If Captain America was still suffering a rep as Marvel’s most boring Avenger, this Phase 2 sequel takes that notion and smashes it to dust with its super-shield.
Post-Avengers Assemble, the Marvel Phase 2 movies (Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World) have faced mounting pressure to deliver. And while The Winter Soldier might not reach the giddy heights of that team-up, it works on its own terms as a tremendously satisfying blockbuster.
Do-gooder Steve Rogers’ (an earnest but likeable Chris Evans) first solo movie cleverly positioned him as a propaganda tool in a move that toned down the comic character’s sometimes unpalatable patriotism. In The Winter Soldier he finally convinces as a badass. Even if he’s still driven to do the right thing, he’s not going to sit back and take orders. A suit upgrade is the first step towards a leaner, meaner hero; its darker hue and practical toughness make it an instant improvement on the royal-blue lycra he was saddled with for Assemble.
From the opening set-piece, dropping in on a ship captured by pirates, Cap sends goons flying via his super-serum-assisted punches and kicks, while his trademark shield is exploited more effectively as a weapon – think killer frisbee – than it has been on previous outings. The impact of the fight choreography is a pleasant surprise, given that directors Anthony and Joe Russo (taking over from Joe Johnston) have a background in comedy (Welcome To Collinwood, You, Me And Dupree, TV’s Community).
And while this might be a solo outing, Marvel still understands the value of teamwork, and here Cap’s flanked by returnee ass-kicker Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and newcomer Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson (AKA The Falcon). The central trio are forced into a fugitive alliance when the threat of a seemingly unstoppable assassin (the bionic-armed, guyliner-sporting baddie of the title) points to a bigger conspiracy within S.H.I.E.L.D. itself.
In a Mission: Impossible-esque spin, Cap and Widow (with the help of former veteran Wilson) go off the grid Ghost Protocol-style to sniff out the root of the problem. Mackie makes for a nice addition, stealing several of the funniest lines, and getting a clutch of nice action moments in the flying supersuit (replacing the comics’ red spandex).
Johansson, meanwhile, crackles once again, her Widow continuing to more than hold her own against her superpowered counterpart. An equal to Cap himself in terms of her importance to the mission (and almost in screentime), she delivers another killer turn that even a drab wig fails to dampen. A spin-off movie is starting look more essential than inevitable. Scar-Jo’s been on an astonishing and varied run of form recently (Don Jon, Her, Under The Skin) and it’s to her credit that Romanoff feels like another string on her bow rather than a blemish on her CV.
Despite its running time (it’s Marvel’s second longest movie, after Avengers Assemble), it never drags thanks to a consistent line in bruising set-pieces. From explosive car chases to heli-jet scrambles (via some relentless shield-slinging antics), CA:TWS works best as an action film. Unsurprisingly, given their backgrounds, the Russo brothers manage to inject a fair amount of humour into a property that’s not as gag-friendly as Iron Man or Thor. Most of the laughs are delivered via the snappy dialogue, and the documenting of Rogers’ continued efforts to keep up with the modern age (“the internet’s so helpful…”).
While the conspiratorial antics are effective enough to drive the story forward, it’s hardly likely to appeal to anyone looking for the next Three Days Of The Condor (even if Robert Redford does add some welcome, old-school star power as S.H.I.E.L.D. top dog Alexander Pierce). A handful of plot swerves can be predicted a mile off, and whether or not you already know the ‘secret’ identity of The Winter Soldier, the reveal rings a tad hollow.
In fact, if the sequel suffers anywhere, it’ll be attracting superhero-adverse outsiders. Casual references to wider Marvel mythology are batted about so faintly in the background that they’ll be totally unnoticed by the uninitiated. Quibbles aside, the movie hits all the Saturday-night blockbuster beats so effectively, it’s hard to complain.
Consistently entertaining, it clips along with the swagger that Marvel has earned as the dominant force in modern blockbusters, steamrolling over the sillier plot points. And the end result does at least help to bring around some seismic shifts to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a brave move from a studio unwilling to rest on their (ridiculously successful) laurels.
With a string of gratifying action sequences, and a breakneck pace leavened by a frequently witty script, The Winter Soldier stands alone as a solidly entertaining blockbuster.
Watch our SPOILER-FILLED video review of Captain America: The Winter Soldier below: