Captain America: The Winter Soldier – A darker, superior sequel for the all-American hero

While the first Captain America film (Captain America: The First Avenger, 2011) was fun, especially seeing the transformation of the weedy Steve Rogers into the titular all-American hero, it can’t be denied that the story lacked spark. It also suffered from comparison to two superior Marvel origin films that came before it – the first Iron Man (2008) and Thor (2011), both of which were wildly more inventive and interesting than The Captain’s story. Yet now with Rogers’ origins out of the way and a fresh set of eyes in the form of 2 new directors (Anthony Russo and Joe Russo) for The Cap’s sequel, Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) is bringing its A-game for an entirely different story.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

With the teething problems of the first film ironed out (or should that be Iron Man-ed out?…maybe not), mainly in the form of repetitive action, an anticlimactic end fight and a plot that never really got off the ground, it finally seems as though Captain America has his own film to be proud of. We join Steve after the action of The Avengers (2012), still trying to adjust to life in the present day after being a human icicle. However the story here is much more involved than The Cap’s first outing – a complex plot surrounding government secrets and corruption, and an enemy that may threaten the very existence of S.H.I.E.L.D. and of Captain America himself. This makes for a darker sequel and in turn also means that we actually care more about what happens to The Captain and those around him, mainly returning characters Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).

Not only is the plot to The Winter Soldier more elaborate and gripping though, overall the film is much more entertaining and, more importantly, FUNNIER, a welcome element when the main storyline has become that much bleaker. Again this is due to a well-written and superior script. However it is mainly thanks to the presence of new directors Anthony and Joe Russo, previous producers and directors of the brilliant comedy TV show Community (2009 – 2014). So we get fun one-liners throughout and even some Nick Fury/Samuel L. Jackson comedy moments, which are always amazing (and there’s even a fab cameo from a Community cast member).

Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) meets Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford)

A good sequel also manages to develop previous characters and show a side to them we hadn’t seen before, and The Winter Soldier executes this perfectly. The Avengers saw Steve Rogers begin to lose some of his innocence and naivety that he had been clinging on to since he was frozen in the 1940s. And now The Winter Soldier shows Rogers fully starting to doubt just what he is a part of and who he has become. Whereas The First Avenger left little room for Chris Evans to really impress with what was at the time a somewhat one-note and (dare I say) boring character, this sequel allows Evans to expand on the role and prove just how suited to the character he really is (and he truly IS made for the part of Captain America). So rather than a perfect, clean-cut superhero, Evans now portrays Steve as even more of a lost soul, increasingly frustrated at how all his previous ideals and morals are constantly called into question.

Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow also gets a much more involved role that expands on even more of her backstory that we started to see in The Avengers. Her character is truly shaping into something complex and interesting, thanks again to great writing coupled with her cool and stoic performance. That Black Widow solo film really is looking more exciting with each Marvel film that passes. We also get to see more of Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury in this than in previous films – now less of a cameo and more of an actual role for him to sink his teeth into.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) find themselves in trouble...

This in-depth character development extends to the new additions to the film series as well, such as new hero Sam Wilson aka. Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and gruff S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford). Yet in the villain corner we get a truly impressive new character and enemy for Steve: The Winter Soldier (hence the film’s title). To say any more about this character would reveal too much about the plot (although it must be said that it was one of the worst kept secrets about this sequel really). But I can say that The Soldier is a far superior enemy than Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) was in the first Captain America film. Namely because he is less cartoon-ish than Cap’s previous enemy and therefore feels more real, and because he poses a genuine threat to Steve and to others. Also to say that he is a complicated character would be an understatement. It is a superb performance from the actor who plays him as well (look him up if you need to, but again I won’t spoil it for you because I’m nice like that).

A new bigger, badder enemy means bigger, more explosive action sequences as well, sequences that are a huge step-up from those seen in The First Avenger. But these scenes impress in The Winter Soldier not because of quantity, but due to a conscious decision Anthony and Joe Russo made about how to shoot them. For this sequel they wanted to use as little CGI as they possible could, opting instead for actual, physical effects. And it works. The film feels more realistic without the usual over-reliance on CGI, and in turn feels more dangerous and exhilarating to watch, less like a comic book film and more like a mature conspiracy thriller. And the fight scenes? – so much more impressive to watch, especially the fights between Steve and The Winter Soldier, for which the choreography is nothing short of incredible.

The Winter Soldier...on the prowl

Rarely has there been a sequel to a comic book/superhero film that has felt this different to the film before it. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a film that has evolved from the origins film into a mature and complex follow-up with an involved and gripping plot and in-depth character development. Yet it is still a film that knows how to laugh at itself and bring the fun, all thanks to superior writing, stunning action sequences and the reliable presence of directors Anthony and Joe Russo. That this could be viewed as a stand-alone film is testament to just how much this sequel works and how entertaining it really is. And with the announcement that the Russo’s will also be directing the third Captain America film, it will truly be exciting to see just where they take The Captain next.

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~ by square-eyed-geek on July 15, 2014.

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