Steve Rogers tries to figure out who he can trust as he teams up with Black Widow to navigate the modern world of SHIELD and uncovers its secrets.
Anthony & Joe Russo, 2014
The film follows a battle-weary Steve (Chris Evans) as he starts realising that working for SHIELD is requiring moral compromises he’s not comfortable with. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is asking him to go into ops without all the information to do things Steve’s not comfortable with, and he’s feeling lost. Soon enough Fury’s looking into the organisation himself, pulling a thread that sets everything unravelling. Steve ends up working with Black Widow, aka Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), to uncover SHIELD’s secrets, and find something they never expected. This sets the assassin known as the Winter Soldier on their tail, forcing Steve to confront his own past. (Seriously, you guys all know who he is, right? If not, don’t read below this.) They’re joined by former soldier Sam Wilson, who dons mechanical wings to become Falcon to fight the bad guys.
Trust is such a key theme in this movie, which is one of the reasons why the pairing of Steve and Natasha is such a brilliant one. They have some great buddy spy moments as their tentative friendship forms, with Steve introduced to a world of mistrust and lies for the first time and Natasha trying to navigate her way out of it. They’re a fantastic pair, Steve’s integrity and Natasha’s survivalist talents balancing each other beautifully. This might be Scarlett Johansson’s best role to date, and you should read this article about her treatment in mainstream reviews. Chris Evans continues to be an underrated gem as the unrelentingly moral Steve Rogers. The team is rounded out by the wonderful Anthony Mackie as Falcon, a fellow war vet (not of the same war, obviously) who provides Steve with a buddy to talk to, a hide-out, and eventually a team member with KICK-ASS MECHANICAL WINGS. He’s a continual mirror to Steve, or at least who Steve was in the first movie, and he’s a welcome addition. Sebastian Stan is a force to be reckoned with as the near-silent but terrifying and heartbreaking Winter Soldier. Colbie Smulders returns as Maria Hill and gets a fair bit to do as well. The battle scenes are well choreographed and meaty, focusing on the brutality of Steve’s fighting method – he’s all blunt force, shield and fists and blistering speed. There’s a number of wonderful supporting actors in this movie, and in terms of screen time it’s the most diverse Marvel movie to date.
The movie is a wonderfully dense thriller, full of complex themes and ideals and proving once again that comic book movies don’t need to be dumb just because they have explosions. (There are explosions. Don’t worry.) This movie balances some great fights with issues of freedom and fearmongering, the paranoia of the age we now live in. It’s politically engaged, and it’s an interesting chapter in the changing world Marvel has been releasing films in – I’m sure one day there will be essays written about how you can map American fears from the Afghanistan scenes of Iron Man through to this, and probably further in the future. There are a couple of minor flaws. The movie runs a little too long with some pacing problems, and the aesthetic is a definite step backwards from the gorgeous first film. There’s a heavy use of shakycam that, while thematically relevant in showing Steve’s own disorientation, is…um, disorienting. The music from Henry Jackman is great, though, particularly the Winter Soldier track, which is a wonderfully unsettling piece. I’m going to forgive those issues because this movie gave me
all the feels a lot of feelings, and I was so totally engaged with these characters in this world for the whole thing. Marvellous stuff. (Yeah, it’s been done, I don’t care.)