Captain America: The Winter Soldier is many things, first and foremost if these is a fantastic film that will delight comic book fans and regular moviegoers alike. More interestingly, though, is that it addresses some of the main concerns people may have had about the future of the Marvel Cinematic universe.
Firstly, it can’t be easy making a comic book movie. If you stray too far from the source material then you risk alienating fans of the comic, adhere too closely and that same audience will never be surprised. The identity of the titular Winter Soldier isn’t going to be a huge revelation to most people watching the latest Marvel movie and, fortunately, that really doesn’t matter. This film is not about him, it’s about Captain America and the modern world he’s found himself a part of. It’s about questioning the battles he finds himself fighting and which side he’s really on. It’s about whether a World War II era soldier, super or otherwise, has a place in the current day battlefield. And there’s also a cybernetically enhanced assassin with a penchant for eye makeup and face masks who may or may not be related to his past. The story involves so many threads, familiar, new and different, that no one is going to be hurt by how familiar they are, or aren’t, with the source material.
Then there’s the concern that over time this single Marvel universe would feel far too homogenised to be consistently entertaining without simply being more of the same. Viewed on its own this is still very much a comic book movie, but it’s also a techno-paranoia fueled espionage thriller. Yes, this is the same universe that brought us the bright coloured alien invasion in Avengers or the mythological fantasy of Thor: Dark world, but it’s rooted in a darker, more believable reality. In comic book terms, they’re all Marvel creations, but different artists and writers have a great deal of latitude in presenting a story to their audience.
And this is different to the films that have come before (and a literal world apart from the sci-fi comedy of the incoming Guardians of the Galaxy). People have complained that Cap’s new muted uniform is a far stretch from his original Stars and Stripes outing and it quickly becomes apparent that this is to fit the darker missions SHIELD is sending him on. It’s a theme that pops up in comic books frequently and not only does it represent the tonal shift in storytelling, but it also allows for that triumphant third act hurrah after the hero realises that things simply aren’t the way they’re supposed to be.
That hero is brought to life once more by Chris Evans who is clearly more comfortable than ever in this role. Cap has been allowed to grow as he lives in this modern world but he retains the basic nature of who he was pre-freeze. Samuel L Jackson, too, proves himself more comfortable than ever as Nick Fury who finally receives enough screen time to flesh out the character a little more. Scarlett Johansson return to Black Widow’s skin tight stealth suit doesn’t seem to have been as successful though. The story lends itself to discovering so much more about her character but much of her performance for the first half of the movie’s run time seems to fall flat. It’s only a relative drop, but given the development of her character in Avengers it seems a shame that she’s handled so differently when she has more of an on-screen presence. New hero on the block, Falcon, is brought on board with only the slightest hint of contrivance and is realised in fantastic comic book glory when Anthony Mackie finally suits-up. Robert Redford as his high powered, morally ambiguous spy leader is everything you could want from the role which is almost detrimental to the suspense factor since nothing he does will come as a surprise to anyone who’s seen a Robert Redford film before.
As mentioned before, the Winter Soldier may be in the film’s title, but this is not his film. In good comic book form this is essentially volume one in his story arc with much left unresolved. As a stand-alone experience that may be frustrating to some but it’s much better than comic book movies of old where one or more villains would be allowed a single movie’s run time to cover their origin, crime spree and sudden death. It’s nice that Loki isn’t the only persistent antagonist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe now too.
A masked assassin with a robut arm is not the only thing that stops this being a straight espionage thriller; this is very much a blockbuster movie. From the high action opening that demonstrates what puts the super in Captain America’s soldier to the epic final showdown(s) it’s evident that Disney have made sure most of this film’s budget ends up on screen. It doesn’t try to compete with Avengers in terms of special effects spectacle but it doesn’t have to, it’s not that kind of movie, but there are too many holy-crap moments to consider this anything but a visual feast.
Fortunately the writing matches the action with the script both supplying the tension while not scrimping on the occasional moment of humour. Again, this is not Joss Whedon’s typical sarcastic tone, but that doesn’t stop it from being clever and occasionally witty. It comes back to that same universe, different interpretation aspect that’s easy to get away with in comic form, but could risk incongruence in a live action situation where actors as well as their characters are common elements. Speaking of the story, another concern put to rest by having a single universe is the fear that nothing change, that each movie must tie things up nicely so that future films, or the ongoing Agents of SHIELD, are adversely affected. After the events of this movie nothing can be the same again, and it will be fun to see how that’s going to work out.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is an amazing experience that reinforces the foundations of Marvel’s cinematic vision while simultaneously turning everything on it’s head. It gets five salutes and you get a reminder to sit through to the end. It’s standard form for Marvel movies to have end credit sequences and this one has two of them.
Images courtesy of marvel.com