Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Review

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER

Cap Bang Wallop

Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson and Anthony Mackie prove a formidable triple-act in this predictable yet thought-provoking caper.

12A, 136 min

***½

‘To build a better world sometimes means tearing the old one down,’ one character proclaims at the beginning of superhero sequel Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and they’re not kidding. The film then goes on to not-so-subtly prove that point by having various bits of technology try to destroy each other, across large expanses of land and air, throughout the course of proceedings.

However, the way in which this latest addition to the Marvel juggernaut confounds expectations is in having its strongest moments be character-based. This is especially the case with the budding friendship between super-soldier Steve Rogers, AKA Captain America (Chris Evans), and new addition Sam Wilson, AKA The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), whose manic energy and quick-fire wit both lift things a great deal. No pun intended there. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow has also never been more involved, and the onscreen chemistry between her and Chris Evans is obvious. The interplay between these three characters is at the heart of the film, and without them being in such good form, Cap 2 wouldn’t be half the film that it is.

So it’s perhaps no great surprise that their opposite number, the villain of the piece, is a bit of a damp squib. The Winter Soldier, a dead-eyed semi-robotic man whose origin I won’t reveal, spends the majority of the film virtually mute, seemingly trying to engage everyone he meets in the world’s longest staring contest whilst also knocking eight bells out of them.

Thank Romanoff, then, that everybody else has sufficient zip and charm to carry things along, with particular hat-tips going to the main trio, and also to Samuel L. Jackson’s morally ambiguous yet badass SHIELD chief, Nick Fury. Their charm is a powerful weapon throughout the film, which I should mention is teeming with Cold War allusions, tense standoffs and who-can-we-trust-now showdowns. Annoyingly, though, it starts off at nearly a moral soundbyte per second, with the Cap reeling off his list of Things He Morally Objects To About SHIELD right in Fury’s face. But thankfully the film calms down after that, and it’s in the quiet, more revelatory speech-y moments that Cap 2 becomes remarkably prescient, referencing the NSA, drone strikes and Edward Snowden, all in the aim of showing how far we will go for ‘security’ in the modern age.

All this is good, because the action itself is disappointing. Not in terms of scale, I might add – there’s a heist-on-a-boat, another massive helicarrier scene, and a long Heat-esque car chase, among other things. But it all happens so fast, and is so steadicammed and frenetic, that you can barely see who’s hitting whom with what manner of weapon. Yes, it’s fun, but I would have liked to have been clearer on what was going on during all of the crash-bang-wallop.

And it’s true that, as the film progresses, everything becomes slightly more ‘generic action blockbuster’, but I can probably forgive the Cap that, after his second outing having tried harder than any other comic-book film I can think of to be a little bit different. Although, what I liked least about the second half of the film was that, as per Iron Man (personally, one of the best Marvel films), a certain aspect of the plot turned out to be extremely predictable. Then again, I don’t think anyone comes to comic-book films to be truly hoodwinked, but I would like that to happen once in a blue moon. Especially given the espionage-cloaked feel of the film, a few twists would have been quite fitting, but in the grand old scheme of things, it doesn’t make much of a difference. Also, you may need to have seen the first film to properly understand some bits, but I hadn’t and managed to follow matters fine. Basically, everyone speaking in a foreign accent is baaad.

These quibbles aside, though, Cap 2 works well. With a healthy equilibrium of character and action (probably the best since Avengers Assemble), a central trio who work well together, and some interesting shall-we-say enquiries to follow up, our protagonist’s story could well turn out to be the most engaging of the Marvel superheroes currently in cinematic orbit. We shall see. Also, and if you’re a Marvel veteran you’ll be used to this by now, stick around after the credits.

So, to sort-of quote a favourite band of mine, this Cap’s got soul and he is a soldier, and I hope he continues that way – right to the end of the line, whenever and wherever that may be.

 

Alex Nicholson

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