So, the hangover from The Avengers has kicked in (or Avengers Assemble, but come on we all know what movie ticket we’re buying here), and Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 have come along to sooth our heads and rehydrate us for Marvel’s Phase 2. Just before audiences are served something new with The Guardians Of The Galaxy landing this summer, the Cap just wants to grab our attention with BOTH FISTS.
The First Avenger received a small amount of criticism in 2011 for being nothing other than a stepping stone for Marvel to set up The Avengers the following year. I’m not going to sit here and write against this point, but I think that it had more of its own good merits to be a stand alone superhero movie. With Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk, Spider-Man and the DC Universe all fighting in contemporary times, it was refreshing to see the 1940s ‘romantic’ era of comic books. Steve Rogers is a good ol’ fashioned patriot fighting for freedom, charging in like Sir Galahad, and Johnny Storm (ahem, sorry) Chris Evans fit the bill perfectly. I also really enjoyed the introduction of HYDRA; a Nazi faction obsessed with the occult and dark sciences, it had an Indiana Jones-esque feel to it, along with video games like Wolfenstein. I didn’t really think Red Skull had the charisma of other villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in its writing, which is a shame when you have Hugo Weaving in the driving seat. The First Avenger had its fair share of down points, but overall I enjoyed it.
Fast forward to 2014 and The Winter Soldier has dominated the top of my Twitter trend list for a solid week, and is still there. This is a darker and somewhat grittier Captain America in terms of its style. Instead of the romantic and colourfully rich 1940s setting we are now in shaky-cam modern urban streets and military sites. The Russo brothers have directed this without relying on the CGI fallback of most blockbusters, and that pays off immensely for me. Yes, shaky-cam action sequences are present but the sequences are choreographed so well that you can actually tell what’s going on. It’s used to heighten the tension rather than induce nausea from Bourne copycats. When Black Widow is trapped or the Cap bleeds, we’re right there with them. The famous shield also gets put to more purposeful use here, being thrown like a frisbee and knocking out enemies and jet engines a hell of lot more. As you can see, I liked this!
The Cold War cloak and dagger elements (such as Redford’s deception) wasn’t really sold to me, you could kind of see them coming. But the darker elements such as when we meet Zola’s transcendence into a big super computer was a surprise for me and quite eerie (in a good way). Pleased to see the return of arch nemesis HYDRA too.
The characters in The Winter Soldier are all given a great amount of screen time too. Supporting characters aren’t shoved into the background so the producers can tick another Marvel character off the list. The chemistry balance between Captain America and Black Widow works surprisingly well too; his moral ideals bounces off of her “do what is necessary” nature. In all of Scarlett Johansson’s outings in the the Marvel films, this was her finest yet. Even Nick Fury had some time to develop (in a BIG way too). All in all it gave a sense of community to previously silo’d characters. I really liked the Winter Soldier as a villain too. Menacing, dangerous and looking damn-right cool. He wasn’t sidelined as a cog-in-the-wheel thug like Bane unfortunately turned out to be in The Dark Knight Rises. Whilst Robert Redford turned out to be the one pulling the strings, Bucky still remained an equal threat. Anthony Mackie’s Falcon was a brilliant and integral part of the team too, who didn’t seem sidelined like Hawkeye.
If I haven’t given away many spoilers so far, this is the part where it gets big. The Winter Soldier shakes up the Marvel Cinematic Universe big time. Nick Fury fakes his death, escapes to Europe and burns his eye patch (gasp, already!), and then SHIELD collapses! (OMG). This ultimately proves that the Captain America movies aren’t just stepping stones for the big ensemble pieces, and Marvel aren’t afraid to quit while they’re ahead. SHIELD has been around since Iron Man and has lingered in post-credit sequences since. There’s going to be a lot of internet chatter on the direction of the series before the next instalment. Hopefully The Guardians Of The Galaxy will shed some more light? (I’m not sure if it’s possible in the timeline, as I’ve never read any of these).
Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier is a hugely enjoyable entry in the Marvel series. Lots of good action, explosions and shield-throwing make the obligatory comic book movie lines welcomed (“If they’re shooting at you, they’re bad!”). Some say it’s the best entry yet. It’s certainly at the top of my list at the moment. But there will always be a need for some Hulk-smashing or Tony Stark charisma on those Netflix nights.