While Marvel powers forward in a river of success and billions of dollars, the guys over at DC struggle to keep up in terms of quality, with abject releases like ‘Green Lantern’ and ‘Man of Steel’ doing nothing for their overall reputation, even if they did manage to make enough money with the latter to justify its existence monetarily, it did nothing to show that they had any idea what to do after the treasured Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy came to a close. Marvel continues as sure-footed as ever though, and the newest branch of Marvel’s ever-expanding cinematic universe to gain a new leaf is Captain America, a character who floundered in the first standalone film a few years ago but found its feet as part of the Avengers ensemble where snappier dialogue and well-engineered interactions with the rest of the cast found Chris Evans his niche.
The task for this film was to ensure that all the poorly handled aspects of the first film which attempted to pull at your heartstrings with horribly contrived sequences and even failed to thrill with its mismatched action sequences even managed to under-use the great Hugo Weaving, a crime if there ever was one. This one is a film with a much better realised goal, and its much tighter direction means that the action sequences work throughout, and are punctuated with consistently amusing dialogue and comic book intrigue to make most of its 136 minute run time go by without a hitch. Indeed, Evans and Scarlett Johansson make a strong team and are ably aided by Anthony Mackie whose sense of fun and grasp of the comic is good enough for us to forget that black characters are, by and large, relegated to the comic sidekick role. Happily Samuel L Jackson still rules the roost with another satisfyingly over the top performance as Nick Fury, and it all comes together well.
As tight as the story is, it has to be acknowledged that it’s nothing more than standard comic book fare, and any pretensions or suggestions that it has something substantial to say are misguided. Sure, it very lightly touches some ‘freedom vs stability’ ideas that people are choosing to see as astute commentary, but these ideas are regularly visited by comic books and are often introduced by the villains in typically over the top ways that it’s no more astute than any other Marvel comic, or any of the past villains that have so evilly professed that stability under their rule was the way forward. It makes for some entertaining scenes, sure, and it’s always fun to be surprised in that way that’s almost unique to a comic book film, but to think it’s anything more than that is folly. Perhaps there may have been something there if the film deigned to spend longer on the theme and develop it more substantially, but it’s merely a device used to enable more action, as it has every right to be.
For better or worse, all ‘Captain America: Winter Soldier’ is is an action-packed, enjoyable and a little bit forgettable ride that lasts slightly too long but does a lot to ensure that the woes of the first film are forgotten. Sure, the Winter Soldier himself is a bit of a letdown and it ends up fizzling out a little, but there’s enough there to keep everything ticking along nicely until something more satisfying comes along.