Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Directed by: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Written by: Christopher Markus, Ed Brubaker, Stephen McFeely
Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER
ON DVD, BLU-RAY AND DOWNLOAD FROM 18TH AUGUST 2014
RUNNING TIME: 136 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, is continuing to live in Washington, D.C. and work for espionage agency SHIELD, but struggles to adapt to contemporary society. Rogers is called to help save a SHIELD vessel from Algerian pirates, and succeeds, but finds Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, extracting data from the ship’s computers on Nick Fury’s orders, something Cap wasn’t briefed on. Oddly unable to crack the data, Nick is ambushed by assailants disguised as police officers and a mysterious assassin called the Winter Soldier blows up Nick’s car. Fury escapes to give Steve the data from the ship and warn him that SHIELD has been infiltrated by enemy forces and to trust nobody. Steve soon finds himself a fugitive….
I’m often moaning about superheroes dominating current commercial cinema. In fact Marvel seem to be out to dominate everything. Their output is always fun, but usually seems to me to be lacking in true spark and resonance. After the ludicrously entertaining, if slightly empty, romp that was Avengers Assemble, Captain America: The First Avenger seems to me to be the best of their recent wave of films, with a lovely nostalgic, warm feel that gave it real charm that to me is somewhat rather lacking in the Iron Man or Thor movies, though I will say that, watching it on DVD prior to seeing Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the CGI sometimes looks truly bad, something I didn’t notice so much at the cinema as I was enjoying the film so much! In any case, a second film starring the Captain, who of course was one of many defending the Earth in Avengers Assemble, wasn’t too welcome by this critic who felt the second movies concerning the adventures of The Hulk, Thor and Iron Man were amongst the most underwhelming of the Marvel pictures.
Of course Captain America: The Winter Soldier now arrives with a great deal of buzz about it, and a quick perusal of the IMDB board for this movie shows that a great many people think it is fantastic, with superlatives flowing like mad. “Best superhero movie ever”. “Best action scenes ever”. Really? I know it’s easy to get caught up in hype, but I like to think that anyone who stops and thinks for a few minutes would realise statements like the two above are quite ridiculous. The Winter Soldier is undoubtedly a strong Marvel entry and perhaps slightly better than The First Avenger, but is no “game changer” like some are saying. It is a little more sophisticated than usual, but ends up being hampered by the restrictions of being a Marvel picture, which is odd because, when you think about it, you should be able to do almost anything with superheroes because of their very nature. The Winter Soldier has a decent plot, a huge amount of action, some of which is stunning, mostly good performances [the erratic and usually one-note Scarlett Johansson really letting the side down here, but Samuel L. Jackson’s best moments as Nick Fury are in this film] while it certainly also has some intelligence and maturity. My star rating is a pretty high one. In the end though, it’s not really anything special and is extremely contradictory, it sometimes feeling like two different version of the same movie spliced awkwardly together.
The first half an hour. O, the first half an hour! It’s fantastic, and really did make me think I was seeing something as awesome as many are saying. Captain America and Black Widow go on a mission and hurl through a ship despatching countless pirates. The editing and camerawork is a little too fast, as I’m sure any reader who has seen the movie and is familiar with my writings would expect me to say, but I’ve seen a whole lot worse, and you can still just about see what’s going on, which is the main thing. Unlike in your usual Marvel film, there’s a hard, vicious and realistic edge to the violence, even if there’s little blood, and when Cap squares up against one particular pirate and has a great martial arts duel with him, it’s more like watching a great kung fu movie than a superhero flick, something this critic certainly felt refreshing. If the success of The Raid is becoming an influence [as it seems to be on, for example, The Expendables 3] on action cinema, then bring it on! Soon after this blistering opening set piece, we have a really sad sequence that reunites Steve with his, now aged [excellent CGI make up here too] girlfriend from the first film, and this soppy sod, who actually did weep when he first saw the Matter Of Life And Death-type scene involving them from the end of The First Avenger, was almost in tears. Then the film brings in a strong element of 70’s paranoia flicks, a stunning car chase with real vehicles bashing about, and an unexpected death. God, this movie is great!
The Winter Soldier never then loses its pace over its considerable running time and for much of the film is able to hurl action at the viewer as well as provide a solid story that has some twists and turns and nicely links in with certain things from The First Avenger too, becoming a good example of a sequel that is quite different from its predecessor yet feels like a natural progression from it. However, it eventually reverts into typical Marvel stuff, which would be okay except that we get pretty much the same climax that we’ve seen several times before. The Bond films usually used to finish with a battle between two armies, but at least they made efforts to differentiate them. It doesn’t help that by now we’re almost entirely in CGI-land, and not very good CGI-land at that. In fact, the explosions that aren’t real are truly shoddy looking throughout. There is a bit of emotion at the end, but I wished that they’d been really brave with The Winter Soldier and carried on in the same manner as the first half instead of reverting to type. I think the huge Marvel audience is ready for that. The Dark Knight, though I personally found it hugely flawed, was a very different superhero film from the norm and certainly didn’t suffer in popularity for it. Certain bits of dialogue revealing the writer’s political affiliations don’t really work either, because they end up seeming half hearted in amongst all the hokum. And, however you regard, for example, the Edward Snowdon affair, should you really put in blatant propaganda for it in a film like this?
For the most part, directors James and Joe Russo plus their cinematographer and editor, despite finding it necessary, as is the depressing fashion, to have action scenes extremely quickly edited and with the employment of that horrid device known as shakycam, generally stop short of having the action becoming totally blurry, incomprehensible and sick-inducing [unlike, say, the horrendous final half hour of Jack Ryan] except for one major fight scene about half way through. I reckon some of this film would have been hard to watch in 3D though.The amount of brawling in this is huge, the highlight probably being a sequence in a lift, and the two directors do have a good knack for interesting angles for some of the mayhem. I could have done with more quieter moments involving Steven and Natasha, whose interplay is highly enjoyable yet still refreshingly stopping short of romance, and more of Steven trying to adjust to modern life, but The Winter Soldier was designed to move, and the Russo brothers deserve a lot of credit for confidently steering their film through its potentially unwieldy plot. The tone is also right throughout, mostly serious, but with the odd chuckle, which is the way it should be. The sarcastic, mocking tone of The Avengers Asssemble would have been inappropriate [though Joss Whedon did direct this film’s end credits scene which, as usual, means little unless you’re an expert in the Marvel universe], though The Winter Soldier is still a film where a car door can be blown off and fly down the road with the car’s two inhabitants safely riding on it, and is still allowed to revel in some its absurdities. One of its sillier aspects though, a really badly designed new superhero called The Falcon, just doesn’t come off at all!
Henry Jackman’s score, while incorporating [though not enough] Alan Silvestri’s rousing Captain America theme from The First Avenger, mostly just sits there, content to rehash the same Zimmer-esque rhythmic patterns over and over again. Jackman can be a fine composer but his talents aren’t really being allowed to flourish with Marvel, whose scores tend to be constrained. You could say that about all these films, though The Winter Soldier does try more than most to go down some different routes, and, while it’s a touch uneven and has a second half that is noticeably inferior to the first, does in the end make a good effort to have something to please most people. It even has Jenny Agutter [still looking good] doing martial arts. And, while the character of Steve Rogers is intentionally stoic and old-fashioned, he’s refreshing in these cynical, care-free days for those very reasons, and is perhaps the easiest of all of Marvel’s characters to put in different environments. With Cap’s second solo adventure being at least the equal of his first, the planned third movie will be one that will be looked forward to by this critic!