Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Editor’s Note: Captain America: The Winter Soldier opens in wide release Friday, April 4th
Whether with a shot that has Robert Redford re-enacting All the President’s Men or a set design that calls to mind The Parallax View, the most exciting action onscreen in the new Captain America movie are the numerous little nods incoming directors Joe and Anthony Russo make to the conspiracy thrillers of yesteryear from which this sequel takes obvious inspiration. If the success of Marvel’s multi-million dollar gamble that began back with Iron Man secured Hollywood’s spandex future, The Winter Soldier has the studio striving to show that needn’t be a bad thing. “Sameness and variety,” wrote Barry Langford in his book Film Genre, “is the linchpin of the generic contract”; here is Marvel’s move toward asking us to renew.
…the most exciting action onscreen in the new Captain America movie are the numerous little nods incoming directors Joe and Anthony Russo make to the conspiracy thrillers of yesteryear from which this sequel takes obvious inspiration.
Most will be glad to: where the so-called Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe had the studio cementing the conventions of superhero cinema, the three films in The Avengers’ wake have strived to inveigle expectations with exciting new hybrids. The Winter Soldier is the best effort thereat, if not the best film for it: returning writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have succeeded wildly in playing to the audience the prior films built while proving that the genre needn’t repeat itself ad nauseam to do so. Evolution, though, is a departure of increments, and as much as the MCU’s ninth outing promises for the future, it’s an equal reminder of the problems of the past.
The brothers Russo—known primarily for their television direction and last seen in cinemas with You, Me and Dupree, of all things—have struck a balance so beguilingly precarious they’ve already earned the threequel’s directorial reins. But as much as they follow a long line of indie imports whose eclectic approach has kept the MCU fresh, they’re equally awkward in melding that sensibility with the inevitable demands of the blockbuster machine. The result is a movie that’s Marvel-lous in the best and worst ways, slyly subversive in its grounded comedy yet terribly tedious in its arbitrary action. And while espionage-indebted set pieces are enough to spice things up throughout, the inevitably catastrophic climax goes to show that Marvel aren’t entirely as daring as we’d all like them to be.
But as much as they follow a long line of indie imports whose eclectic approach has kept the MCU fresh, they’re equally awkward in melding that sensibility with the inevitable demands of the blockbuster machine.
Still, that’s an understandable issue from one of the Mouse House’s most valuable properties, and whatever element of artistry does infiltrate this paradigm of commercialism is something to be thankful for. Markus and McFeely’s jabs against militarism continue the Avengers-Iron Man Three thread of using these tales of heroism—however arguably hypocritically—to pose pertinent questions on American aggression. They fit the Captain perfectly, of course: his moral quandary here is a capable replacement for the first film’s romance, and a dilemma engaging enough to allow for the trust-no-one scenario on which the terrifically-paced plot reveals thrive. Chris Evans’ conflicted charisma exudes as ever; staffed with a supporting cast stronger than any other Marvel outing, he manages still to stand above.
Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson profit particularly from expanded roles and action sequences, as does Anthony Mackie as newcomer sidekick and comic mainstay Falcon. It’s in the gallery of villains that prevailing MCU setbacks make themselves most visible, making engaging mystery nought but the means to an end decidedly devoid of substantial stakes. There aren’t many of those, either, for the studio at large: for all its formulaic failings, The Winter Soldier is a foot in the right direction, a pleasing frisson of variety amid the servings of sameness. Its success, when it comes, will be to the benefit of the superhero genre: Marvel might be sticking still to the terms of that contract; if not quite enough yet, at least they’re willing to negotiate.
[notification type="star"]69/100 ~ OKAY. For all its formulaic failings, The Winter Soldier is a foot in the right direction, a pleasing frisson of variety amid the servings of sameness.[/notification]