To be honest, I was not terribly impressed with Captain America: The First Avenger. Granted, I am not familiar with the source material. As a movie, I found it rather bland and even a bit boring. Sure, the fights were pretty cool and I enjoy what Chris Evans brings to the role. The first movie was an origin film, nothing more, nothing less.
Captain America – The Winter Soldier on the other hand is much better at nearly everything the first film was not. The set pieces and action are much more powerful and the story is much more mature than any other Marvel movie to date (Guardians of the Galaxy is a close second despite its very humorous moments). More importantly, I really enjoyed watching this film.
This film starts with Captain America in the present day (his future). The events of The Avengers has happened so the world knows all about ‘Cap. The rest of the movie is dark side, something, something stuff – but it is enjoyable. There is a vast conspiracy featuring Hydra (the Commi-Nazi-Capitalists from the first film) trying to do what Commi-Nazi-Capitalists do. Surprisingly, all the conspiracy stuff is consistent even if it is a bit laborious to reach its inevitable conclusion. It is also good to have human baddies this time around (I know, racist, right?).
We also get to see the cracks which lead to the just released Captain America: Civil War. ‘Cap is not all too happy with some of modernities features. He is not just being a naive 1940s boy caught up with those crazy-kids of yesterday’s generation (when will they learn) nor is he just a committed idealist, which to be sure he most certainly is. Rather, the ‘Cap raises some much-needed questions which SHIELD does not seem too keen to answer or even consider. While the movie does not make it terribly explicit, all the key players are basically wanting the same ends achieved through different means: control. This is what I believe Captain America is seeing. He sees it in Hydra and he sees it in SHIELD. Both want to use different methods of force to exert control ‘for the greater good’. Granted, Hydra wants racial purity good while SHIELD wants a we-are-all-safe good (which I would prefer). Yet the ‘Cap is at odds with this because for him the dividing line between the ends justifying the means is getting blurred, and he is not comfortable with it.
“Captain America is at odds with the ends justifying the means. To him, both Hydra and SHIELD want the same thing: control.”
This reluctance carries through Evans’ performance going forward. Undoubtedly, he knows to do ‘the right thing’ and unquestionably commits to it. Captain America is after all the embodiment of the American Ideal.
[Slight digression. Captain America reminds me a bit of Constable Odo on Deep Space Nine when he goes on about rules changing depending on who is in charge. One day it is the Cardassians, then the Bajorans and the next day the Federation. Yet for him justice is justice, this does not change. Of course, when he reunites with his people later on they dryly note it is not justice he is looking for but control and order in the chaos. Yes, Deep Space Nine examines some very deep (sorry) ideas. Go watch it!]
This is no more evident when the identity of The Winter Soldier is revealed. Despite being the subtitle, this element of the movie seemed to be the B-story whereas the conspiracy was the main plot. Granted, they both feed into the other but the story of Hydra trying to seize power seemed more important. Despite this lack of focus, The Winter Soldier element unfolds quite organically within the overall story. When you first see him you have no idea who it is except they are a total badass. When their identity is revealed it is a bit of a sucker punch to the gut. For Captain America, everything going on becomes more personal and while his ideals become rattled throughout the film he nonetheless remains committed to doing what is right (at least in his eyes).
“The Captain’s ideals become rattled throughout the film, yet he nonetheless remains committed to doing what is right.”
We also get introduced to Falcon (Anthony Mackie) who plays an important part in this story and is a good character for the audience to relate to. He is new to all the bells and whistles (although he is a veteran of war) yet the most relatable character here. Everyone else has some special ability or morally dubious past, whereas Falcon is just a soldier like the Captain trying to do the right things in his life. When we do see Falcon in action, it is pretty cool what he can do. Yet his ‘special powers’ are mechanical (much like Iron Man) rather than supernatural or the result of some scientific experiment gone wrong (or right in ‘Caps case). As such, this makes him a very relatable character.
Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) returns as badass and sexy as ever. Her character does not change very much here but it is obvious being around Captain America is good for her. She has a dark past and struggles to do the right things, inevitably ‘following orders’ without question. While she is committed to doing what needs to be done, she questions her faith in SHIELD and remains uncertain about going forward. This film rattles her a bit and the idealism of Captain America starts to rub off a little. I am interested to see how this plays out given her allegiance in Civil War.
Captain America – The Winter Soldier is a much better film than its predecessor was. Everything about it is improved, which for a sequel is not regularly the case. All of the actors do a terrific job in this and the action is fantastic. I also enjoy the seriousness and maturity this film offers compared to other Marvel films. I was not keen to see this movie when it came out because of my tepid response to the first film, yet I wish I had. This film is interesting, entertaining and good. I am very much looking forward to seeing Captain America – Civil War.