Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Don’t Trust Anyone:

Captain America:  The Winter Soldier




Take it easy, folks.  There won’t be any spoilers in this review because I want you to go to the cinema and love this movie as much as I do.  I will, however, give you one warning:  I may just make a complete asshole of myself.  I may just go totally over the top about how great Captain America: The Winter Soldier is.  I may just say that this is the finest super-hero film I’ve ever seen and that I believe it to be the point where the genre comes of age.  It’s better than The Avengers and it’s even better than the first Iron Man. Far better. Those were more than just good; but this takes it to the next level completely.

Squirming with embarrassment yet?  Well, maybe I should be doing that. I don’t normally start gushing like Eddard Stark’s neck, but you know what?  I mean every word.  I am just knocked out, blown away, completely thrilled that such a perfect mix of super-hero antics and paranoid political thriller has made it onto the screen.

And who would have thought that it would all come about through Captain America?  When I was a kid he was probably my least favourite comic-book character.  There was just something there a bit too cheesy for me, looking at this ridiculously patriotic big bloke wrapped in an American flag.  There was just always something a bit twerpish about that whole idea.

Well, guess what?  With this Captain America, there is nothing wrong with loving your country and actually believing in a flag.  Because as Chris Evans plays him, Steve Rogers may look as if he shaves every two hours and he’s definitely a clean-cut hero, but he is also one hell of a bruiser.  And yes, we can believe that this is a man whom others would follow unquestioningly.

Yet if he recalls one incarnation from the comics then it must surely be from the Frank Miller Daredevil mini-series, Born Again, where the Captain is filled with more and more doubts as he realizes just how dirty and corrupt his beloved country has become.

Because let’s not forget that this is a man out of his natural time.  He is 95 years old, having hibernated through the fifties and well into a new century; and he is struggling to adapt to an age and mind-set that he barely understands—or agrees with.  In one of the film’s many, many subtle touches he carries with him a list of items to check out in order to help him catch up; and we get the briefest of glimpses at his bookshelves.  Too brief:  this is where the freeze frame is going to earn its keep when the DVD hits the racks.

I also suspect that the sales of a certain Marvin Gaye album will suddenly go up.

Of course, Captain America doesn’t only carry that famously symbolic (and helluva practical!) shield, he also works for one.  Or rather he works somewhat reluctantly for the espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D. under the command of its director Nick Fury.

And here was another of this film’s endless surprises, because this time around I came close to understanding what Fury is about.

He has never been a character that I could warm to; and as played by Samuel L.  Jackson I found this macho blowhard nigh on unbearable whenever he appeared in the series.

In The Winter Soldier we see just why this man is in the job that he is; and in one terrific set-piece—and there are many—we get a reminder that this guy may be behind a desk for the moment but that he is, first and foremost, a warrior.

As usual I tried to avoid hearing too much about the movie before settling myself down; and I didn’t do too badly.  I had of course heard that because of the casting of Robert Redford (and whoever thought that up should be given a pay rise immediately—it’s a stroke of genius) it was being compared to some of the paranoid political outings of the seventies, such as Redford’s own classic Three Days of the Condor. I had wondered if this wasn’t being overplayed a bit.  Well, let me tell you: no, it’s not. The justified paranoia of our age is here, right down to the allusions to Wikileaks.  And because of the brainwashing angle I’m assuming that The Manchurian Candidate has been bandied about; but I wonder if the brilliant The Parallax View has come up for discussion yet?  Somehow that’s the one that kept running through my head.

Yet, have no doubt about it:  despite being the ninth in the expanding series that is built around the Avengers Initiative, The Winter Soldier is very much its own thing, almost standing alone even from the original.

And here’s another surprise: the characters continue to grow. We continue to learn more about them, in particular Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson).  I was also glad to see SHIELD agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) given a little more screen time.  I still prefer the discarded, rather bleak opening to The Avengers that featured Hill more prominently, just since you ask.  And amongst the new arrivals is another SHIELD agent, played by the slightly wooden but heroically named Canadian actress Emily VanCamp, who takes the lead in the TV series Revenge. I suspect that she’ll prove a popular character.  With guys, anyway; with those who like actresses with expressions, perhaps…not so much.

Of course the biggie is the introduction of Anthony Mackie as the Falcon, and his introduction is worked in seamlessly.

Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have given directors Anthony and Joe Russo a lot to handle but handle it they do—and with enormous aplomb into the bargain.  In the same week that I saw the utter mess that is the new Spider Man film, they just prove that it is possible to juggle a large number of characters successfully.  Hell, they even take time to introduce Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.

Best of all, and again unlike the giant step backward that is The Amazing Spider-Man 2, I forgot all about the CGI, which is actually there as a useful tool for a change, rather than something to disguise the fact that there’s no bloody storyline.

I could rant about this film all day but instead I’ll just say:  if you always wanted to see a super-hero film that walked the tightrope of not talking down to you as an adult whilst also  keeping the kids in the audience satisfied, then don’t miss this.

And the identity of The Winter Soldier?  Ah, that’s the biggest and bleakest surprise of all.


Author: Charley Brady

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