Friday, April 18, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

It’s hard to not acknowledge and admire the colossal movie universe that Marvel is creating for itself. 15 years ago, superhero movies were mostly limited to ‘The big three’ (Spiderman, Batman and Superman), with a few obscure but interesting superhero films appearing every now and then to challenge the perception that the Western world has of these types of films.

Since then, we've definitely come a long way in terms of the superhero fantasy/action sub-genre, with these films becoming increasingly complex and interesting. Whilst superhero films like Watchmen and Chronicle take an extremely left-field and risky approach, others do a clever job of mixing mainstream appeal with strong characters and shockingly realistic storylines.

A new superhero film that you can add to the latter list is Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Marvel’s latest look at the Marvel superhero with the most direct ties to modern history and real world politics.
To be honest, I was worried about how Marvel would approach Military legend, Steve Rogers’ second standalone film, especially after the first film was such a pleasant departure from what we’re used to with actions films, thanks mainly to the interesting alternate reality, period setting it treated film goers to. With Captain America now facing the modern world on his own, what could Marvel do to keep the story fresh and interesting?

It was a challenging dilemma, but one treated masterfully by the film’s concept and story writer, Ed Brubaker. In Winter Soldier, Steve Roger’s finally has some time to try to adjust to modern society, doing his best to fit into a world where he is loved and adorned, but that he is noticeably detached from, to a debilitating degree.

"It was a challenging dilemma, but one treated masterfully by the film’s concept and story writer, Ed Brubaker."

The film starts slow, giving film goers some time to get to know the man behind the famous shield, focusing on his struggles with adapting to a very different world than he was born into. It’s a world in which he only has colleagues, with no real friendships to help him come to terms with the new world he is forced to adapt to. Sure, S.H.I.E.L.D agent Black Widow (still played by Scarlet Johansson) is eager to play cupid in an attempt to help Rogers fit in more with modern society, but unfortunately, there’s not much time for these type of hook-ups, as our heroes find themselves in the midst of a secret government plot that has the potential to bring a dystopian version of the world into fruition.

With Chris Evan’s character fleshed out a bit more, the film very quickly shifts into high gear with a series of events that suddenly places Captain America in a precarious situation where he can’t seem to trust anyone – a frightening prospect in the face of the fact that he is already disconnected from the world he lives in.

[Spoiler Alert – Next paragraph discusses an aspect of the film that gives away plot details]

At the centre of the forces antagonising Captain America is acclaimed Hollywood heavyweight, Robert Redford, in a role that he seems as if he was destined to play. To be honest, I’m not well versed in the works of Mr Redford, but after seeing him command his character in Winter Soldier to such an amazing extent, I have gained massive respect for this man. Redford imbues his character with a unique sense of composed calmness that is so frighteningly understated that it results in one of the best Marvel villains to ever grace the cinema screen. Whilst Redford’s character is a worthy mental adversary for Captain America, he does lack any physical prowess that could match that of the film’s hero.

[End of spoiler]

And that’s where the film’s other villain comes into the play, the infamous Winter Soldier, who allegedly, as noted in the film, played an integral role in most of the major assassinations of the last few decades. From his first appearance on the screen, Sebastian Stan’s character strikes pure fear into the hearts of his enemies, fully intending that each and every blow he lands will be a killing one. Director duo, Anthony and Joe Russo do a sterling job at giving the Winter Soldier a dreadful presence in the film, thanks mainly to action sequences that feel dangerously urgent and highly volatile. Our heroes always seem noticeably vulnerable in the film, leading to fight scenes that can actually leave you a bit distraught. The Russo duo accomplish this feat so well, that it grants the film with a unique suspenseful flavour that isn’t normally common in action films, but manages to give Captain America: The Winter Solder a unique atmosphere that makes it a truly memorable experience.

"... the Winter Soldier has a dreadful presence in the film, thanks mainly to action sequences that feel dangerously urgent and highly volatile."

If there’s one thing that should be clear it is that Captain America’s latest outing is deceptively deep and complex, much more so than the standard comic book adaptation we’re used to. It continues the new trend of rich and thought provoking superhero films and is probably one of the best examples of it recently. In a perfect world, I would love to have seen Captain America’s struggles with modern life be explored in more depth here, but except for that, there isn't much fault I can find with this one.

Highlight: An exhilarating encounter with the Winter Soldier later in the film will have you on the edge of yours seat.