Monday, 14 April 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Poor Captain America. The superhero just got thawed out of an ice block. Yet before he’s had time for enough fish out of water shenanigans to fuel an SNL special, he’s had to fight off an alien invasion and now a global espionage conspiracy that may have compromised or even subverted SHIELD, his new employer.

While most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe consists of films in the superhero genre, Thor and Captain America play as twists on other genre films. While “The first avenger” was a patriotic 1940s war actioner with a superhero protagonist, its sequel is a paranoid 1970s spy thriller with the same superhero protagonist. The twist though, smacks of genius. As the Russo brothers see it, the paranoid spy thriller where you can’t trust even your own spy agency, handlers, and government isn’t a holdover from the 1970s but a logical choice of genre in a post 9-11 world where the extraordinary counter-terrorist measures of Homeland Security, NSA, TSA and the government seem to strike more terror and limit more freedom than actual terrorists.

So instead of a fish out of water comedy where fuddy duddy Steve Rogers struggles with modern pop culture, The winter soldier is a thriller where freedom-loving Steve Rogers struggles with the realities of the modern security state and the apparatuses that sustain its existence. This part of the film is its best thought-out and executed.

As an action film, Captain America is an ensemble affair with the captain providing strategic and moral leadership (and hitting the heavy punches), Scarlet Johansson’s Black Widow performing espionage duties, and Sebastian Stan’s “Falcon” filling in the role of tactical support. This part of the film is competently made and entertaining, providing structure to action setpieces.

The film is at its weakest when it functions as a vehicle to introduce the character of the Winter Soldier in an already-crowded film. The writers recycle the Hawkeye solution from the 2012 Avengers movie (yes, Bucky returns as a brainwashed heavy for the bad guys!) to diminishing returns: heavyhanded and disjointed scenes of Steve Rogers haunted by memories of a former comrade who may now be his greatest enemy bring an unintended bromance factor to the proceedings that is jarring and leads to no discernable payoff.

On the whole, The Winter Soldier is still one of the better, more imaginative, and original films of the MCU.

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