Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Two years after the events of The Avengers, Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) currently resides in Washington. However, after S.H.I.E.L.D becomes compromised and many members turn against him, he soon finds himself on the run, accompanied by Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). Soon, they uncover a powerful conspiracy that threatens to overpower not only S.H.I.E.L.D, but even the entire world.

Let's just face it, Captain America is probably the least interesting of all the Avengers we've seen so far in Marvel's cinematic universe. This, unfortunately, hinders this film from becoming anything truly exciting. Following on from The Avengers was no easy feat, but Marvel pulled it out of the bag with Iron Man 3, and kept up the high standard. Thor: The Dark World benefited from the brilliant chemistry between Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston, and also managed to keep the bar raised for the modern superhero film. So what a shame it is, now, that Marvel have dropped the ball with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It's great fun, and it's bound to please die hard fans of the series, and the original comics for that matter, but when viewed as a film in its own right, The Winter Soldier is annoyingly cold.

It doesn't help that Chris Evans is far from a good actor. He's supported by a great cast, Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson never disappoint, but Evans simply cannot match their standard. For the most part, he stands around looking mildly disgruntled. Not once does he give you the impression he even remotely cares about what's going on around him. It would help, too, if he was given a script with the emotional depth to match Marvel's other recent efforts. This is the first time a script from Marvel has felt flat and generally lifeless; there isn't any real emotion here, bar one scene towards the end, where Evans finally has a chance to show off some true power, and he fluffs it. What should be a powerful climax to this film has about the emotional availability of a fence.

But, where this film truly faults, is its lack of originality. Marvel have been consistently good at surprising us, and in the past they've shown a real flare for interesting set pieces. Iron Man 3's Air Force One explosion was exhilarating, and even Thor 2 had Thor and Malekith's fight through multiple dimensions. However, The Winter Soldier doesn't give us anything of interest. The most compelling set piece we're given is a massive carrier ship, which is exactly the same as that scene from The Avengers, just not any where near as exciting. This is the problem now. We've seen it all before. Nothing here is neither new nor interesting, and this is the first Marvel film to feel this way. None of their twists work any more either, everything is numbingly predictable now. The entire final act could have been predicted by a five year old, which, again, is not something that could have been said about some of Marvel's earlier work.

But, in all credit, what The Winter Soldier does have is an unbeatable sense of fun. Johansson's Black Widow is always a reliable source for some good one liners and her personality shines through here more than ever. It's about time she gets her own film, right? But, I was surprised by the bold move to cut down on CGI for the first half of the film. For the first 90 minutes, most of the action sequences are reduced to smartly choreographed fist fights and car chases; a huge step down from some previous Marvel films, and perhaps even a step in the right direction. Originally, The Winter Soldier is more espionage than superhero, and this was a clever move. But, by the time we reach our grand finale, they throw this away and send us back onto the carrier ships for an abundance of CGI and explosions. This film's opening moments, in which Captain America and Black Widow board and raid a cargo ship, is potentially the film's best scene. It was nice to see Marvel tone it down for a bit, even if just for 90 minutes.

On the whole, this is Marvel's weakest film since Iron Man 2. My main problem with Marvel right now is that they want all of their films to match the energy and level of The Avengers, and none of them will. The original Captain America and Thor films were relatively small scale compared to what we're seeing now, and I sort of hope Marvel head back in this direction for whatever films follow 2015's Age of Ultron. By scaling up characters that don't have the charisma to sustain it, we lose sense of their personalities amidst the over the top action. Since Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Trilogy came to its end back in 2012, Marvel have owned the playing field in terms of the Superhero film. They have set the bar incredibly high, and not many films from other studios have managed to live up to it. Unfortunately, if they aim to keep the mark this high, they need to be able to retain the quality of each film they themselves produce. The Winter Soldier is, regrettably, a big step backwards.

To summarise: It's undeniably entertaining, but Captain America: The Winter Soldier's predictable formula and general lack of new ideas prevent it from standing out against other superior Marvel efforts.

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