Review – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

After seriously dropping the hammer with the disappointing Thor: The Dark World, Marvel has got its mojo back with this superheroic espionage thriller that packs a real biff, pow and bang.

Although on paper a two-dimensional relic of 1940s flag-waving propaganda comics, Captain America's onscreen adventures are fast becoming the Marvel movies to look out for

Although on paper a two-dimensional relic of 1940s flag-waving propaganda comics, Captain America’s onscreen adventures are fast becoming the Marvel movies to look out for

On its 2011 release, Captain America: The First Avenger was an unexpected pleasure, skillfully mixing pulpy action and period nostalgia with a World War Two setting that perfectly suited the old school heroics of Captain Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, a great fit for the role).

His appearance alongside Iron Man, Thor et al in Avengers Assemble (as it was called over here) was largely about him trying to come to terms with the modern world and it’s an issue that inevitably permeates through The Winter Soldier.

Steve 'Cap' Rogers (Chris Evans) forms a valuable friendship with fellow veteran Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Steve ‘Cap’ Rogers (Chris Evans) forms a valuable friendship with fellow veteran Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

However, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley (who also wrote the first movie) deserve a lot of credit for crafting a story that transcends fish-out-of-water narrative tropes and instead gives the character something he can really get his shield stuck into.

While the bad guys he’s fighting this time around aren’t as clear-cut as the uber-Nazis he was battling in The First Avenger, Cap’s inherent goodness and staunch belief in the enduring power of freedom are traits that prove just as necessary in The Winter Soldier.

Cap (Chris Evans) expresses his concerns as to the direction S.H.I.E.L.D is taking to Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Cap (Chris Evans) expresses his concerns as to the direction S.H.I.E.L.D is taking to Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Since being thawed out from cryogenic stasis at the end of The First Avenger, Rogers has allied himself with S.H.I.E.L.D, the labyrinthine spy and law-enforcement network led by Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson, given more to do this time) – but is growing ever-more sceptical about its true motives. Rogers is forced to go on the run from S.H.I.E.L.D after finding himself in the middle of a massive conspiracy and, with the help of deadly assassin Natalia Romanoff, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson, also with more to do this time), and fellow war veteran Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie, underused) sets about uncovering the truth.

While Thor’s second solo outing got lost in an Asgardian vortex of Dark Elves and cod-Lord Of The Rings nonsense, Cap’s big return has a far more engaging narrative.

Cap (Chris Evans) must work with deadly assassin Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Cap (Chris Evans) must work with deadly assassin Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

The central plot makes no bones about its nods to 1970s conspiracy cinema classics like The Parallax View (1974) and Three Days Of The Condor (1975), right down to the casting of Condor‘s Robert Redford, who effortlessly raises the level of the film every time he’s on screen as senior S.H.I.E.L.D figure Alexander Pierce.

The juxtaposition of Cap’s clearly defined outlook of right and wrong with the murky, compromised ideology of S.H.I.E.L.D is a nice idea and a very contemporary concept, but the film doesn’t trust the audience to work it out for themselves. When he witnesses just how far S.H.I.E.L.D is willing to go to “neutralise threats”, a rattled Rogers tells Fury “This isn’t freedom, this is fear”; to which Fury replies the agency “takes the world as it is, not as we’d like it to be”. The point is made several more times in case we haven’t picked it up.

Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) with old buddy and fellow S.H.I.E.L.D colleague Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) with old buddy and fellow S.H.I.E.L.D colleague Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

In spite of the lack of subtlety, it’s undoubtedly the most interesting element of both this and any other Marvel picture to date, and one you feel directors Anthony and Joe Russo would rather have concentrated on more. This being a superhero movie, however, it’s a prerequisite that things go boom sooner or later.

That being said, an early set piece involving an ambush on Fury’s S.H.I.E.L.D mobile is exhilarating stuff, while a fight involving Rogers and a dozen or so S.H.I.E.L.D goons in a lift gets the pulse racing. It’s when the scale of the action is amped up that the film – especially in the final act – loses its way and turns into just another Marvel movie involving a stack of CGI explosions in the sky.

The mysterious Winter Soldier in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

The mysterious Winter Soldier in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

In spite of being part of the title, we’re given only a brief taste of who and what the Winter Soldier is. It’s a plot thread you suspect had more meat on it during early drafts and is left dangling for Cap’s third solo movie. At 136 minutes, the film is too long anyway, so it’s not surprising this wasn’t developed more.

Although on paper a two-dimensional relic of 1940s flag-waving propaganda comics, Captain America’s onscreen adventures are fast becoming the Marvel movies to look out for.

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27 comments

  1. Victor De Leon · March 29, 2014

    Great review! I am so stoked for this movie. The first Cap film was a very awesome surprise and was incredibly entertaining. It was my fav of the pre- “Avengers” Marvel movies even over Thor, as well. Glad you liked this one despite what sounds like a bit of a shift in tone. Thanks and nice job!

    • Three Rows Back · April 2, 2014

      Much appreciated Vic! I’m with you there mate. Loved the shift in tone; I’m sure you will too 🙂

  2. Tim The Film Guy · March 29, 2014

    Great review. I loved the film and thought the new thriller aspect of the film took Marvel into a new Genre even if in a relatively small way. Very much looking forward to the next one 😀

    • Three Rows Back · April 2, 2014

      Thank you Tim. Glad you loved the film too. Unlike Thor 3, which I can’t say as I’m looking forward to, I’m stoked for Cap 3.

  3. Tom · March 29, 2014

    Striking review man, gotta say you have pitched quite a good argument for getting my butt in a chair for a Captain America movie. Unfortunately though, I still don’t think I will since I didn’t see the first one and for these kinds of movies I really don’t like seeing sequels before I see the original story. And Captain America always has seemed really boring to me. I know I’m on an island in thinking that, but so be it. 😀

    • Three Rows Back · April 2, 2014

      I was hoping you might have said Marvel-ous review! Missed opportunity Tom! I certainly helps to have seen the original as there are several references which you’ll miss otherwise. Check out the first one though; it’s a blast!

  4. Lights Camera Reaction · March 29, 2014

    Nice review. I absolutely hated the first Captain America film, so I’m hoping this will be an improvement.

    • Three Rows Back · April 2, 2014

      Oh, what did you hate about the first one? You might not like this one then! Thanks for the feedback.

  5. Joseph@thecinemamonster · March 29, 2014

    Captain America is possibly my favourite Avenger, story-wise, so I’m looking forward to checking this out. Solid write-up my friend :).

    • Three Rows Back · April 2, 2014

      We’re on the same comic book page mate. Really think you’ll get a lot of fun out of this. Appreciate the kind words Joseph.

  6. Nick Powell · March 31, 2014

    After the sour tastes left in my mouth after Thor 2 and Iron Man 3, I’m hoping this will be a nice remedy. Sounds fun (even though it’s long). I’m excited.

    • Three Rows Back · April 2, 2014

      Thor 2 left me cold too, although I’ll be honest and say I liked Iron man 3. This trumps all the other standalone Marvel movies though (it is too long!).

  7. ruth · March 31, 2014

    I love the first Captain America, in fact I seem to enjoy it more every time I watch it. This one manages to surpass it. I love that the conspiracy-themed story has a retro feel but also quite timely. I think Cap has become my favorite Marvel superhero and that’s largely because of Chris Evans’ portrayal.

    • Three Rows Back · April 2, 2014

      Right with you Ruth. I love that the oldest Marvel hero of this bunch is starring in a movie that in many ways couldn’t be more timely.

  8. Popcorn Nights · March 31, 2014

    Nice review. I didn’t actually enjoy the first one all that much but I like the sound of the 70’s thriller elements here, so I might check it out on DVD or Netflix eventually. Sounds like a shame they ditched that vibe for the action at the end, although inevitable!

    • Three Rows Back · April 2, 2014

      Thank you my friend. I think this is superior to the first film, even though it goes on way too long and has a silly fight at the end. Inevitable is the right word!

  9. Zoë · April 3, 2014

    Awesome review! Loved this movie it was so fun! The Winter Soldier was a truly thrilling villain!

    • Three Rows Back · April 4, 2014

      Thanks Zoe! Bearing in mind it’s called The Winter Soldier, I thought they would have developed it a bit more. Strikes me they’re going to concentrate more on this in Cap 3.

      • Zoë · April 4, 2014

        I certainly hope they do, he was thrilling! I thought this really came together very well. I’m actually going to go back and see it!

  10. Dan · April 4, 2014

    I liked the first film but felt Captain America had more potential than this. By the looks of things “part 2” delivers! 🙂

    • Three Rows Back · April 4, 2014

      I had a lot of time for the first movie, but this expands on the Captain America/Marvel universe really well. It sure delivers!

      • Dan · April 10, 2014

        …definitely looking forward to checking it out! 🙂

  11. table9mutant · April 6, 2014

    Great review! Loved this one… : )

  12. Pingback: Bite Sized Reviews: Captain America: The Winter Soldier; Bronson | digitalshortbread
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