Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo
Cast: Chris Evan, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Shaw, Robert Redford and Samuel L. Jackson
Release Date: March 26th
The beauty of Marvel’s cinematic universe is that it’s not just the cast who get to play dress up; established brands have allowed a myriad of directors to make Sunday afternoon-actioners, campy Shakespeare and hard boiled crime fiction under the guise of comic books. Captain America: The Winter Solider continues this trend, reimagining The Parallax View in red, white and blue spandex.
Thawed out and fresh from the intergalactic fight in The Avengers, Captain America is a government agent at S.H.I.E.L.D. leading covert ops along with Black Widow under Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, delivering dialogue in Caps On). When Fury questions the development of Helicarriers that can target threats to the US from above – think the Patriot Act if watching an illegal Al Jazeera stream of a Manchester United game led to drone strikes on your house – he’s attacked by the titular soldier (Sebastian Shaw, always smoky eyed and broody) causing Cap to question who to trust and throw a ridiculously large novelty shield at.
After recently announcing his plans in the acting game for a career in directing, donning tights and tossing a shield might be the last thing on Chris Evans’ mind but if it is, it sure doesn’t show. He handles his man-out-of-time role – Twitter jokes are fair game but Snapchat is a no-go – with his usual charm, striking up a particularly good double act with Anthony Mackie (the metal-winged, PTSD suffering Falcon).
The Marvel franchise has always been clever in its casting, calling in the big thesps when they want to sell an ultimately silly premise. The Winter Solider is no different. Want people to buy into 70s political paranoia when your main villain is a metallic and galvanised My Chemical Romance fan? Then you call Robert ‘Fucking’ Redford. As Alex Pearce, a member of the World Security Council, Redford brings a level of prestige and gravitas to the all inner machinations threatening to destroy S.H.I.E.L.D. from the inside out. After being slightly underused in The Avengers – who brings a gun to a Chitauri fight? – Scarlett Johansson gets a lot more screen time and the movies benefits greatly from it; her relationship with Rogers and ability to immobilise just about anyone are all played perfectly.
TV directors who’ve made a bad Kate Hudson rom-com don’t necessarily strike you as the first choice for comic-book adaptations, but Marvel’s faith is paid back no-end by the brothers Russo. They mine their TV past to develop relationships and characters, no matter how small, across the board. Jokes come fast and meta-loaded: Cap has a list of things to experience like Rocky and the 1966 World Cup; he passes time in the Smithsonian at an exhibit about himself; Abed works for S.H.I.E.L.D.! Their handling of set-pieces is refreshing too. An opening scene on a ship taken by French pirates forgoes CGI in favour of excellent side-scrolling camera work, crunching shield on metal sound design and gleeful beatdowns of Gallic hijackers – the A doesn’t stand for France, you know.
Being a blockbuster with a weighty budget, The Winter Soldier does betray its roots a little for the final act which, unsurprisingly, goes big on destruction – albeit not as excessive as its companions – and loses some of its character drive. It’s a minor quibble though, the Russos and all involved have delivered the best Marvel Universe movie to date.