Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Out today

Five stars

This is the ninth film in Marvel’s series of interconnected superhero flicks, and there’s no sign of slowing down. Indeed, this is possibly the studio’s strongest outing yet – it’s certainly the best we’ve seen of Captain America.

It’s all about the timing. Captain America was dull in the 1940s – an all-round do-gooder, an unabashed symbol of wartime propaganda. But put him on ice until the 21st century and he becomes a badass outcast.

Captain America The Winter Soldier

That’s when things get interesting. With his friends long dead and his values outdated, the all-American poster-boy struggles for relevance. That’s something Marvel has only briefly touched upon so far, usually in the form of a tech-based gag.

As government agency SHIELD becomes more controlling, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) finds himself unwilling to toe the line. The perfect soldier begins questioning orders, and things get complicated when the agency comes under attack.

More after the break

Captain America The Winter Soldier

The Winter Soldier is unusually sensible for a Marvel flick. Gone are the bright colours of The Avengers. The vibe is primarily that of a 1970s political conspiracy thriller, complete with All the President's Men star Robert Redford in a key role. The decision to dig at shadowy government practices is a bold move, and allows the film to strike a more serious, realistic tone.

Not Christopher Nolan’s kind of serious and realistic, of course. Marvel has steered clear of the kind of tedious mopery that threatened to drown The Dark Knight Rises. Despite its more mature ambitions, The Winter Soldier never forgets its roots in a comic book about a man with a killer frisbee.

Heavier moments are nicely balanced with nicely timed, well-scripted humour. Outlandish elements are celebrated, not excused or glossed over. There’s something hilariously ironic about a man who hits people with a shield – and he does that a lot.

Captain America The Winter Soldier

The action is very competently handled. Set pieces tend to be short and savage, never laboured. Fireworks are rare but loud, and all the more effective for it. You won’t get any incoherent, Transformers-style extended car-flipping sessions here: the violence is up close and to the point like a wrench to the face. It’s easy and enjoyable to watch, as long as you do it in 2D – some of the fights have focussing issues in 3D.

Most importantly, there's room for characters to develop. The Cap's continuous struggle to understand modern society is an endless source of entertainment. Meanwhile, Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow is finally allowed to do more than hit people, and Anthony Mackie's amiable Falcon (think backpack with Buzz Lightyear wings) is a welcome addition.

Captain America The Winter Soldier

There will come a point when these superhero films reach critical mass, when all of these characters and overlapping storylines become too much for Marvel to handle. But for now we’re in safe, capable hands. The Winter Soldier is one of the most refreshingly competent action films we’ve seen in a long time, and we can’t wait to see it again on Blu-ray.

 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is out today in cinemas across the UK.

Running time: 136 minutes

Certificate: 12A

 

by  Ced Yuen

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