Oscar Nominee: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Dirs: Anthony & Joe Russo
Academy Award Nomination: Visual Effects.
Buck & Rogers in the 21st Century!
Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is trying to find his place in the modern world, keeping himself busy by working for S.H.I.E.L.D. However, when Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) shows him that the organization has been developing a global policing system, and is then attacked, Captain America has to step up again to protect the world even if it means opposing the people he works for. Doing so he must join with new allies Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie), while unexpectedly facing up to things he thought were left in the past.
My brother said he found this boring. I have to disagree, I think this is Marvel’s Cinematic Universe really beginning to find its stride! I know I’m a far bigger superhero film fan than my brother, but still, I don’t see any way that this film can be regarded as boring, though he still hasn’t seen the first Captain America film which may go someway to explaining his interesting view. This film has so much top quality action, a number of key characters previously seen and unseen, and some brilliant plot points and twists that pave the way for huge future developments.
Directed by the Russo brothers who are responsible for the fantastic show ‘Community’, they take the framework of a spy conspiracy thriller to build the film around. This suits the story very well, and allows core characters to really bond as they can’t trust anyone else. Rogers has an instant and convincing rapport with Falcon established right at the very beginning and has clearly developed a close working friendship with Black Widow. We’ve been given all this within first 10 mins, as well as introducing us to S.T.R.I.K.E. team leader Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo taking on a key figure for anyone familiar with the comics), and sowing seeds of something going on that sets things in motion for this film and beyond.
There are roles for many key characters but they are nicely balanced with each other. It’s great to see a more substantial part for Scarlet Johansson as it seems unlikely that Black Widow will be getting her own film anytime soon, but with her skill-set teaming up like this is ideal for the character. Matching her non-superhuman abilities as a companion to one of the more advanced heroes seems to make for a great pairing, and from her experience she gives Steve Rogers some useful new skills. Anthony Mackie’s part as Sam Wilson a.k.a. Falcon is also used to good effect, acting as a new friend for Rogers as all of his are long dead. With his suit Falcon is an effective sidekick, and in the film also acts to voice some of the issues of veterans that affect Rogers.
Robert Redford gets a brilliantly meaty role as Alexander Pierce, a member of the World Council who we quickly learn should not be trusted. Unlike other members of the Council shown in the film (including Alan Dale, Chin Han, and Bernard White) his part is not mere cameo. The other Council member to get a memorable part is Jenny Agutter, it’s small but quite brilliant. Another enjoyable cameo (apart from Stan Lee) is that of Danny Pudi from ‘Community’ as a tech guy, it’s brief but great for fans of the show.
As you can expect from Marvel and the Russos there are well-balanced moments of humour popped in throughout the film, that despite heavy action and themes the humour hits its mark and feels perfectly judged. For example, in the midst of an attack on an armoured car the on-board computer is asked what systems are working and replies that the “air con is fully functional”, yet the tension of the brilliant scene isn’t spoilt at all. In fact it’s one of the best car chase fights I’ve seen since ‘The Dark Knight’, possibly one of the best I’ve ever seen. The action scenes are heavily reliant on some excellent Oscar nominated effects and they are really spectacular (other than a brief moment with a GGI mouth where the lips look odd), adding all the brilliant S.H.I.E.L.D. tech and making the action look epic.
A strong emotional element is also present throughout the film. Drawing on the first film and recapping in a really clever way we see a museum exhibition dedicated to Captain America, and while generally Steve is coping he can’t shake the fact that he’s a man out of his time. I won’t talk about it too much so as to not spoil things but early on there’s one brief but particularly heartbreaking scene that really adds to this feeling. What occurs between the regular action sequences isn’t just filler, there’s lots of important development of plot points and some serious themes. It ties in well with ‘Citizenfour‘, that intelligence organisations can be using information gathered online to effectively track and target people. There’s also a reference to whistle-blowing leaks, so real-world political issues are mixed in with all the fictional elements, which hopefully sets up the sequels especially ‘Civil War’ to be well-grounded in reality
The release was lined up to neatly tie in with the television series Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. However, any film needs to be able to stand alone and still work on its own merits, in this case thankfully I think it does. The film itself throws in surprises, turns things on their head, keeps people who have read the comics interested. Watching this alongside ‘S.H.I.E.L.D.’ adds an extra dimension to each, but not doing so doesn’t have any adverse affect, there’s nothing vitally important that viewers of the film alone are going to feel like they are missing out on.
‘Game-changing’ is the only way I could describe this film by the end as loads of important characters and major plot strands are established and just poised ready to be used straight away in future films. One of the reasons why I found this film so exciting is seeing how everything is falling into place for them to adapt some of the biggest comics storylines. This was a massive success critically and financially, showing that Marvel have really developed a huge enthusiastic audience who seem quite wiling to follow the franchise in whatever direction it’s being led. The next solo Captain America movie will be key, with ‘Captain America: Civil War’ coming in summer 2016. Anthony and Joe Russo now seem set to take on Joss Whedon’s responsibilities helming the ‘Avengers’ team-up films, by which time they will be very experienced in the franchise, and if ‘Civil War’ is as good as hoped, I would expect confidence in the studio to be at an all-time high by the time the two-part ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ comes around in 2018.
Marvel’s Phase 3 will be a very different set of films and themes, as hinted at when one character says that “It’s not a world of spies anymore. It’s not even a world of heroes. This is the age of miracles… There’s nothing more horrifying than a miracle.”
I look forward to seeing the Russo brothers working miracles!