Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Directed By: Anthony & Joe Russo
Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Anthony Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson
Marvel’s most patriotic hero returns for this effective sequel that delivers thrills and action – but at the expense of some of the charm that made the original such a pleasant surprise.
Though Captain America’s first cinematic outing followed superhero origin story 101 to a tee, it stood out from the crowd thanks to its 1940’s setting and endearingly good natured hero. With the period setting jettisoned, The Winter Soldier transitions the Captain America franchise from gung-ho war epic to tense espionage thriller and for the most part, it’s a change that works.
Since being defrosted and following the events of The Avengers, Captain America (Chris Evans) has settled into a role at S.H.I.E.L.D, leading a task force (including Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson) that neutralises terrorist and military threats. The Cap’s always honest, black-and-white outlook begins to clash with his increasingly murky mission objectives, leading him to question S.H.I.E.L.D’s true motives. When S.H.I.E.L.D bigwig Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is attacked in broad daylight by extremely well-armed and well-prepared assailants, it becomes clear that something is amiss within the security organisation – something which could be extremely dangerous if it ever gained full access of S.H.I.E.L.D’s considerable military might.
With Fury out of action and Captain America incriminated, S.H.I.E.L.D super bigwig Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) leads the full might of the agency on a mission to hunt the fugitive Cap down. On the run and unsure who to trust, Cap turns to Black Widow and new friend Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), both of whom have colourful pasts, to figure out exactly what is going on. Factor in the mysterious Winter Soldier, a masked and metal-armed figure who is hell-bent on taking down the Cap and his allies, and you’re left with an awful lot pieces on the playing field.
Strip all the costumed heroics away however and what you’re left with is a surprisingly tense man-on-the-run thriller that isn’t a million miles away from The Bourne Identity or Enemy Of The State – except with, you know, flying superheroes and giant helicarriers and robot Nazis and stuff. At least this is how things are for the first half of the movie, with Cap and his allies on the run and on the back foot. This being a Marvel film, all of this espionage inevitably gives way to an explosion-filled climax that, while enjoyable in its own right, betrays the film’s earlier tone somewhat.
While Marvel’s most recent round of movies have checked in on various superheroes following The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier almost feels like it could be titled ‘The Avengers Epilogue Featuring Captain America And Shield (And Also The Winter Soldier)’. As well as the Cap himself, Black Widow, Nick Fury and Agent Hill (Cobie Smulders) are all pretty major players and the film is as much focussed on how such a ludicrously overpowered organisation as S.H.I.E.L.D could possibly function as it does with the continuing adventures of Captain America. And despite his title billing, The Winter Soldier himself get surprisingly little screen time which is a shame given his intriguing backstory. Still, the movie makes it clear that his story is far from over and will be interesting to see where Marvel take him from here.
Given its surprisingly relevant premise (secretive government organisations with seemingly no restrictions are bad, maybe) and early tension building, it’s a bit of a shame that The Winter Soldier descends into increasingly large-scale action, especially as these sequences recall the finale of The Avengers without even coming close to matching it. That said, The Winter Soldier is still a fun ride with great company. In a world of ‘dark’ and tormented superheroes, Captain America’s wide-eyed optimism and earnest selflessness remain a breath of fresh air. If you’ve enjoyed any of Marvel’s recent big-screen efforts, chances are you’ll enjoy this one too. It’s clear that Marvel have long since honed their winning movie formula and while Captain America: The Winter Soldier is no exception, it’s also not exceptional.