Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Captain America 2Following the battle for New York, in which the Avengers assembled in order to fight off an alien threat lead by Thor’s adopted brother Loki, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is working with S.H.I.E.L.D to identify other, rather more terrestrial threats. When Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) is targeted by a mysterious enemy, however, and Rogers is framed for the attack, he instead finds himself on the run from the agency his forebears helped to create. Aided by superspy Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and veteran paratrooper Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Rogers — as Captain America — embarks on a journey to clear his name and divine both the identity and true intentions of the mercenary known only as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).

Things haven’t been the same since New York. It’s a sentiment that’s been repeated by Iron Man, Thor and now Captain America, though one that they most likely share with their legions of fans. When Phase One culminated in The Avengers, and Marvel merged its four sub-franchises into something new and never before seen on the big screen, it seemed as though the studio was ready to revolutionise the superhero genre. In some respects they did: Sony have rebooted Spider-man and announced their own expanded universe, while 20th Century Fox have found a way reconcile their two X-Men timelines into one cohesive franchise. Even rival comics company DC have reacted in a similar vein, finally announcing plans to pit Batman and Superman against one another in, you guessed it, Batman vs. Superman.

Watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier, however, it seems that everyone’s embracing change but Marvel themselves. The studio’s latest, along with other Phase Two titles Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, may pay lip-service to the wider universe (there is mention of Stephen Strange, providing further suggestion that a Doctor Strange movie may well be on the way) but there is very little sense that this is simply one episode in a larger series. Billed as a “political thriller”, Anthony and Joe Russo’s sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger starts out as a welcome reaction to events elsewhere in the franchise, but rather than slowing things down long enough to let wounds heal and traumas manifest it quickly escalates into just another action movie. If you think of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe as a serial, this is our third end-of-season finale in a row.

That’s not to say that the film isn’t good; to the contrary, Marvel’s commitment to making solid movies has resulted in another success in superhero storytelling. Though perhaps not a political thriller in the typical sense (Black Widow is back, but she has yet to do any actual spying) the film does have an atmosphere of secrecy and conspiracy that plays nicely into the Russo brothers’ themes of freedom and transparency. It’s also very well acted, with Evans in particular getting plenty to work with. Anyone who felt the character was poorly served by either of his previous appearances will be relieved to see him both growing as a character and convincing as a superhero in his own right. Returning players Jackson, Johansson and Cobie Smulders also get their chances to shine, while newcomer Anthony Mackie is a constant delight as Falcon. As for set pieces, The Winter Soldier boasts some of the most breath-taking seen so far in the MCU, though all but the final skirmish tend to go on a little too long.

It all comes down to Marvel’s priorities, and whether they favour the individual movie or the franchise as a whole. The Amazing Spider-man wasn’t a great movie, but as the first instalment in a larger story it was very successful indeed. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, on the other hand, is very much a stand-alone movie, and squanders the chance to be something different; something more. Rather than continue to streamline and integrate the mega-franchise, the film complicates things further (an AI is at one point introduced, though confusingly it seems to be a different AI to Ultron). It once again falls to Whedon to remind everyone of the bigger picture, and his post-credits sequence is possibly the highlight of Phase Two so far. As he’s said in interviews: “Don’t go bigger, go deeper”.

3.5-Stars

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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