Captain America (2011) is one of my favourite of the Marvel films so far. As such I was pretty keen to check out Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), although there was a nagging doubt that I could not quite shake – how would the film hold up without the period setting of the first film?
After seeing Marvel’s latest effort, I think it was a fair concern to have. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is by no means a bad film (it is very, very rare that Marvel put their stamp on one of those), but it is also rather standard, never reaching the heights of the best films from the comic book behemoth. Much of that is due to the shift in time frame for Cap which was a necessity in order for him to be part of The Avengers (2012). The character of Captain America is a bit of an absurd one in reality. But his over the top, arch-patriotism works best when situated, like the first film, somewhere like Germany in World War II. In 2014 America, a place where the mainstream political and military mindset has been battered in the opinion of the public by Iraq, Afghanistan, the NSA and so on, Cap is more likely to be a little on the nose. It is a credit to the filmmakers that they are willing to explore this uneasy state of affairs and the uneasy place that this character has in it, but even so, there is no doubting that the major thing that the first film had going for it is gone. The early attempts to transfer the military stylings and focus of the first film into this one does not really work at all and contributes to what is a spluttering first half hour.
Of course simply to say that it is impossible for a present day set Captain America film to be fantastic is silly. With the right story and action beats and there is no doubting the character could helm a cracking film, especially given Chris Evans feels so spot on in the role. But the major issue with this film is that whilst there are some great aspects to it, including some of the action beats, the overarching plot is initially oblique and then to be honest really weak and lacking in the narrative richness required. There was always going to be some need to attempt to connect the plot of the film to that of the first film, and it does not work. I am aware that the story is based on a really highly regarded comic book arc, but I can only assume that does a much better job of telling the story than this film does. It is such a shame that the main story does not stick, because Robert Redford is very good as it is and if the story was a little stronger, his character could have been a really impactful one. The film is also not really about The Winter Solider that much at all. If you are going to build the marketing and even naming of a film around a character, don’t just make him a henchman for a vast majority of the film. The last 20 minutes or so does manage to get the viewer excited for what could perhaps come in the future between the two characters. But you are left with the distinct sense that the potential of the character was neglected in this flick a little to set things up for future entries.
One thing that this film does better then perhaps any other Marvel flick is that it gives the minor goodies a chance to shine. The increased screen time for Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow is perhaps the best thing about the entire film. I know that Marvel has an ever expanding slate of both rumoured and confirmed phase 3 films, but they should seriously pull the trigger on a standalone Johansson Widow film. The character has so much great back-story, both from the comics and hinted at this film that could be mined for a really effective origin style story. Basing it around some of the current comics that Nathan Edmondson is writing for the character would be a real winner in my view. And having the character attempting to atone for her chequered KGB past could also make a very different kind of Marvel film. The other main highlight in the supporting cast is Anthony Mackie’s Falcon, a character that initially grates but by the third act is one of the best things about it. Again, the filmmakers actually give the character some great moments out of the shadow of Cap which is something the Marvel films have not always managed to do very well. For me though, Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury continues to be a total bore whilst the much more interesting S.H.I.E.L.D operative Maria Hill played by Cobie Smulders unfortunately does not feature nearly enough.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is certainly a really solid, enjoyable big budget blockbuster that will be better than 80% of films in that category this year. For me personally, despite my enjoyment, it is a slight disappointment. But that is more a credit to how much Marvel have been killing it of late, rather than any real slight against the film itself.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs