When Marvel announced Captain America: The Winter Soldier, they promised that the film would be a much more grounded tale. After all, following flying Norse Gods, a jet powered Iron suited billionaire and an impenetrable green behemoth, Steve Rogers is very much a grounded hero. That’s not to say he’s got any less to give to the Marvel universe. In fact his is quite possibly the character with the greatest propensity for an ongoing narrative that will consistently provide interest and empathy from a blockbuster loving audience.
Well the great news is that Marvel and directors the Russo brothers have certainly delivered on that promise. Though of course the action is often on a grand scale, the overall plot is one of political conspiracy and corporate deception that at times feels as much akin to something like All The President’s Men as it does to the Avengers.
We join Captain America in the middle of his new life. He is serving his country by carrying out missions for SHIELD, and though he is still very much adjusting to the modern USA (his bed “feels like a marshmallow”) he is visibly more content in himself. This is of course short lived once the titular Winter Soldier shows up, promising to bring Steve’s past back to haunt him in violent style.
From this point the film becomes a bombastic espionage thriller. Nick Fury warns Steve to “not trust anybody” and by the midway point of the film we find that advice was well given; it seems that everybody is doing some sort of shady deal and Cap is the only one with any scruples. This leads to multiple showdowns that are pulled off with the kind of directorial aplomb you would expect from seasoned blockbuster pros. So to discover that this is the Russo brothers’ first major movie is astonishing; another great victory for the Marvel studios management committee.
The great thing about all the action beats in this movie, as opposed to the other Marvel films, is that it always feels like Captain America (along with Black Widow and new hero The Falcon) is outgunned and in genuine peril. With Thor you are always aware that he is pretty much invulnerable, but these characters can be killed. So when faced with a moving elevator filled with armed mercenaries, a traffic jam laden with machine gun brandishing henchmen or a narrow walkway guarded by a bionic armed super assassin you can feel the threat.
“Sometimes building a better world, means tearing the old one down”
I also love the way Cap’s strength is depicted in this film. A combination of great sound design and fight choreography leads to every connected punch or shield throw having a truly painful impact. In one early chase sequence, Rogers has to follow the Winter Soldier who is running across the rooftop of a skyscraper, but he himself is inside the building, charging down corridors and only catching glimpses of his enemy through skylights. In this sequence Cap’s anger and sheer desperation sees him smashing through walls and locked doors with a blistering power that is the perfect conveyance of just how dangerous he can be when faced with a deadly villain.
I have to admit that the first 20 minutes or so feel a little sluggish. It seems like Marvel were very keen to pay lip service to those not up to speed with the previous episodes of the ongoing shared universe story. There is one early scene in particular that sees Cap and Nick Fury arguing about the same issues that bogged them down in the Avengers, which could have been cut and not caused any harm. But this is a small issue in a film that, at nearly 2 hours 20 minutes feels like it is over in half that time.
It’s not the best that Marvel have put out, but it’s certainly right up there. And as superhero movies go, this one provides so much more than just a battle of good and evil. It’s a battle of wits and an internal struggle of right and wrong in a world full of moral grey areas.
Go and see it!