Iron Man has the suits and the snark. Thor has the hammer and the hair. Hulk turns into a big green rage monster. What does Captain America have? A shield, a silly costume and he can run really fast; hardly the most exciting heroic traits. The most traditional (read: boring) of the Avengers gets his second standalone movie, and in an effort to make him more relevant, directors Anthony and Joe Russo have turned his most enviable heroic attribute, the ability to always do the right honourable thing, into his biggest weakness. So, what do you do with Captain America? You make him Richard Kimble from The Fugitive searching for the one – bionic – armed man who framed him for the murder of his wife friend.
As the man out of time Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) has an idealised view of how the world works, a view not shared by his employers who are building a fleet of helicarriers that will seek out and eliminate threats before they even become threats, as foreshadowed throughout Avengers Assemble. Frustrated with how S.H.I.E.L.D. works – “this isn’t freedom, this is fear” he barks at Fury in one of the less subtle exchanges – he takes his grievances to S.H.I.E.L.D head honcho Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford, lending a real gravitas to proceedings as a veteran of Cold War thrillers past), and through a series of events I won’t spoil finds himself on the run and wanted for the murder – actually committed by the Winter Solider of the title – of someone fairly major to the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far.
What follows is a fairly admirable stab at a political thriller, albeit one dressed up in superhero colours. Advised to ‘trust no-one’ Cap goes on a fact finding mission with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to see just how deep this conspiracy goes. Instantly the film sets itself out as the most adult and talky of the Marvel movies so far, with long scenes of exposition and men in suits making decisions rather than the snappy pop-dialogue and an action beat every twenty minutes we’ve become accustomed to. And it’s to the films benefit as well, although it never quite overcomes the visible gear change between these semi-serious scenes and the more fantastical elements that are expected in a comic book movie. How much of the political machinations the kids will understand is another roadbump the film has to overcome, but there’s more than enough primary coloured action to keep the younger audience entertained.
Captain America is the perfect character to anchor this type of film though; it’s hard to imagine another character from the MCU in this kind of story with Steve Rogers 1940’s sensibility the perfect foil to the post War on Terror/Battle of New York world that S.H.I.E.L.D operates in. Now third time around (discounting that little cameo in Asgard), Chris Evans is able to tap into more facets of the character to make the transformation from ‘Fury’s janitor’ to ‘renegade fugitive’ believable and yet still be the same character at heart. Samuel L Jackson and Scarlett Johansson are both given more to do than ever before, and both are able to explore extra layers they haven’t been able to previously, sidelined as they were into roles as gruff commander and sexy ninja respectively. Newcomer Anthony Mackie atones for Pain and Gain with a likeable performance as an Iraq War veteran who befriends Rogers during his exile and handily has access to a spectacular set of wings, and there are some cute unexpected cameos thrown in too. As is the now requisite Stan Lee appearance.
Sadly though it isn’t up to scratch when it comes to the villain of the piece, the Winter Soldier, who looks cool and all but comes across as hastily cobbled together (although I know he is from the comics) and a late addition to the script when it was realised they didn’t have anyone for Cap to punch during the big climax. Which is also sadly, just another big explosion fest over a major city, just like in Iron Man 3, and Avengers before it, and countless other big recent blockbusters. It’s not bad by any means, but after the earlier, better action sequences in the film, including an excellent opening on a ship with Cap taking out terrorists without breaking stride, a thoroughly inventive car chase, and honest to God fisticuffs in most of the encounters between enemies, another fight in the clouds is a step back after the refreshing realistic(ish) fights beforehand.
The film bravely includes a major overhaul in how the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe goes forward from here, and even casts a shadow on everything that has gone before with a plot twist that just about works, as long as you don’t think about it too much. One thing is certain though, Avengers: Age of Ultron won’t just be Avengers Assemble Mk II.
A decent take on a serious Marvel movie with an admirable political slant under the superhero banner. And it has a guy throw a red, white and blue shield around like a Frisbee. So something for everyone.
Review by Jonathan Cardwell.
Thanks to our sponsors at the Odyssey Cinemas
Don’t forget to book your tickets for Captain America at the Odyssey Cinemas here.