I am going to start by saying that I cannot promise I won’t spoil something. I am going to try as hard as humanly possible to not spoil the film though. A fair amount has been shown in trailers already so anything to do with that is fair game as far as I’m concerned, but man… they’ve really made it hard to not mention all the cool stuff that happens in this film. This is… and I’m asking you to brace for hyperbole here… the exact Captain America film my nerd brain has been wanting to see for years. It may be the best film in the Marvel cinematic universe. I can’t decide for sure right now. Click the link below and I’ll try to explain… hopefully without spoiling too much, just why The Winter Soldier is such an excellent comic book movie.
Marvel and directing duo Anthony and Joe Russo have made a lot of noise concerning the tone of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. They’ve been pitching it as a political thriller in the style of The Parallax View and Marathon Man. Except with super powers, of course. Whilst I wouldn’t go as far as to say that this film features as much political intrigue and tension as those and other such thrillers have, you can see where the Russos are coming from. The story revolves around secret organisation SHIELD potentially being compromised, which soon turns into a manhunt carried out by SHIELD agents to capture and kill Captain America (Chris Evans) for apparently betraying his country. He enlists the help of Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) to find out the truth and expose those responsible for corrupting the work of SHIELD, and for the evil that they are on the way to committing. This plot is made all the more complex when an incredibly skilled assassin with a bionic arm shows up that is known only as The Winter Soldier. I won’t say what the villainous plot is but it is nicely tied into a brief message to the viewers asking if you really know what is going on with all that data you chuck on the internet. I have a semi-paranoid friend of mine that won’t put anything of himself on the internet. He will lap this up.
So whilst the film does feature much intrigue and sinister plots being concocted in the shadows the film does not forget that it is actually about a super powered man beating up evil for truth, justice, freedom and other American things. Captain Britain fights for apathy, disappointment and politeness you know. The depiction of Cap’s powers really are handled better than they were in his first outing and in Avengers. In those films the majority of his actual superhuman feats came from leaping over large gaps and running quite fast. Well, I suppose surviving in a block of ice for 70 years was pretty superhuman too… but that was more of a happy accident. In the second scene of the film (I’ll discuss the first in a minute) we see Cap doing what he does. Running around taking out bad guys in stupidly efficient fashion. And then he kicks a guy in the chest and the poor bloke goes flying over the edge of the boat their on. Cap runs past a guy an casually barges him right over the edge of the boat like the guy weighed all of 40lbs. Later he survives an at least 30 floor fall onto marble floor. He runs right through doors. He bounces his shield off multiple people to hit a single target and manages to move to exactly the position the shield comes back to him at. This is exactly how his powers should be presented. There was a few hints of this in The First Avenger but most of the time his strength and fighting ability has be pretty much only just beyond human. This is much more in keeping with his comic book counterpart and I loved it.
Now about that first scene. It’s really good. Not remarkable… but it reminded me how few films, especially action films, will dare start with a scene of dialogue. Now, when you make a sequel you need to find a way of getting people up to speed as quickly as possible. You cannot assume that everyone has seen the previous film so brevity of exposition becomes vital. In the first scene we see Sam out on a morning jog around the Washington Monument when a man comes running past him at 4 times the speed. As he goes past he says “on your left” as a courtesy… and gradually as a mocking remark as he passes Sam over and over. They stop to talk, Sam introduces himself to Steve Rogers/Captain America. Sam has figured out who he was already. Sam asks about being unfrozen and adjusting to the world. He suggests as Marvin Gaye album to listen to which Steve adds to a list of things to catch up on. Rogers gets a message on his phone which has a suitably spy like display and Natasha pulls up in a car asking if anyone’s seen a fossil, referring to Steve and he laughs. The following scene is the boat assault.
This scene is so well written it kinda makes a mockery of how poor the average action film is scribed. In around 1 minute we have learned that Steve is faster tan the average human. Sam and Steve discuss being in the military, informing us of Steve’s military background. Sam knows who Steve is right away which informs the viewer that Steve is famous. The discussion of being frozen and the list of research over the last 70 years of pop culture inform us that there’s been a gap in his life. The phone informs us of his secret agent status. Just the fact that they’re running around Washington DC immediately conjures up images of American patriotism. The appearance of Scarlett Johansson informs us of how hot she is… a vital part of understanding everything.. maybe. There’s a number of scenes later in the film that manage to provide a similar amount of character information through just dialogue and small actions. This is what screenwriting is all about.
It seems bizarre to be praising any film for getting these basic tenants right, but then I’ll see a film like Star Trek Into Darkness and every other scene is full of terrible characterisation and illogical plot points. I’ll see films that plain get sidetracked from it’s goal in order to provide lengthy action set pieces that go nowhere. I see films that seem to value making characters look cool over making them be characters we can care about as humans. I’ll watch Man of Steel and wonder why they feel the need to explain one plot point 3 times, or why Pa Kent had to be killed by a giant tornado. How about this for shocking? Captain America 2 manages to get through its entire 136 minutes without once depicting Cap as a Jesus Christ allegory. Seriously, think about the amount of Christ poses you’ve seen superheroes in recently. It’s lazy and tired and usually completely pointless. Nothing in The Winter Soldier is lazy, tired or pointless. Every single scene flows to the next brilliantly. Even when they fake you out at one point with the direction of the next scene they justify it with a moment of surprise. You realise the scene you think you may have missed wasn’t needed because they told you to expect something unexpected in the previous scene. This is easily, bar none, the best written Marvel Cinematic Universe film.
Direction wise the Russos have managed to surprise the hell out of me. These guys have never made a film like this, they’re mostly known for You, Me and Dupree for God’s sake. They’ve directed a lot of Community and Arrested Development between them too but never a huge budget action blockbuster. They seriously knocked it out the park for the most part. There’s a few fight sequences where I felt like taming the camera down would have helped a lot. But I’m heavily against pointless shaky cam, as I’ve ranted about many times before. There’s an odd shot in the middle of a car chase where the camera is, I assume, meant to be pointed at the ground with the two vehicles either side of the image, showing their proximity and the speed they’re travelling. Barely any of either car is in shot and it’s pretty much all blur. No idea why that one shot stood out to me. Generally though, everything else is shot very well. There’s a really nice shot near the end that I won’t spoil that reminds me of the sort of contemplative shots you don’t expect from these films. I look forward to seeing what they do next… provided it’s not a sequel to You, Me and Dupree.
There’s a lot more I’d like to discuss with this film but I mustn’t. I want you all to go in and be surprised by all the small little things that happen or are mentioned along the way. They really have done a good job of hiding a number of moments and plot points from being shown in trailers and I feel like that has helped me enjoy this more. Amazing Spider-man 2 and a new X-Men film are on the horizon and I feel like I’ve seen way too much of them already. Especially in the case of Spider-man. As far as this film goes it’s a triumph. Effects work is fine, performances are as solid as you’d expect, with Anthony Mackie being a character I really want to see more. Put him in Avengers 2, hell give Falcon his own film. So glad he’s been depicted as a human being and not a cliché. The score is at it’s best when it’s merely mood pieces, the more heroic pieces being largely forgettable. Overall though, there really isn’t much to dislike. I may do a very spoilery post about the film on Sunday for the Weekend Dump, so be aware of that potentially happening. I just wanna talk about the stuff and the people and the references! Go see this now for fucking Christ’s fucking sake!