Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson
“Captain America?! Surely that’s too outdated and cheesy a concept for modern cinema!”
That was my initial reaction way back when Marvel Studios first announced that Steve Rogers would be getting his own film. So I went into Captain America: The First Avenger in the summer of 2011 expecting absolutely nothing. I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised. I LOVED it. I loved everything about it! Chris Evans’s performance was spectacular. He made Steve Rogers one of most likable and relatable superhero and movie characters I’d ever encountered. Immediately Cap became my favourite Marvel Cinematic Universe character.
After The Avengers closed out phase one of the MCU in epic fashion, it seemed Marvel Studios were on a roll. Then phase two began. Iron Man 3 was and is my least favourite MCU movie to date. Thor: The Dark World was better but it felt like nothing more than filler between Avengers movies. This brings us then to Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Despite my disappointment with the MCU’s initial phase two efforts, I couldn’t have been more excited for Cap 2 based on my enjoyment of the first one and The Avengers. And to my utter delight, it exceeded even my wildest expectations. The Winter Soldier is, in a word, excellent. It may even be my favourite superhero movie to date. Let’s take a look at what makes The Winter Soldier so great.
For a start the movie takes us back to the epicentre of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and right into the core of SHIELD.
Both Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World felt like they were taking place on the fringes of the MCU. They were stories personal to their title characters and didn’t do much to progress the overall plot of the MCU, instead focusing on only progressing their own sub-franchises. Which is fine, but after The Avengers I was thirsty for something more. The Winter Soldier offers that by the bucket load. It manages to offer a deeply personal story for Rogers himself and tie it flawlessly to the future of the MCU, turning the entire franchise as we know it on its head through a series of clever plot twists and revelations.
Before The Winter Soldier, in many ways, it felt as if the entire MCU revolved around Iron Man and Stark Industries. The name Stark has a presence in every Marvel Studios film to date, even the ones in which Tony himself doesn’t appear. It felt as if the entire fictional universe was built upon the Stark legacy. The Winter Soldier, however, changes all of that.
We learn that a spectre from Steve Rogers’s past has been a significant and influential presence in the MCU all along, manipulating events and controlling proceedings in ways we could never have imagined. It links events in every Marvel Studios movie to date to the consequences and aftermath of the first Captain America film. One of the more clever and subtle ways Marvel Studios achieved this was by involving minor characters from past MCU outings in the web of conspiracy and lies that The Winter Soldier unravels as it progresses. It’s an intriguing and ingenious idea that binds the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe tightly together through Captain America himself.
The build up and revelations along the way are interlaced with some pulse pounding action sequences, including a car chase featuring Nick Fury in the first third of the movie and some early clashes between Cap and the titular villain.
The action reaches new levels of spectacle though at the film’s climax with a protracted sequence featuring three SHIELD hellicarriers. While we were introduced to the concept of the hellicarrier in The Avengers, it basically only functioned as a SHIELD base to facilitate the plot. We were never given a full demonstration of its abilities. The Winter Soldier‘s final act makes up for that in spectacular form.
Throughout the final battle the movie’s main heroes are all given their moments to shine, particularly newcomer The Falcon and returning Avenger, Black Widow. Naturally though, it’s Cap himself that takes centre stage on the action front. We’re treated to an adrenaline fueled face off between The First Avenger and The Winter Soldier in a visually stunning environment.
Just as important as the plot and the action in making this such a great film are the actors’ performances. Once again Chris Evans proves he was born to play the part of Steve Rogers. When I first heard Evans had been cast as Cap, my only experience of him had been the Fantastic Four movies and I couldn’t picture him playing Steve Rogers any differently to Johnny Storm. I have since then learned the truth: Chris Evans is a damn good actor. Anyone who doubts his abilities only need check out movies such as Sunshine and the recent Snowpiercer. As Cap though, Evans is perfect. Cap may be an enhanced super solider who works for an international espionage agency and leads a team of fellow superhumans against alien invasions, but Evans manages to keep the character incredibly grounded. Steve Rogers comes across as just a nice, quiet guy who’s trying to do the best he can with the cards life has dealt him. He’s the complete opposite of the larger than life Tony Stark. There’s no ego or arrogance about him. He just wants to do what’s right. Evans makes us believe that at heart Rogers is still the scrawny kid from Brooklyn who doesn’t want to hurt anyone, he just doesn’t like bullies. And the finely crafted script gives Evans plenty to sink his teeth into. There’s a lot of emotion and conflict for Cap in this film and Evans handles it in pristine fashion. Robert Downey Jr. may get all the attention, but it’s Chris Evans who shines brightest as an actor in the MCU.
There are also impressive performances from Evans’s supporting players. Scarlett Johansson is cool as ever as Natasha “Black Widow” Romanoff. Given how well we seem to know the character at this stage and how likable Johansson has managed to make her, it’s easy to forget that not only has Black Widow not had her own solo outing, but each of her appearances has been in a different arm of the MCU franchise. Widow turned out to be a good choice to team Cap up with. Had he teamed up with any other Avenger, it would have pulled focus and the fact that SHIELD is featured heavily meant that Romanoff was a logical companion to Rogers throughout.
As usual, Sam Jackson portrays SHIELD director Nick Fury as a no nonsense man who you do not want to clash with. He’s completely believable as someone who has a long and shady history in the spy game. Fury is even given his own extended action sequence this time.
Anthony Mackie makes a memorable first appearance in the MCU as The Falcon and gels well with Cap and Widow. I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more of him in the future. Cobie Smulders on the other hand isn’t given anything monumental to work with as Maria Hill. It’s her second outing as the character now, not counting Agents of SHIELD guest spots, and it’s not really clear who Hill is as a person. But I think that’s okay. What’s important is that she is portrayed as a loyal and dedicated SHIELD agent and that’s all that was needed of her in this movie.
Hayley Atwell briefly reprises her role as Peggy Carter in a scene that was both touching and necessary to resolve dangling emotional plot threads from the first film. I was surprised though that a bigger deal wasn’t made out of Emily VanCamp’s Agent 13 character, given her connection to Cap’s past in the comics.
She doesn’t receive much screen time, which was disappointing. I was hoping to see more interaction between her and Steve. I assume she has been established for development in future movies, which is fine. But given her lack of significance to the plot here, I can’t help but wonder if she may have been better served introduced in Cap 3 in a more substantial role.
What I also really liked about the movie were Cap’s costume designs. I wasn’t a fan of the one he wore he in The Avengers. It had that campy look I was worried the first film would have. Thankfully, The Winter Solider returns Cap’s costumes to the more functional look that he sported in The First Avenger. He essentially wears stylised army battle dress uniforms, which adds a lot more weight and seriousness to the character while honouring his comic book roots.
Like all MCU movies, this is of course packed full of fun easter eggs and allusions to other movies and characters. I won’t spoil them here but suffice it to say there are subtle hints towards future MCU movies, including a blink and you’ll miss it cameo by what’s sure to be a significant location in Avengers: Age of Ultron next year. There are also some returning characters who perhaps aren’t as obvious, such as SHIELD agent Sitwell (Thor, The Avengers, Agents of SHIELD), Senator Stern (Iron Man 2) and Councilwoman Hawley (The Avengers). And FYI, there is both a mid-credits and a post-credits scene, so make sure you stay in your seat until the credits are finished rolling.
That’s about as much as I can touch upon without getting into major spoiler territory. To sum up, Captain America: The Winter Soldier has cemented the character of Steve Rogers and the Captain America film series as the best the MCU has to offer for me, perhaps even the best the superhero genre has to offer. It serves as a gripping conspiracy thriller with a suspenseful build up, culminating in an action packed and exhilarating finale, with strong performances by the lead actors throughout. It takes the MCU as whole, not just Captain America as a sub-franchise, in new and shocking directions. You’ll walk out wondering to yourself where Marvel can go from here. One thing’s for sure, things will never be the same again for Captain America and his fellow Avengers.
The standard has been set high for superhero films this year. Can The Amazing Spider-man 2 and X-Men: Days of Future Past beat it in the next few weeks? Check back here for my personal reviews on both.
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