Steve Rogers isn’t in the 1940’s anymore, that’s for sure. 2014 is a far darker, more covert place where underhanded deeds are common, and no one is to be trusted. To say that the fine, upstanding, morally virtuous Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a fish out of water in this murky world is an understatement.
Two years have passed since the events of Avengers Assemble, and Steve has been working alongside a tactical strike team, and Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) for S.H.I.E.L.D in that time. But when one of his colleagues at S.H.I.E.L.D is attacked, Steve is left trying to expose the conspiracy all around him, whilst dealing with attempts to stop him at every turn. Add in the mysterious (or not so much, depending on how much you know about the Captain America comic book universe) Winter Soldier to the mix, and you have the recipe for an engaging, action filled adventure.
There is a lot to love about this film. Steve Rogers’s immersion into the far darker post 9/11 world that we live in now sees his beliefs in freedom set against national concerns about security in the age of terrorist activity. This gives the audience more opportunities to see his character, and explore how he grapples with a far less idealistic world than the one he went to sleep in. We got a glimpse of this is Avengers Assemble, but it is brought to the forefront here. The use of Black Widow provides a great contrast with Captain Rogers, but also opens up her character to the audience far more than in previous Marvel films. This new, more personal dynamic between the two characters could prove interesting when they get back together with the rest of the Avengers. The action scenes are up to the high standard that I certainly have come to expect from the Marvel/Disney offerings – the extended lift fight seen in the trailer is fast paced and exciting, while the action dénouement of the film shows Steve Roger’s very mortal ability to be hurt. We are reminded that while he may be a super soldier, he is not impenetrable, or immune to harm.
Chris Evans is as endearing as ever in this film, utterly convincing as the soldier out of time. Other heroes may be tortured, or conflicted – Steve Rogers is simply good. Chris Evans manages to portray this in a completely believable way, that is neither naïve, nor cliché, which is a credit to him. Co-Director, Joe Russo comments that Chris Evans “layers the character with a combination of machismo and morality”, which I think hits the nail on the head as to why Evan’s performance is so compelling. Little touches, like his book of modern things that he needs to catch up on, which includes gems like ‘star trek/wars?’, remind us of where he comes from, even as he assimilates to the 21st century. Similarly Johansson’s Natasha Romanov is as nuanced as she has ever been in a Marvel outing. We get more glimpses of the softer side of Black Widow, which comes from the more personal relationship that has developed with Captain America through their time together. However, I can’t help but feel Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye has rather been hung out to dry in this second phases of Marvel films – After all, before Avengers Assemble Clint Barton and Natasha were partners. The return of Sebastian Stan as the Winter Soldier is welcome one, even if he doesn’t have much to say. His character is a little under used in the plot of this film, but I suspect that this is leading to a more comprehensive outing for him in the as yet untitled Captain America 3, which is scheduled for May 2016. Anthony Mackie does a convincing job as newcomer Sam Wilson, who takes to the skies as Falcon. He does a solid job and introduces the audience to the character without being too obtrusive in the main story line, while still having something innately charming about him. The introduction of a soldier outside of S.H.I.E.L.D was a shrewd choice, as it provided the opportunity for Steve to connect to another soldier, rather than a spy.
The unnecessary post production to 3D frustrated me throughout, however. Objects which would have normally been unobtrusive in the foreground jumped out at you, demanding attention. I would recommend avoiding any 3D screenings – the extra depth of field is not worth the aggravation of being distracted by random objects in the foreground of an important scene.
For all that is good and enjoyable about the movie, I can’t help but feel that it misses some of the heart and earnestness which made the first film so emotionally compelling. Maybe it was the delayed revelation of the identity of the Winter Soldier, which felt dragged out as someone who already knew, but there seemed to be a missing connection with humanity that was so present in Captain America’s origin story. Objectively, I can understand why the film was made harder and darker than its predecessor, with its clear commentary on the modern world, but I cant help but yearn for the nostalgia of Captain America: The First Avenger.
Looking at this film in isolation it is undoubtedly an engaging, story with some wonderful acting and compelling story telling. It just missed some of the heart of its predecessor, which does not make it any less of a must see.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is released by Walt Disney Studios on 26th March, and is certificate PG.