The original Captain America film was set almost entirely during World War II. We followed Steve Rogers as he became a soldier and leader of his own unit, before being frozen and awoken in modern times, just in time to join the Avengers. Captain America The Winter Soldier may be a sequel to the original, but it also works exceptionally as a follow-up to The Avengers. We never really got to see much of Steve Rogers adapting to life in the modern day, but we do get that here with a film that’s personal and rich with character moments but is also absolutely packed with action.
The tone of the movie is incredibly tense but its genre is surprisingly hard to lock down. The story develops in an engaging way that utilises different tropes; some parts are nonstop adrenaline, while others are slower but just as dramatic and involving.. One moment you’re watching a political thriller, next it’s like watching gameplay from Splinter Cell with stealthy takedowns and precise military coordination.
The flip-flopping genre sounds like the setup to a complete mess of a movie but it’s actually the complete opposite. All the elements weave together to strengthen the story and maintain a brisk, thrilling pace. The variety means it’s impossible to be bored. It’s never quite clear where the film is going to take you next with its excitingly unpredictable plot. Even if you’ve read the original comic book, there’s some notable changes that’ll keep you on your toes.
Speaking of the original, it’s incorrect to label this as a direct adaptation. It does indeed pull from The Winter Soldier storyline and it acts as the main influence, but it only works as the barebones framework and inspiration. Developing threads from the earlier movies, and indeed entirely separate comic book storylines, fill out the rest of the details.
Chris Evans gives a brilliant performance as Captain America and nails that vibe of being the trustworthy, wholesome, incorruptible soldier of yesteryear. He manages to feel friendly and warm but he also displays unshakable leadership. Evans really owned the role from day one and he hasn’t faltered in the slightest.
The supporting cast, both returning and new, are also fantastic and are utilised very well. The film avoids bringing in too many new faces and instead strengthens some ties seen in the previous films. So you may want to re-watch the original and The Avengers once again to brush up before going into this. Although not every supporting cast member receives equal treatment, one in particular has surprisingly sparse scenes and feels more like a plant for future use than a proper member of the team. That said, it’s not a glaring fault and it’s only really something that becomes apparent in hindsight.
While Iron Man 3 was quite isolated in its scope and Thor 2 was mainly about the state of Asgard, The Winter Soldier gives us a clear look beyond the personal world of the protagonist. From the get-go we see S.H.I.E.L.D. at work, so for those who wanted to see what Nick Fury and co. got up to after Avengers ended, you can see some of it here. There’s even a fantastic extended scene early on that doesn’t even involve Captain America at all. The movie is more directly inline with the big events of the Marvel cinematic franchise and as such it feels like a more ‘important’ movie in the grand scheme of things.
The antagonists of the film feel dangerous and actually have some genuinely interesting story behind them. They don’t have terribly complex motivations but it’s something that, in theory, you can understand. The themes it covers as a result are relevant and actually worth thinking about, so it’s a much less jovial watch than Iron Man 3 was. Tonally it’s very much in line with the original Captain America, there are a couple laughs thrown in to lighten it up but it’s a tense, serious, storyline.
The film is showing in both 3D and 2D, there’s really not a whole lot to say about the 3D, positive or negative. If you like 3D then great, go see it in 3D. If you hate 3D, don’t see it in 3D and you won’t have missed much. It feels like a bit of a token gesture to have converted it here, more of a financial reason than for audience enjoyment, but it’s a nice little plus if you’re someone who prefers it. It doesn’t break the film but it certainly doesn’t make it either.
Meanwhile the special effects are incredible. S.H.I.E.L.D. technology and architecture look futuristic and efficient, the sheer scale of it all is stunning. Most of the movie’s set pieces are actually the type of action you might expect from a James Bond film, there’s plenty of explosions and more down to earth fantasy violence. The fight scenes are carefully choreographed to show the talent of the characters with deadly close quarters brawls and even shootouts. Captain America is more of a grounded hero than his fellow Avengers and film’s conflicts generally stick to that too, no aliens or gods here.
Overall it’s an exceptional movie. In the long run this will likely be remembered as one of the strongest Marvel movies. There’s very little to complain about, every part of the film is perfectly crafted and there’s a sense of progression and movement. It never feels like the plot is stalling or dragging its heels. If you’re a fan of super hero movies, or even spy films, then Winter Soldier will take you on a hell of a ride.
As a final note, Winter Soldier continues the trend started in Thor The Dark World of having two end credits scenes. There’s a mid-credits scene and a final scene at the very end of the credits. Make sure you don’t leave early and miss out!