Heading into Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the third and final movie of Marvel’s Phase Two saga I was understandably cautious. Despite being one of Marvel’s most iconic characters it would be difficult to argue against the fact his first outing was the weakest of the Phase One movies and his role in the Avengers movie, despite having some comedic ‘fish out of water’ touches never felt quite as important as that of the other two lead characters- Thor and Iron Man.
Since Avengers Assemble hit our screens back in 2012 Stage Two has flown by, the first of the movies, Iron Man 3, hit our screens less than 12 months ago and the efficiency of their releases may have had some fans feeling like they were being rushed. Iron Man 3 divided fans, especially the already infamous Mandarin Twist. Thor 2, whilst being a no holds barred thrill ride never really added much to the character or the Marvel universe as a whole; other than a slight twist at the end and a teaser for Guardians of the Galaxy in its post credit scene.
So onto the Winter Soldier, a movie my fellow host and Marvel aficionado Bram (check his review below) described to me as a game changer in the Marvel universe. A statement which, whilst I don’t fully agree with, certainly holds a degree of merit. In my eyes the movie had two jobs- the first of which was to establish Ol’ Cap as a real character who the fans could get behind like his on screen counterparts, the second of which was to supply the franchise with enough fuel to create even more excitement for the upcoming Avengers Sequel, Age of Ultron.
The first task looked set to be the most difficult but was handled with surprising ease. As Christopher Nolan showed us in the Dark Knight trilogy a superhero is at his most interesting when he is at his most vulnerable. Iron Man and Thor have been shown to have their weaknesses but their brash personas easily outweigh them and their characters work so well because of this. Captain America, whilst having the ability to give out the occasional one liner lacks the edgy confidence of these pair and so the movie opts to take him in a different direction, taking his modesty and his devout loyalty to the cause and turning them against him.
Without giving away too much of the plot, the Captain is drawn into a web of deceit and lies when it turns out that not all is as it seems at Shield. He is then pulled between two opposing forces, his loyalty and what appears to be the truth. Dumping a character whose key principles have always been honesty and loyalty into a political thriller proves to be a stroke of genius, we are finally behind him in a way we have never managed to be in the past.
The second of those objectives is also handled well; whilst not quite reaching the heights some have claimed it has it is difficult to deny that this movie doesn’t progress the universe’s narrative and hype you up for Age of Ultron. If Iron Man 3 was the hang over from Avengers Assemble, this is no doubt the pre drink for Age of Ultron.
One huge argument levelled against the other two Phase Two movies is their weak plots and supporting characters, notably their villains. Iron Man 3 presented us with the aforementioned Mandarin, on whom the jury is still out whilst Thor:The Dark World gave us Christopher Eccelstone as Malakeith, the most forgettable thing in the Marvel Universe since, well I can’t remember. Where these two fail The Winter Soldier excels. The titular Winter Soldier is a brutal and enigmatic assassin who has been helping agencies bury their secrets for decades, whilst Robert Redford excels as Alexander Pierce, a corrupt higher up SHIELD member. These two feel like every great villain should; menacing and merciless and either could stand up against the super group themselves and be convincing.
The supporting allies are just as interesting; Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow is given time to develop here and she looks as though, like the Captain himself she is going to be more than just a supporting role in the next movie, whilst Nick Fury is given considerable screen time as well.
The movie is at its finest not during the CGI action sequences, as impressive as they are (including a final act which felt like a mixture of the final scenes in Avengers Assembles and Goldeneye) but rather when it is playing with the audience as a tightly wound and intelligent political thriller. Ever wonder what it would have been like if Marvel decided to make a Bourne movie? Look no further. The movie becomes a fascinating hybrid of both the thriller and super hero genres and breathes a breath of fresh air into the Marvel canon.
Whilst The Winter Soldier is not without its flaws; the dialogue is at times questionable and it certainly has some pacing issues it pretty much does everything that is expected of it and a little bit more, it even throws in a bit of social commentary, just to show off. The film is easily the strongest in the Phase Two sequence and once the credits have rolled (and the post credits scene has played, of course) fans will be left salivating for The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Only a year left guys.