Of all the Marvel properties to make it to the silver screen so far, Captain America is perhaps the least appealing of the lot, massively outshone by occasional allies Iron Man and Thor. It’s a surprise, then, to see him firmly entrenched within one of Marvel’s best films, Captain America: The Winter Soldier – a direct follow-up to The Avengers that’s as much part of the overall MCU as it is its own rooted and entertaining entity.
After the cataclysmic events of New York, Steve Rogers, aka Captain America (Chris Evans), is lying low. When S.H.I.E.L.D. comes under attack by a brute new force, he’s whisked back into the world of conspiracy and thunderous threat. Enlisting teammate Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, a terrific foil to Evans), Captain America must untangle a labyrinth web of mystery – a task that’s thwarted by The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).
Captain America: The Winter Soldier packs a lot into its extended, yet swiftly paced narrative, from the revelation of life threatening S.H.I.E.L.D. secrets to the further expansion of Steve Rogers himself. It’s perhaps too much for screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely to handle at times, with the main villain narrowed to a bit-part and the narrative weighed down by the multitude of twists and turns (some of which are better than others).
That said, there’s still plenty to take pleasure in. The film is elevated throughout by strong characterisations (Rogers’ inner conflict takes centre stage, and is portrayed well by Evans’ layered performance), sharp back-and-forth camaraderie and self-deprecating wit. Also, considering how inexperienced directors Joe and Anthony Rosso are outside of comedy, the action sequences are superb, steeped in an an identifiable level of realism.
It’s in the way all these elements work in sync that’s perhaps most impressive. A range of dark, relevant themes are explored, from politics to dubious security measures, yet not in a way that’s ever overbearing, and the script keeps things limber throughout. There’s a fair amount of wobbles here and there, particularly in the languid middle act, but Captain America: The Winter Soldier has a real depth to it that makes it more than a mere beat ‘em up blockbuster.