Captain America: The Winter Soldier (dir. The Russo Brothers, 2014) – Steve Rogers faces an unfamiliar era of moral complexities and a new threat from old history, the Soviet agent known as the Winter Soldier.
Captain America‘s sequel at last assembles the right team, both on screen and off, and pushes for the grandeur that Steve Rogers deserves.
Waking to his home made foreign and estranged by time, the last 70 years of quintessential music and baseball history are probably the last thing on Cap’s mind.
Placing that list on the back burner, Steve Rogers finds plenty else to keep busy with. For one, the new era confounds him with a myriad vastly different ideals, at times draped in grey morality. Caught in the Gordian knot of civil liberties, he wrangles with the lasting conundrum of where freedom ends and fear begins.
Finesse lies in this clever exploitation of present-day anxieties that well resonate with the current reality of America’s political climate. The situation finds relevance in the modern age of surveillance, data leaks and drone warfare. Without diving too far into spoiler territory, the grounded premise lays the floor for a compelling political thriller that exceeds your typical comic book adaptation.
For such a bold and astute spin, it seems unlikely that the action could match up to its wit. But we get the best of both worlds, as directors Anthony and Joe Russo deliver some of the most spectacularly thrilling sequences in Marvel cinematic history. Scrap that, these are close to the best the genre offers. Fights and chases never let up for a split second, its tight choreography as relentless as the brunt of the coldest winter.
It all feels apt for Steve’s metal-armed friend-turned-adversary The Winter Soldier, whose ruthless menace kept tension lingering even in his absence. Beneath that front is a man fighting an unseen conflict in his own mind between his stolen past and his mission, and Sebastian Stan plays that balance with exceptional credibility.
On Cap’s right is The Falcon, who swoops in with a neat span of wings that awes, but not as much as the man beneath the suit. Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson proved as capable in combat without the metal, and most of all, shines with his gift of repartee.
The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) has her own share of wry quips, and gets to put on a show with some serious moves. Iron Man 2 had made for a disappointing debut and Avengers sadly pushed her to the sideline in favour of demigods. But this film finally unsheathed the best of her personality that makes us yearn more for that standalone movie. (Make it happen, Marvel.)
Though the themes verge on weighty, the mood hardly dulls for a second. Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely bust the myth of how humour may derail a superhero movie from the realistic route.
With a fine team both on and off-screen, Captain America: The Winter Soldier has found the best possible way to interpret a favourite comic book arc, making its way to the highest rung of my personal Marvel cinematic ladder.