Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Studio: Marvel Studios
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Formats: Cinema 3D (Reviewed at Event Cinemas George St.), Cinema 2D, IMAX 3D
Release Date: Out Now – Buy Tickets Here

Overview

While Captain America: The First Avenger (2010) was a World War II period piece action film, its sequel Captain America: The Winter Soldier is set in present day and errs into the political thriller sub-genre, whilst presenting even more of an emphasis on super-heroics. Testing extremely well in early screenings, Captain America: The Winter Soldier came with a lot of hype, which was somewhat of an initial surprise considering “Cap”‘s reputation for being one of the more vanilla superheroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and having possibly the least popular outing among them so far with the first movie… other than The Incredible Hulk (which isn’t much of a consolation). But thankfully the hype – for the most part – is definitely warranted. (WARNING: Minor Spoilers Ahead – nothing you wouldn’t learn from the Official Soundtrack listing).

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Story

It’s been two years since the events of The Avengers, and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is still struggling to find his place in contemporary society, though it’s no longer a shock to his system. The film opens with Rogers taking his daily run out amongst his new home of Washington, D.C. Blazing past every other jogger at an extreme speed, he calls out “to your left” as he passes each. Eventually we see him approaching Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), who playfully and competitively warns him “don’t you dare say it!” before hopelessly attempting to catch up. Later, Rogers walks up to Wilson who is breathing heavily, recuperating under the shade of a tree. This is the first meeting between the two, who comic book fans will recognise as long time buddies. Anthony Mackie, as usual, brings a genuine likeability and levity to the role, joking with Rogers that maybe he should take another lap as self-punishment posting a “slow” time, then quipping immediately after without skipping a second “wait, did you just take it?”. The two become properly acquainted as Wilson tells Rogers of his duty as a Pararescue war veteran and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) counsellor and recommends adding Marvin Gaye’s ‘Troubleman’ album to his list of things to experience since 1945 (for Australian audiences, the list showed Tim Tams, AC/DC, Steve Irwin and Skippy The Kangaroo).

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It’s only minutes later that Rogers is called back to base with the Black Widow, Natasha Romanov (Scarlett Johansson) speeding into frame in a Chevrolet Corvette Stingray as his pick-up. The current mission requires Cap, along with Black Widow and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s elite counter-terrorism unit S.T.R.I.K.E. (Special Tactical Reserve for International Key Emergencies) board and clear a captured S.H.I.E.L.D. vessel called Lumerian Star, hijacked by Algerian pirates headed by Georges Batroc (Georges St. Pierre). As with Wilson, another relationship that gets fleshed out here is that of Rogers and Romanov’s. There’s a continued gag that plays out across multiple scenes in the film where Romanov is pushing Rogers to ask different co-workers, as well as his neighbour, on dates. However, it’s clear that Romanov has some feelings for Rogers that she is trying to suppress for one reason or another. Regardless, Rogers’ throwaway excuse for not entertaining the idea of a relationship is he’s “too busy”. The ensuing sequence is a personal favourite from the entire film, as Cap jumps out a carrier aircraft without a parachute, plunging into the water, proceeding to sprint through the vessel taking out half the baddies present in quick fashion before any support even lands, and then battles Batroc in a great fight sequence.

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Batroc challenges Cap with a frequent fan criticism: “I thought you were more than a shield”. GSP – as MMA fans know him – legitimised what was a campy, overly colourful character from the comics in Batroc the Leaper and, using his real-life savate and karate background, made him a serious, believable hand-to-hand threat. GSP could be another Jean-Claude Van Damme post-MMA (if he does indeed return). It’s from this early stage that Cap’s trust issues begin, as he catches Romanov extracting data from the ship’s computers, something he was not briefed on. Arriving back at the Triskelion – S.H.I.E.L.D.’s headquarters – Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) reveals ‘Project Insight’ to Cap, a plan to build three Helicarriers that are linked to spy satellites and designed to triangulate position, pre-emptively identifying and eliminating all threats. The directors of the film have stated the inspiration of President Obama’s supposed “Kill List” for the concept, and so the moral conflict between giving people complete freedom and enacting security-breaching, broad surveillance for the good of the people is represented via Cap and Fury’s opposing beliefs and stances. Soon enough Cap’s past comes back to haunt him, as the assassin codenamed ‘The Winter Soldier’ (Sebastian Stan) makes his presence felt by executing a major character.

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Remember the promo shot pre-release that showed Black Widow crying, looking down at a covered up cadaver? In the film, the body is uncovered from the shoulders up. This plot point, along with the re-appearance of a certain villain (think less Red Skull and more Transcendence) are direct nods to story beats found in the comic books. Cap has a few memorable encounters with the former Bucky Barnes, who’s struggling to remember exactly who he is when spurred by Cap’s recognition of his supposedly deceased best friend. Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce, a senior authority within S.H.I.E.L.D. and Head of the World Security Council, is another integral figure; ambiguous from the start, his integrity is automatically disputed by the audience. It’s fantastic to see such an iconic actor in a universe we never imagined him in and fitting in perfectly. Performance wise, it was a thrill to see Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury getting his hands dirty in a pivotal action set-piece, but the real treat was seeing the Falcon re-imagined outside of his ridiculous, signature spandex suit and embodied by a genuinely funny and welcome addition to the team in Anthony Mackie. Overall, Captain America: The Winter Soldier has it all: the drama, the action, conspiracy, twists and turns and fan service, and is the best Marvel Studios film after The Avengers.

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Visuals & Audio

The directing duo of brothers Joe and Anthony Russo – heretofore known predominantly for their work in comedy shows including Arrested Development, Community, Happy Endings and Up All Night – prove excellent directorial instinct when it comes to framing action and maintaining a dynamic composition. The 3D is used very subtly throughout, which is both a relief for cinema purists, but also a con for those who expect a more pronounced implementation for their increased ticket prices. The score composed by Henry Jackman is a mish-mash of influences, from the sampling of Alan Silvestri’s work from Captain America: The First Avenger, appropriately used in the reflective, nostalgic “Smithsonian” scene, to the Hans Zimmer-esque “Lemurian Star” track, calling on memories of The Dark Knight. The highlights of this generally fast-paced and adrenaline-pumping score come whenever Jackman utilises a brooding, pulsating synth such as found in Hydra’s theme and in combination with an unnerving, synthesised scream in The Winter Soldier’s.

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Overall

After a merely adequate introduction of the character in Captain America: The First Avenger, good ol’ Cap is made to look absolutely bad-ass this go around with his power, speed and martial arts expertise put on display like never before. Although there may have been one too many a swerve, especially in the final act, the espionage heavy feature effectively explores the overriding thematic question of “who can you trust?”. Ultimately, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is an extremely important entry – if not the most important – in the quickly expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. It sets up so much of what will define the future of the brand on-screen, mostly in the post-credits scenes (plural). As an example of how wide-reaching the effects of the film’s developments will be moving forward, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s very identity and even existence is up in the air, meaning that the Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series will also be affected greatly. The implications of what is revealed throughout the course of the picture mean a turbulent and uncertain period to come for The Avengers as a group, and humanity in general.

9-0-capsules-out-of-10
Capsule Computers review guidelines can be found here.

I am a graduate of the Bachelor of Interactive Entertainment (w/ major in Games Design) course at Qantm College, Sydney.

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