Captain America – The Winter Soldier (2014)
Of all the vast Marvel pantheon of comic book characters one of my least favourite, at least in printed form, has to be Captain America. Clean-cut uber-patriot Steve Rodgers is a fossil in many ways, not just from his chilly and incapacitated history, but also his stirring and unquestioning devotion to flag and country seems as outdated as his ludicrous costume, his pantheon of villains wasn’t exactly terrifying, and his constant shivering behind his vibranium shield makes me immediately shriek ‘COWARD’. It was a surprise then to report how much I loosely enjoyed the first film of this franchise strand, it was no classic but as a superhero movie had a slightly different tangent to the death defying derring-do, relying a little more on establshing a robust back-story and sketched character relations rather than investing alone on pixel embolded explosions and CGI pyrotechnics. The announcement of a second film The Winter Soldier was met with a raised eyebrow, but gosh-darn it Bucky if I didn’t feel the urge to raise both eyebrows when I caught the opening ten minutes of the picture ahead of 300: Rise Of An Empire a couple of weeks ago, this was a superbly mounted action set-piece which actually got me pretty darn pumped up for another issue of Marvel mayhem. The presence of Robert Redford was also a terrific casting touch, the WASP prince of 1970’s paranoia reprising his role in a 21st century scandalised with NSA infiltrations and the shredding of privacy considerations, political issues and clandestine concerns which the film has bubbling under the redacted narrative.
Following on from Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans) spirited defeat of the Red Skull back in the preceding issue, this film opens with a spirited assault as defrosted 1940’s super-soldier Captain America leads a secret nautical infiltration of a hi-jacked vessel out on the high seas. His sultry partner Black Widow (Scarlett Johnansson) has been given an alternative list of mission objectives much to Cap’s subsequent concern, she being more attuned to downloading the ships computer banks for some unspecified reason rather than liberating the hostages, an order which has been issued from no less a authority than the head honcho of SHIELD Captain Nick Fury (Samuel muthafucking etc.). Meanwhile the shadowy cabal of the World Security Council seen in The Avengers is scrutinising the successes and failures of the organisation with their usual political impatience, forcing Senior Committee member Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) to fight a rear-guard action as he prepares the deployment of a new lethal fleet of heavily armed Helicarriers. A conspiracy soon begins to coalesce as senior figures are attacked, and Cap is solemnly warned he can trust no-one, forcing him to go off the grid and try to unearth the mystery behind the deadly Winter Soldier…..
This thoroughly entertaining and exciting movie comes across as more a special Marvel tie-in movie than a one-shot with Cap, as both Nick Fury and Black Widow get plenty to do although it does stretch potential to breaking point with the introduction of yet another draftee to the Mighty Marvel Multiverse© pantheon which really wasn’t necessary. It is however thrilling with a fine algorhythm of action set-piece spectacles, all clearly delineated, devilishly designed and highly polished, interspersed with a few fan-boy surprises and more twists than a Chubby Checker convention. These films do struggle with maintaining a coherent universe, paying lip service to the lack of assistance from previous colleagues – where’s Stark as Washington turns into a battleground for example? Is Thor still so smitten with the dreamy Natalie Portman’s that he doesn’t realise that the very principle of American Democracy is at sake? – as the stakes that Steve and his compatriots face is higher than the trailer suggests, and it should be interesting to see how the rest of the franchise and a certain tedious TV series respond to the cataclysmic and unexpected conflict. Evans and Johansson acquaint themselves as usual by taking the material just as seriously as it requires, with a little sexual chemistry crackling between them on screen. I’ve never taken to Samuel J Jackson as Fury but I acquise that he’s not terrible in this movie, at least he gets to actually do something for a change with his own private narrative arc and a heart thumping combat sequence. But it’s Redford who gives the film a seniority and prestige you don’t normally get with this rank of movie, his presence enhances the political elements of the story, plus he gets to utter one quip which trust me is worth the price of admission alone, sparkling with that old blue-eyed charisma and wit which I’d just love to think was ad-libbed on set as that what be simply delicious.
What distinguishes this dossier is that political subtext as themes of government oversight, personal freedom, terrorist smokescreens civil rights and digital profiling scrolls through this picture like a old-fashioned teletyper, That’s not to say that this is po-faced political drama as it very clearly isn’t, its a rollicking, action packed superhero movie which has clearly lavished its phenomenal budget on the action melees and CGI wonder, but as a treacherous nod back to the conspiracy thrillers of the 1970’s punched into a 21st century you have to admire directors Anthony & Joe Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen Feely’s confederate chutzpah. As always with superheroic fare the film relies on a astonishing manifesto of coincidences and plot illogicality which are waved away with a quick burst of exposition laced dialogue, but it keeps its telescopic sight firmly trained on momentum and powers on through sheer force of will, right through to the inevitable final conflict which suffers a little in insisting in cutting between three separate campaigns in order to shoe-horn in a little side-kick shenanigans. Now soldier I don’t need to instruct you to remain at your post following the initial title crawl (which is beautifully rendered in pop-art perfection by the way) for a little sneak peak at upcoming issues to come, this is the most satisfyingly magnanimous Marvel Movie since The Avengers, which bodes well for next years titanic & tumultuous team-up – Excelsior;