CAPTAIN America is known as the first Avenger, but he was the last to get his introductory movie in phase one of the Marvel cinematic universe. Now ‘Cap’ is back with superhero timing to rescue that universe from spiralling into audience apathy.
The three storytellers and brother directors help save the day by bringing the franchise back down to relatable earth, after the fantasy elves and realms of Thor: The Dark World and giant aliens who attacked New York in The Avengers.
Much is made of Captain America’s alter ego Steve Rogers (Evans) as a 95-year-old man out of time, coping with the culture and values clash inherent in suddenly defrosting in the world today when his yesterday was wartime 1942.
What elevates this sequel above recent lacklustre superhero entries is its daring grappling of the zeitgeist, namely the post 9/11 freedom versus security debate.
Rogers and fellow Avenger Black Widow (Johansson) discover their own organisation SHIELD is about to launch a massive war machine to neutralise threats before they happen.
However, “the world’s greatest soldier”, used to the relative black and white morality of World War 2, condemns fear over freedom, which sets the duo on a collision course with SHIELD’s top brass Nick Fury (Jackson) and Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), just as a mysterious Soviet era assassin wreaks havoc.
Redford’s casting reinforces the 1970s conspiracy thriller tone The Winter Soldier aims to homage while meeting its quota of mega-explosions, thrilling car chases and stunning hand-to-hand fight scenes.
The Winter Soldier justifies its long running time with many surprises, thankfully left unspoilt by trailers, and in-joke references to fellow Marvel heroes. There are great bits of business, such as an astonished incognito Cap visiting the historical exhibition set up in his honour at the Smithsonian.
The all-male film-makers are on less surer footing with romance. Rogers meeting his thwarted love interest 70 years later should have left not a dry eye in the house and the sexual frisson between Cap and Black Widow barely rises above room temperature.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier stands well enough on its own spectacular action movie merits without prior knowledge of the Marvel universe. But it becomes a richer and more rewarding experience if the first Cap caper has been watched as the personal stakes for Rogers are raised all the more.
FOUR POPCORNS OUT OF FIVE
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (M)
Starring: Chris Evans (Snowpiercer), Samuel L Jackson (RoboCop), Scarlet Johansson (Her)
Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo (Community, Arrested Development)
Screening: Reading Cinemas Queenstown
– Otago Daily Times