Sunday, 6 April 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier



Captain America (Chris Evans) returns in his second solo outing to sniff out the rotten core at the heart of S.H.I.E.L.D. When an attempt is made on the life of a senior S.H.I.E.L.D executive, Captain Steve Rodgers finds himself on the outside of a conspiracy and on the run. With the help of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and newcomer to the series, Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Cap’ must hunt down those who have sworn to protect and comes across a figure from his past in the process.

When the first Captain America movie came out in 2011, I expected it to be the Marvel film that I’d enjoy most. I’m a lover of history and am fascinated by the 1940s, especially the Second World War. It was surprising then that I enjoyed it far less than any other of the Marvel films to that date. I’m glad to say that Winter Soldier is an improvement on the original but still lags some way behind the likes of Thor and Iron Man for me.

I’ll start with what I enjoyed about the movie as that will take less time. I think that the themes are strong and well realised. By turning S.H.I.E.L.D, or at least elements of it, into the bad guys, the film holds a mirror up to the intelligence community. After years of reports about NSA bugs, CIA phone tapping and MI5 interference, the writers pick up a strong idea and run with it. By putting those who are meant to protect us under the spotlight, we get a glimpse into a shady and easily corruptible world. The positioning of S.H.I.E.L.D’s headquarters, high above the Washington skyline, is also a strong visual metaphor. The movie asks us, who is really in charge? What are their powers and if they’re watching us, who’s watching them?

Alongside the central themes and thrust of the narrative, there is a likeable ‘buddy cop’ style partnership that emerges between Captain America and Black Widow. There’s a layer of sexual tension which is occasionally masked by her frequent ideas about possible girlfriends for him but it bubbles to the surface at times. Coupled with this is their frequent bickering and light hearted arguing. It’s fun to watch but like the movie as a whole, it’s rarely laugh out loud funny. A welcome addition to the franchise is Anthony Mackie’s Falcon. Opening the film as a simple ex-serviceman attempting to make his way in the world, his character development is interesting and entertaining.

Perhaps it’s because my eyes are tuned towards the films of the 1940s and 50s but I found the editing in the action sequences almost unbearable. It was so fast that I had no idea what was going on and it rendered each scene pointless. I witnessed a series of blurred movements and strong exhales alongside a pounding score which jolts along at about 200 bmp. The fact that one is aware that all the major players are signed on to multiple movie deals also makes you acutely aware that nothing bad will happen to any of the leads. The film attempts to throw in a dramatic curve ball but I was always expecting a 180 degree ‘surprise’ which inevitably comes around. The titular Winter Soldier character is somewhat underused and under developed. I was able to guess his identity within the opening half an hour and I don’t believe the film is as clever as it thinks it is with regards to hiding it. Despite the back story, I never felt as though I knew who he was but thankfully he isn’t the sole menace.

For much of the film I was bored. At 136 minutes, it’s far too long and at one stage I found myself thinking about geometry. I came to the conclusion that Captain America is the most adept superhero when it comes to the mathematical discipline as he is so good at calculating angles to throw his shield. The fact that I was discussing this with myself inside my head tells you two things; one I might be having mental problems and two, I was bored.

As we’ve come to expect from Marvel Studios, the computer generated effects are mostly excellent and only wobble slightly in the very opening sequence. For the most part they’re stunning. The film is set almost entirely in Washington, D.C. and this works well not only with the political themes but also visually. A well executed car chase is given an impressive and familiar backdrop while scenes shot from the air and often quite beautiful. As I’ve touched on briefly, the score didn’t do much for me but worked to keep the pulse racing throughout the dull fight sequences. Like most Marvel films, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is at its strongest when it’s thinking. There are some interesting ideas packaged inside a predictable story but the cast gel well and produce some decent performances. It’s too long and the action has been seen a hundred times before but overall it’s an improvement on The First Avenger.

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