The latest Marvel film elevates the franchise to new heights, creating an authentic comic book experience on screen that defies convention. It just might also be the best Marvel film to date.
NB: This review originally appeared at our sister site, Behind the Panels.
Over the course of the last six years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe hasn’t simply adapted comic stories, but instead it has woven together an entire continuity on screen. In doing so, it has happily flipped the notion of “comic book movies” on its head, with each of the nine films to date putting a spin on a diverse range of genres. Indeed, Captain America: The First Avenger was one of the more unlikely successes, an unabashedly Golden Age throwback with a period setting that nevertheless set the stage for the majesty of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers. So with its first direct sequel, Captain America: The Winter Soldier thrusts the Marvel films into the world of spy thrillers, and neatly sets up audiences for the forthcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Sticking fairly closely to Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s seminal Captain America arc “The Winter Soldier”, the film picks up a few years after the Battle of New York, with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) still struggling to adapt to the 21st century. However, when Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) runs into trouble within his own S.H.I.E.L.D. organisation, Captain America must team up with Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and new ally Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) to uncover not only a nefarious plot, but fend off a legendary threat known as The Winter Soldier.
There is a moment shortly after the titular Cap jumps from a jet onto a ship filled with henchmen, that it will dawn on faithful audiences that this is no longer simply a film series: it’s a home for heroes. For comic book fans and franchise followers alike, Captain America: The Winter Soldier slips into the comfort centres of our brains as easily its hero cuts through bad guys. Emboldened by Marvel’s string of successes, Arrested Development and Community directors Joe and Anthony Russo don’t hold back on the action, filling every inch of the screen with images that could of leaped straight out of artist Steve Epting’s (or any Marvel artist for that matter) pen. Happily categorising itself as Avengers 1.5, this sequel successfully continues the pattern of escalation since the end of Phase One, and manages to deliver something even bigger without a single armoured suit or space battle present. There’s martial arts, car chases, aerial pursuits and inventive explosions – and that’s just the first act.
Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s script builds upon the characterisations of Captain America: The First Avenger, transplanting that same scrawny kid who didn’t like bullies into a more technologically advanced age. The dynamic is a fascinating one, with the script quite boldly playing with the headline ripping notion of the powers-that-be taking liberties with our liberties. Captain America: The Winter Soldier directly addresses the idea of what powerful organisations do with their influence during times of great fear, not just in the wider plot but within the interpersonal relationships as well. The casting of Robert Redford as S.H.I.E.LD. head honcho and World Security Council member Alexander Pierce is a masterstroke, harking back to his own 1970s thrillers, but providing a terrific counterpoint to Samuel L. Jackson’s badass Nick Fury for this very struggle.
In fact, all the characters are beefed up and expanded upon in this entry, and not just Cap himself. While he continues to find his place in a brave new world, viewers are treated to their first proper outing of the character in his modern incarnation, with Evans owning every inch of his multi-costumed hero. The repartee between Rogers and Romanoff softens the Black Widow character, when she isn’t kicking ass of course, and should prove to audiences and studio execs that a Black Widow solo project could easily hold its own. Long-time Captain America comic partner Falcon makes a welcome debut, and flies aboard this growing crew as though he has always been there.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the best Marvel film so far, combining spectacularly staged action pieces with a universe expanding plot that should keep audiences on the very edge of their seats for the duration of the film. As always, stick around for no less than two post-credits clips, teasing things to come in both Age of Ultron and the recently announced Captain America 3. If it doesn’t get your pulse racing, you might already be dead. This is perfect geek cinema, elevating action to an art form. ‘Nuff said.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is released in Australia on 3 April 2014 and in the US on 4 April 2014 from Disney.