COMPARISONS WITH CLASSIC 70’S POLITICAL THRILLERS OVERSELL CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER. HOWEVER, IT IS STILL SMART AND EXCITING, AND POSSIBLY MARVEL’S BEST FILM TO DATE.
I’ve kept the main review spoiler free. However, I do include a couple of amendums that have spoilers in them. I’ll flag up clearly before we get to them.
Being an authentic nerd (if I do say so myself), I didn’t leave when the credits for the new Captain America film started rolling like the amateurs did. Nor did I leave after the mid credit sequence like the wannabes. Nope, I stuck it out right to the end to see what nuggets of information about future films Marvel would bestow. I was therefore in my seat when the obligatory disclaimer about the film being fictional and that any similarities to real or persons events being co-incidental. This might seem superfluous for a film about a man with superpowers whose been frozen for half a century before being thawed out and picking up his fight against evil. But on the contrary, for probably the first and perhaps the last time with a Marvel film, this notice seemed rather disingenuous.
As has now been widely trailed Marvel has used this latest chapter in Steve Rodgers’ story to engage with the dilemmas of the War on Terror. The plot revolves around the dangers of mass surveillance, secret agencies and giving spies the power to kill. In fact, the Winter Soldier often feels like Marvel’s version of the Bourne Franchise: complete with shaky cam and at one point basically copying the final shot of the Supremacy.
That’s not to say it has the sophistication of a film by someone like Paul Greengrass or Sydney Pollack. And I’m not convinced that people implying it has are doing anything apart from creating expectations it won’t meet. It is still first and foremost a piece of popcorn cinema from Marvel with all (lack of) subtlety that implies. So it’s not as incisive about politics as many conventional political thrillers. However, there are two reasons this doesn’t really matter:
1) It may be making simple political points but it’s using Captain America to make them. To some of the more Jingoistic sections of the film’s American audience that’s going to come as a shock.
2) It rejuvenates Captain America as a character. I was initially incredulous when it was announced there would be a second Captain America film. This was a character whose journey while initially interesting had fizzled out 2/3rds of the way through his first film and had only seemed to be in the Avengers to annoy Tony Stark. Given this (and the fact that Chris Evans is not the most charismatic lead) I doubted this was a story that had anywhere to go. Getting this old fashioned character to grapple with contemporary dilemmas resolves this problem.
Evan’s limitations as a lead are more than compensated for by surrounding him with an excellent ensemble cast including Samuel L. Jackson, Jenny Aguter, Cobbie Smulders (AKA Robyn from HIMYM) and (*drumroll*) Robert Redford. However, the actor who does the most to make the film work is Scarlet Johansen. The buddy-copesque interplay between her wordly Black Widow and the boy scoutish Captain leavens the proceedings and crystalises his fish out of water status.
It also doesn’t hurt that the action scenes (of which there are a lot) are excellent. The tendency of superhero films to descend into blur of Transformers style CGI is one of the genre’s weaknesses. The more grounded nature of Captain America’s superpowers – essentially being strong, fast and having a really cool shield – keeps this kind of unengaging nonsense at bay. The Winter Soldier’s (literally) more down to earth fights and chases have a physicality that makes them feel that more real.
That this film has been such a success comes as quite a relief. After the Avengers and the Dark Knight Rises I suspected that we had reached peak superhero. However, Marvel seems to be continuing to make a success of the genre. The latest Thor, Iron Man and Captain America films are better than their predecessors. They’ve also shown themselves willing to try new styles like spy thrillers and science fiction. Even Agents of Shield is improving. The result is that I am cautiously optimistic about the Age of Ultron…..though less so about Guardians of the Galaxy.
Verdict: 8/10 not as sophisticated as some people are suggesting but this is still a great success
*Warning after this picture I’m going to make a few points that I can’t make without spoiling parts of the plot. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!!*
1. I initially thought that the reveal that Toby Jones’ Nazi/HYDRA scientist Dr Zoran was posthmously orchestrating the plot was rather over the top. Now I think it’s an example of fridge brilliance. The recruitment of ex-Nazis to fight the Cold War is a perfect example of the film’s theme: the moral compromises America makes to fight its enemies.
2. Where exactly does the destruction of SHIELD leave Agents of Shield?