Any doubts that Marvel could carry on making their individual characters’ movies work in the post-Avengers universe are finally laid to rest by Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a film that manages to establish its own tone and style while still delivering an awesome action movie and setting up some big changes in the Marvel universe. Like I said in my review of Thor: The Dark World, I didn’t dislike the second Thor movie or Iron Man 3 by any means (although The Dark World held up far less well on second viewing than I expected), but they did very much seem like Marvel Studios were still running victory laps after the runaway success of The Avengers. There seemed to be a sense that since they were already the kings of Hollywood they might as well put whatever they wanted into their latest films and people would still flock to see them. The result were two entertaining but overstuffed and out-of-control feeling films that wavered very close to being just too much of everything. While I can’t say what the future holds, although I am very excited for Guardians of the Galaxy, which looks totally ridiculous, I can at least confirm that the second Captain America solo film demonstrates that Marvel still have the power to make clever, surprising entertainment when they put their mind to it.
So after the whole alien invasion thing SHIELD are understandably a bit paranoid and are setting about creating a fleet of ultra high tech heli-carriers to monitor the world and wipe out potential threats before they have a chance to become actual threats. This whole “punishment before the crime” idea doesn’t sit well with old Captain Steve Rogers, whose traditional WW2 era values clash with SHEILDs more pragmatic view of the world. From here things get pretty high stakes pretty fast and I don’t want to spoil all of the chaos for you by revealing anything. Suffice to say, it’s a pretty darn insightful and political plot for a comic book movie, and it works extremely well. We get to see a lot more sides to some of the principal SHIELD characters including Nick Fury and Black Widow, and new characters like Anthony Mackie as robot wing equipped ex-soldier Falcon and…X as the sinister Winter Soldier (telling you who plays him would kinda give away his identity if you’re clever) are welcome additions. One thing that really impressed me was how Marvel sure aren’t afraid to tear down the very fabric of their cinematic world if it makes for a good movie- the world at the end of Winter Soldier sure isn’t the same one that came before it and the implications will be felt across all of Marvels future projects.
The action in Winter Soldier is much more intense and brutal than the more traditional heroic punch ups from the first instalment. Each blow and smack of Cap’s indestructible shield is really, really felt thanks to excellent sound editing and surprisingly believable looking CGI, and it had me wincing at every impact. A lengthy car chase early in the film where Director Fury tries to evade unknown assailants in his beefed up armoured car is equally crunchy, with each crash resounding through the cinema like an earthquake. The action is visceral, the plot is fast paced, adventurous and topical, and the whole thing is underpinned by a typically excellent performance from Chris Evans. Even Samuel L Jackson gets to show a few more shades to himself than his usual stereotyped persona. I still don’t find Scarlett Johansson particularly convincing as Black Widow- she just doesn’t seem a particuarly believable character, but at least they’re trying to make her a bit more than the generic hot-girl-who-kicks-ass-in-tight-costume. To be honest if that’s all she was I can’t say I’d mind too much.
It’s weird but I’m finding that I have very little else to say about this film other than that it’s really good and Marvel fans should definitely check it out if they haven’t already. I dunno how much sense it would make as an introductory film to the series since it weaves plot points and characters from a whole bunch of other places into the mix, but surely that isn’t the point of these films anymore. The only negative thing I have to say is that the post credits scenes left me totally nonplussed. I’m sure they’d make sense to a serious comic book scholar but to everyone else they’ll just seem like garbled nonsense. Other than that, The Winter Soldier is top flight entertainment- action packed, genuinely surprising and satisfying both as the next instalment in the biggest film franchise on the planet and as a kick ass stand-alone thrill ride.