Twice the action, two kinds of ‘shields’, twofold the treachery, and too many biceps to count; Captain America: The Winter Soldier doubles nearly everything offered in the first installment. Except perhaps the vintage charm. That feature is replaced with absurdly high-tech gadgets (from butler cars to pocket lightsabers) and the special effects to make them look plausible. Apple and Toys R Us have their work cut out for them. The Winter Soldier focuses more on trust issues than anything else, and swaps Marvel’s iconic humour for scarred characters and identity issues. Drama, action, and plot twists combine to make The Winter Soldier a chilly start to another superhero summer.
The Winter Solder is a great title – very catchy – but the season itself has little to do with the film. The frostily-named soldier is in fact a combat-savvy, artillery-loaded, swagger-stepping errand boy for none other than Hydra. Yes, Hydra is back. No the Red Scull isn’t (probably for the best). The Hydra organization (a lot like the Nazis just with more magic) has infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. and plans to use their internal status to commit mass-genocide. It is up to a select few, Captain America (Chris Evans) included, to stop this foe and bring freedom back to the people. The head of Hydra is a mystery until the climax (although you can make an educated guess), and the Winter Soldier himself only pops up when a car needs to get off the freeway – unexpectedly. This leaves the principle “villain” of the movie open to interpretation for a fair three-quarters of the film. Cap therefore has more than enough time to reminisce on flashbacks while Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) tries to fix him up with a date.
If you haven’t seen the first movie, you really should. There are lots of references to Captain America: The First Avenger and not much time to explain them all. The biggest would be Cap’s ridiculous build, and how he can breezily crash through walls like the Juggernaut. Another would be the brief reappearance of his old flame, Peggy Carter, now very old and bedridden. This particular scene is completely unnecessary. We get that Steve is struggling with issues of past/present, and there’s no need for an old woman in a bed to reaffirm it. The story of Steve and Peggy would tie up much nicer if she died of old age, years ago.
Heartless, emotional observation out of the way, The Winter Soldier has more people shooting at Cap than in either of his previous films. They fire away with hand-guns, machine guns, air-canons, grenades, knives, electric-sticks, mechanized limbs… the list goes on. None of them, however, has figured out that his fancy shield is bullet proof, knife proof, and gravity-defendant. Why they don’t aim for the legs is a Hollywood mystery. Other than the marksmanship, the action in this film is pretty great. From the far-away crash-and-burns to the up close and personal moments, Marvel offers plenty of bang for your buck. The hand-to-hand combat, however, is filmed with a shaky-cam. Nothing drives me crazier than shaky camera work, especially when it interferes with the clarity of a scene – which is, frankly, most of the time. I paid to see the action, not an earthquake version of it. The choreography looked fantastic, but I can’t tell for sure because my eyes were bouncing all over the screen.
So action – good. Acting – not bad. Plot? Lots of characters, lots of trust-issues, and enough to keep me interested. There was nothing I hadn’t seen before (plenty of recycled plot points), but for some reason it all worked. I got a little lost in names, and I found it fairly predictable, but the pace is steady and the balance between drama and action is relatively even. 6.5/10 is my score for The Winter Soldier, taking into consideration that I would have liked to see more of the title character but that I expect he’ll show up again in a sequel or two.
There are TWO clips after the credits. FYI.