by Mark Greig
I’ve been looking forward to this more than any other Marvel movie. Yes, that includes The Avengers.
The Winter Soldier arc is one of my absolute favourite comic book storylines of all time. After Captain America: The First Avenger came out I hoped and prayed that the producers would be smart and adapt this storyline for the sequel. When it was finally announced that the sequel would indeed take inspiration from Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s original story (a Cold War spy thriller masquerading as a superhero adventure) my excitement soon gave way to concern. That story is just so good it would be impossible for this film to live up to my ridiculously high expectations.
I was wrong.
I bloody loved this film. I will even go so far as to say that it is my favourite Marvel movie to date. I enjoyed it more than The Avengers and you all know how much I loved The Avengers. The Winter Soldier has everything you could possibly want from a summer blockbuster - a smart script that actually makes you think (this is the most topical movie Marvel have ever made), strong characters you care about and action scenes that leave you breathless. Admittedly, many of the film's twists and turns aren't that shocking. I’d already guessed most of them after the first trailer came out. It is testament to how good this film is that this isn't really an issue.
Taking a leaf out of James Cameron’s book, this sequel switches genres from WWII adventure flick to conspiracy thriller. While the studio has tried to sell this as a multimillion dollar tribute to conspiracy films from the '70s like The Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor, The Winter Soldier feels more like a greatest hits package for the entire espionage genre. The Winter Soldier's story is right out of The Manchurian Candidate. The Washington setting recalls All the President’s Men and any number of Tom Clancy novels. And there is something very Person of Interest about the villain's scheme.
Directors Joe and Anthony Russo proved that they could produce great action scenes with Community’s minuscule budget, so it comes as no surprise that when handed a truck full of cash they knocked it out of the park. The Winter Soldier has some of the best actions scenes yet seen in a Marvel. With the exception of the grand finale (which is still ace), the brothers keep the action grounded, eschewing CGI in favour of good old fashioned practical effects and stunt work. Standouts include Cap’s brutal tussle in a packed elevator and Nick Fury being chased through the streets of Washington in his battered S.H.I.E.L.D. SUV.
Chris Evans continues to impress in the lead role, easily finding the lonely soul within the human flag as he struggles to find his place in the morally murky world of post-Watergate, post-9/11 America. In another’s hands, this character could easily be insufferably corny, but in Evan’s he is like a sad little puppy. You just want to hug him. One of the great things about Steve as a character is that he is a genuine team player. He's not one to hog the limelight. This allows the supporting cast more room to shine, particularly Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson. Emily VanCamp was the only one who felt underused, but I imagine she'll have an expanded role in Captain America 3.
The standout performance, however, comes from Scarlett Johansson. It’s nice to see all the great work done on her character by Joss Whedon isn't going to waste. This film is as much Natasha’s story as it is Steve’s. She is here as his partner and equal, not his sidekick (that role goes to Falcon). And it is a relief that the film doesn't try to force a romance between the two of them (Natasha spends most of the film trying to set Steve up with others). There are one or two tender moments, but they work more to strengthen the growing friendship between these troubled souls, who are just trying to find their place in this world. The film on the whole is surprisingly romance free, a first for a solo Marvel.
The film benefits from a pair of effective antagonists, an area where recent superhero films have struggled. I’ve seen others complain that the Winter Soldier himself lacks personality. That is the whole point. The Winter Soldier is not meant to be scheming mastermind like Lex Luthor, a charming trickster like Loki or a colourful anarchist like the Joker. He is the Terminator, a relentless, unstoppable force to reckoned with. He is someone who has had every trace of their individuality stripped away, leaving behind nothing but a ruthless killing machine. Elsewhere, Robert Redford - who would’ve made for an ideal Steve Rogers in his youth - puts that twinkly eyed charm to sinister use as S.H.I.E.L.D. boss Alexander Pierce.
Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World dealt with the fallout from The Avengers and how the events of that film affect the respective heroes. The Winter Soldier is all about setting the stage for what comes next. Not just Avengers: Age of Ultron, but for the entire Marvel cinematic universe as a whole, including the likes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the potential Peggy Carter series that is in the pipeline. The events of this film are going to have widespread repercussions for all our heroes.
Stars and Stripes
--One cameo was, to put it in words only a select few will understand, very cool cool cool.
--Steve’s list of things to catch up on changes depending on which country you see the film in. Here’s the American version:
And here is the British one:
--I'm not afraid to admit that Steve's brief reunion with the elderly Peggy Carter had me in tears.
--Done being in every TV show made in the last ten years, Alan Dale has obviously now moved on to showing up in all the film franchises. I expect to see him in the next Star Wars film.
--As with all Marvel movies, you shouldn’t leave once the credits start to roll. The mid-credits scene was directed by Joss Whedon and acts as a mini prequel for Age of Ultron.
--A certain sorcerer supreme was mentioned at one point. Does that mean a solo movie isn't too far off? Can't we have a Black Widow movie first?
Natasha: "You do anything fun Saturday night?"
Steve: "Well, all the guys in my barbershop quartet are dead. So no, not really."
Sam: "You're a lot heavier than you look."
Steve: "I had a big breakfast."
Natasha: "Hey fellas, either of one of you know where the Smithsonian is? I'm here to pick up a fossil."
Steven: "That's hilarious."
Four out of four Vibranium shields.
The comment thread for this movie review is a spoiler free-for-all. You may spoil anything in Captain America: The Winter Soldier or any other Marvel film that has been released. You may also spoil any events from the TV show Agents of SHIELD.