Film Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (M15+) (US, 2014)

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With the Marvel Cinematic Universe now officially settling in to Phase 2 of its film franchises there has been a distinct trend of darker more intense storylines coming to the fore. The Avengers really set a huge bar for them to try to match and the expectations are high. With Captain America: The Winter Soldier they have managed to fuse together a spy thriller with an action packed superhero movie and continued in the tradition of expanding upon their world with the introduction of new heroes and villains.

We welcome back Captain America himself Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) attempting to settle into this new futuristic world whilst Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) keeps trying to set him up on a date with any number of the nice girls floating around. Rogers is running missions for S.H.I.E.L.D under Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), but he’s not entirely comfortable with what the organisation is doing under the guise of freedom and protection. As the film progresses it soon becomes evident that there’s something evil from Rogers’ past lurking amongst the halls of S.H.I.E.L.D that threatens not only Rogers but the lives of many innocent people. Forced to go on the run, Rogers and Romanoff have to fight off not only S.H.I.E.L.D but a mysterious mercenary known as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) who has been sent to kill them.

For those familiar with the MCU most of the major players in this film are ones we’ve seen before and are familiar with. In saying that though, seeing Romanoff playfully bouncing quips with Rogers is a nice change in tone for both of them compared to what we’ve seen of them in the past. Romanoff, normally the stoic and stand-offish spy comes across as warmer, likable and even vulnerable at times. Whilst Rogers always the idealist and morally steadfast gets rocked to his core when it seems that everything and everyone he trusted in turns out to be tainted and wrong. Out of the new faces we have Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) who is basically Fury’s right hand bureaucratic man, a member of the Security Council, and unfortunately for Rogers the one labelling him a traitor and hunting him down. Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) is a new hero joining the ranks, and like Black Widow and Hawkeye has no special powers but a wicked ability to manoeuvre a specially designed military set of metal wings that fold up neatly into a backpack type unit.

Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely deliver a script that breeds a feeling of looming evil and paranoia that grows to an explosive finish. It pushes the spy, espionage, thriller aspects to the fore of the storyline, toning down the superhero aspects until the end of the movie. Even Captain America’s suit is more muted and darker shades to reflect the atmosphere and the credit sequence has a very James Bond-esque feel. Another highlight of this film is the action sequences which focus more on close hand to hand combat or car chases which also ties in nicely with the spy-styling. The fights are so perfectly choreographed and look amazing and are far more exciting to watch than CGI heavy explosions and seeing Captain America using his shield in really unique ways as a weapon rather than as a defensive measure is another example of his character development.

Having the Winter Soldier as the antagonist is possibly a strategic move on multiple levels. On the one aspect, he is a link to Rogers’ past, the best friend and partner in battle he thought had died, returned from the dead with his memory wiped and tortured into becoming a killing machine. This poses another moral and emotional dilemma for our already conflicted hero and makes the fight a more personal affair. On the other, it potentially sets up having the Winter Soldier appear in future films, like he does in the comics, but as a hero or as a villain remains to be seen. For those who are fans of the Marvel TV spin off Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D they will be rewarded with some tie-ins including appearances by Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders reprising) and Agent Jasper Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernandez) and two episodes that are about to be aired in America have direct correlation with the film. As with all Marvel films too, there are additional tid-bits in the mid and post credits that give a teaser for The Avengers Age Of Ultron that die-hard fans will stick around for.

The directing team of brothers Joe & Anthony Russo who are better known for their work on TV’s Community have managed to compile a film that supersedes its predecessor. There are a few well timed comedic lines and moments in this film that follows the trend with Marvel films. But it also manages to be a nail biting and suspenseful ride that focuses more on the characters than about the overall storyline.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Running Time: 136 minutes

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is out 3rd April 2014 through Walt Disney Studios & Marvel Studios