Up until now I have had serious problems understanding the draw behind a character like Captain America. I understand his origins in the popular culture as a spin-off from the blatant patriotic propaganda, but looking at him simply in comic book superhero terms, I couldn’t understand why he’s such an important figure within the Marvel Universe. He’s not a god, he doesn’t really wield a weapon granting him superhuman powers, he can’t fly, he’s not immortal, he doesn’t own a cool suit of armor… He doesn’t really carry a weapon for the most part, but a shield, which from a logical standpoint is just absurd. All he can do is run, fight and throw his shield around… In the company of folks like Thor, The Hulk, or Iron-Man, he looks – well – puny and unimportant, at least in terms of the actual combat, which challenges the notion of Captain America being perceived as a superhero in the first place. Now, having seen “Captain America – The Winter Soldier” (and having re-watched for the third time “Captain America – The First Avenger”) I think I understand his place within this universe of gods, aliens, superheroes and monsters.
“Captain America – The Winter Soldier” picks up some time after the events depicted in “The Avengers”, as it is implied many a time in the dialogue. However, no-one seems to bother mentioning in any way, shape or form about the whole Mandarin threat resolved in “Iron-Man 3”, or the fact the universe almost got annihilated by the Dark Elves, as shown in “Thor – The Dark World”; I know it was all in London, but it’s not the 50’s anymore – people have Internet and things, so the word must have got out somehow… but nevermind. Captain America (Chris Evans) is now a major pillar of S.H.I.E.L.D., where together with The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and under supervision of director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), they make sure nothing untoward goes on in the world.
After a seemingly standard operation of rescuing a ship with a bunch of S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives, it turns out that the organization might have been compromised by a network of double agents working for a mysterious external force. All of a sudden, Captain America finds himself in a position where he can’t possibly trust anyone and with the help of only a handful of his closes allies he must find out what goes on within S.H.I.E.L.D. and prevent a serious catastrophe from happening. Little does he know, he is also being hunted by a superhuman master assassin, who goes by the name of The Winter Soldier, and whom – strangely enough – Captain America might actually recognize…
Before everything else, I think I’d like to go on record and admit that I have almost nothing but admiration for “Captain America – The Winter Soldier”; it is everything “Iron-Man 3” should have been. It was a very entertaining and thrilling ride, which didn’t feel like your typical comic book movie at all, but more like an espionage action-thriller more akin to the Jason Bourne series than anything involving superheroes and the like. Contrary to what I was afraid of, this film doesn’t go even remotely close to the fish-out-of-water stencil we know from “Thor” and keeps everything pretty serious. I really appreciate the fact that out of all of the Marvel films, the “Captain America” series is trying to stay grounded in reality with the first film being a period war film and this one being a James Bond-type experience, but with a guy in a star-spangled suit. In fact, the pacing and intense action kept me so immersed in the story that there were points where I could easily forget I was watching a comic book movie after all – and that is an achievement, if I ever saw one.
From the very first minutes of the film we are thrown into action, which frankly doesn’t really stop until the end. There’s quite a few big action set-pieces (that include some fine special effects as well) interspersed with good old-fashioned (albeit slightly dumbed down) investigation with the added bonus of the main characters being ‘on the run’, which gels into a rather cohesive and riveting viewing experience. There’s not much I can say about the acting, because it’s all pretty much serviceable. Let’s be honest here – nobody really goes to these films to see Oscar-winning performances, though it’s nice nonetheless to see something like Heath Ledger’s Joker every once in a while. I like the way the direction Anthony Russo and Joe Russo) and the script seem to be very tight in here, as there’s very little wiggle-room for bullshit dialogue, superfluous one-liners and ham-fisted comedy, all of which are what killed “Iron-Man 3” in my eyes. That doesn’t mean there isn’t any humour in “Captain America – The Winter Soldier”, but I somehow avoided rolling my eyes, which is always nice.
Sure, there’s nothing ground-breaking in here in terms of the story, but in the context of a superhero comic book movie it’s something I think I haven’t seen before. With the who-done-it mystery element, the enigmatic character of the Winter Soldier and the thrill of the chase, this film could easily pass as a regular good quality actioner, if it wasn’t for Chris Evans wearing the stars and stripes and Anthony Mackie and his Falcon get-up. After all, the main characters are never removed from peril by their being immortal and/or possessing some supernatural abilities and in that regard, “Captain America” series seems to have more in common with Christopher Nolan’s take on the Batman character. It’s all about the car chases, guns, explosions, knives, wounds and fatalities without the remote-controlled suits or supernatural occurrences. It all adds up to a very interesting spectacle that doesn’t really make the audience wonder why the rest of The Avengers wouldn’t bother to help out.
Coming back to Captain America and his place in the world: how does a guy with nothing but a shield earn his spot among gods and superhuman creatures? He bleeds (and if it bleeds, we can kill it), gets tired and can’t possibly fight threats heroes like Thor tackle every day. Now that I had some time to think about it and as a result of watching both “Captain America” films, I can clearly identify him as a perfect support character. His role is not to lay waste to countless enemies and turn New York City upside down and inside out yet again, but to rally the people together, boost morale and motivate everyone to do their best, which he does also here. Sure, he has to take on some serious baddies, but come to think of it, he is more of a chess player than a pawn on the board. And in “Captain America – The Winter Soldier” that game of chess is pretty awesome.
In closing, I think it’s safe for me to put this film on the shelf alongside my favourite comic book films. “Captain America – The Winter Soldier” doesn’t feel like a novelty freak show, nor does it lack gravitas. It’s right up there with “The Dark knight” as a very good and enjoyable film that happens to include some comic book characters.