When I first heard that the iconic Marvel character Captain America was going to get The Big Screen treatment, in the wake of the wildly successful original 2008 ‘Iron Man’, I was instantly skeptical. Maybe it had to do with the fact that I’m a proud Canadian, and don’t necessarily relate to the nauseatingly patriotic essence of the character. Or perhaps it was due to a certain bias stemming from numerous books and articles read regarding the sordid and underhanded ‘foreign policy’ history of the post WW2 United States. It didn’t seem (to me) to be an appropriate time for an idealized, purely American ‘hero’ to hit the already American-dominated movie market, with the global perception of the U.S. sliding undeniably toward the realms of ‘Fearful’, ‘Self-Serving’ and ‘Dangerously Paranoid’. I then heard that they had hired director Joe Johnston who, while not a GREAT director, had directed the fantastic 1991 comic book adaptation of ‘The Rocketeer’ (a personal favorite); a story that shared the similar ‘universe’ of a ‘stylized’ 1930/40s USA. Based on that, I hoped that they would make sure to stay true to the WW2 ‘Super Soldier’ origins of the ‘Steve Rogers’ character. I was very pleased when I finally saw ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’. The well-financed filmmakers had embraced the very style and ‘atmosphere’ I hoped they would. It was a fun, slickly-told adventure story (that coulda used a bit more ‘grit’, IMO), that clearly harked back to the ‘cliffhanger’ serials of old in it’s ‘flavor’ and manner of narrative; held aloft by a fun turn from Chris Evans as ‘Steve Rogers’. From there, we saw ‘Captain America’ go on (after a 70 year slumber in the Arctic ice) to become the ‘operations leader’ of the Avengers Initiative in 2012’s ‘The Avengers’, another Marvel film that kicked all kinds of entertaining ass with it’s skillful execution. Fast forward two years and The Inevitable has come to pass: Captain America 2.
‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ is both a direct sequel to the first film, and a character-specific follow-up to ‘The Avengers’; effectively using both films as logical ‘spring boards’ for the action unleashed in this one.
The film opens with a very cool sequence involving Cap and a team of Special Forces for S.H.I.E.L.D., including ‘Natasha Romanov’ aka The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), infiltrating a hi-jacked ‘company’ missile ship in the Indian Ocean. Certain actions by certain characters during the mission raise alarms in Rogers’ mind, and he finds himself questioning The Big Picture. His fears and suspicions about potential ulterior motives on the parts of select ‘heads’ of S.H.I.E.L.D., namely ‘Nick Fury’ (Samuel L. Jackson) and ‘Alexander Pierce’ (Robert Redford) prove ambiguously correct. The situation abruptly turns dangerous, as Cap then finds himself on the receiving end of several S.H.I.E.L.D. ambushes and attacks, each more ferocious and spectacular then the last. This is especially so after a mysterious assassin known as ‘The Winter Soldier’ (Sebastian Stan) turns up to wreak some havoc and chaos. Let’s just say that a lot of shit gets REALLY broken when The Winter Soldier’s in town. With the aid of Romanov and a para-jumper buddy of ‘Rogers’ named ‘Sam WIlson’ (Anthony Mackie), ‘Rogers’ opts to go ‘on the lam’ till he can (sorta SPOILER!) concoct a way to stop The Enemies plan to use 3 new, updated ‘heli-carriers’ (as seen in ‘The Avengers’) to eliminate thousands of domestic ‘targets’ indiscriminately.
The main premise of this flick is actually cleverly subversive, if you take a moment to ponder it. Having the original ‘Rah Rah’ character question the motives and methods of his own country, only to be then victimized by THAT county when he follows his own Moral Code and finds that The Big Picture doesn’t see eye-to-eye with his earnest and morally inflexible perspective, is an interesting ‘take’. It’s made all the more substantial as it echoes proven ‘real-life’ concepts of government-sanctioned preemptive lethal force or unrestricted domestic surveillance; issues that several First World nations are coping with today as a result of the alleged global terrorist threat.
But ugly politics and sordid contemporary history aside, ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ is a kick-ass action flick, with some very cool set pieces and gritty “ouch!”-inducing stunt work on display. The fight choreography is fast and violent, and there’s an admirable high-speed dose of ruined vehicles and structures to be seen. The opening action sequence on the hi-jacked ship is great, nicely setting the tone for the rest of the witty and hard-hitting action to come.
For the most part, the acting is strong, with Chris Evans again fleshing out ‘Steve Rogers’ with enough old-fashioned ‘humanity’ to lend needed credence to the strength of his Moral Code; the very trait that invokes the deadly ire of his employers. Scarlett Johansson does what she needed to as The Black Widow, bringing enough sympathy to her continuously ‘thin’ assassin character for us to believe that she would follow ‘Rogers’ on his dangerous quest. Anthony Mackie’s ‘Sam Wilson’/’Falcon’ character is fairly one dimensional too, but he makes the most of it as Cap’s new BFF. And, of course, you’ve got the acting prowess of Samuel L. Jackson and the legendary Robert Redford (certainly showing his age but still kickin ass) to lend gravity to the comic-book proceedings.
If I had to complain, I’d have to say that a couple of the fights could’ve benefited from a few less ‘quick-cuts’…and that the 3D sucked! It was very obviously a ‘post conversion’ job (evidenced by the end credits), and a rather lack-lustre one at that. The was no real depth or ‘layers’, and the ‘poke you in the eye’ method of 3D effects weren’t exploited at all. Save the extra $3 dollars for extra popcorn butter. There was also nothing remarkable to the music score, no memorable theme or interesting composition to bolster the action or suspense.
All in all, ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ is a VERY cool (but not perfect) sequel to both the first ‘Captain America’ flick and ‘The Avengers’. If fact, given The Big Twist, this one effectively changes ‘the game’, as The Marvel Universe goes. Certain things done…can’t be undone. If you want a well-pondered and slickly-executed action movie that nicely ties into a VERY intelligently marketed and boldly executed franchise, while both respecting what came before AND paving the way forward, then this one will pull your hair and slap your ass…in a good way.
PS- At this point, do I even NEED to tell you to stay till the end credits of a Marvel flick?