Set two years after the events of “Avengers Assemble”, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” sees Steve Rogers attempting to adjust to a new life in the 21st Century whilst working for SHIELD under its Director, Nick Fury.
When Fury is attacked and killed and SHIELD is compromised, Rogers must try to investigate who is behind whilst being labelled as a fugitive… an investigation that will uncover secrets not only in SHIELD’s past, but Rogers’ as well.
Following the World War II/weekly cinema drama inspired “Captain America: The First Avenger” and the team-up fest that was “Avengers Assemble”, it was going to be interesting to see how Cap’s course was plotted within a contemporary storyline, especially as it had to follow two films with impressive track records in 2013’s “Iron Man 3” and “Thor: The Dark World”.
The storyline for this film is clever from the points of view of Steve himself and the wider threat to SHIELD, as they dovetail and impact upon each other.
The are three big themes for Cap throughout this film – what would it be like for a man from the 1940’s to integrate into the 21st century, how his values and belief systems of virtue, honour and comradeship work within an organisation where everyone has to look over their shoulder and nothing is as it seems and the very personal plot point of what would happen if a friend apparently comes back from the dead and comes gunning for you.
The main SHIELD plot point, apart from the fact that the organisation is infiltrated and Fury is assassinated part way through the film, centres the modern day feeling and centrepoint of the spy genre that we live in a “Big Brother” society where the rules of engagement of our intelligence services not only have a blurred line between hero and villain but are sometimes one and the same thing.
These plot points build to make a multi-layered storyline where we not only get the big issues of the hero trying to save the world, but the more personal stories of a man trying to maintain his own personal values without compromising them in a world where morality changes like shifting sand and trying to provide redemption for a man without hope.
The direction by Joe and Anthony Russo works well alongside Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s in changing the emphasis of Cap’s world from one of clear heroism into a world that is edgier, darker and more dangerous – both physically and from a morality aspect. Whereas the original film felt like the superhero version of one of those classic World War II films you watch with your grandparents, this felt more like the superhero version of “The Bourne Identity”.
As I have previously stated in my previous reviews for “The First Avenger” and “Avengers Assemble”, Chris Evans perfectly embodies the role of Steve Rogers. Yes, the character has to get his hands dirtier in this film as he has to fight his modern day opponents on their turf, so to speak, but he still maintains that nobility which saw him picked to be the Super Soldier. As befitting the darker storyline, Evans plays Cap more straight than in either of his previous outings, but he still manages to build great partnerships both with Scarlett Johansson as Natasha/Black Widow and Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/The Falcon.
But it’s the “Winter Soldier” plotline that really scores for Evans as he gets the opportunity to explore Cap’s emotions that have previously been not been charted (apart from his romantic attachment to Peggy Carter which gets explored briefly thanks to a short scene with Hayley Attwell under prosthetics portraying the older Peggy), especially when the truth about who the Soldier is comes to light.
In fact, it’s Ms Johansson who is more of the comedic feed. No, I don’t mean that she’s a wisecracker in the mould of a Tony Stark, but her rapport with Evans has a level of charm where, if Steve and Natasha were in a different situation they could potentially have a romance. Instead, she is trying to get Steve to move forward by getting him to think about dating SHIELD staff members whilst kicking ass (Natasha has a line on a couple of occasions where she says that she’s multitasking when this happens). Apart from that, she gets to invest the character with a degree of doubt previously unseen in her portrayal of the Black Widow as she begins to wonder the aims that she has been working towards.
Anthony Mackie is great addition to “Team Cap” in the role of Sam Wilson/The Falcon. We are introduced to him as a doctor who works for the Veterans’ Association – partly due to his experiences in combat – and he gets to build a fast and firm friendship with Steve due to the fact that they are both soldiers, rather than members of the intelligence community, which means that they share similar viewpoints. This could have smacked as a bit of an Iron Patriot/Rhodey clone, but Sam’s background, along with Anthony Mackie’s easy-going performance and, to be fair, increased screen time in comparison to Don Cheadle manages to build a believable partnership between Sam, Natasha and Steve and I really hope that Mackie gets further chances to portray the role.
Samuel L. Jackson reprises his role as Nick Fury and seeks to open Cap’s metaphorical eyes to the fact that the world has changed whilst he was frozen. He sees it as a way of protecting the world following “Avengers”, whilst Rogers sees it as bringing everyone into line through the employment of fear tactics. This dynamic enables the two to butt heads a little, rather than Cap just falling into line.
As with performances such as Anthony Hopkins as Odin, Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben, or Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in the X-Men franchise, Robert Redford provides gravitas in the role of Alexander Pearce. This casting isn’t just “stunt casting” for a the sake of a big name as Redford manages to ground this story in the more political landscape of the intelligence community – surely a nod to films like “All The President’s Men” or “Three Days Of The Condor”.
But it’s Sebastian Stan who probably has the hardest job of this film as he has to use a very limited amount of screen time to provide a twin performance in the role of “The Winter Soldier” a.k.a. “Bucky” Barnes. For the majority of his screen time, he is a silent assassin whose aim is to frustrate and, eventually, eliminate Steve. But, the point at which the Soldier’s true nature is revealed still manages to provide impact from an emotional standpoint (after all, it has already been spoiled left, right and centre about Stan’s dual role), partly due to the earlier references to Bucky’s “death” in a scene at the Smithsonian Institute and partly down to the emotional confusion that Stan manages to portray as the character tries to remember his former brother-in-arms before it is wiped from him.
There are additonal reprises from Cobey Smulders as Maria Hill, Toby Jones as HYDRA scientist Arnim Zola, Garry Shandling as Senator Stern, Maximiliano Hernandez as Jasper Sitwell, and Jenny Agutter as a member for the Security Council.
If there was one area where I needed to take exception, it was the 3D aspect of the film in so much as why was it there at all? It didn’t add anything to the film in the way that it did for “Avengers” or “Thor”.
That small quibble aside, “Winter Soldier” is an entertaining and engaging film to watch for comic book fans and non-comic book fans alike. That said, Marvel appears to have flooded the market this year with four films for the summer period which could leave people jaundiced by the time “Guardians Of The Galaxy” is released in August – despite two of them not being released directly through the Marvel Studios system and it would have helped with either the different franchises communicating on their release schedules or Marvel bringing all of their licenses in house… I mean, who would like to see Spidey in an Avengers film or Cap and Wolverine doing a team-up.