Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L Jackson, Robert Redford, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Toby Jones
Joe and Anthony Russo, take a bow. You may have just made one of the best comic book movies ever made.
Let me go back a few steps. For any who have missed the trailers, The Winter Soldier sees Cap trying to fit back into the modern world, working for S.H.I.E.L.D. Although he has always been willing to serve his country, he is now wondering whether he shares the same view on the world as his employers. Add to this a deadly assassin and Steve Rogers finds he is facing foes everywhere he turns.
Now, I wasn’t a fan of the first film, it was ok, but I had issues over its content, and it is fair to say that although the trailers released for the sequel had grabbed my interest, I was a touch concerned it would also leave me as empty as the first did. Those worries were completely unjustified.
The film, on a whole, is an absolute masterpiece. We live in a world where Hollywood releases between 3 and 5 major superhero movies a year, and naturally this will eventually lead to the market getting saturated. There have already been rumblings over the last year or two that audiences are getting jaded by the whole genre, however for me personally, when Marvel are able to create stories like this, which are unlike anything we have seen from them up to this point, I am happy for the hero push to continue.
So why is it so good? Firstly, the plot. After The Avengers was released, many people asked how Marvel could continue with standalone movies, as surely these new-found allies would help each other out whenever possible. With Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, you can see that the studio has consciously made the stories more personal, attacking each individual where they feel most comfortable.
The Winter Soldier is no exception. Tony Stark, Thor or Bruce Banner could easily have helped Steve Rogers here, however this is about Ol’ Cap not knowing who to trust, and his battle against the establishment he always aligned himself with. Although there is no shortage of action, this means the story is much more intense than most.
This is even reflected in the fight sequences, which largely rely on a more realistic choreography. The finale is pretty grandiose, but almost every battle up to this point is akin to the average action film. It may still be rooted in fantasy (he is a “super soldier” after all), but the action is much grittier, involving more hand-to-hand combat than any other Marvel film to date. It makes for a refreshing change.
Given the more intimate nature of the story, the acting is easier to scrutinise here than in any other Marvel film, and I am pleased to say everyone does a fine job. I won’t go through them all, as there are too many big players to discuss, however a) Anthony Mackie makes an impressive debut as Falcon, b) Robert Redford feels like an odd fit, despite doing little wrong, and c) it is refreshing to see Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow have an influence on the plot, rather than being eye-candy.
I have recently been talking to friends about Chris Evans’ acting capabilities and choices. He’s not someone I ever expected to pull on the red, white and blue uniform, but I am happy he did. He has shown himself to have some great acting chops, and has fully owned this role since taking it over. Marvel can be pleased with most of their casting to date, and Evans has embodied the Captain America role so well, I would find it difficult to see anyone else taking the helm, should his plans to retire from acting in 2017 come to fruition.
The one other guy I just briefly wanted to touch on is Sebastian Stan, and his Winter Soldier. His character is quite an odd conundrum. On the one hand, he is a badass beyond compare. He runs toe to toe with Captain America on more than one occassion, and is unfortunate to find himself on the losing end. These are arguably the best matched hero and villain to date, which makes for an exciting watch. Once you see how tough this guy is, you would be happy to just see a couple of hours of him and Rogers slugging it out to the bitter end.
But oddly, although this guy is such a threat, and has his name plastered all over the film title, we don’t see him as much as you might expect, which is a shame. I would like to have seen his back stoy expanded on a little more, although the writers do touch on it sufficiently to give us an idea of who he is.
The aforementioned Russo Brothers have done a spectacular job of not only bringing Captain America into the 21st century, but making him relevent. His character has managed to maintain his old-fashioned values, but works hard to adapt them for the modern age. Although a few jokes are made about him being out of his time period, thankfully it is a string they don’t tug on too often.
Given the directors’ resume is filled with comedy credits, most notably their work on Arrested Development and Community, you would expect The Winter Soldier to be funny as hell, right? Wrong. They have done something quite unique with the humour. Until now, all of the films have stuck to the Marvel trademark goofy-style comedy to lighten the mood, but here we see a much more subtle approach to humour without compromising on quality.
In fact, this film probably has the best script to date, just edging Iron Man, and it is with little surprise that the Russos are returning for the third film, bringing the same writers with them.
I cannot speak highly enough of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In many ways it is a game changer, in the same way that The Avengers and The Dark Knight were, however I suspect it will not receive the same accolades as these heavyweights, which is a shame.
I have tried to keep this as spoiler free as possible and hope I have succeeded. After the rating, I discuss one or two spoilers, plus the post-credit scenes (yes, plural! One mid-credit and one post-credit), so keep reading, if you dare!
SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!
Right, hopefully that warning has scared a few off.
I just wanted to mention one or two aspects which could impact the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or the MCU as it is informally known.
Firstly, the ending will have huge ramifications going forward, and will impact on the MCU more than any other film has so far. Although S.H.I.E.L.D. being closed down doesn’t necessarily affect each hero on a personal level, it should not be forgotten that it was them, or Nick Fury in particular, that bought The Avengers together. Will this change the way our favourite group of superheroes interact with each other, or does it even matter? Surely they all have each other’s number now, so who needs Uncle Sam interfering? Or will it highlight that although they are all heroes in their own right, they need someone standing over them to make sure they work together? We will find out next year in Age of Ultron.
Also, where does that leave Marvel’s flagship TV show, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.? It may have been receiving mixed reviews, and therefore is not at the top of their agenda, but alot of time and energy has been spent on it, and it has been set up to run alongside the MCU. Presumably the end of this first season will show a similar end to the agency, but if not, does that undermine the fact that the show is set in the same universe?
Finally, I am sure there are plenty of easter eggs in the film that will come out over time, but the one that caught my attention was the name drop of Steven Strange AKA Dr Strange. Is this a clear hint that a film following the Sorcerer Supreme is about to be announced, or just a gentle nod to the fanboys? With Iron Man seemingly not getting any more films, and the next two standalone features centering on unknown quantities (Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man), Marvel will probably be looking to plunder their vast array of characters for the next big thing, with Dr Strange being a long-mooted option.
As for the post credit scenes, the final one is fairly throw away, although it does hint at what we might see in a third film. It suggests that Captain America was able to get through to The Winter Soldier, who we see at the Captain America exhibition in the Smithsonian, reading the biography of Bucky Barnes. Will this knowledge see him fight for justice, or fry his mind and make him an even more dangerous opponent?
The more interesting scene, however, was the one involving Baron Von Strucker, head of Hydra, as he shows us they hold Loki’s staff from The Avengers, and have two powerful prisoners, namely Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. We know these are due to appear in Age of Ultron, and it was interesting that Marvel decided to give a glimpse of them now. Was this simply to one-up Fox, who also have iterations of the characters in the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past, or was this always planned? Only Marvel know!