Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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Genre: Action

Directors: Anthony & Joe Russo

Writers: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on the comic series by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby

Cast: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Redford, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan

Running Length: 135 minutes

Synopsis: After the cataclysmic events in New York with The Avengers, Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier finds Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), aka Captain America, living quietly in Washington, D.C. and trying to adjust to the modern world. But when a S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague comes under attack, Steve becomes embroiled in a web of intrigue that threatens to put the world at risk. Joining forces with the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Captain America struggles to expose the ever-widening conspiracy while fighting off professional assassins sent to silence him at every turn. When the full scope of the villainous plot is revealed, Captain America and the Black Widow enlist the help of a new ally, the Falcon (Anthony Mackie). However, they soon find themselves up against an unexpected and formidable enemy – the Winter Soldier.

Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a game changer in terms of the Marvel movie universe – the events that unfold in this film has far reaching repercussions, and it is definitely interesting that the studio chose to do it in a single movie. This is particularly so given the track record of dragging out plot developments across multiple films prior to the “proper” Avengers movie in 2012. With this change, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is finally given more screen time and actually feels like a character in the movie proper, instead of a plot delivery device, usually showing up in end credit sequences.

Apart from Nick Fury, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow is also given a much larger role, and can essentially be considered Captain America’s partner throughout the whole movie. This is an astute choice because Captain America can be considered to be quite a vanilla superhero, and almost everything that he does here is a retread of the first movie. It doesn’t help that despite his physicality, Chris Evans really lacks the charisma and presence of other action superheroes.

With Black Widow in the mix, things get a little more interesting, since she is willing to bend the rules to her favour, and Scarlett Johansson as an actress is many levels more charismatic than Chris Evans is. Suffice to say that she successfully manages to steal the limelight from Evans in the film consistently, which actually winds up being not a bad thing. A small plot thread involves Black Widow thinking of all the women that Captain America can hook up with, and interestingly enough, she herself is never presented as an option despite some hints of a possible romantic dalliance – perhaps this would be further expounded upon in future Marvel movies.

Action setpieces are a must in any self-respecting superhero movie, and these do not disappoint in The Winter Soldier. The directors made an interesting choice to move away from CGI for some of these action sequences, and the audience is treated to a number of “smaller” scenes – a car chase, ground pursuit and close quarters combat, which are really far more entertaining than the CGI-laden finale. One big caveat – directors Anthony and Joe Russo does not seem to be comfortable with helming a big superhero action movie, and chooses to go the route of employing jerky camera movements and frantic quick cuts to suggest visceral action. It does not work well, and is even more pronounced when viewed in 3D, particularly the two sequences that bookend the movie.

The identity of the Winter Soldier will be no mystery to anyone familiar with the Marvel comic universe, but the script does make it a sufficiently interesting reveal for moviegoers who are not that acquainted with the backstory of Captain America. Returning scribes Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely wisely chooses to devote a good amount of screen time delving into the more emotional aspects of the Captain (the Winter Soldier reveal and a short sequence with Peggy Carter, for example), which gives the character more dimensionality and makes up partially for Evans’ lack of charisma. And to be fair, Evans does a decent job in these scenes, underscoring the fact that Captain America belongs very much to the “more human” category of superheroes.

Captain America, like Iron Man, seems to be planned as a trilogy, though it’s hard to imagine a third movie being in the same mold as the previous two without it feeling like a tired retread. However, Captain America is one of the longest running comic book franchises, so hopefully the final film would find some way to improve further on its predecessors. The Winter Soldier is perfectly fine as the opening salvo in a year chock-full of superhero movies, and it will certainly be interesting to see how the events initiated in this film will cascade out to the next few Marvel films, particularly Avengers: Age of Ultron next year.

P.S. There are two end credit codas, one mid credits which gives a sneak peek into Age of Ultron, and one at the very end which hopefully hints at further developments for the Captain America franchise. 

Rating: * * * (out of four stars)

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