Saturday, 5 April 2014

Film Review: Captain America - The Winter Soldier

Director: Anthony and Joe Russo
Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson
Runtime: 136 minutes 

Captain America is back in his second solo outing, The Winter Soldier. With Chris Evans reprising his role as the Star Spangled Man alongside Scarlett Johansson's slinky Black Widow and Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury, put simply The Winter Solider is the best superhero movie produced, across the board, since The Avengers

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the ninth feature film from Marvel Studios. Continuing on from the events of The Avengers, this entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe sees the ambitious studio scale dizzying new heights with a sequel that improves on every aspect of its predecessor, 2011's The First Avenger.

With Cappy now firmly rooted in the 21st Century, The Winter Solider sees Steve Rogers (played by the hunky Chris Evans) uncover a villainous plot deep within SHIELD, the intelligence agency that formed the Avengers Initiative, that would thrust America, and the world, into a new era of fear and terror.

Pitched as a murky '70's spy thriller by directors Joe and Anthony Russo (best known for their work on NBC's wickedly funny sitcom Community), The Winter Soldier is vastly different in tone to The First Avenger which, suiting its World War II setting, was very much about binaries - good vs. evil, black vs. white. In this second film, Cap is presented with a complex web of lies, backstabbing and grey areas. After all, in the world of espionage, who can you trust?

These themes of deceit, and murky morals are what makes The Winter Soldier a lot more captivating than many of its more conventional stable-mates. In the film, Cap and Black Widow go 'ghost protocol' in order to expose the secret SHIELD plot as well as uncover the identity of the mysterious 'Winter Soldier'.

I don't want to give too much away in regards to the plot - there are some twists and turns that are best left unspoiled for those who haven't studied the trailers and promotional material. Some of the twists are pretty clearly sign-posted, and anyone who has a passing knowledge of Captain America history will be able to see them coming. Regardless, it is hard to not get swept along by the break-neck speed of the plot and thrills it offers.

In terms of carrying the film, I thought Chris Evans did a much better job this time around. This is in part to the smoother script (and lack of montages), but also his close affinity with the role. He is Captain America, and he fills out the role as much as he fills out the costume (seriously, that dude is buff).

For me, the stand-out performance came from Scarlett Johansson as deadly assassin Natasha Romanoff, or Black Widow. Like Evans, she makes the role her own and has a lot more to do this time around than just swish her hair and look sexy. Her character and Rogers come from different worlds (straight-up solider vs. slinky secret agent) so watching the two work together, and seeing Rogers learn about 21st Century espionage with some goons hot on their tail was great fun.

For Johansson, her performance offered further validation (if it was at all needed) that Romanoff deserves her own spin-off/origin story to solidify the character. ScarJo is having a really fantastic run of films recently, from Don Jon, Under the Skin, Her and the upcoming Lucy, all showcasing her ability to bring something extra, or even lead, a film.

A welcome addition to the cast comes in the form of Anthony Mackie's wisecracking ex-war veteran Sam. Mackie and Evans share some great dialogue, with the two bantering back and forth like Stark and Rhodes, Thor and...erm, Loki? Anyway, Mackie is a great supporting characters, his cool wings transforming him into classic Captain America sidekick, The Falcon. Another great cast member was Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce, the director of SHIELD.

The Winter Solider also has plenty to satisfy the appetites of action-junkies - things kick off with a cool mission aboard a boat in the Indian Ocean, before some kick-ass car chases and the big finale involving multiple SHIELD helicarriers (which are apparently a lot like Death Stars - really big and imposing, but super easy to take down).

Something that struck me about the action was the often choppy and rapid editing - Cap and the Winter Solider come to blows on a couple of occasions, with their brutal hand-to-hand combat coming loaded with powerful emotional impact (as you'll discover). The only problem was that of how these sequences were edited - the camera work was poor at times, with the Russo brothers something lessening the impact of the fight scenes by cutting away or moving the camera too much. This cleared up by the end of the film, but was really noticeable at first.

The Winter Solider himself was a very formidable villain, much more iconic and memorable than Malekith or the Mandarin. With the owl-like mask and robotic arm, his mysterious identity is nicely kept under wraps until the mid-point of the film. It was a shame that Red Skull didn't make a reappearance. That would have been cool.

My favourite aspect of The Winter Solider was how it was shaped as a middle chapter. The film was very balanced, both resolving plot threads from the first film, and establishing others for the already confirmed third entry. Characters like Emily VanCamp's Agent 13 may have had little to do, but her role will no doubt grow in the future, the same of which can be said for Sebastian Stan. I found that the opening set-up was kind of slow, before a much better middle and final third.

The film had various plot elements carried over from the first film, with Toby Jones' slimy HYDRA agent Dr. Zola traversing the 60 year gap between films. Tonally, the film is a lot more grounded and serious than previous, more goofy Marvel films (*cough* Thor *cough*), an approach than reflects the attempt to mirror spy/espionage thrillers of yesteryear.

The Verdict: 9/10 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is hands-down one of the best Marvel films yet - it's both stand-alone (good for casual viewers) and brimming with interwoven narratives for fans. Evans, Johannson and Mackie make for an entertaining threesome, the action is awesome, and the overall direction the studio has taken shakes things up a lot for the future. It's an ambitious, satisfying and entertaining addition into an already superb series of films, and a very early contender for the best blockbuster of 2014.

P.S. Fans of Community will get a thrill from seeing Abed (Danny Pudi) pop up near the end. Cool. Cool cool cool. 


  1. Nice review. I'm not firmly in the minority on my own views for this movie, but I am glad to see everyone be enthusiastic about it nonetheless. The threesome of Evans, Johannson, and Mackie are certainly a delight. :)

    1. Yeah, you are kind of in the minority - but that's okay, I can see where you're coming from on some of the points you made in your review :) After seeing Johannson in this, I'm very much looking forward to Lucy!



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