One of the most resonant moments in The Avengers is when Captain America is chatting to Nick Fury about reacclimatising to contemporary life. Chris Evans delivers this line, loaded with melancholy “When I went under, the world was at war. I wake up, they say we won. They didn’t say what we lost.” In Captain America: The Winter Soldier co-directors Joe and Anthony Russo send Steve Rogers into a 70s conspiracy thrill ride that uses S.H.I.E.L.D to question what America has become.
Leading on from the events of The Avengers, Captain America/Steve Rogers (Evans), now S.H.I.E.L.D’s number one operative in their expanding operation. After an attack on Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) by the mysterious ‘Winter Soldier’ and is suspected of foul play by Secretary Pierce (Robert Redford).
Marvel uses the Captain America films to adhere the particular aesthetic conventions of the time he’s in and to speak to the different understanding of ‘America’ as a concept. The original Captain America: The First Avenger was dripping with World War 2 nostalgia and used those sepia hues, old advertorial tunes and khaki uniforms to both reinforce and challenge the perceptions of the character’s inception and what America was when it was at its peak. CA:TWS is cold, technological and set in Washington D.C – the perfect setting for espionage. This present day America, and namely D.C, is the nightmare that science fiction writers Phillip K. Dick or George Orwell imagined. S.H.I.E.L.D, imbued with the post-Avengers (Chitauri Alien invasion) powers has developed a Minority Report-esque ‘pre-crime’ drone heli-carriers surveillance system. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely take this seminal Brubaker Captain America story (sans a lot of the detail), insert it into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) challenge the right in the middle of the scary ‘might.’ It’s clear that Capt. is the MCU’s vessel to charge into prescient issues, in CA:TWS it’s the post-Snowden NSA revelations. The Russos’ compliment the narrative with a conspiratorial lens an great new additions like Robert Redford (All The President’s Men, 3 Days of the Condor) to give you a sense that despite the super soldier at the centre, this is a commentary on modern America (with talking computers).
Markus and McFeely do a tremendous job of tying the threads of pivotal film together into a cohesive film despite Captain America having an obligation to the future films in the MCU.
The action is fierce and somehow keeps the exploits of our titular super soldier in the realm of the believable. You certainly get to see Capt’s evolved skill-set, and his discipline to take his super soldier gifts to their next level. However, being pitted against Sebastian Stan’s Winter Soldier mutes the impact of his powers (and the accuracy of his boomerang accurate shield) and the militia skirmish turns D.C into a war zone.
Evans shines once again as the out of time, original hero. The naivety is completely drained from his face now and was remains behind his cobalt eyes is a pure right/wrong perspective that cuts through the diplomacy. Johansson’s Natasha ‘Black Widow’ Romanoff allegiance to Fury above all brings her closer to her fellow Avenger. She loves to prod him into moving with the time, finding love and generally moving into the present. It’s great to see the doubt creep in as she begins questioning whether joining S.H.I.E.LD was clearing the ‘red’ on her ledger. There’s also a further insight into the ‘badass’ of her past ready to be unleashed. Anthony Mackie’s Sam ‘The Falcon’ Wilson gets to join the dots for Rogers’ view of the soldier’s experience across time. The camaraderie, the mental scars of battle bring them closer together and there’s a great coordination between this new duo.
Jackson’s return as Nick Fury gets to unravel more of the back story of the man whose ‘secrets have secrets’; and dive headlong into the fray that we haven’t really seen in past. Jackson elevates Fury to all new heights here in both action and spy tradecraft; it’ rewarding to see him get his hands dirty after playing superhero talent scout and figure head. All it takes is one glimpse of Cobie Smulders’ Maria Hill to see that the toll of New York is weighing heavy on her.
Frank Grillo, Callan Mulvey, even former UFC Welterweight champion George St. Pierre fill out a stellar supporting cast and you can’t help but want more from everyone involved.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier sees the talent (rookies or veterans) assembled firing on all cylinders, significantly upping the stake for the next phase of the MCU and showing why we still need “a little old fashioned.”
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Joe and Anthony Russo
Written by: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (based on Ed Brubaker’s story)
Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Sebastian Stan, Robert Redford, Cobie Smulders,Garry Shandling, Toby Jones