

Captain America is not a dramatically interesting character. He doesn’t have the snark of Iron Man or the angst of Bruce Banner. He’s at his core just a fundamentally decent guy. There’s no moral ambiguity to him, no hubris. More so than any of The Avengers, Cap thrives on conflict. He is what he does, and what he does is soldiering. In order to get the most out of Steve Rogers, you need to put him in a situation where the rules aren’t clear. On this front, the sequel that bears his name immediately gets one thing seriously right: if Steve Rogers stands for truth, justice and the American way, it makes sense that you put those ideals in jeopardy. The result is Captain America: The Winter Soldier AKA The Patriot Act is literally Hitler.

SOME SPOILERS FROM HERE ON IN

When Winter Soldier opens, Steve has started a new life in Washington D.C. He spends his days doing laps of the Reflecting Pool and, since the events of The Avengers, he’s been boning up on his pop culture – he’s seen War Games, though apparently not Rocky 2. His nights, however, Steve spends working for S.H.I.E.L.D., performing airplane jumps without a parachute and single-handedly clearing the deck of a highjacked cargo ship. Eat your heart out, Captain Philips. That being said, Black Widow’s working her own secret assignments and Nick Fury has started keeping secrets of his own. Meanwhile, S.H.I.E.L.D. leader Alexander Pierce is preparing the organization for a new age in proactive law enforcement. It’s a neat, effective act-one setup, after which the situation goes all to hell pretty fast. Suddenly Nick Fury is apparently down-and-out following a brutal assault on his vehicle and the unexpected first appearance of our eponymous Soviet assassin. Steve Rogers finds himself at the top of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s most wanted list, a position in which he’s shortly joined by Black Widow and a new friend, ex-paratrooper Sam Wilson AKA Falcon.

Chris Evans doesn’t get enough credit for his performance in the lead role. There are few enough actors who could manage to embody that sense of integrity without sanctimony, as well as an understated neighborly charm. As Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff, Scarlett Johansson gets to hang out AND kick ass while showing a side of S.H.I.E.L.D. we haven’t seen before, while Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson has enough backstory and easygoing wit to make his inclusion worthwhile for more than just the aerial setpieces. Let’s hope he makes an appearance in the recently announced Black Widow standalone if not Avengers: Age of Ultron. The team dynamic really works in the context of a Captain America movie, especially when there aren’t colossal egos trying to hog the spotlight. *cough* Tony Stark *cough*

Unlike Captain America: The First Avenger, the enemy in the sequel comes from within. There might be the Winter Soldier to deal with – more on that later – but the biggest threat is S.H.I.E.L.D. itself. There’s a major twist towards the end of the second act that will completely scramble your understanding of Marvel’s equivalent of Homeland Security. Let’s simply say that there are plenty of callbacks to the previous film; indeed, an exorcism of sorts. Thor: The Dark World may have inspired a couple of episodes of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but the events of The Winter Soldier threaten to completely rewrite the show. As well as living up to Phase 2’s policy of “bigger and better”, the film is also surprisingly myth-heavy. It’s been variously described as “S.H.I.E.L.D.: The Movie (feat. Captain America)” or “The Avengers 1.5”, but Captain America: The Winter Soldier also works on its own terms as an action-packed political thriller.

Some of this has to do with the savvy casting of Robert Redford as Pierce, homaging his presence in films like Three Days of the Condor and All the President’s Men while subverting his image as a holier-than-thou liberal crusader. This would mean nothing, though, were The Winter Soldier not also a great superhero film. The fights between Captain America and his Winter Soldier – whose true identity is surely one of the most famous twists in comic book history? – manage to be genuinely tense, as Steve Rogers finds his physical equal in this mysterious stranger, hand to hand, knife against shield. While investing in the conspiracy at its heart, the film never takes itself overly seriously nor is it too, too on-the-nose about the obvious War on Terror connotations. If, as Cap himself gravely intones, “This isn’t freedom, it’s fear”, it’s also a whole lot of fun.

Remarkably, Captain America: The Winter Soldier gives something of a clean slate for the Earth-based MCU, essentially doing for the US what Thor: The Dark World did for Asgard: basically, everything’s up in the air again. As well as a compelling, if not hugely groundbreaking script from Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the Russo brothers’ direction is lean and hyper-kinetic. If The Winter Soldier‘s plot is grounded in Rogers’ past, Guardians of the Galaxy will mark a radical new break from the previous Marvel films while showcasing the same willingness to embrace new talent, e.g. Chris Pratt. Given how proficient Marvel has got at producing solid four-star films, Captain America: The Winter Soldier might not quite be a standout but it’s still a damn good film, and, with Avengers: Age of Ultron due out next year, it’s hard to imagine Marvel in a stronger position, cinematically speaking.

What did you think of Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Sound off in the comments below or send us your thoughts on Twitter!

WARNING: Major spoilers below the trailer!

 

RANDOM THOUGHTS (VERY SPOILER-Y!)

It might have taken them 41 years to get round to it in the comics, but the MCU managed it in three: Bucky’s back! He might have amnesia, a metal arm, a mullet, some serious anger issues, but Sebastian Stan‘s apparently signed up for a nine picture deal, which should give him plenty of time to get his s**t together.

On the same note: Hydra! (Hence my earlier “Patriot Act is literally Hitler” comment).

Arnim Zola as a ’50s B-movie-style computer intelligence was a bit ridiculous, but it was nice to have Toby Jones back for a bit. He was criminally underused in The First Avenger.

Chris Evans is really holding his own against Georges St-Pierre. There is, however, a surprising lack of leaping.

Agent Sitwell’s a bad guy?!! Coulson’s gonna be devastated. That’s if he even still has a TV show after the events of this film…That could be for the best, though: S.H.I.E.L.D. has got to be the world’s least covert intelligence agency. I know Nick Fury’s talking about a new age of threat elimination, but can you blame people for acting out when you keep sending out enormous heli-carriers and incurring on other nations’ sovereign territory.

In short, Team America was not supposed to be a how-to guide on conducting foreign and domestic policy. And he’s dead. Sitwell, I mean. Dead and a Nazi. I wonder if Maximiliano Hern├índez knew what he was signing up for.And now Danny Pudi‘s here. Which is sort of great, if a little distracting. Is he meant to be Abed? Did he just wander away from Greendale College and end up getting a job at S.H.I.E.L.D.? Can we expect cameos from the rest of cast of Community in future MCU films? Maybe we’ll finally get to see Donald Glover‘s Spider-Man.

There was a quick shout-out to Steven Strange. Wonder if they’ve cast him yet. Johnny Depp could be sorta good, discounting the multi-million-dollar starting price he comes with.

Given the sudden nature of the threat, it’s just about plausible the rest of the Avengers don’t make it to the finale. It’s cool, they can name-check Tony Stark, he just can’t turn up. That line about the NSA is a bit of an obvious shot. It’s pretty impressive how they managed to balance all those parallel action sequences: Cap v. Winter Soldier, Falcon v. Brock, Black Widow & Fury v. a seventy-seven year-old Californian.

That whole Peggy Carter bit was heartbreaking. They never did get that dance.

Meanwhile, Agent 13 was so underused I completely forget she was in it till this edit. Hopefully they’ll give Emily VanCamp more to do in Captain America 3: The Hunt for Zola’s Gold.

And that, Iron Man 3, is how you do a mid-credit sequence: short, sweet, explicative, and very, very cool. Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch look nuts!

After that massive hook, why didn’t they just call Age of Ultron “Age of Miracles”? Is it just me or was there a slight Empire Strikes Back vibe to that whole “nemeses on a gangway” bit?

Thanks again to both Marvel and Skype for the free tickets!

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Robert Wallis

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