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Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Well as it turns out my superhero season was shelved for exactly two reviews! And now it's back!

I went to see this on its first day of release here in the UK but have held the review back a while until its US release was closer. And yet again it's another big massive rambling fanboy rave review. In fact it's not so much a review as it is a dissertation on the film and the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. The world of comic book and superheroe films is the only area of film where I feel I have as much knowledge, if not more, than just about anyone else on here. So I like to show it off!


Year of release

Directed by
Anthony Russo
Joe Russo

Written by
Christopher Markus
Stephen McFeely

Chris Evans
Scarlett Johansson
Anthony Mackie
Sebastian Shaw
Samuel L. Jackson
Robert Redford

Captain America: The Winter Soldier


Plot - Two years after the events of The Avengers, Steve Rogers (Evans) is living in Washington, DC and in the guise of Captain America he is the top agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., working alongside Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow (Johansson) under the leadership of Nick Fury (Jackson). The latest development in the world of SHIELD is Operation Insight, a new set of Hellicarriers linked by spy satellites that allows SHIELD to monitor the world like never before and the ability to eliminate those they deem a threat. The program is the baby of Alexander Pierece (Redford), the head of the agency. As it gets set to go operational however it sets in motion a series of events that put the lives of Captain America and his allies in danger, and leaves Steve not knowing who he can trust. To make matters even worse he finds his movements being stalked by a mysterious figure called The Winter Soldier (Shaw), an individual who seems able to match Cap physically step for step. In a lone bit of good news though he does find a new ally in Sam Wilson, a former soldier who utilised a piece of secret and advanced technology in warfare.

Cinematically, there is little worse than those occasions when your hopes and expectations for a film are sky high, only to have that particular film deliver a crushing blow of disappointment. They frequently make for the worst movie experiences, even if the film itself remains fairly decent. A recent and prime example for me would be Elysium. Now it certainly wasn't the worst film I saw last year (it would perhaps scrape a
) but because I had massive expectations for it (I thought it could be the film of the year) it was the most negative experience I had, worse than inferior films which I didn't have much hope for. As a result I try and do my best these days to keep my anticipation for films in check, not getting too carried away and setting myself up for a fall. When it comes to superhero films however that's a struggle for me. As the rampant fanboy I am, I frequently can't stop myself from getting excited by the appetising deluge of little tidbits, teasers and trailers that lead up to their release. The latest to spark this anticipation was Captain America: The Winter Soldier. So what a relief it is to find that this film is one of those that at least matches, and perhaps even surpasses my expectations. Captain America has a reputation as the dullest of the Avengers. In the comic book world however that has not been the case for a number of years now. During an 8-year stretch under the stewardship of Ed Brubaker the Captain America series and its Winter Soldier spin-off have delved Steve Rogers into darker and more intriguing territory. And that change in tone has been reflected here in The Winter Soldier. To put it simply, The Winter Soldier absolutely rocks!

One of my favourite things about the Marvel Cinematic Universe is how unique it attempts to make each of its individual entities. While they may all be superhero movies they each exist in their own little sub-genre. So far we've had the Iron Man films deliver a slice of sci-fi/action comedy; we've had all-out fantasy adventures in the form of the Thor films; we've had The Avengers bring us a team-up/men on a mission alien invasion flick; the first Captain America was a period adventure in a Indiana Jones, Saturday matinee vibe, while the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy looks set to be a pulpy piece of sci-fi. As for The Winter Soldier we are very much in the land of the 70s conspiracy thriller, in the world of espionage which means we're dealing in shady dealings and shady characters, conspiracies and cover-ups, cloak-and-dagger machinations and double crosses galore. It makes for Marvel's most complex and intriguing narrative so far, eschewing the usual escalating series of battles between the hero and his nemesis for a more interesting and layered story. As a result, stretches of the film are surprisingly talky and plot-heavy. The only problem though is that the conspiracy thriller is a climate we're so accustomed to that you'll be able to predict many of the twists and turns before they happen.

In a film of this nature to truly challenge a hero it's not enough to just give them an adversary who can challenge them physically, you have to make them question and doubt themselves and why they do what they do. So when it came to Iron Man 3 for example it wasn't just enough to throw the Mandarin at Tony Stark, you had to get in his mind. In the guise of Robert Downey Jr., Tony Stark just oozed self-belief and self-confidence/arrogance. In his third solo outing however Tony was racked by doubt, fear and insecurity following the events of The Avengers, resulting in a series of panic attacks and making him much more vulnerable. Well if you want to make Steve Rogers doubt himself and why he fights, then you go after his reason for fighting in the first place - America. When Captain America was created in the 40s the US really was seen as the world's beacon of hope and honour; it was the land of the free, and Captain America was the symbol of this. Since then however it has largely been a downward spiral in terms of how the world views America. And that really culminated in the 1970s, a decade that was besieged by assassinations, wars, political scandals, civil unrest and riots. And that's why adopting the façade of the 70s thriller is the perfect avenue to make Cap question the country he fights for today. And while the film may hark back to the conspiracy thrillers of the 1970s it is also rooted very much in our current climate thanks to its sharp and insightful script. Right from the film's opening montage of Cap running past several landmarks (Washington monument, Jefferson Memorial, National Mall etc) we instantly know we're in Washington right at the heart of American politics. I find it a rather funny instance that its a film starring Captain America; regarded as the quaint, flag-waving, jingoistic symbol of the United States, that proves to be without a doubt the most subversive superhero movie to date. There's an irony there that I don't think even Alanis Morissette could fail to recognise!

Film Trivia Snippets - To prepare for his role as the Winter Soldier, Sebastian Stan went through five months of physical training and historical research. In his own words he "dove into the whole Cold War history: I looked at the KGB. I looked at all kinds of spy movies, and all kinds of documentaries about that time, and what it was about. I grabbed anything from that time period and anything about brainwashing." Additionally, during filming he would walk around all day practicing his moves with a plastic knife because he wanted his movements to feel natural. /// In battling the Winter Soldier, Captain America needs all the resources he can get, including his iconic shield, which has a lot more uses in the film. The shield is traditionally used mostly as a defensive weapon, but in Captain America: The Winter Soldier the filmmakers wanted to explore using it more as an offensive weapon. There are two handles on the shield and Steve Rogers can hold onto the handles in order to utilize it in an eastern style of fighting. /// Unlike the other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, "The Winter Soldier" minimizes the use of visual effects as much as possible. Anthony Mackie, elaborated: "The Russos, what they did that was so great was, they wanted to stay with live action, which is a dying art form...If they could build it, they built it. If we could do it, we did it. They wanted to do as little CGI as possible. That's why the movie looks so great."
Ever since he was thawed out at the end of The First Avenger the catchphrase for the Captain America character has very much been that he's 'a man out of time.' So it's again pretty ironic that it's a film starring a man out of time that really is the superhero film of our times. The main issues at the heart of the film, and which make Cap question the system which he's fighting for are taken right out of today's headlines. He is extremely disturbed by S.H.I.E.L.D.'s plans for such intense surveillance and spying of the people, arguing about where the line is between making us feel safe and removing our sense of freedom. It's not hard to spot a connection to the NSA surveillance scandal that rocked the US government last year. While another issue that troubles Cap is that S.H.I.E.L.D.'s new defence system, Operation Insight, is able to target and kill people they deem to be a threat. This notion of execution without a trial very much plays into the controversial drone strikes that the American government now engages in. There's perhaps even an extra little touch that plays into the idea that Americans don't know the geography of the world, that they can't pinpoint countries on a map and that they see everyone as the same; this happens when a member of the World Security Council mistakes a French terrorist for an Algerian.

However the fact that the film has story and character is all well and good but that all accounts for nought if it doesn't deliver on the action front. This is a superhero movie after all! The Winter Soldier has no need to worry about that however because in action terms it also emerges as one of the strongest in the genre, perhaps the strongest. What I really loved about the action is how real and tough it comes across. It really sells the idea that Captain America isn't your normal superhero. He's not a mutant who was born with powers. He wasn't created by some science experiment gone wrong. He was created by the government for war; he's a weapon. And we really see that in this sequel. When he's in battle you really feel the power behind his blows. You can really feel his kicks and punches rattling bones and shifting internal organs around to locations they have no business being in. The fist-fights he engages in are brutal and hard-hitting affairs. I also love how he utilises his shield in this film, they've really stepped it up from The First Avenger. There's an awesome little moment that really shows the strength of the character and just put such a smile on my face. It's a scene where Cap is chasing the Winter Soldier through his apartment building. With his enhanced abilities he is racing through the halls at lightning speed. As he attempts to round a tight corner his momentum sends him crashing into the wall, leaving behind a huge, circular dent as a calling card.

It's not just the close combat scenes featuring Cap that impress and carry the load in terms of action. The film employs a whole variety of different styles and scenarios and nails pretty much every single one, delivering a series of thrilling sequences and moments. In addition to Cap's fighting, the hand-to-hand combat featuring Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow is extremely creative and wonderfully choreographed. You could argue that these hand-to-hand sequences actually reach their zenith right at the start of the film in an opening tactical assault they embark upon on a ship. And given the film's roots in the 70s thriller it should come as no surprise to find that a car chase features quite prominently in proceedings, and it really is quite a thrilling, fast-paced and bone-crunching sequence. For all these highlights however perhaps the most striking set-piece; the one that will get people talking, is an intense, large-scale gun battle that rages on the streets of Washington and for me at least evoked memories of the iconic shootout in Michael Mann's Heat. In fact between all the practical fighting and stunts The Winter Soldier made for a very welcome break from the CGI-fests that frequently populate cinemas these days; for the first three-quarters of the film at least. As it approaches its epic-scale conclusion the CGI does come back into play

Film Trivia Snippets - In one scene, Natasha Romanoff wears a necklace with an arrow on it. This is a reference to her teammate and occasional lover Hawkeye (the archer Clint Barton). /// For the several scenes that shared together Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson actually wrote their own dialogue. /// You may expect actors to be happy to avoid wearing spandex but Anthony Mackie was actually unhappy with the modern take on his costume as Falcon. He wanted the red spandex look from the comics. /// Robert Redford wanted to do the film because his grandchildren are fans of Marvel films and he wanted them to see him in one. /// For the role of Sharon Carter a series of young actresses were considered. Amongst them were Anna Kendrick, Felicity Jones, Imogen Poots, Teresa Palmer, Alison Brie, Emilia Clarke, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Elizabeth Olsen and Jessica Brown Findlay. While Emily VanCamp landed the role a couple of those who lost out landed consolation prizes still in the superhero world. Felicity Jones has landed the role of Felicia Hardy (aka The Black Cat) in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, while Elizabeth Olsen is going to portray the Scarlet Witch in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Now in his 3rd outing behind the iconic shield, Chris Evans really has settled into the role and made it his own. He really has proven to be a strong piece of casting in the role of Steve Rogers. Certainly for me at least he just evokes that all-American personality perfectly. To me he just perfectly fits that archetype of the blond-haired, blue-eyed star quarterback in a small American town. My favourite part of his performance as Steve is that he chooses to play the hero, not the superhero. At heart his performance is still very much that of the puny little weakling we encountered at the start of the first film. Alongside Cap we once again have the sexy presence that is Black Widow, portrayed by the beguiling Scarlett Johansson. I will admit that I'm not 100% sold on the approach they've taken with the character, I'd perhaps prefer her to be a bit more cold-hearted and dangerous. Given the approach they've gone with however I think that Johannson really is doing a great job in the role, with this film certainly giving her the most to do thus far. Her Widow is sexy, funny and a real livewire. And together she and Evans actually share a really nice chemistry. Some people may see it as a potential romance but I get much more of a sibling vibe from their relationship. Joining these two to further grow this little splinter group from the Avengers is the debuting Falcon, played by Anthony Mackie. I've got to say that I feel Falcon is one of the film's few weak points. And I do mean Falcon precisely, because I think that both Sam Wilson (Falcon's alter ego) and Anthony Mackie make for likeable additions. Mackie plays it with a really nice easygoing charm and right from their first meeting he and Evans strike up a nice chemistry that hints at a potentially entertaining buddy relationship in the offing. However The Falcon just didn't really click for me. His design is a little on the uninspired side and in general he just didn't feel 'right' for the film. In a film attempting to ground its story, at least as much as a film like this can, his inclusion just felt out of place. A much more high-concept, fantastical element that didn't fit comfortably with the rest.

I mentioned that The Winter Soldier gives Johansson's Black Widow her greatest exposure to date, and it's the same story for Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury. The character has now appeared in seven films in the MCU, frequently in a small capacity. As a result all we've gotten to know about him up until now is that he's tough and that he's cool. So basically all we know about him is that he's Samuel L. Jackson! While he was the man responsible for bringing the Avengers together, here however he is finally relevant to the plot of an individual film. And he seems to revel in finally being given such a chance. The last major draw in the film's cast is the addition of Robert Redford as the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., Alexander Pierce. As a man who has largely shunned blockbusters and mainstream crowdpleasers throughout his career, his involvement is a huge coup for Marvel. His presence brings a substantial weight, gravitas and respectability to proceedings, while his standing as one of the main icons of the 70s thriller genre allows the film to further play into that approach.

While Marvel has had several successes with its heroes; thanks in large part to its smart casting with the likes of Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo and Chris Evans, it hasn't fared quite as well with its villains. Tom Hiddleston's wonderful incarnation of Loki has certainly been the exception, with the character garnering a fanbase to almost rival that of the superheroes he does battle with. Many of the other supervillains have struggled to make anything near his level of impact in their respective outings, meaning that Loki is unrivalled as Marvel's no.1 villain in their big-screen rogues gallery. While that certainly doesn't change here, I do think that The Winter Soldier slots very comfortably into second position. He may not say a great deal throughout the entire film but he makes one hell of an impression both visually and as a physical threat to Cap. In fact throw in the character's relentless, seemingly unstoppable nature and you've got something akin to Marvel's version of The Terminator. Throughout the film you find yourself constantly wondering, “just how the hell are they meant to beat this guy?” Always a plus for a villain

Film Trivia Snippets - For the minor role of Batroc the Leaper, the filmmakers cast Georges St-Pierre, a former UFC Welterweight Champion who held the title from 2008 to 2013 when he vacated it. /// To try and avoid spoilers leaking out the film began production and filming under the working title of “Freezer Burn.” /// As is the norm now the film does feature a couple of easter egg credit sequences. The mid-credits scene is directed by Joss Whedon and helps to set-up his forthcoming Avengers sequel, Age of Ultron. /// At one point we see that Steve Rogers carries a notebook around with him that features a to-do list; stuff that he missed during his time on ice that he has been advised to catch up on. His list includes; I Love Lucy, Moon Landing, Berlin Wall (up and down), Steve Jobs (Apple), Disco, Thai food, Star Wars / Trek, Nirvana (Band) and Rocky (Rocky II?). Though it appears that this scene is set to be different depending on the region it is being screened in. Here in the UK the list featured The Beatles, Sean Connery, the TV show “Sherlock” and the 1966 World Cup. In Australia the list included AC/DC, Steve Irwin, Tim Tams and Skippy the Bush Kangaroo. While the Korean version apparently lists the footballer Park Ji Sung, Dance Dance Revolution and the film Oldboy.
One of the reasons Marvel has been on such a hot streak with the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been the studio's bold and often inspired choice of director for its properties, eschewing the obvious choices to frequently go for someone out of left-field. As the film that launched the MCU, Iron Man was a very important prospect for them. Instead of going for a director with extensive experience of the action genre however they plumped for Jon Favreau, up to that point known only for light-hearted family films like Elf and Zathura. That was a huge success. For Thor they went with Kenneth Branagh, a move which initially seemed fairly baffling. His vast experience in the world of Shakespeare however made him a smart choice for the grand, operatic world of Asgard. Then there was Joss Whedon and The Avengers. While his appointment may have been everything that geeks all over the world could have dreamt about (his experience of ensemble TV shows and known love for comic books making him the perfect choice) it was still a bit of a gutsy move on Marvel's part. Despite his Godly standing amongst geeks and all the critical acclaim his work had garnered, he's never exactly been a guarantee of success. “Buffy” and “Angel” may have been successful but after that it's been quite the struggle for Whedon. Despite outpourings of love for both shows, both “Firefly” and “Dollhouse” were cancelled very early on, while the movie that “Firefly” inspired, Serenity, was a complete box-office flop. And Serenity was his only previous movie credit so he had done nothing on this kind of scale before. So it was still a bit of a risk handing him the keys to their $220 million-budgeted baby. Well considering it became the 3rd most popular movie of all time at the box-office I'd say things worked out pretty well.

And now Marvel are at it again, with The Winter Soldier they've managed to pull another rabbit out of the hat with the appointments of Joe and Anthony Russo, perhaps their most risky choice yet. Their only previous film credits were Welcome to Collinwood and You, Me and Dupree; not exactly a CV that would naturally jump to the top of the pile. Their biggest success has arguably been their significant contribution to cult sitcom, “Community.” How exactly they ever entered the minds of those at Marvel is a puzzler, but it certainly paid of. I think they do a fantastic job here, capturing the tone and pace of all the required facets. I've already talked about the superb action scenes and the Russo brothers really do handle them very well. In addition to that however they also capture the suspense and intrigue of the film's thriller element, the little touches of humour as well as a couple of more touching and sombre moments. There's a really poignant moment featuring the return of Hayley Atwell's Peggy Carter that may bring a lump to the throat of many a comic book geek. It may actually be the film's gem as far as scenes go. Before the film had even been released Marvel was so pleased with their efforts that they contracted them for the next Captain America film already. On this evidence that appears to have been a very astute move.

I just love the whole concept of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it's already one of my favourite ever developments in the history of film. The way that all the films link together to create this much grander picture and world is just such a treat for comic book fans like myself. And yet again here we get a series of little connections to films both of the past and of the future, as well as the odd touch that will only mean something to fellow comic book geeks. I love it! And this film really does seem like it's going to be the most game-changing of them all. The whole world of the MCU is going to be affected and it will never be the same again.

And to finally cap of these fanboy ramblings just a couple of mini touches that I got a kick out of. Quite obviously as a result of the Russo brothers' involvement there is a cameo that should put a smile on the face of any fan of “Community.” There is a brilliant little Pulp Fiction in-joke in relation to Samuel L. Jackson. Oh and for all the great things in the film itself perhaps my absolute favourite thing in the whole movie are its exceptionally cool closing credits, a striking mix of bold colours and silhouettes that plays like a Marvel version of a Saul Bass creation.

Conclusion - Back when the first Captain America film was released in 2011 the prevailing viewpoint seemed to be that the film and the character himself wasn't particularly 'cool.' He was too corny and twee for many people who had become used to the nihilistic world of Christopher Nolan's Batman and the quick-witted arrogance of Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark. Well I think that may all be about to change with the release of this sequel. Its kick-ass action, cloak-and-dagger narrative and subversive streak should ensure that Cap walks away with a brand new level of street cred.

From the 'Generalize MoFos' film tastes' thread -
JayDee - Every superhero movie is a masterpiece
Huh.....maybe Cob had a point after all.