*Warning contains spoilers*
It is rare I review movies because often there is not a significant amount to say. Yes Marvel films are generally good action movies that pay a moderate level of respect to their characters but on the other hand they pay a little too much attention to fan service and fail to develop their heroes in any meaningful way. The only films that do this to some degree are the Iron Man films which should be the case given there are three of them. The reason I write this report is because I wholeheartedly love Captain America and Bucky and that is because of Ed Brubaker. When I returned to reading comics I was put onto this particular title because of its compelling story and rapports between Cap and his friends. The whole run was fantastic and the best part of the writing is that the book still sold despite Steve Rogers being absent for the most of it. Theoretically this is the comic the movie is based upon but I know it will not be a direct adaptation. The Marvel movie machine has been churning out superhero movies of a particular mould for a while now and they do not delve into character transitions sufficiently. Considering the key to Brubaker’s Bucky and Cap is a focus on their relationship, I had minimal expectations despite having a whole movie to draw experiences upon that solidly developed a foundation. I must note that the end of the Winter Soldier story arc did not end with a happy reunion between old friends so that was never an expectations, but the key to the book was the development of the Winter Soldier and Steve’s reaction to his return. Anyway that is enough background, let’s get onto the movie.
I quite enjoyed it. It was a solid action packed, well balanced, subtly amusing, reasonably respectful movie. This is what Marvel does well, they give the fans of the comics enough and make it enjoyable for newcomers. The usual complaints will exist such as the unnecessary length and the ridiculous amount of action sequences and CGI. There appears to be a competition and this movie wins with regards to how many helicarriers can be destroyed in one flick. As long as those giant behemoths of warfare don’t kill millions we can accept the fallout of tonnes of debris falling onto the city below. I will say that the action was superb, especially watching Cap take down a terrorist organisation single handedly. Some delightful choreography and direction was at play here and makes you giddy with excitement. I was less impressed with the large-scale weapon work but that is because we have seen it before. Widow and Falcon were very impressive with respect to their power sets and were able to demonstrate their strengths equally. That is certainly one feature of these films that I admire. Both Sam and Natasha are regular people without powers but have immense technology and skill, and are treated as heroes nonetheless. This also applies to Maria Hill and Fury who also have their “heroic” moments. Winter Soldier is very impressive and the effects of his robotic arm are utilised perfectly in action. As good as the fighting and choreography is, a film cannot completely rely on these scenes.
The plot itself was relatively solid and followed the typical method of action intro teasing subterfuge, the betrayal action packed middle, with a resounding exciting action ending. Did you spot the common denominator in all three acts? It does drag on a bit and there is a little too much fighting for my liking but the Hydra focus as villain’s works for storytelling purposes. The reveals are well handled but predictable and it was exciting to see Zola as an AI entity. The suspense is decent enough but we know that ultimately our heroes will succeed, despite there being five heroes on three helicarriers worth of enemies. I really enjoyed seeing Batroc portrayed as a realistic bad man but less so for Crossbones who I essentially did not recognise. One again there are some silly moments that make no sense but I try hard to ignore them because prolonged attention to them reduces my enjoyment of the movie. I suspend belief, which is a skill I have tried hard to develop over the years. Despite the great action cinematography and solid plot what was the actual film about? The screenplay brings the themes of trust and friendship into play but does not really bring it to fruition. There are some grandiose notions of the ethics of a nanny state which is completely forgotten with the Hydra infestation. We move from having the conversation of why it is immoral to pre-empt terrorism to having that system corrupted by evildoers. This leads to the natural conclusion that this level of organisation is ineffective because it can be corrupted? Or was it that it is unethical? I struggle to understand how Fury’s diatribe on trust reconciles with his secret defence plans especially because it hinged on a person he trusted most, who ultimately proved to be untrustworthy. Surely the message here is to trust no-one but the final scenes resolve this by stating that he should trust those closest to him. It’s a poorly explored argument. If you try to integrate this with the whole overreaching mistrusting governmental defence strategy then it all falls apart. Mistrust is the foundation of spying on your citizens but the only reason that Fury learns the moral corruption lesson is because Hydra invaded his system. Therefore the S.H.E.I.L.D. system must be disbanded and he should trust people around him. Even though it was his misplaced trust that caused the infiltration in the first place. It is a far more complex argument than its portrayal and the only aspects of it that succeed are the development of Steve’s relationship with Natasha and her own redemption. Also I adored the kindling of a new friendship with Sam, because after all I am still a fan boy. Oh yeah I almost forgot the Bucky side plot, because it was eminently forgettable.
I knew this would be the case but there was so much focus on the phenomenal battle skills of Bucky and the big reveal, which was not so big. I cannot figure out if this was due to Chris Evan’s acting or just poor writing. There was such little time devoted to their friendship that you struggled to really believe he cared. I would expect the whole “man out of time” theme to involve more of an exploration of his devotion to Bucky, not just a sweet scene visiting his old flame. I really wanted to see some flashback sequences of the Winter Soldier strategically taking out targets during the Cold War sparking the political hostility of that era. This would have developed Bucky as the Winter Soldier which can nicely lead into his torment at seeing a man who he recognised. Instead it was flatly squashed by some electrocution therapy, progressing into a final fight that was just a final fight. I expected an Empire/Return of the Jedi confrontation sequences but instead we saw Cap failing to defend himself against Bucky when the mission was completed, and do not forget to add it some nostalgic tag line. It was a cheap sell and failed to convince me either character cared. Like I said above, I never expected to see reconciliation but the build up to redemption could have been so much better.
Marvel are bringing out so many movies and everyday we are hearing about new projects. I was excited as anyone to hear about Cap, Thor and the Avengers and for the most, I really enjoyed them. I am a little tired now, which as quite apparent at my lack lustre reaction to seeing Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch post initial credit sequence. I know that Avengers brought more people to comics but I am not sure how many more of these films I can watch anymore. They are all cast from the same mould and I really hope they do continue to bring more comic readers. This movie should definitely promote Brubaker’s Winter Soldier, despite it being a very different story. I also am sure that Marvel will do the next set of movies justice as they have been doing, but as solid a superhero action movies they are, they are not great character stories. The solo hero films are better to say the least but there is little intelligent or clever about them. That has never been the focus and I doubt there ever will be. Bucky’s return was one that should never have happened in comics but it was done with conviction and fervour by a great writer. This failed to translate to the movie as anything more than an average subplot, and I am left saddened by this. There is little doubt that the next sequel will feature Sharon Carter as the woman who kills Captain America as it is the next part of the Brubaker story. I know that it will be a decent action movie with a solid plot, but it will disappoint with respect to characters and relationships. But I will go to see it because I am a loyal Cap follower and I hope I have stepped up a level in my ability to suspend belief. Until then I must try harder.
*I know that many people will disagree with what I say and I welcome any comments or discussions people may have on the matter. Please realise that this is my opinion and I may be incorrect, so let me know if I am failing to see the wood for the trees. Because sometimes I really do hope I am.*