Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

(M) Disney/Marvel DVD/BD & Digital Download

Is it just me, or is the superhero genre becoming a little tired?

After Thor 2 last year, it became very obvious awe and wonder fatigue was setting in. The template is simple: Threat to the world – check, some hand-wringing as we discover the villain behind the threat – check , screen splattered with effects laden set pieces – check, effects-heavy climax where nobody actually gets killed – check.

Finally getting out from under the conundrum they had started with Avengers, Shield comes into its own in Captain America’s second outing. This movie’s masterstroke is to flip the equation and bring the whole of Shield into question, for both the audience and its on-screen heroes.

And who better to question it than Steve Rogers? If there’s one thing the Cap can do better than any other superhero, it’s represent the patriotic soul of America – he is the literal flag-waving patriot to end all patriots.

When Rogers casts his 1940s eyes over Shield’s “quantum surge in threat analysis” – a chilling fusion of mass surveillance and drone warfare – and says, “This isn’t freedom. This is fear,” it’s one of those remarkable, even radical, moments. Marvel gets political. And relevant.  Finally.

Its themes are weighty indeed. The nature of trust, truth and freedom are bought into question in an age when we are tracked by the GPSs in our smart phones. This is chilling, relevant material. Props to Marvel for having the conviction to make such a bold statement. They may not substantially answer these lofty questions, but asking them is a bold first step.

In asking these lofty questions it also brings into question what it means to be a superhero. Rather than, say, trying to stop a malevolent super-elf destroying the nine realms of Asgard, these superheroes are suddenly grappling with real-world issues such as national security, civil liberty, and intelligence gathering.

The enemy here is within, which means no one is to be trusted and everything’s up in the air, often literally. It would be a crime to spoil the surprises. The one niggle is the workmanlike execution can’t match this thematic boldness.

In terms of star power, Chris Evans is no Robert Downey Jr. With his 90s-boyband hairstyle, massive physique and limited emotional range, he tends to disappear into blandness when he’s not chucking his shield around and kicking bad guys across the room.

Scarlett Johansson is the hero who finally comes into her own. Her Black Widow has fun chipping away at the Captain’s earnestness and trying to fix him up with a date. It’s a running joke that gives welcome brevity amongst the mayhem.  Having played the voluptuous female mascot in this boys’ club for so long, Johansson gets some welcome character development. The supposed baddie of the piece — the Winter Soldier — barely registers amid the chaos, though he’s not the only baddie by any means. His ultimate reveal and relationship to Captain America is undermined by a distinct lack of character development. This sadly is the norm in many Marvel films, the villains are mostly one note.

These shortcomings don’t really matter, though. The real excitement of the movie is seeing just how far they’ll take their political parallels – which is pretty much all the way to a grand conspiracy theory the likes of which will make your head spin.

In the first movie, an injection transformed Steve Rogers into the strapping super soldier Captain America; similarly, this sequel gives the flagging comic-book movie franchise an adrenaline shot it needs — relevance.

Adrian Drayton

 

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