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REVIEW: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Anthony and Joe Russo – 2014)

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If a Tom Clancy novel had an affair with a comic book the lovechild would be Captain America: Winter Soldier.  The final product is a tug-of-war between grit and goof.

Set after The Avengers, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is settling into modern life as Captain America and being deployed as a weapon by the intelligence organisation S.H.I.E.L.D.  When a mysterious assassin known as the Winter Soldier targets high ranking S.H.I.E.L.D officials, Rogers teams up with Agent Natasha Romanoff/The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to uncover the mastermind of the threat.

 

The directing duo Anthony and Joe Russo enter the Marvel universe with a furrowed brow demanding that Captain America be taken seriously.  It’s also known as ‘The Christopher Nolan Effect’ when the element of perceived ‘realism’ is applied to a comic book property.  Nolan’s method worked brilliantly for The Dark Knight trilogy, but that’s because Bruce Wayne is still a vulnerable man underneath the cowl.  Captain America is a super solider with an indestructible shield that bounces around the environment like a pinball.  The Russos’ are aspiring for the Nolan effect in Captain America: Winter Solider with the lashings of political intrigue bolstered by the spy thriller elements of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s screenplay (based on the Ed Brubaker’s comic book run).  The plot makes use of contemporary issues such as the use of unmanned drones in the military and unethical surveillance by intelligence agencies like America’s National Security Agency.  These subjects are intriguing within the bounds of a Marvel Studios film but the means for the dastardly deeds of the big bad’s plan is too bonkers to be taken as seriously.   Also, when scenery isn’t exploding everyone speaks in statements rather than having conversations.  “The price of freedom is high and it’s a price I’m willing to pay”, “This isn’t freedom, this is fear” and the word ‘truth’ is said so much it loses all meaning.

The tone is fractured but the film is exhilarating when the gruffness falls away. As the camera pans across Washington D.C, the setting for a majority of the film, it feels like you’ve been dropped into a Phillip Noyce thriller, but when Rogers’ leap-frogs a jet fighter on a motorcycle you’re back in the realm of superheroes.  Each action sequence is larger-than-life to embolden the cartoonish nature of the characters with jetpacks, lifesaving gizmos and plenty of ‘pew pew pew’; it’s hard not to get a little giddy.

Evans still imbues Rogers with a heroic purity representative of the greatest generation that gives Superman a run for his money in the ‘truth, justice and the American way’ department.  Johansson’s ice cold secret agent act beefs up the case for her character to get her own film and Samuel L. Jackson finally gets in on the action as Nick Fury.  A fine addition is Anthony Mackie who fulfils minor sidekick duties as the charismatic winged warrior Sam ‘The Falcon’ Wilson. Robert Redford adds cred to the political suspense harking back to 3 Days of the Condor and All the President’s Men but it’s mostly just in presence.  Sadly, Frank Grillo appears only as a goon for several beat downs and his appearance can be filed under: the underutilisation of Frank Grillo in cinema.

A minor stumbling block is the bridging element of the film that serves to setup future films in the Marvel cinematic universe that distracts from the core narrative like consistent desktop pop-ups on a website. The Captain’s adventure services the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron and the recently announced Captain America 3 rather than bulking up Roger’s solo exploits or developing the character.  Despite the distraction of Marvel’s big picture elements, they do utilise their mid-credits scenes to create another solid pathway to forthcoming projects and Captain America: Winter Soldier features one that gave me third degree goose bumps; make sure you stick around.

Captain America: Winter Soldier is a riot when it confesses to be a film based on a comic book but blunders the attempt to be stern.

[rating=3] and a half

Cameron Williams – follow Cam on Twitter here: @MrCamW

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