As the latest superhero blockbuster pumped out by Marvel, one could be forgiven for dismissing Captain America: The Winter Soldier as effects-heavy, action-filled, character-lacking nonsense. It is pleasantly surprising then, to find a seemingly intelligent and, most importantly, relevant piece of cinema that is raised from ‘light’ to ‘fairly weighty’ entertainment by it’s overtly political premise, not to mention a few notable performances. Sadly, the film fails to fulfil its early potential, and its latter stages are as generic as they come.
The first Captain America film introduced Chris Evans (no, not that one) as the refreshingly straight-laced Steve Rogers. Transformed from a weedy no-hoper into a strapping superhero in a radical scientific experiment in 1940s New York, he eventually thwarts the ultra-evil Nazi science division, only to be locked in ice for 70 years and reawakened in the present day. Good defeated bad. Everything was very black and white.
Here, in what seems a startlingly bold move by Marvel, he is pitted against Shield itself, the not-so-secret secret agency that has become the tiresome preoccupation of Marvel. Shield’s main man, Samuel L. Jackson’s ever present Nick Fury, has spearheaded a project to spy on the entire world and Captain America is alienated for voicing his concern (‘This isn’t freedom. This is fear.’), teaming up with The Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson, to prevent such a violation of American liberty. With the recent prominence of Edward Snowden, whistleblowers and worries over mass surveillance by intelligence agencies, one cannot but admire Marvel’s audacity and apparent relevance.
There is something endearing about Evans’ understated portrayal of the protagonist. Captain America provides a comforting alternative to the swashbuckling enigmas that are most Marvel superheroes, and his emotional depth is enhanced as a result. His reservation provides moments of genuine humour, especially when juxtaposed with the fiery Johansson. There are other commendable performances; Samuel L. Jackson is typically stylish and Robert Redford is well-cast, if perhaps ironically, as the suspiciously determined government official with something to hide.
Unfortunately, the film’s subversive premise is lost halfway through, perhaps incompatible with the film’s principal motivation, and the final acts are typical, if entertaining, CGI set-pieces. Captivating though they may be, one cannot help but wonder what may have been had the plot’s political focus been maintained throughout. That said, this is a superhero movie and the amount of mind-blowing action is more than enough to satisfy the viewer – after all, what were you expecting? The showdown, an almighty battle in the skies above Washington, DC, is exceptionally impressive.
One wonders how long Marvel’s superhero franchise can continue on action alone though. With Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and its 136 minutes, there was a perfect opportunity to truly reach hitherto unplumbed depths. The film’s descent into typicality, particularly as a conclusion to the promisingly bold premise, leaves one weary with the realisation that there are four more of these money-spinning sequels already in the pipeline.