Captain America: The Winter Soldier – What You Need To Know
Out on DVD & Blu-Ray next week, the sequel to 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger picks up with our hero pretty much exactly where the first film left him; defrosted in the present day following his arctic crash and about to embark on a new mission with 'worldwide ramifications'. This time around there's a change of director, with Joe and Anthony Russo taking charge of the new instalment in the franchise, and with S.H.I.E.L.D. operating as an international secret security force, the Russo brothers have added a twist to frame the organisation through new eyes in a post-Edward Snowden reality. It's going to get political...
Who's in it?
Chris Evans is once again in the role of the patriotic hero and his alter ego, Steve Rogers, while Samuel L. Jackson reprises his role as S.H.I.E.L.D.'s director Nick Fury. Scarlett Johansson co-stars in the roles of Natasha Romanoff and The Black Widow, while Sebastian Stan also returns in his role as Bucky Barnes. Elsewhere there are appearances from an impressive cast that includes Emily Van Camp, Hayley Atwell, Anthony Mackie, Frank Grillo and Robert Redford, who appears as S.H.I.E.L.D. and World Security Council member Alexander Pierce.
What's the plot?
One of the key aspects of the recent Marvel Universe films has been the origin story detailing the formation of S.H.I.E.L.D.; that's all well and good for the purposes of the larger narrative arc at work here, but in the wake of Edward Snowden's revelations about NSA surveillance, the idea of an un-elected secret espionage force intervening in the world's political affairs seems less palatable than it did a couple of years ago.
There are two things Marvel could have done here; the first is to take the 'hey, it's only fiction' approach and carry on regardless, but the Russo brothers and the film's producer Kevin Feige opted instead to address these feelings of unrest, with Feige stating that he hired the directors because “they loved our explanation that we really wanted to make a 70s political thriller masquerading as a big superhero movie.”
As such, the new film finds Rogers working as an agent for S.H.I.E.L.D. under Fury, adjusting to the modern-day social and political landscape with a degree of unease. There's a point in the film's dialogue when, observing all the agency's mass surveillance and drone warfare, Rogers says 'this isn't freedom, this is fear.”
In addition, the plot details a conspiracy within S.H.I.E.L.D., including the revelation that the agency has been infiltrated since its inception by the terrorist organisation Hydra. This sees Nick Fury ambushed by a gang led by a mysterious individual known as the Winter Soldier, an assassin with some Soviet-engineered bionic limbs.
Rogers and Agent Romanoff are dispatched to recover hostages from one of the agency's vessels, but when Rogers discovers that Romanoff has been tasked with a separate covert mission to recover data for Fury he begins to doubt the agency's integrity. Like a Cold-War era political drama, distrust and double-crossing are the order of the day here, and Rogers must figure out whether the side he's fighting on is the right one.
Does it deliver?
You have to hand it to Feige and the Russo brothers; the decision to add this political element has paid off handsomely, rescuing the film from being a big, dumb action movie with lots of explosions and turning it into something altogether smarter and more intriguing.
They've also avoided the classic Cold War cliché of painting the U.S. and the Soviets in a clear-cut, black and white case of 'good vs. evil', instead adding a layer of ambiguity that offers a more nuanced and realistic depiction of world events, as well as the Marvel characters' roles in them.
The end result is a movie that has all the action-packed sequences you would hope for from a Marvel superhero flick, but it's one with just as much brain as brawn that succeeds beyond expectations and sets up the third film in the franchise very nicely indeed. Marvel fans will love it, but the movie is made in such a way that you don't have to be a comic book fan – or even a patriot – to enjoy this slick and smart sequel.