Marvel seems to be hopping from strength to strength with each installment of its Cinematic Universe, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier does not seem likely to break the tradition. This time around, hunky human-Popsicle™ Steve Rogers is trying to get by in the 21st century, ably helped by allies both old (Natasha Romanoff) and new (Sam Wilson, as played by Anthony Mackie). A routine mission in the Indian Ocean uncovers a plot involving SHIELD and war-mongering US senator Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford, making a welcome bow to genre cinema). Project Insight is their plot aimed at maintaining peace through SHIELD heli-carriers linked to orbital kill-sats – albeit a tainted one, since it involves ex-Hydra scientists hired en masse by the US government since World War II. That discovery not only nearly costs the life of SHIELD head Nick Fury, but also makes Steve Rogers a.k.a. Captain America – along with Natasha a.k.a. Black Widow – fugitives from the US government.
Central in enforcing Pierce’s plan is a mysterious mercenary sniper called “The Winter Soldier” who turns out to be Roger’s long-lost best bud James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes.
Early reviews have came out praising the film’s emphasis on plot and characterization rather than CGI excess; the pacing and story presentation makes this film feel more like the lovechild of a 70’s-era political thriller and The Bourne Identity. Come to think of it, I felt satisfied with Marvel Studios’ willingness to take bold risks with its properties, even if it may put off some of the younger audiences with long stretches of exposition. The paranoia aspect is a refreshing throwback that manages to still sound relevant to this day, what with the War on Terror and all that; it isn’t like “the old days” when there were conveniently-labeled bogeymen like “The Nazis” and “The Commies“. Captain America finds himself questioning his motives as the realization dawns upon him, hence his decision to go all Jason Bourne with Black Widow.
Nonetheless, the fight scenes are plentiful and well-paced; Captain America has somehow learned how to “Frisbee” his shield (vibranium!!! Stark-made!!!) while Black Widow and Falcon (a.k.a. Sam Wilson) also get a piece of the action. Apparently having a real-life MMA fighter in the cast (Georges St. Pierre, as Georges Batroc) must have rubbed off on the main cast members, especially Chris Evans & Scarlett Johansson. However, my main quibbles about the characterization had to do with retconning Wilson’s background to remove his past as a pimp; likewise, how did he manage to score that flying harness from, like, outta nowhere? And, where in blazes is Redwing???
Sure enough, the CGI-enabled set-pieces are also awesome, particularly the scenes involving the launching and eventual destruction of the three Insight heli-carriers.
Acting-wise, top marks goes to Evans for being able to capture Rogers’ ’40s-era idealism juxtaposed with the ambiguity and complexity of the New Tens. Johanssen provides the requisite eye candy in her skin-tight Black Widow gear, even if her rebond work is pretty meehh (bring back the curls!!!). Robert Redford gets to show his veteran acting chops in capturing the morally conflicted character of Pierce. Chin Han, as one of the members of the World Security Council counselling Pierce, has ascended to the level where he can claim to have appeared in movies based on Marvel and DC properties (The Dark Knight, remember?) As part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there is the expected (obligatory much???) Stan Lee cameo as the flabbergasted Smithsonian Institute security guard “I am soooo fired!!!!” (Holy Phineas & Ferb reference, Batman!!!!) as well as post-credit sequences involving Loki’s scepter as well as “the twins” Pietro & Wanda Maximoff (a.k.a. Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch).
The plot-heavy thrust and emphasis on characterization may not be to everyone’s liking (i.e. the Marvel fanboys expecting GIGANTIC explosions and crucial comic-book moments recreated in Dolby 3-D) but this is a welcome step into Marvel Studios’ coming of age. Here’s hoping that Guardians Of The Galaxy shall deliver on the promise.