Before watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier I tried to remember what happened in the first Captain America. From what I recall:
- He starts small and feisty.
- He gets big and noble.
- He goes to Germany.
- He meets a pretty girl.
- Things explode and he beats up the Red Skull.
- He’s frozen.
- I had popcorn and possibly a Coke, might have been Fanta.
It was a pretty forgettable three-star origin story movie. Things got a little better for Cap in the Avengers movie, where he holds his own despite being perhaps a less charismatic character than the rest of the team (excluding Hawkeye). Yet even in that film he was still not quite showing why he was necessary to the films in the way Iron Man, Thor or the Hulk are. You couldn’t take any of those three away from the movie, but while Cap gets his moments, he’s hardy integral. Just to be clear I’m not saying he’s as pointless as Hawkeye, but then again neither is bluetooth on a duck.
Which brings us to Captain America: The Winter Solider. The film’s opening scene is a quite fun little scene involving the Captain playfully running laps around Sam Wilson, who is also an ex-soldier. Before long talk turns to the troubles of a returning to civilian life and it is clear the characters develop a bond. This delicate scene does wonders to establish a relationship between these two characters that could otherwise have appeared forced.
From this point, the film swings between being a spy movie and a full on Marvel movie. This mix works brilliantly and maximises the potential of the Captain America character in a way previous movies have not. His superhero limitations actually work better in this old fashioned conspiracy thriller than they have in the straight up superhero movies he has been placed in the past. Even prior to the reveal of Hydra’s plot the viewer is already shown the clash between Captain America’s views on freedom, war and America and those of Fury and Romanov. This tension between Captain America’s Second Word War values and the more shadowy notion of national defence portrayed by Fury and Romanov drives much of the tension early in the film.
The introduction of the Winter Solider and an attack on SHIELD provides the impetus for much of the story, with Captain America and the Black Widow forced to try and stop Hydra without the help of the SHIELD organisation. The Winter Solider is one of the better Marvel movie villains, instantly dangerous, damaged and intimidating. He is not nearly as hammy as the standard Marvel villain (looking at you Ronan the Accuser). His fight scenes with Captain America are brutal and will lead to some genuine wincing from the viewer, to the extent that the fight scenes are more Jason Bourne than Marvel Avengers.
The supporting roles in this movie also play a big part in lifting it above the standard blockbuster fare. Robert Redford excels as powerbroker Alexander Pearce, his understated style grounding the film perfectly.
Particularly impressive was Sam Wilson (aka the Falcon), who is excellently portrayed by Anthony Mackie. The non super-powered characters in these movies can come across as at best dull and at worst hilariously pointless (I’ll call this the Hawkeye problem), but the Falcon fits in perfectly with this type of Marvel film. That his connection with the Captain is made real and understandable to the viewer also helps. There is also the worry that the Falcon’s costume could provoke too much laughter and brake the tension (the ‘why the **** do they let Hawkeye where that ridiculous outfit?’ problem). But even his falcon suit, which in this incarnation is a military technology, manages to fit with the overall theme of the movie. This was probably better than having him be psychically linked to all the birds in the world, as he is in the comics.
What stops this being a 5 star movie is the ending, which almost seems like it is from a different, and more typically Marvel film. That said, the final fight seen between the Captain America and The Winter Soldier is satisfyingly brutal and emotionally resonant. Sadly this is slightly marred by the very typical ‘AAGH Scary things are coming from the sky’ ending, which is starting to feel a little to cliché.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier Rating