Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review

So I saw Captain America [2]: The Winter Soldier in the cinema the other day. I’ve been sceptical about comic book films ever since I watched The Green Lantern movie. Scraping the barrel there, guys. The news that Antman is going to made into a film does little to alleviate this scepticism. By the way, this isn’t to say that Lantern or Antman are bad comics, it just seems like film execs are desperate to make superhero comic movies (which are likely to be hits) and are now resorting to the more obscure comics for material, having exhausted the ubiquitous likes of batman, Superman and Spiderman. (Don’t even get me started on the unnecessariness of a Spiderman reboot so soon after the last one.) The people at Marvel Studios have combatted this lack of material by doing The Avengers as it enables them to make standalone films of each the characters, minus Hawkeye and Black Widow – though how long till one of them gets a spin-off (for better or for worse)? Aaaand they’ve got the Agents of Marvel TV series too. Honestly, they must turn up at Stan Lee’s house everyday with a dumptruck full of hundred dollar bills. The reason I’m sceptical is because doing this seems very money oriented. Obviously this is capitalism and they’re a company out to make a profit so that’s fair enough, but, with 2 films every year plus a TV series, this seems almost greedy. I guess my problem is that if the Avengers films are competent, they don’t even have to work hard on the standalone films (as long as there’s enough explosions) and people will still go and watch them a) because the superfans will watch anything they put out and b) because the normal fans will want to follow the story.

That said, Captain America was actually rather good. Obviously it wasn’t the most amazing film ever made, but it was a very capable action movie. I quite enjoyed the storyline as, to my surprise, it went to very interesting places. To be honest, I was just expecting to see Chris Evans hitting people, taking off his shirt for little to no reason, kissing attractive women and occasionally looking contemplative (to show that beneath the muscles, he’s a sensitive soul). Obviously all these features were there – it  is an action movie after all – but unlike some action films, this one had a good narrative beneath them.

Very, very short summary:
SPOILERS! (DON’T BOTHER READING THE REST OF THIS POST IF YOU DON’T WANT THE PLOT RUINED FOR YOU! Here‘s a really nice post about spring outfits. Read that instead.)
So basically, two years after the Battle of New York (when the Avengers fought all the alien robot things), Steve Rogers AKA Captain America still works for SHIELD which is the good-guy government agency that deals with freaky stuff like robot aliens and time-travelling supersoldiers and small unassuming scientists who turn into huge green monsters when they get ticked off. Long story short, it turns out that HYDRA (the even-more-evil-than-the-Nazis baddies from Captain America 1) has been working within SHIELD since its inception in the 40s. DUN DUN DUNNNN!  Over the years they’ve been agitating international conflicts and world disasters etc. in a bid to coerce humanity to surrender its freedom. They would have had a hand in, for example, 9/11 which led to Western people sacrificing some of their individual liberties (eg. stricter security measures on planes) in aid of the war on terror. There was a montage of stock footage of old conflicts they’d aggravated but I can’t remember many (I think the Cuban Missile Crisis was one). This theme obviously has implications for the current political landscape and is a clear rejection of measures that might turn America – or any other nation, for that matter – into a nanny state. SHIELD/HYDRA have made three huge airships that have the capability of shooting hundreds, if not thousands, of targeted missiles at a time, effectively neutralising any form of resistance. While the SHIELD side, such as cool as ice boss Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), do this in the name of defence from e.g. alien robots, the HYDRA contingent have formulated an algorithm that predicts who is likely to be a threat to them/their future plans and a la Minority Report allows them to incapacitate them (in this case meaning blow them up) before they perform the offending behaviour. Evil stuff, right? Anyway, good ol’ liberal Captain America was sceptical of the program from the start, even before the evil motives were made apparent, and dramatically storms out of a meeting with his boss Nick Fury over it. Ultimately, Nick comes round and along with Rogers, Black Widow (oh hey, Scarlett Johanssen), Maria Hill (AKA Robin from How I Met Your Mother) and some black guy with some insane robotic wings, they destroy the machines, securing liberty, but not necessarily peace, for us all. Deep.

Another contemporary political parallel that can be drawn is the way our heroes were hunted due to the information they knew and their subsequent whistleblowing. It brings to mind recent controversies involving Wikileaks and other such distribution of government secrets. The movie seems firmly in favour of exposing the authorities if what they’re doing is wrong, a position that many would probably agree with, though in the real world, the good/evil lines aren’t so easily distinguishable.

I quite enjoyed seeing Natascha (Black Widow) in the film. As per, she held her own with the dialogue and action; and with all the buff shirtless men, was probably one of  the least objectified characters, though, for some reason Samuel L. Jackson showed a lot less skin then her. Her presence did make me wonder where all the other Avengers were but as she, like Rogers, works full-time for SHIELD, it was not surprising to see her. (Hawkeye was missing though.) And anyway, she loves being in other people’s films. Am I right, Ironman 2? It made me laugh at one point when, on the run from SHIELD/HYDRA, Steve turns up at Black Flying Guy’s house with Natascha, claiming that he’s got nowhere else to go, despite the fact that they’re practically strangers and that millionaire Tony Stark (or anyone else on the team) must have at least one spare bed. To be fair though, Fury’s advice to Rogers to “trust nobody” could go some way to explaining their reluctance to contact their Avenger buddies.

I also liked seeing familiar faces in the movie, especially Revenge‘s Emily Van Camp. It was also great to see  some Revenge-esque action to her role, instead of the unremarkable love interest role that her and Steve’s hallway meet-cute implied. The Indian guy from Community (I’ve only ever seen one episode, I can’t remember his name) had a small but funny role too – I’m not sure if he’s famous enough for it to qualify as a cameo – and Ugly Betty’s Bradford Meade was a member of the World Security Council amongst other well known faces whose names don’t spring to mind at the moment.

Another thing I liked was the humour. Action movies like to shoehorn in poor wisecracks between the gunshots but this film actually did make me laugh a few times. Nick Fury’s car chase scene unexpectedly led to some good banter with his Siri-like onboard computer and I chuckled when Black Widow throws a man off a multi-storey building and proceeds to casually chat to Rogers about girls he might like to date.

One thing I didn’t enjoy [SPOILER] was Nick Fury’s fake death. Not too long into the movie he is ‘killed’ but later on we see that (hallelujah!) he’s alive! The same thing happened to Agent Coulson who died in the Avengers film but was able to prise death’s cold, clammy hands off his neck to star in the Agents of SHIELD TV series. I saw the first episode and was very unsatisfied with his response when someone was understandably confused about why the heck he wasn’t dead, which was little more than “Soz I was just fakin lol”. Fury’s explanation was similar, but at least he gave a better reason and his resurrection didn’t seem as tacked on as Coulson’s. Nonetheless I’m still unhappy about this for five reasons:
a) You can’t just kill people and bring then back to life willy-nilly.
b) I don’t appreciate having my emotions toyed with. I appreciate that they like to give us suspense and all that but once is enough. Granted, as I’m not too big a fan, I had little emotional connection to either character (the first time I’d seen/heard of them either was in the first Avengers film) but it’s the principle.
c) Their insistence on killing beloved supporting characters implies an almost lazy reliance on formula to create emotional response.
d) Now it’s harder to take them seriously when a character really does die.
e) And in order to combat this, I have a feeling they’ll have to get rid of someone else, so that we begin to fear death and never again take the mercy of the writer-gods for granted. I don’t want this to happen. No one had better lay a finger on my Maria Hill. Understood? Ok, good.

Another issue I had with the film was birdyboy. I’m sure it was explained somewhere, but no one batted an eyelid when he casually whipped out his mechanical wings. Like what the fudge?!! Where did THIS guy come from? And even if they did pay lip-service to it at some point in the film, neither Steve nor Natascha seemed the slightest bit impressed or surprised at the elaborate set of wings the first time he got them out. I mean, come ON, it’s a mechanical marvel at the very least. See what I did there? “Marvel”. Oh, come on, that’s funny.

[SPOILERS] I think it’s interesting that by the end of the film, SHIELD has been dissolved. In films organisations like this are never shut down. If there’s a mole or a bad leader or whatever, the evil faction will be removed and replaced. The life  of the agency is never in question, the malfunctioning elements are just changed. As such, I think it’s a really exciting and unexpected way for the story to go, especially after all the time that the previous films and TV series have spent establishing SHIELD as a force for good. I’m quite interested to see how the next Avengers film is going to pan out in relation to this.

Maybe a little controversh, but I think Natascha likes Steve…. and/or vice-versa. Yeah, she kept suggesting girls he should date, but if you ask me, that’s a textbook, if juvenile, sign that she’s got a soft spot for o Captain, my Captain. I may be wrong here. If you know me at all, you’ll know that I’m obviously reading the wrong textbook when it comes to my love life so my eye might be a bit off. I think the fact that that she kept at it throughout the movie gives her away. She constantly pointed out girls he should ask out, instead of pointing to herself like she really wanted to. (I’ve been there, sister.) Also, they kissed. I don’t care how vital it was to their survival. A kiss is a kiss. And Hollywood doesn’t waste kisses. Something’s going to go down. And plus, at the end she voluntarily gave him a kiss on the cheek. It was just a little peck, but you know what they say: pecking leads to necking. Ok, no one says that. But in this case maybe they should. I suppose I could find out for certain by researching the Avengers comic books, but I don’t care even close to enough. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Finally, the closing scene featured a snazzy montage – I LOVE montages!! – of what happened immediately afterwards. I’m particularly interested to see what happens to Maria Hill, now working for Stark Industries and Emily Van Camp’s character, now working for the CIA.

All in all, the film was a lot better than it needed to be. It would have perhaps been unsurprising if the film was little more than an insular, isolated punch-em-up that had little bearing on the rest of the series (more like the first film?) but this film went a different way. What a soldier.


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