Chris Evans returns as Steve Rogers, otherwise known as Captain America, in the latest blockbuster superhero film from Marvel’s Avengers series. After the cataclysmic events of New York, Rogers is still struggling to find his place in the modern world, while working with Shield, under the direction of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and alongside the mysterious agent Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson).
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is tasked with an ambitious set of priorities. First, it has to continue the story of Rogers/Captain America, as he comes to grips with the changed trajectory of his life, the people he left behind in World War 2 and the new world he finds himself in. Here Evans does well to continue balancing the bravura of Captain America, who again is given plenty of opportunity to display his pace and skills in hand to hand combat, with the lingering romanticism of Steve Rogers.
Moreover, the film has to advance not just Captain America’s story forward, but also the whole franchise, introducing more characters and creating an arc that pushes us forward to the next Avengers film, Avengers: Age of Ultron, due in 2015. This includes debuting new characters like Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and of course, the Winter Soldier, while also treating fans to intriguing Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) subplot.
Finally, Captain America: The Winter Soldier attempts what many fans have been waiting for, some kind of Shield backstory. The Captain America plot was the most natural place to do this and the way this backstory unfolds, together with what it means for all concerned, is probably the most surprising plot twist so far in the whole Avengers series and one which will have consequences for every one of the upcoming films.
And, while Captain America: The Winter Soldier completes all these franchise level tasks well, it also succeeds on its own terms, as an episodic film. I say episodic, because we are so deep into this narrative universe now that each Avengers film is really a piece in a larger tapestry and needs to be understood that way. Captain America: The Winter Soldier feels very much like a film in a series of Captain America stories and also, a cog in the greater Avengers machine.
Which is not to say this film doesn’t have some stand alone merits. Like other recent (so-called “phase two”) Avengers films, Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is an existential film, an exploration of the superhero and his relationships after the apocalypse. And, while “what happened in New York” doesn’t hang as heavily over this film as the others, there is still a dark shadow of consequences, personal and political which need to be sorted out.
And, in this well acted and thoughtfully scripted film, sorting this out means deep changes and personal sacrifices for everyone involved, from World Council director Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), to the already mentioned Fury and Falcon and agent Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow.
Romanoff’s character is pivotal to the plot of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Johansson again plays the part well. But, her presence here is telling reminder that, nine films into the franchise, every story has a male character as its lead. We meet a new female in this film, Emily VanCamp as Sharon Carter / Agent 13, but she does little other than point a gun and try to stand her ground. And, sadly, Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), is reduced to small role, most of which involves staring at a computer screen, shouting updates for benefit of the heroes on the front line and the audience members who are not quite keeping up with the plot.
These concerns aside, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, is a great success. It advances the Avengers story, gives fans plenty to look forward to in upcoming films, while also providing an exciting and surprising cinematic experience.
You can also read James’ review here.