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The brightest, most optimistic hero in the Marvel pantheon gone emo?  Whoda thunk?  Back in the wilds of World War II, Captain Steve Rogers knew right from wrong; the good guys wore white cowboy hat and bad guys wore black ones – or, more accurately, SS uniforms.  Things were cut and dried with zero ambiguity.  After his rise from a 60-year cryonic nap, Rogers couldn’t have expected how much things would change in the next century.  The stealthy nature of the nation’s enemies was to be expected, but to discover that secrecy and duplicity even from those on whose orders he’s risking his life is something the soldier cannot abide.  With hidden agendas everywhere, is the straightforward Captain America the only honest man in the world; hopelessly lost to his naïveté and idealism?  Well, he is from Brooklyn, ya know…

Picking up after the events of 2012’s The Avengers, Captain America is in his happy place; beating up bad guys on behalf of the good ol’ USA.  A mid-sea hostage situation sees our All-American fighting machine back in action (in a slinky new black and silver getup) leaping from moving helicarriers sans parachute and cutting a swath through an army of terrorists in hand-to-hand combat.  When his team member, the acerbic Black Widow is revealed to be under separate and secret orders that nearly kibosh the whole mission, Cap is understandably peeved.  Confronting the master of all games, Nick Fury, head of the spy operation S.H.I.E.L.D., Cap is basically told this is the way things are, so get used to it, which is a great big no for the honourable soldier.  Frustrated at his lack of options, Rogers takes comfort in the good old days, remembering lost friends and whiling away hours in his wartime memories on public display at the Smithsonian Museum.  While Cap searches for some justification for his life and chosen career path, Fury faces a different existential crisis.  Understanding the deep spy game he must play every day, having himself ordered all sorts of hidden surveillance and double and triple crosses; even Fury can’t predict the threat going on under his nose.  Like Rogers, Fury is about to have a nasty shock when S.H.I.E.L.D. is attacked by an unknown enemy attempting to seize a new lethal airship capable of obliterating thousands of lives in mere moments.  Bolstered with the presence of an unstoppable figure, whose awesome fighting ability seems very reminiscent of Captain America’s, the Winter Soldier has popped up on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s radar over many years, yet was never captured despite scores of assassinations and general mayhem.  Figuring out who to trust in this world of deception, makes trying to stay alive and foil the bad guys that much harder for our upstanding hero; but backed by a small crew, including the shifty Black Widow, Fury’s right hand (and left eye), Maria Hill, and a new accomplice, fellow veteran, Sam Wilson, at least Captain America isn’t completely alone.

As much as I enjoyed the 2011 Captain America film, this sequel is miles beyond.  It ups the ante in storyline, character development and action.  More complete than the last, it is the best of the Marvel/Avengers pantheon since The Avengers movie.  While watching Steve Rogers’ depression, longing for old friends and his struggle with the truth of this world, I was tempted to start calling him Captain Emorica (though I daresay Winter Soldier has the look down with his long, floppy, dark hair and raccoon eyeliner).  As acted by Chris Evans with still wide - but not blind - eyes, Steve Rogers’ disappointment at what war and defence of his nation has become rings throughout the film.  It was notable when trust issues first arose in The Avengers and comes to a head here.  Cap’s not happy.  He even confesses to the thought of giving it all up, which, as we are reminded in quasi-flashbacks, would have been the furthest thing from the mind of that original 98-pound-weakling from 1942, whose only dream was to serve his country.  In those days, you knew who the enemy was, plain and simple: Command trusted their soldiers to be honest and give their all for the country.  There were no hidden agendas.  In this day of everybody in it for themselves, there are now plenty of ulterior motives; some necessary for the protection of the populace and some a force of habit as exhibited by Fury, who can’t seem to stop himself from playing all sides against each other, even on the same team.  What all the eyes everywhere cannot see is that there is a very old enemy still among us.  Burrowed deep into the very foundations of the mighty S.H.I.E.L.D., is a parasite eating away at the organisation, weakening and corrupting it to do its bidding, starting with commandeering the new weapon.  It’s bad enough for the “right side” to have that much power, but what happens when it’s in the hands of those with a much darker agenda, who want to mould the world over in their own image?  Evans’ Rogers is right, and had there been more openness and clear communication amongst the forces, that threat might never had grown.  

While Captain America is definitely a relic of the past, happy to live in his memories and finally making contact with his old sweetheart, Peggy Carter, now a granny in a nursing home, he hasn’t let his fighting skills remain the 20th century.  Cap’s been watching some MMA!  Jumpy cinematography aside, the fighting set pieces are phenomenal.  Right from the start, a terrorist’s accusation that our hero hides behind his super strong shield results in the bad guy picking his teeth up off the floor when Cap mops him up mano-a-mano.  We get much more of a sense of what the Super Soldier formula has wrought, as he takes on literally dozens of very armed, very large villains, crashes through walls, doors - whatever’s near - and can outrun and jump the fittest soldier.

In what appears to have been a part of the whole point of the film, Black Widow also gets a big up in this chapter.  While I was not impressed with Scarlett Johansson’s portrayal of that character in The Avengers, Natasha’s nominally improved in that we actually have Widow’s Bite action, more fighting – albeit with very visible stuntwomen – and a superior coiffure versus the soccer mom ‘do from The Avengers (though still not the cool fringe or backcombed hair bump).  There’s still work to do on the character as she’s yet without the feline or sophisticated quality I’d long associated with the elegant ex-KGB agent.  Her sidekick/stolidly platonic relationship with Cap seems weird and a bit laboured, though I’m glad the obvious wasn’t pursued.  The reveal of the new hero, The Falcon, seems a bit wonky at first, but the excellent staging of his incredibly fast, whiplash movements with his metal wings live up to the name.  The Winter Soldier himself is an example of old ghosts coming back to haunt S.H.I.E.L.D. and even Captain America.  The hollow-eyed, merciless killer is very much what might’ve happened to Cap, as drugs and electro-shock keep the super-powered assassin nice and obedient to his masters, without any thoughts of his own or memories of his past.

While surely having its funny moments (the elevator showdown is a riot), Winter Soldier doesn’t quite snap with the wit of the previous movie, and I practically wanted to throw a shoe (or a shield) every time unnecessary shakycam kicked in during a thrilling fight.  Those are relatively small complaints when compared with all the excitement and story development of this newest chapter.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier sets the stage for many an interesting turn of events (One of two Easter eggs features a pair of “twins” I’ve been waiting to see on screen for ages.) that don’t all have to do with the war against the forces of evil as much as the war between Captain America and the world he doesn’t quite understand.  I can’t wait for the next one.

 

~The Lady Miz Diva

April 4th, 2014

 

Click here for our review of 2011's Captain America; The First Avenger.

 

Click here for our review of 2012's The Avengers.

 

 

 

 

 

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Photos

Stills Courtesy of 

Walt Disney Pictures

 

 

 

 

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