Decent Men In A Indecent Time.
And here we are, the final standalone sequel of Phase 2 before Guardians of the Galaxy and The Avengers: Age Ultron waves goodbye to Marvel's massively successful second outing of Superhero movies and as mentioned in my article exploring the current workings of the behemoth that is Phase 2 this was possibly the sequel I was most excited about.
And boy was I rewarded.
Set two years after the events of The Avengers (Avengers Assemble) The Winter Soldier sees Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) working alongside SHIELD whilst trying to adjust to modern-day life, but when SHIELD is compromised from within Cap and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) are forced to go on the run in hopes of luring out those responsible, placing Cap on a collision course with an assassin from his past known only as The Winter Soldier.
The decision to tailor the film towards being a Superhero/Political Thriller movie (in the same way the The Dark Knight was part Superhero flick part Mob movie) allows for a more complexly structured story that explores the differences between the way in which wars were fought in the past compared to how they are now in the age of information.
It also allows the film a sense of mystery and prevents key details from being revealed too fast, although there are no prizes for guessing just who is behind the conspiracy, it's not exactly 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' and there aren't that many suspects to begin with, But what is surprising is just how deep Marvel is willing to let the corruption run.
There Are Going To Be Repercussions. BIG REPERCUSSIONS. (The Plot)
Of all the Phase 2 movies (Of all the current standalone installments in-fact) The Winter Soldier has the largest impact on the current standing of Marvels Cinematic Universe, The ramifications of what happens here will be felt across many different characters own stories to come as the events of TWS utterly destroys one of the most recurring elements of Marvels pre-established world.
I won't go into details to avoid spoiling it for those of you who may not have seen the film yet, but I will say that I respect Marvels decision to shake up the status quo so aggressively, the knock on effect for the franchises other films and the television show 'Agents of SHIELD' in particular is going to be enormous.
The biggest threat to Marvel in the return to standalone stories following on from The Avengers is one of 'Relevance'.
It's hard to fear for the film particular hero when you know they are set to return in the big crossover several films down the line, so its important that each individual installment feels relevant and necessary to the over structure of that individual characters arc and not simply killing time until the next milestone crossover.
We unfortunately encountered this problem with last years X-Men movie 'The Wolverine' (2013) which despite being set after the events of the most (time frame wise) recent X- Men movie failed to advance either the characters or the over all story of the series, instead seemingly doing nothing more than pass the time until the release of 'X-Men: Days Of Future Past'.
The Winter Soldier is able to sidestep this issue by spending the films duration developing the characters we are familiar with (Captain America, Black Widow, Maria Hill, Nick Fury) introducing us to characters that the film succeeds in making us want to see more of (Kevin Feige: I demand a Falcon/Hawkeye movie! Come on, it'll be awesome, you can call it 'Birds of Prey'..... I'm sure DC won't mind..probably) and finally better fleshing out the franchise's world in general so that by the time we return to it in The Avengers; Age of Ultron (or would that be Avengers Assemble: Age of Ultron?) the significant repercussions of TWS will carry into the future of series.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier also seems to feature the most references to other Marvel characters and films but does so in a way that they don't feel unnecessarily forced:
- Black Widow, Nick Fury and Maria Hill all return to the big screen for the first time following The Avengers.
- Iron Man 3's President Ellis is once again acknowledged as the president of the United States (and we get to learn his first name - Matthew).
- Jasper Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernández) who has appeared in Thor, The Avengers, Agents of SHIELD and two Marvel One-Shots:The Consultant and Item 47 returns in a much larger role.
- Batroc the Leaper appears for the first time.
- Brock Rumlow AKA Cross Bones is introduced.
- The World Security Council from The Avengers reappear.
- Garry Shandling returns to his Iron Man 2 role as Senator Stern.
- Steven Strange AKA Doctor Strange is briefly mentioned.
- As is Bruce Banner AKA The Hulk.
- There are several references to Tony Stark AKA Iron Man and Stark Industries.
- Easily missed but the Avengers Tower can be briefly spotted.
- Loki's staff reappears post credits.
- And we also get our first look at Quick Silver and Scarlett Witch.
- and Stan Lee makes his inevitable cameo.
This Is Why I Have Trust Issues. (Themes)
The theme most prevalent throughout The Winter Soldier is exploring Trust.
From his close friendship with Bucky Barnes, his unit of Howling Commandos, Peggy Carter and Howard Stark to his work with The Avengers Captain America has always surrounded himself with people he believes he can trust only to now find himself working in a career where trusting another person is not only impossible, its nearly a sure way to get yourself killed.
Nick Fury is shown to be the biggest opposite to Steve's need to feel able to trust those fighting alongside him as fury is suspicious of everyone (even Cap himself). Pleasantly the film offers no right or wrong answer and by the end of the story its difficult to decide which of the two outlooks served better.SHIELD is an agency built on secrets and compartmentalization and its here that some of TWS's biggest and best ideas come into play: How much are willing to pay for their safety? How far can you go before the need for safety threatens peoples freedom? its a fine line to walk and its surprising to see a superhero movie dare tackle these kinds of questions.
How Do We Tell The Good Guys From The Bad Guys? (The Characters)
I.The Star Spangled Man. (Captain America)
This is Chris Evans third outing as The Star Spangled Man and he continues to seem perfectly at ease it the role, while he many not have fully absorbed the role the way that Robert Downey Jr. has with Iron Man there only one other actors that I have known to so fully embody a superhero the way that he has - the other being Hugh Jackman's Wolverine
and regardless its great to see Evans deliver another powerful performance as the man out of time imbuing the role with both comedy and a sincerity that helps show Caps gradual and continuing development across each new film.
As previously mentioned Steve Rogers is unique amongst Marvels other heroes in that while like Thor he is displaced in a world unfamiliar to him, unlike Thor returning home is not really an option, he is completely stranded in the present day; a time in which almost everyone he knew is now dead and the world has changed so drastically he can barely reconcile it with the one hes left behind.
Honestly I was a little concerned about how this film would approach this subject, expecting the usual painfully unfunny man out of time jokes that these sort of situations usually create, but to both my surprise and joy the film chooses to largely ignore the comical aspects of Caps displacement and instead focus on the more tragic elements such as the feelings of loneliness, isolation and alienation:
A scene in which Cap pays a visit to an aged Peggy Carter particularly pulled on my heart strings and reminded me of the final scene in 'Captain America: The First Avenger' in which Cap after realizing that he has slept for seventy years despondently mutters "It's just... I had a date" - Whaaaa! heartbreaking! utterly heartbreaking!
Not that the film is without humor but it feels more important to play Caps loss (and it is a loss) seriously in order to better understand his struggle with the dramatic changes the world has undergone in his absence.
II. Agents of SHIELD. (The Support)
It's nice to see Marvel devote a little time for its supporting characters such as Nick Fury, Black Widow and Maria Hill who despite appearing across multiple Marvel stories we still don't know all that much about as individuals,
So the fact that these characters are perfectly suited for the style of story in which TWS takes place allows the screen time to help better develop these side characters than in previous installments.
it's reassuring to see Marvel develop the lesser known characters in the background of the main-line up heroes stories and its through this attention to character detail that the Marvel universe begins to feel like such an expansive world.
Nick Fury is given his largest amount of screen time to date and by the end of the end of the film I cant help but feel like he is a much better rounded character as we are given insight to both how he came to be appointed as the head of SHIELD and (to a lesser extent) how he came to lose and eye, all details that give us a better grasp of his history.
TWS explores an interesting character arc for Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow once again exploring trust, both in the organisations she chooses to affiliate herself with and the people whom she surrounds herself with, by the conclusion of the film Natasha has reached an interesting cross-roads and I look forward to seeing how she continues to develop over further movies (and hopefully one day her own).
TWS also sees the debut of Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) who is also known as the winged hero The Falcon and easily one of this films biggest success as Mackie is able to make Wilson a welcome addition to the marvel universe (as mentioned I want a Falcon/Hawkeye crossover) he is able to bring humor to the role which helps add a little levity to the films darker moments, while keeping Cap supported both physically and emotionally creating a believable friendship between the two.
III. The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. (The Winter Soldier)
I will not go into details about the identity of The Winter Soldier in order to avoid spoiling it for those of you who are yet to see the film and are unfamiliar with the original comic but it should be noted that it is a brilliant choice of antagonist from Marvel as he proves to be a physical match for Cap while also being emotionally connected to Cap in a way that adds both real drama and complexity to each time they confront one another.
The Best Defense Is A Good Offence....Or A Shield. (The Action)
The movie also boast some fantastic action sequences from Nick Fury proving why he is head of SHIELD during an attack on the road (in fact this film features some amazing vehicle sequences), a brutal brawl in an elevator, Cap facing down a heavily armed jet on a bridge, to the final action sequence which involves not one but THREE Helicarriers (Those of you who read my Avengers review know just how happy I was about the appearance of one) and this time we get to see them in action.
It's strange to think that of all the Marvels films to date TWS is probably the one with its action most heavily based in reality (well sort of like Iron Man the film boasts fictionally advanced technology).
The film takes Cap's shield and able to use it in a far more offensive weapon than in previous installments allowing Cap to come across as a far more potential fighter, an early sequence that sees Cap alone taking on a group of pirates reveals just how efficient a fighter he can be as he glides from one opponent to another brutally and (almost silently) deposing of each target, also its probably important to note not to get hit by Captain America's Shield once thrown it as it embeds itself into metal walls several times: I dread to think what it would do a person if thrown that ferociously.
Who Watches The Watchmen? (Conclusion.)
And so the Marvel train shows no signs of stopping as audiences are treated to a second (stronger) solo outing for The First Avenger that aims to make the World War II hero relevant in a time of gray moral decisions, dealing with the complex issue of being able to trust the people who protect us Captain America: The Winter Soldier is not only currently the best movie of Phase 2 it is one of the best standalone stories Marvel has produced to date.
And it has left me so very ready for Avengers: Age Of Ultron