Betrayals. Conspiracies. Ambushes. Marvel goes dark.
Not only one of the best Marvel superhero movies but one of the best 12A/PG13 action-thrillers full stop.Arguably taking its cues more from Bourne and Bond than from its superhero blockbuster brethren, The Winter Soldier delivers on all counts; providing a superior conspiracy-style spy thriller narrative packed with interesting characters, driven by a relentlessly oppressive score and defined by a quintet of exceptionally-staged action sequences.
Whilst Marvel did a fantastic job of building up its characters in preparation for The Avengers, Phase 2 of their seemingly unstoppable franchise ups the ante in ways that casual viewers and ardent fanboys alike simply could not have foreseen. Seemingly unfettered by Studio interference or potential audience alienation, the Phase 2 movies thus far have defied expectations on all counts, delivering darker, game-changing fare, unafraid of taking risks in their narratives.
No more playing it safe.For Iron Man 3 they stripped Stark of his armour, and reminded us of the man underneath, choosing script and character over effects and explosions - although there was no shortage of the latter - and the end result was probably my favourite Marvel universe chapter. Whilst Thor: The Dark World wasn't quite as dark as it could have been, the decision to dive headstrong into a full fantasy narrative was brave and bold, paying dividends and emphasising the fact that Marvel can do whatever they bloody well want.
Captain America has surely been one of the hardest characters to pull off amidst the quartet of heavy-hitters - Iron Man, Hulk and Thor - and is somewhat like the Superman of the Marvel universe in that he is not only largely indestructible, but also so interminably goody-goody. It must have been a hell of a challenge, then, to make a Captain America story that's so damn dark.
Whilst Iron Man can be a maverick, Thor can be a rebel and Hulk can be... well, an unstoppable force of freaking nature, good old Steve Rogers has been a patriot for the best part of a Century, fighting for truth, justice and the American Way with the best of them. It's not like he can go rogue and become one of the most hunted men on the planet... or is it?
Trust No One.
After Nick Fury gets ambushed in broad daylight by a heavily armed assault team, Captain America is entrusted with sensitive material which could be the key to unravelling a high level conspiracy. But he doesn't know who to trust, and, with a trio of super-fortress helicarriers about to be deployed in an effort to basically police the world, SHIELD can't afford to have him running around on the streets with classified secrets.
Reluctantly teaming up with Black Widow, he goes on the run, pursued not only by SHIELD's best tactical teams but also by the mysterious super-strong Soviet assassin known only as The Winter Soldier, who even Captain America may not be able to stand up to.
After an excellent hostage rescue set piece, The Winter Soldier wastes no time in cutting to what is essentially a grand chase movie, with overwhelming numbers out to get our heroes - Fury, Black Widow and Captain America - and proving, repeatedly, that they are a force to be reckoned with. Nobody remains undamaged in this relentlessly intense tale, which accelerates from 0-100 in a heartbeat and then simply never lets its foot off the pedal.
And whilst the Captain himself may be almost indestructible, those around him clearly aren't, and the tension never let's up as the pursuers ram, smash, shoot and blow up everything in their path to bring in the fugitives. It's tremendous.
Breathlessly entertaining, The Winter Soldier thunders from one brutal set piece to the next with relentless determination and undeniable foreboding.
The attack on Fury is like Marvel's answer to the painfully brutal chase sequence at the end of The Bourne Supremacy; setting the tone for what's to come, and arguably providing Sam Jackson with his single best moment out of all six of the extended cameos that he's made in this universe. Similarly Black Widow, who really hasn't been given the chance to be much more than Scarlett Johansson pouting in PVC gets some great moments - both on the action and the intrigue front.
Robert Redford takes up a prominent role, in control of SHIELD after the attack on Fury, bringing some gravitas to the movie and further enhancing the political thriller sentiment. Indeed, the Russo brother directors went out of their way to acknowledge not only the Winter Soldier graphic novel origins of the movie but the tonal shift to go for a more politically-driven thriller in the vein of Three Days of the Condor and All the President's Men, both of which were classics in Redford's heyday.
Even Chris Evans - limited by the thankless task of playing this goody-goody - gets a few nice character beats as he is forced to confront his past and further address just how out of place he is in the modern world whilst, at the same time, attempting to show why - in a world full of Norse Gods and Incredible Hulks - there is still a place for Captain America; there is still a job for him to do.
It's not just the excellent screenplay or the masterful action direction which define the piece, nor even the welcome character developments along the way, but also the superior score that enhances the suspense and drives home the dark tone throughout. I tend to only note scores that either come across as disappointingly derivative or remarkably effective when it comes to the films I review, and thankfully Henry Jackman's contribution easily falls into the latter character, reminding us at every stage in he the piece that there's nowhere to run, nowhere to escape to and nobody to trust.
Who would have thought that a Captain America sequel could end up being amidst the top three Avengers movies?
Like Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, The Winter Soldier is most definitely a game-changer. Anybody who has seen those first two will know what I mean - by the end of the film you simply don't know where they're going to go from here because everything has changed. And Captain America: The Winter Soldier is as much about SHIELD as it is about at the Captain himself, and the ramifications will undoubtedly echo throughout all further Marvel Universe instalments. Nothing will ever be the same.
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