Running Time: 136 mins
Director: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo
Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Redford
Genre: Comic Book, Action, Superhero
New York changed everything, and everyone one. Suddenly the world was aware of demi-gods, large green rage monsters, and flying Tremor-esque creators that passed through a rip in space. It’s this new found knowledge that has pushed S.H.I.E.L.D to the point of policing by gunpoint as a special defence system is about to go online. But when a fellow super soldier by the name of “The Winter Soldier” sets his sights on Steve Rogers; Captain America finds himself fighting wars on several fronts with the biggest enemies inside the Government.
The biggest change from Joe Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger to The Winter Soldier isn’t necessarily a change in calendar date but rather, a change of weight. Where TFA felt like a “comic book movie” (whatever that means), TWS has some serious political gravitas that has been drawn out from the subtext of the source material. Like, The Dark Knight this is a dark thriller that just so happens to feature superheroes. As a film it stands alone and is strong doing so, but it is most impressive when watched within the context of the greater Marvel Universe. This is a U.S political system that has seen two large genetically created monsters destroy a large portion of The Bronx. This is after a major internal struggle within Stark Industries led to Godzilla-sized robot wars on the streets of Los Angeles, a Russian scientist caused International havoc (and property damage) using HAMMER technologies, a small town in Middle America is decimated by an enormous fire-breathing metal monster, and right when you thought everything was beginning to get back to normal New York is effectively destroyed.
I like what the Russo Bros have done with Cappie 2. Like Iron Man 3, they have taken their protagonist and bested him, removing him from his comfort zone –almost taking the super out of the equation in order to flesh out the real humanity of the character. Putting Captain America on the run made it feel as though it was 24 the movie with a super-charged Jack Bauer. It really, really works!
Evans (as Steve Rogers) does some interesting work with his character. Yes, he is a patriot but he is a mid-twentieth century patriot dropped into the twenty-first century. This America is not his America and as such, he’s put at odds with the modern political “realities” of war, policing, rhetoric. He missed Vietnam. He was an ice lolly when the first casualty of war became innocence rather than the first man over the top. He demonstrates this conflict between his sensibilities, his duty, and his role as “American Icon” with a delicateness that’s rare. Scarlett Johansson (as Natasha Romanov/Black Widow) is great to see. She was introduced in Iron Man 2, largely to service the narrative. Her exposition in Avengers was limited leaving a lot of Widow fans wanting more exploration of her character. Captain America: The Winter Soldier trickles out a little more on her history, personality, effectiveness. As Fury’s operational right-hand she is the person to get shit done because she, unlike Steve, doesn’t have any issue with anything that’s asked of her… largely because she’s done worse long before we’ve ever met her. The modern Marvel presentation of Natasha is somewhat problematic for the long-term readers of her character. She has used her feminine assets to seduce Tony Stark while in the service of the KGB. She trained with The Winter Soldier, lived with Daredevil and when Cappie stepped out from active duty, it was Natasha (not Thor or Iron Man) who became the leader of the Avengers. At present, I can’t help but think they’ve diluted Natasha’s sexuality, psychology, and personality in favour of narrative progression. It’s understandable, but at the same time a little annoying as there is a lot of light and shade to Black Widow that Johansson could have so much fun playing with –perhaps a solo outing will rectify that.
Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is given the most to do cinematically since SLJ took over from David Hasselhoff. Yes, he’s a few important scenes in Avengers but you get to know more of the man in TWS. He’s a character not dissimilar to a lot of Jackson’s characters but that’s not to say he’s not enjoyable. He is. It takes a special kind of character to survive in the realm he does. Never has it been made so clear without hammering it home, how a man lives in a shark-infested tank for decades. He does so by becoming more dangerous than the shark. Trust few, connect emotionally with fewer and always be ready.
Like The First Avenger before it, The Winter Soldier is populated with some excellent supporting performances. Robert Redford is always watchable, and just having him in the movie lends it a validation greater than anything Marvel has had before it. Markus’ script is a lot more astute than previous. It’s a lot more adult and definitely delivers the story offered up while at the same time lays some critical groundwork for the future.
The Russos direction is incredible. There are a lot of balls in the air with this movie. There are a lot of awe-inspiring set-pieces to construct and do so in such a way that adds to the geo-political sphere they’ve created. As much as I enjoyed Avengers, and I really, really did, the absence of a first act distances the audience from some of the characters, largely Hawkeye and Black Widow. What The Winter Soldier does is create a threat that is quantifiable and real. It beds the audience into the film in a way that Avengers could not and as such, at least for me, made it the most intense, involved and entertaining Marvel offering to date.