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Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Posted on the 17 December 2015 by Christopher Saunders

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

"There's a chance you might be in the wrong business."

I found Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) boring, but its sequel is far superior. The Winter Soldier (2014) is an excellent blend. Everything fires on all cylinders, resulting in a blockbuster both exciting and dramatically satisfying.
Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) remains SHIELD's chief operative, though increasingly wary of Nick Fury's (Samuel L. Jackson) secrecy. A routine mission triggers an assassination attempt against Fury, leaving Rogers unsure who to trust. Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) of the World Security Council declares Rogers a fugitive. Rogers and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) discover that SHIELD's been infiltrated by HYDRA, which plans to trigger a nuclear holocaust. Hunting them is a mysterious assassin called the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).
The Winter Soldier styles itself after thrillers like Three Days of the Condor, a link cemented by Robert Redford's casting. Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely make better play of Steve's anachronism than The Avengers, which mostly mocks him. Besides using the internet to refresh his cultural knowledge, old-fashioned Steve worries about a modern world trading freedom for security. When Fury, Pierce and others prove untrustworthy, he needs Natasha to keep him grounded.
Directors Joe and Anthony Russo deliver excellent action. The attack on Fury is a brilliantly staged set-piece; gadgets aside, the violence is more intense than Marvel films typically offer. There's a Hitchcockian scene where Rogers is boxed into an elevator, and a highway chase culminating in a three-way, hand-to-hand combat with the Winter Soldier. Predictably, things escalate towards a full-scale battle, with CGI explosions, endless gunplay and Henry Jackman's score dialed up to eleven. Even the best superhero flicks can't ignore some conventions.
Similarly, Winter Soldier's plot twists aren't too surprising. That Fury survives won't shock anyone; the Marvel franchise rarely kills anyone but incidental extras. Nor will the reveal about the Winter Soldier's identity. Human moments work better: Nick Fury finally gets a backstory, while Natasha mocks Steve's lack of a girlfriend. A subplot introduces Sam Evans (Anthony Mackie), a disillusioned veteran who becomes the superhero Falcon.
Chris Evans has progressively grown into his role: dull the first time around, amusingly misplaced in The Avengers. Here his straight arrow act works far better, and Evans sells Rogers' conflict and ass-kicking. Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow nearly steals the show, promoted from sidekick to implacable partner. Samuel L. Jackson finally gets some substantive scenes as Nick Fury; he becomes a character rather than mere presence. Robert Redford's affable villain and Anthony Mackie's tough Falcon make nice additions.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has suffered from diminishing returns and its increasing convolution, something this summer's Age of Ultron failed to resolve. Fortunately, Captain America: The Winter Soldier shows there's still life in the formula.

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