Red white & blue. They were the shades my ass turned throughout the first, forgettable, cheek-swelling Captain America movie – though not necessarily in that order.
One of the less inspired in the recent crop of Marvel movies, 2011’s ”First Avenger” ran less like a classy comic-book movie (and there were some good ones around at the time – ”The Dark Knight” to name but one) like a 1980’s photo copier – bright but blotchy and colourless.
Though the sequel packs about as many surprises as Stan Lee in the sack, it’s both surprising and great to see the bouncer didn’t let our old friends mediocrity, bland and bum-sore behind the velvet rope. For the most part, this is one classy party – serving only top shelf fizz from the cellars of comic book movie’s best.
Where effects-whiz cum filmmaker Joe Johnson went wrong with Captain America was his his determination to colour within the lines – the dude, knowing it was his biggest payday in years, didn’t want to shake anything up.
While Johnston let his ”Captain America” movie dribble out like crusty mustard, brothers Joe & Anthony Russo push theirs onto the screen with gusto – shaking it up, popping the power, and sending it gushing all over the Cap’s chiseled chest.
It’s a few years after the great Battle of New York, seen in ”The Avengers”. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) – better known to the adoring world by his alias ‘Captain America’ – continues his affiliation with Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D, but is struggling to feel completely at ease with his new surroundings (any man from the 1940’s who oversleeps and wakes up in 2011 would likely feel the same). And though he’s completely apt at his job – kicking ass all over the globe for Fury – he’s not exactly sure he wants to do it. In other words, Steve Rogers is a clown who has suddenly found himself allergic to the rubber nose he’s always worn. Something doesn’t feel right.
When a colleague from S.H.I.E.L.D comes under attack – assumingly for discovering information that others didn’t want him to see- Captain America must join forces with fellow Avenger Natasha Romanov aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to unravel a mystery while staying one step ahead of the many assailants sent to silence him at every turn. When the conspiracy is revealed to them, ‘Cap’ and Black Widow enlist the help of a new friend, The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) to help them take down an enemy that threatens to change the world as we know it.
While most of the button-pushing bad guys remain a mystery to our heroes, one that has emerged from the shadows – Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) – is known to Rogers.
If ”First America” was the lukewarm garlic bread, the sequel is the piping hot pizza we’ve been waiting for.
Not to say ”Winter Soldier” – based on the celebrated comic-book arc – is one-hundred percent unique and original, in fact it cribs from quite a few films past – namely the Star Wars trilogy (you guys familiar with the ‘Winter Soldier’ storyline in the comics will know what I’m referring to) but also the Nolan ”Batman” movies (in fact, it pilfers one of its biggest surprises – but, ironically enough, the plot-gimmick plays less of a surprise here). But what’s a few minutes of ho-hum in a film that’s stocky duration -it runs two-and-a-half hours – speeds by because of the content’s effortless ability to exceedingly entertain.
But this isn’t just a fun comic book movie, it’s a film that near temporarily transports Marvel universe into a completely different genre, painting proceedings with a scent of freshness.
Ostensibly influenced by the paranoia-conspiracy thrillers of the ’70s – many of which Robert Redford, who appears here as S.H.I.E.L.D boss Alexander Peirce – Winter Soldier does away with the stale “can a superhero have a life outside of his latex underpants” storyline, that so many fall back on when their secondary villain yarn doesn’t hold much water, and instead resurrects the “trust nobody” punch line that fueled so many of those mystery-solving sweat-inducers of the Nixon-era.
Here, it’s Steve Rogers/Captain America playing the role a Hoffman or Redford would’ve played in the genre classic – the lone man, on a mission to find out the truth, who has become a target. Nick Fury (Samuel L.Jackson) plays the obligatory Mr X role, keeper of the secrets, the one who informs our chesty hero to “trust nobody”. And like so many of those vintage whodunits, there’s a whole barrage of shady mates surrounding the paranoid puncher of the title.
While the plot is tight (well, for the most part; there’s a couple of sloppy bits that – had the Russo’s not had Marvel to answer to they might have done differently to – could’ve used as much imagination as the rest of the movie), the film’s enjoyment factor also owes a high-five to the punchy dialogue. Likely overseen by Marvel shepherd Joss Whedon – the dialogue is so punchy and pop-culture laden, that one can only assume ”The Avengers” helmer had a hand in it – there’s moments between the characters here that are absolute classic. There’s been some actual thought put into the words that go into the speaking bubbles of the characters here.
Speaking of, there’s a Trump tower’s worth of impressive action and special effects sequences here to feast upon – not the least of which is the film’s immense third act, set mostly on colossal airborne carriers hovering just above the city.
Evans – though, let’s admit it, he probably has the easiest role of any Marvel comic book star; the dude simply has to look good and smile. At the same time, he never comes off cartoonish, and manages to remain an easy-to-like chap throughout – has grown into his Captain America role, and Scarlett Johansson – playing a role she originated in Iron Man 2 – is fun to watch as the sexy, sassy Black Widow. But from Sebastian Stan as the Winter Soldier, Jackson as Nick Fury, Frank Grillo as the shady Crossbones, Emily Van Camp as a fellow S.H.I.E.L.D agent, Cobie Smulders as Fury’s right-hand woman Maria Hill, and that old sport Robert Redford as the – previously unseen – big man at S.H.I.E.L.D, there’s some actual real, decent performances here. Comic book movies have definitely come a long way since Arnold Schwarzenegger awkwardly uttered “Hello, Sorry about the door, Is the party over? ” in ”Batman & Robin” (1997).
If ”The First Avenger” is the caterpillar, then ”The Winter Soldier” is the butterfly- pretty, nice to watch, and soars to pleasing heights. Enough analogies, now? Geddit?
Stay tuned during the film’s end credits for – the obligatory – teases of Marvel movies to come, namely the “Avengers” sequel.