Captain America is back for another adventure after the Avengers’ struggle in the Battle of New York. This time there’s bad eggs inside S.H.I.E.L.D and Rogers has to team up with Agent Romanoff to get to the bottom of it.
Quickly becoming Marvel’s man for the more seasoned fan, Captain America is a superhero franchise willing to add some careful thought to its unreserved carnage. Fittingly, having been preserved in ice for decades, the character is of advanced years himself, and appears here in a film that not only draws its inspiration from the golden hued conspiracy thrillers of the 1970s but even features one of their key components in Hollywood veteran Robert Redford. Yet despite an overload of exposition having the distinct stench of overcooked intricacy, Captain America can consider himself one of the “President’s Men” after another job well done.
The film takes place a couple of years after the events of The Avengers and the epic “Battle of New York” when the Captain aka Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) teamed up with Iron Man, Thor and the rest of the gang to battle megalomaniacal Asgardian Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Our hero appears to have no ill effects from the fight, content with his job helping espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D. and its director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in saving the world from its evil tormentors.
However, in a recent mission to rescue hostages from a shipping vessel apprehended by Georges Batroc, Captain America is more than a little miffed to find out ally Agent Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) had a secret mission to extract information from the ship’s computer. Troubled that he isn’t privy to the intelligence grab, things take a turn for the mysterious when Fury is assassinated. Luckily, Fury is able to deliver a flash drive to Rogers containing important information that could save S.H.I.E.L.D., while shedding light on a potentially lethal uprising within its own ranks.
With an abundance of fast-paced action, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is never going to turn away its core audience but it works best in its fleeting moments of investigative whodunit as Rogers and Romanoff, alongside newcomer USAF pararescueman Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), piece together the what, where, who and why. The “why” is clearly more important than the “who” as the Winter Soldier himself arrives to spoil the party. With his souped-up metallic arm and unwavering conviction, he’s more than a match for Captain America but unfortunately the character is far too underdeveloped to add nuance to the threat. There’s more interest in the overarching evil that comes in the form of an old enemy – one that Rogers knows better than anyone.
However, while the film’s endeavours to develop a more subtle menace in the form of unscrupulous individuals at the heart of S.H.I.E.L.D. are worthy of commendation, the Winter Soldier’s paper-thin characterisation (and an interesting but ultimately unrewarding subplot involving his past) hamper the film’s overall appeal.
Certainly, the emergence of Captain America’s new friend Sam Wilson – the flying Falcon – makes for some brilliant aerial action-adventure, while Romanoff and Rogers form a fearsome, super-powered double-act. For me, I would rather have seen more fish-out-of-water humour as Captain America comes to terms with his modern lifestyle instead of the schoolyard romantic matchmaking (which feels oddly out of place), but there’s chemistry of more than one kind between actors Johansson and Evans that’s nothing less than a delight to see.
You can be assured there is more to come from this franchise and while this effort is a worthy, at times exciting, addition to the modern Marvel canon, there is a feeling “more” might mean “better” in future. Indeed, Captain America’s story fails to move forward in this instalment (which is perhaps the film’s biggest flaw), so while it serves its purpose to titillate and tantalise, The Winter Soldier is content to leave us out in the cold until the next chapter.