Marvel’s superhero mega franchise enters an interesting, self-questioning phase in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In stark contrast to the fantasy of Thor: The Dark World this is a film informed by recent worrying headlines of NSA snooping, the Edward Snowden case, erosion of civil liberties and wars on terror.
Of course, it is still a superhero movie first and foremost, but what makes this such a satisfying one is the way directors Joe and Anthony Russo use the conspiracy thriller template as a hook on which to hang the big action scenes. Said scenes are tense, and surprisingly gritty – at least by this franchise’s standards. You may feel reminded of the Bourne movies more than once.
The plot itself deals with Steve Rogers aka Captain America adjusting to life working for SHIELD and life in the 21st Century (he has a list of things to catch up on which includes watching Star Wars). But before he has a chance to adjust too much, he finds himself at the centre of a murky and Machiavellian plot unsure of who to trust. Everything SHIELD stands for is called into question, and amid all of this lurks the mysterious, masked assassin known as the Winter Soldier.
I’d better not say anymore, in case you don’t predict the twists and turns as easily as I did. But just because I could predict them didn’t mean I didn’t find the film an immensely satisfying concoction. Chris Evans is still great in the lead, with Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow as cool as ever. Newcomer Anthony Mackie is quite fun as the Falcon, and the great Robert Redford has a very significant role as SHIELD boss Alexander Pierce.
The presence of Redford obviously evokes memories of the great 70s conspiracy thrillers – All the President’s Men, Three Days of the Condor and so on – and amid the comic book fun there are some serious messages of sorts. Captain America pretty much spells it out by saying that SHIELD’s plan to launch pre-emptive strikes against perceived threats is not about freedom but fear, and it is through fear that people will surrender their freedom, hoping for security. Such a theme is extremely relevant given the kinds of current events I mentioned earlier.
That said, having touched on a serious point, the film quickly switches to running, fighting and blowing things up again. It is perhaps a little overlong, though all things considered, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a superior addition to the Marvel canon. Don’t forget to stick around for one mid-credits scene and one post-credits scene.