After chasing ultra-intelligent super-suits and distant collapsing galaxies for pretty much the entirety of 2013, Marvel finally place two feet firmly on the ground with the return of their very own all-American hero in a Washington-based political thriller promising to be a far-cry from the hard-headed fantasy of their other properties. Cap is most definitely back and ready to tango.
With Iron Man, Thor and the Hulk presumably off dealing with their own super-powered nemeses, Steve Rogers files in amongst the ranks of S.H.I.E.L.D., still a man out of time but one that’s slowly beginning to get a grip on his new reality. Standing alongside Black Widow, Nick Fury and new pal the Falcon, Rogers dons the red and white stripes to once again become Captain America and investigate a hidden threat buried deep within the American government; one threatening to tear Rogers’ beloved United States apart piece by piece.
What follows is an ever-so-slightly intelligent cheese-fueled conspiracy romp that rarely lets up, if only briefly to heap on another thinly-veiled crate-load of intrigue. The Winter Solider is of course just as loud, explosive and thoughtful as its other Marvel compatriots, but where it falters over its friends is that it simply tries to do too much. At 135 minutes, it’s easily on the longer side of most blockbusters, but with several plot lines folded in on one another alongside the huge action set-pieces and trademark Avengers tie-in references, The Winter Soldier has a hard time making its exact direction known.
Plot problems aside, there’s definitely a lot to love about this movie. Chris Evans phones in another pitch-perfect turn as the star-spangled man, still holding close to the overt cheesiness of the character whilst peppering his performance with plenty of depth and value. The ever-watchable Scarlett Johansson pulls a similar feat and the welcome return of Samuel L. Jackson benefits from some seriously inflated screen-time. Although there’s a distinct lack of surprise appearances from the Avengers crew (bar the odd name-drop here and there), Anthony Mackie’s fun-filled turn as newbie Falcon injects some much-needed freshness into the ever-growing universe. Robert Redford even turns up for a little nod to his older 70s thrillers the film is clearly paying homage to.
Of course it wouldn’t meet the grand-scale of Marvel without the expected spectacle, and newcomer directors Joe and Anthony Russo don’t disappoint. With plenty of practical effects thrown in amongst the computer-generated ones, The Winter Soldier feels a lot more grounded than its predecessors. Car chases remain thrilling and fist-fights can be understood with ease; the Russo brothers know what they’re doing and never let their epic battles be glossed over. Put basically, you can actually tell what’s going on nearly 100% of the time which modern action fans will understand to be a total godsend.
Where Cap begins to wobble a bit more however is when the scale of it all seems to completely take over at the movie’s finale. The layers of dashing intrigue and intelligent low-key (well, sort-of) spy sequences are sacrificed for that giant comic-book scale we’ve come to find all too familiar, and the result is a visually-astounding but ultimately jumbled conclusion. Sebastian Stan’s titular antagonist (the actual Winter Solider) particularly seems to draw the short straw, even after being shoe-horned in amongst the conspiracies to begin with.
It’s clear The Winter Solider has its problems, but with a firm lead cast and an engaging plot that, although a tad silly, delves a bit deeper than expected, there’s little to actually dislike here. Obviously if big-scale blockbusters aren’t your calling it’ll likely be a pretty dull few hours, but for Marvel fans, this is another solid and well-crafted installment into their ongoing universe.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, is released in UK cinemas by Walt Disney Studios, Certificate 12A.