Many of the best moments of this year’s Captain America sequel happen, I feel, before his nemesis The Winter Soldier even makes his appearance on screen. This is not to say that I have a problem with the film. On the contrary, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a worthy follow-up to the first Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) and to the mega-blockbuster The Avengers (2012), driven by the undeniable star wattage of Chris Evans and excellent chemistry with his two main co-stars, Scarlett Johansson (returning as the Black Widow) and a very likable Anthony Mackie (as Cap’s new ‘sidekick’, Sam Wilson aka the Falcon).
What I mean by my opening line is that in the first half hour, the film is focused entirely on the charismatic Steve Rogers, running circles around Sam Wilson (literally), jumping off a plane without a parachute and taking down bad guys almost single-handed in an exhilarating action sequence on board a hijacked ship. Embodied by Chris Evans (looking more heroic with every successive movie in the franchise), Steve Rogers seems able to outwit and outhit anything the world can throw at him.
Once he returns to Washington DC, Rogers faces a much more difficult adversary. He has to deal with real and imagined conspiracies and the lack of transparency from his own superiors, Nick Fury and Alexander Pierce. I have mentioned earlier the delicious irony of having Alexander Pierce played by 70’s icon Robert Redford, who himself was at the receiving end of conspiracies in the thrillers Three Days of the Condor and All the President’s Men. In fact, Redford was cast on purpose because of this connection.
My problem is with Cap’s chief nemesis, The Winter Soldier, who is just not a worthy counterweight to Captain America. Poor Sebastian Stan has a hopeless task; while he was endearing as Bucky Barnes in the first Captain America film, he just doesn’t have the physical presence or menacing aura to be effective as a bionic Russian-trained assassin. Especially, when his mask comes off during a fight sequence and we see his face, it’s quite the anti-climax. I actually thought that the computer-generated face of HYDRA villain Amin Zola in the warehouse scene had more menace than Sebastian Stan’s bionic assassin.
Nevertheless, the pace of the film, the chemistry between the stars, the action set-pieces and a couple of really strong emotion moments (Steve Rogers reunites with an aging Peggy Carter and the scene where Nick Fury is fighting for his life) result in a highly entertaining kick-off to the 2014 summer blockbuster season.
It’s worth making a special mention of Henry Jackman’s score which is very effective. His work on another Marvel film, X-Men First Class is among my favourites and although he hasn’t created anything as memorable in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the dramatic score delivered through the IMAX speakers is very effective.
The film is directed by TV series regulars Joe and Anthony Russo, who have apparently been signed on for Captain America 3 just on the strength of audience reactions during preview screenings. Given their TV/ comedy background, I was surprised they went in for so much shaky cam/ quick cutting in this film. I preferred the more conventional framing with combinations of wide shots and zoom used by Joss Whedon in The Avengers and Joe Johnston in Captain America: The First Avenger; it was much easier with that approach to enjoy the complex action sequences.
I have no doubt this will be a very lucrative entry in the franchise and of course the end of the film (don’t forget to stay back for the now famous mid-credis and post-credis ‘stingers’) sets up very nicely for Avengers: Age of Ultron which releases in 13 months’ time.
If the 33 year old Evans goes through with his recent announcement that he is ready to leave acting behind once he finishes his Captain America commitments (that would be with Cap 3 in May 2016), we may not get too many more chances to see this natural born movie star on the big screen. If you are a big fan of his like I am, be sure to check out his other recent release, the dystopian scifi thriller Snowpiercer, which has been receiving rave reviews and is slowly being released in markets across the world.