Friday, 4 April 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Two years after the events of Avengers Assemble, Steve Rogers is living in modern day Washington DC and working for S.H.I.E.L.D. whilst struggling to adapt to contemporary society. Whilst on a mission with Black Widow, he discovers Nick Fury has given her a separate mission, which infuriates him, and leads to nick Fury showing him Project Insight, a series of Helicarriers linked by satellite to eliminate threats. Fury, however, is becoming frustrated as he is unable to decrypt recovered data, and an attempt is then made on his life. Rogers then meets the enigmatic Alexander Pierce, a senior official within S.H.I.E.L.D., in order to work out who ordered an assassination on Fury. However, before the attempt, Fury had met with Rogers and revealed his doubts about the organisation, and when Rogers refuses to reveal that information, Pierce dismisses him and makes it known he and Black Widow are wanted dead...
Is it just me or has Captain America always felt like the odd one out? Maybe it's just because I'm British and can't completely associate with the American propaganda character, or maybe it's because Captain America is the least super superhero to get his own franchise. Granted, all Hawkeye can do is fight a bow and arrow really well, and Black Widow is just good at fighting, but in the context of the Avengers, they have their place. Captain America has the super serum going for him, but there's nothing overly special about him. He has no real powers or abilities over than his super strength and the fact that his shield is indestructible (and is the only one like it in the world despite its incredible properties...) Regardless, here we go with Cap 2, an important step towards Avengers 2. Question is, can it justify its creation? Annoyingly, yes.

I thought Captain America 1 was good because it was something different, it was an origin story in a completely different era. In a way, it made it more alien than if it were set on an actual alien planet. Unfortunately, that's come to be the expectation of every new Marvel film: It has to be something different. Iron Man 3 closed the book on what was an extremely series of films up to that point. Now, the MCU needs to diversify to survive, and they've done a stand up job with Cap 2, making it the American equivalent to a James Bond film. It's full of suspicion and espionage and mistrust within an organisation, whilst retaining the superhero element which the James Bond series of film must now strive to steer clear of. It's good that they've found a niche for Captain America, a unique place for him amongst their ever-growing resume of superheroes brought to the big screen. Fittingly also, I feel the good Captain is being used in the same way now as he was back when he was created: A propaganda tool for the boosting of American morale in a time of need. Cap stands as the morale compass of an organisation that has become decayed and poisoned, and stands up to the seemingly insurmountable threat. But then maybe all superheroes are fit for that purpose, and I'm just picking on Cap because he dresses in the stars and stripes?

Regardless, Steve Rogers is played well, again, by Chris Evans. To be honest, there's nothing new or exceptional about any of the leads. That's another essential requirement now  to nay new Marvel film: They need a strong cast of refreshed characters around them for every film. Therefore, Captain America, Black Widow and Nick Fury are assisted ably by three new MCU characters: The Winter Soldier, Sam Wilson, and Alexander Pierce. Big spoiler here: The Winter Soldier, aka Bucky Barnes, is played well by Sebastian Stan again; emotionless, ruthless and near-demonic, and it's more impressive as he's playing against his instinct to revert back to the Bucky character he played so well in Cap 1. Sam Wilson is s great introductuon to the franchise as Falcon, and never grates as sometimes sidekicks can. He holds his own, and is never overawed by the fantastic Steve Rogers, rather he sees him as his equal, a fellow serving officer with whom he can share his horror stories of time on the front line. Also, Robert Redford is great as Alexander Pierce, but you'd expect nothing less from a veteran like him. Cool, unnerving, friendly and deceitful; he's a great choice for the lead antagonist here.

Here's my problem with the film though: While the plot holds up and creates an exciting and unpredictable (to a point) story, it's all very convenient. Now, I realise I'm saying this about a film, a superhero film no less, but it's true! HUGE SPOILERS HERE, READ OWN AT YOUR OWN PERIL. It's the fact that the main plot driver is the fact that Hydra, Captain America's foes from the first film set almost 70 years prior, is alive and well within S.H.I.E.L.D. and the man who helps uncover it is Cap, 70 years later. Hmm. It's lucky it wasn't Thor who found out about Hydra, he'd have had no idea what to do. That aside, I think it was an extremely brave move on Marvel's part to shake up the MCU by essentially obliterating S.H.I.E.L.D., especially since they concurrently have a TV series entitled 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' which deals exclusively with the inner workings of the organisation. Where they go on TV next will be interesting, especially since Agent Jasper Sitwell appeared in the last broadcast episode (1st April 2014) and then appeared in Cap 2, becoming a very important part of the plot. One last thing too: I think it was an EXTREMELY smart move to shift Black Widow from the now-defunct Iron Man series into this one, she added a new dimension that Captain America wouldn't have been able to achieve either on his own, nor I doubt with anyone else.

Overall, this was a surprisingly good film. This was the second Marvel film in a row where my expectations have been low and have been exceeded with ease. I need to have more faith in Kevin Feige. I wasn;t sure where they could go with the Cap character and to put him in a James Bond-esque film was probably the best move they could have made for him. I can't see how Cap 2 would have worked had it been just a bog standard superhero film, but this is definitely something more. It's not my favourite, but it is good, and it sets things up well for the biggest risk/experiment Marvel have made so far: Guardians of the Galaxy. A film which contains no pre-established characters and has no bearing on the Avengers (that we know of yet). It's a gamble, and my expectations are high, so let's see what happens in July. Also, why do people still leave before the very end of Marvel films? Half the audience left before the first post-credits, and there were only 5 of us for the second one! Stick around, damnit!

Rating: ****