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Review – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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There are some things that you can expect from a Marvel Studios movie – huge glossy action pieces with bone-crunching fight scenes, a packed story that stays relatively true to Marvel lore and the odd wise-crack to ease the tension… Oh and a two-and-a-half hour running time as a bare minimum.

Captain America: the Winter Soldier delivers on all counts. AND I enjoyed it. As the Marvel cinematic universe grows and splinters, it’a good to see that plot is still given primary focus. Winter Soldier has an interesting and surprising narrative, interweaving content from the previous Captain America film and building on the momentum created by Avengers Assemble.

I also researched The Winter Soldier Invasion and genned up on the intermingling Marvel relationships and concluded that there is an awful lot going on in this movie, and plenty will have passed me by.

Plot

In brief, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is working for S.H.I.E.L.D, primarily for Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson). He doesn’t have a girlfriend but does hang around with Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) completing various black ops stuff. He spends his down time exercising with ex-military pilot Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), who has his own issues. One day Fury makes an unknown enemy furious (natch) and a new assassin comes to the fore – the eponymous Winter Soldier. Fury, Black Widow and Captain America are caught in a trap, with the very purpose of S.H.I.E.L.D being called into question. Cue: set pieces, chase scenes and general carnage.

Cast

The pairing of Captain America and Black Widow works wonderfully – Natasha Romanoff often feels like the token female – even if she does kick arse without ANY super powers – but here  directors Anthony & Joe Russo (and rumoured co-director Joss Whedon) are well aware of avoiding a backlash. Black Widow is imperative to the action. Good.

Johansson is having a bumper year – with stellar performances elsewhere, she desperately tries to imbue Romanoff with some much-needed personality, although charisma is not the favoured quirk of a trained assassin. It’s a shame that when she’s not arse-kicking she is chewing bubble gum words – attempting to find Rogers a girlfriend, a development incongruous to the rest of the plot.

Try as Marvel Studios might (Thor and Dr Foster, Tony Stark and Pepper Potts) I don’t think love makes the S.H.I.E.L.D world go round, so why shoe-horn it in?

Love lives aside, this has been Samuel L Jackson’s best outing in years. Nick Fury – in the film world at least – is shrouded in mystery, without clear loyalties and with a tenuous grasp on right and wrong. Jackson seems to have been asked to play a PG-rated  Jules Winnfield with an eye-patch. Snappy one-liners with an attitude are his forte, so to see him run around heroically was a nice change of pace.

I feel sorry for Chris Evans – he does nothing wrong. Perfectly cast, perfect to look at and perfectly capable of providing a 40’s sensibility and moral code. Perfectly boring.

Having Mackie on board (who wouldn’t want to be a flying Falcon?) is a nice humanising aspect, and at the recent UK press conference he did not deny signing up for a 9-picture Marvel Studio deal. Nine!! Finally,  Sebastian Stan is incredible, but to wax lyrical more on his role would be ruining the fun for viewers.

The cameos are particularly good in Winter Soldier – watch out for them closely, and Frank Grillo as the nasty Crossbones is always good fun.

Flair and flaws

GRANDMA ALERT! Why Marvel must ensure that every fight sequence makes my eyes and ears bleed is beyond me. I think viewers are more than aware of the damage that Captain America’s shield can do, without that constant ‘PING!!’. Yes the mixed martial arts action is well-choreographed, but after a while, it’s boring. Most of the six fight scenes could have been shaved by minutes. This was an indulgence. That being said, I love the female stunts!

What most intrigued me was the relative realism of Winter Soldier. It’s tiring to see a superhero film where the main action occurs in a large city centre with bystanders as acceptable fallout in a ‘save the world’ battle. Here characters actually get hurt. While it’s no Platoon, keeping an element of believability in this genre is to be commended, especially given that Marvel can’t keep this up for Guardians of the Galaxy.

All in all, it’s a highly enjoyable ride that is wittier than the trailer suggests. Give Captain America: the Winter Soldier a crack and you’ll soon find yourself utterly drawn in.

 

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