As SHIELD kicks off their plans to launch three new Helicarriers with the sole task of weeding out threats before they arise, Captain America starts thinking that he may be fighting for the wrong people, only to be proven right beyond even his own imagining as disaster strikes on multiple levels.
In this writer’s humble opinion the first Captain America film is the weakest of Marvel’s output to date, which is not to say that it’s bad, in fact it’s really quite charming, but while all the elements are there it’s never really as good as the sum of its parts. My thinking is that there just wasn’t enough action, which is more than a little disappointing being that Captain America is the ultimate (pun unintended) action man.
The Russo brothers, directors of Cap’s latest instalment, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, seem to have agreed with me because they’ve put the action front and centre in this film. They’ve come at the action like they’ve got something to prove, and maybe they have, I mean, The Avengers and Thor 2 were big acts to follow, especially with an old-hat character of a low power level; well, lucky for us they saw it that way, because this Captain America film boasts some of the most frequent, spectacular and spectacularly inventive action set pieces, not just in Marvel or even superhero films, but in filmdom as a whole.
This is not something I put forward lightly, I love action films in all their many and varied guises, but some of these sequences are so dizzyingly intricate that it beggars belief, I’m talking at least three or four instances of action as well thought out as ‘the barrel escape’ from The Desolation of Smaug, only with more motorised flying vehicles and explosions. The size of the film, considering it’s ‘only’ a Captain America film, is pretty ludicrous, but not all the action is big, in fact it’s at its best when it gets into the down and dirty, hand to hand combat. Here the fight choreography is so inspired and hard-hitting that it rivals such modern martial arts classics as The Raid and District 13, if not in pure brutality then certainly in originality.
Previously the best fight sequence in a Marvel film was Black Widow’s corridor battle in Iron Man 2, The Winter Soldier defeats it many times. You get the picture; it’s worth going to see for the action alone so I’m going to stop gushing about it now. What else does it have going for it?
Quite a lot actually, in point of fact there’s very little here to complain about at all. The story may not turn out to be the most original ever conceived, but it’s smartly constructed, fairly straightforward and will have you guessing until the various revelations. The tone is serious, as serious as a Marvel film has ever gotten, but there are points of levity to keep it from becoming poe faced.
As has come to be expected of Marvel Studios by this point, the visual FX are massive, impressive and, for the most part, seamless. As mentioned, some sequences are huge, rivalling The Avengers at times, but you’ll be hard pressed see where the sets end and the pixels start. Similarly to be expected is the classy array of acting on show, with Robert Redford and Anthony Mackie being added to Marvel’s already stellar line-up.
If I told you that The Winter Soldier prominently featured Black Widow, Nick Fury, Maria Hill, Agent 13, The Falcon, Alexander Pierce, a handful of SHIELD specialists, FOUR Cap villains and the titular hero himself, you’d probably think some of them would be jostling for space or that they’d been crow-barred in, but somehow this simply isn’t the case, everyone has their place and moment, which, combined with all the other sound elements of writing completely argues the point that block-busters are best served with solid scripts and interesting characters over pointlessly elaborate plots, as if anyone was in any doubt.
The nerd factor is remarkably high, not only does it answer plot holes of previous Marvel films, it introduces several points of potential progression and many a subtle nod to even the most advanced of comic fandom, for example (POSSIBLE SPOILER, but only for the most seasoned of contemporary Marvel Comics fans), those in the know will recognise that though named for Ed Brubaker’s Cap story and features that same character, as much of the plot is based on Jonathan Hickman’s little read book, Secret Warriors… or that the end credits take their lead from the art if Jim Steranko, and needless to say, stay until the very end of the credits.
The coolest nerd moment though is when we see exactly what qualifies Nick Fury to be the world’s leading spy, in an extended action sequence that sees him remain a cooler mother-f**ker than James Bond when backed into a corner, and with better gadgets.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the most improved series between first and second film that Marvel has done to date. It’s as big an espionage film as you’ll ever see, featuring phenomenal action and FX in a pacey, well written story complimented with fine acting. All in all near perfect popcorn viewing.
B grade – for originality
A- grade – for storytelling
B+ grade – for acting
A- grade – for visuals
A grade – for action
Overall grade – A-