Friday, 12 September 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Though I wasn't a huge comic book reader growing up (or even now), back in the day I did enjoy Spider-Man, Superman and Iron Man. Granted I bought random issues so I rarely read story arcs in the proper order, but I still enjoyed them. One superhero I never even attempted to get into was Captain America. I just assumed that because I wasn't American that I wouldn't get it, as if all his comics were merely overly patriotic ramblings from cover to cover. I was foolish back then, and while I still haven't read a Captain America comic, I'm sure they're nothing short of fantastic. My introduction to the character came in the form of Captain America: The First Avenger, the 2011 Joe Johnston film that served as the fifth entry in Phase One of Marvel's Cinematic Universe. I loved everything about it; Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell and Hugo Weaving were fantastic in their roles (especially Weaving as Red Skull!), the action scenes were incredibly physical and intense, and the overall look, design and feel of the movie was just lovely. Beyond the obvious classic World War II film influences, it also had an extra science fiction feel to it. From scenes such as Captain America single-handedly storming a Hydra base to Steve Rogers' humble beginnings, The First Avenger had both action and heart. Though its sequel had the same writers, I feared a modern day Captain America film would lose all the charm the wartime era gave him. I was wrong. Not only does the modern era serve the character well, but it also makes for the best Marvel film to date.

Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo and out now on DVD and Blu-Ray comes Captain America: The Winter Soldier, one of the best action films of the last decade. Though it's set some time after his World War II origin story, this modern day Captain America film is narratively more connected to the first film, as opposed to The Avengers, his previously outing. Still feeling like a fish out of water in our modern world, Captain America is commanding S.H.I.E.L.D's counter terrorism team, S.T.R.I.K.E (yup, covert military groups do love their acronyms!). The film opens with Captain America, Black Widow and the rest of the team leading an assault on a S.H.I.E.L.D vessel on which villain Georges Batroc has captured hostages. However, while Captain America was sent on the mission to rescue hostages, he soon learns that Black Widow was given an additional objective, which was to retrieve sensitive information from the ships computer. Upon Captain America and Nick Fury questioning S.H.I.E.L.D on this, the mysterious assassin known as the Winter Soldier targets both. With no one to trust and the very future of his country and possibly the world at stake, it's up to Captain America to bring corruption to the light of day, no matter how widespread or deadly it may be.

It is widely known that the writers and directors of The Winter Soldier were going for a somewhat 1970's political paranoia thriller feel with this film, and thankfully it has worked. Compared to the America that he was born and raised in, Captain America now questions his government, their actions and their very use of him. This fantastic aura of uneasiness and paranoia around the film is completely and utterly different as to what The First Avenger did, and ultimately helps create a Marvel film unlike any before. It feels real and relevant though never preachy, in your face or ham-fisted in its approach. Though mostly attributed to the excellent script and direction, this is also down to the stellar cast. Sure, Chris Evans takes centre stage as Captain America, but the likes of Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie and Scarlett Johansson are truly terrific here, both in terms of when it comes to straight up action and personal, more heartfelt moments.

That said, the best element of The Winter Soldier is the action. There are plenty of superb action set pieces on offer here, but compared to the over-the-top CGI laden action of The Avengers, The Winter Soldier treats its action in a far more interesting manner. It's gritty, intense, up close and personal and incredibly kinetic. The pinnacle of this action comes about when the Winter Soldier tries to take out Captain America on the highway. From slowly walking towards his upturned car while precisely unloading round after round of his sun-machine gun, to the hard hitting and brutal fight that follows, the film almost reaches the heights of Predator and Die Hard in its deliciously frantic action. Another great scene is when Captain America, after being told off by his superior, enters the elevator on the top floor of the S.H.I.E.L.D building. Over the course of multiple floors more and more armed dudes get on. You can slowly see the realisation on Captain America's face that things are going to turn sour pretty fast. Captain America's dialogue is perfect: “Before we get started... does anyone want to get out?” Shit hits the fan, hard.

Overall Captain America: The Winter Soldier genuinely blew me away. Though I was disappointed with Iron Man 3 and found The Avengers enjoyable, if a little tedious, this entry into the franchise is just incredible. It has both heart and action, and each one of those two opposing elements are crafted and presented wonderfully. I loved it!

Captain America: The Winter Soldier tops the Marvel franchise and gets a 5/5.


Denis Murphy

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