Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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When Marvel Studios began their master plan several years ago in establishing a shared universe among their characters, the idea wasn’t necessarily fresh, but its overall execution has proved fruitful thus far. However, as each passing film throws in more narrative lines into the ocean, the focus seems to shift more towards plot and away from character. The latest example of this is Captain America: The Winter Soldier, in which our selfless patriot is forced into conflict with an enemy from his past, and while there is intrigue and relentless narrative propulsion, it comes at the expense of character and thematic development.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) has had something of a wakeup call ever since he found himself in the company of superheroes, aliens and intergalactic portals. Gradually adjusting to the 21st century, he does his best to keep up on pop culture and rediscover dating, but his time has long since passed. A mainstay at SHIELD headquarters, he’s also essentially maintained his status as a one man army. His newest venture is out over the Indian Ocean to resolve a hostage crisis on a French vessel, with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in tow. The operation goes over fairly smoothly, but when Rogers returns, a new development at SHIELD is brought to his attention. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) reveals Project Insight, in which an entire aerial fleet is being built to neutralize potential threats on Earth before they become deadly. Uneasy at the prospect of this advanced military presence, Rogers also meets with SHIELD secretary Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), who assures him that such measures are needed in an increasingly dangerous world. It is in this hostile atmosphere that an assassin known as The Winter Soldier comes to the fore, and a danger from within SHIELD itself is exposed.

As with all other Marvel outings, the cast here is uniformly solid, with the key standouts coming from Avengers stalwarts Jackson and Johansson, both of whom have a precise pulse on balancing between gravitas and sly beats of humor. The disappointment comes in the bare development of Captain America himself. Bringing Steve Rogers out of the 1940s and into the present day set up some interesting internal conflict in The Avengers, but here its an afterthought. Chris Evans himself is no detriment, and perhaps Rogers learns that he can no longer trust anyone like he used to, but even that piece of exposition is literally spoken to him within the first act. It’s simply hard to say if the Captain is truly a different person after all that transpires. Even more grievous is the underuse of The Winter Soldier himself, whose personal connection to Rogers is a major component of the film, but he never is more than a mere weapon for a greater power.

Even with these shortcomings in character development, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is certainly the most briskly paced Marvel venture to date. Laden with events from start to finish, every fifteen minutes seemingly brings a new set piece or narrative development to the fore, and this certainly keeps the proceedings lively. Marvel has had a knack for finding lesser known directors to work on their tentpoles, and the choice in Anthony and Joe Russo for this particular episode is unremarkable, but not a misfire either. For the most part, the action sequences are mostly well done, the best of which centers on Nick Fury and kickstarts the conflict into high gear. Naturally, there are also some scenes where too much dependence on editing yields chaotic results. What really sells, however, is that most of these action beats have relevance to the overall narrative, and aren’t simply excuses for Rogers to toss his shield around. The film is frankly at its best when it ponders the dangers of military escalation for the sake of predetermined protection, but those ideas are never fully explored. While Captain America: The Winter Soldier offers excitement in bundles, the lack of character investment and thematic insight makes one wonder whether there is any long lasting consequence after the rubble is cleared.

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~ by romancinema on April 6, 2014.

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