Following his outings in 2011 and 2012, Chris Evans returns as the first Avenger for his third film in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. On paper, the story seems quite simple. S.H.I.E.L.D comes under attack when Captain America and Black Widow are working for Nick Fury, but the execution of it by directing pair Anthony and Joe Russo, including the many twists along the way, make The Winter Soldier the best Marvel film since The Avengers. The very first thing you’ll notice about the film are the much more grounded fight sequences. Even early on, when Cap and Black Widow [Scarlett Johansson] have to recapture a hijacked S.H.I.E.L.D ship, we see a great difference in the fighting style of our hero compared to previous films – reinforcing the fact that Cap has actually done some training since we last saw him. It really feels as though we are watching a super soldier in combat.
But this particular super soldier has been shifted way out of time, into an era that he is unfamiliar with and this makes it intriguing to see how Steve Rodgers does his best to fit into the modern-day. When Steve first meets Sam Wilson [Anthony Mackie], you get the sense that he is looking forward to catching up on 70 years’ worth of news. However, sometimes you can only look back. The way in which Rodgers visits a museum about Captain America, reminiscing about his late friend Bucky Barnes, just can’t help but make you feel sorry for this guy. Couple it with a visit to a former lover Peggy Carter [Hayley Atwell], and we get a sense of how vulnerable our hero can be.
Nonetheless, Steve is a man with a great moral compass and this conflicts with the methods of S.H.I.E.L.D boss Nick Fury [Samuel L. Jackson]. Fury plans to utilise Captain America to neutralize a lot of threats before they happen, and showcases his fleet of helicarriers that will spread around the world to find and eliminate threats. Rogers, uneasy, questions why the punishment doesn’t come after the crime.
With secret agents, surveillance and growing conspiracy inside S.H.I.E.L.D, The Winter Soldier gives a proper 70’s thriller vibe which only gets stronger when we are introduced to Alexander Pierce [Robert Redford], a senior leader of S.H.I.E.L.D and a member of the World Security Council. The wealth of experience that Redford brings to the role allows you to be absorbed by his character. Redford gives a splendid performance that liven up most of the scenes he is in. Faced with a moral dilemma, Rogers is taught how S.H.I.E.L.D operates by Pierce.
Struggling to cope with the modern S.H.I.E.L.D, another problem from the past surfaces. Enter the Winter Soldier, played by Sebastian Stan. The Winter Soldier appears to be some sort of assassin with a metal arm, and proves to be a seriously chilling villain. It would have been nice to have more of a background as to why he was bad because most of the time, he seemed like a bad guy for the sake of being a bad guy. Nonetheless, in all his scenes, the Winter Soldier feels powerful, unstoppable and unbelievably bad-ass – someone who is a genuine equal to Captain America. In the interests of avoiding spoilers, I will say Stan puts in a good effort conveying the strength and emotion of the titular villain.
Faced with a crisis that can’t be resolved by himself, Cap enlists the help of Black Widow and Sam Wilson. Those of you familiar with comics may know that Sam is better known as the Falcon. In The Winter Soldier, Falcon has an advanced wingsuit that he uses to fly around the place, and is a great sidekick to Cap. Banding together, these three then set about to find the problems inside S.H.I.E.L.D and bring the world to justice – all the while avoiding execution by the Winter Soldier.
I’ve mentioned before about the great fight sequences, and I’ll say it again. The fight scenes are simply brilliant. All characters seem to have their own unique style that wouldn’t be out of place in the real world. In general, all action sequences are shown in a way that fits the thriller genre that The Winter Soldier appears to be shooting for whilst giving a hyper-real, superhero twang to it. Putting these scenes together whilst having a multi-threaded story weaving its way throughout the entire film is no simple task, but one that the Russo brothers have expertly handled.
Although not as funny as Thor: The Dark World, there are definitely some funny moments in The Winter Soldier, mainly coming from interplay between Captain America and Falcon. To keep the integrity of a political thriller, humour is a bit more reserved but still kept in key places to disarm some of the tension that may be present in scenes. The score, composed by Henry Jackman, may not win awards any time soon, but it blends well with the action, adventure and pace of the film.
By the time The Winter Soldier reaches its final act, you really do get a sense that things have escalated over the course of several films and that Marvel Studios have used up everything they’ve learnt before to create a memorable instalment that will have ramifications for everyone in its shared universe. The strong plot is then brought to a close by an average conclusion. Sure enough, all the characters are brought to exciting places by the end, there were lots of epic moments and also many interesting revelations that will definitely carry forward the franchise, but it didn’t feel “complete”. However, it’s entirely possible that I’m nitpicking an otherwise excellent movie, and this is the sort of ending that the Russo brothers have been aiming for. Captain America’s latest adventure is the first true sequel to The Avengers, and a worthy prequel to next year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. The Winter Soldier shows off great action set-pieces with a clever plot that doesn’t fail to throw up a few surprises, and is a thoroughly engrossing entry in the Marvel universe.
P.S. Stay through the credits – both scenes in this one are worth it.