THIS YEAR’S FIRST blockbuster sets a high standard for the rest of the annual deluge of monsters and mayhem. “Captain America, The Winter’s Soldier” is surprisingly, you could even say, shockingly and adventurously thoughtful.
The story mainly centers around Steve Rogers (beefy, bland Chris Evans, who in a previous life was The Human Torch in “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer”. Captain America is a definite career upgrade). Steve is still trying to adjust to life – and values – in 2014. For those who don’t know or forgot, Steve was a sickly, skinny lad back in 1942 when he felt compelled to join the war effort. It was his strength of character that helped persuade the powers that be to experiment on him, which resulted in his radical transformation from skinny nerd to buff super-hero: the uber super soldier. And super heroic he was until a plane crash plunged him into a handy, icy glacier. Now, seventy years later, Steve, having been in a state of suspended animation since then, must face the cynical realities of the new world with the moral conscience of his -“the greatest” –generation.
Steve is now part of SHIELD – an organization charged with protecting the world. And this is where the film gets interesting.
It slowly begins to dawn on Steve (he’s not too bright) that SHIELD’s modus of protection involves spying on everyone and keeping tabs on the associations and activities of millions of average citizens – in order to be able to diagnose potential anti-government threat. To Steve’s old- fashioned way of looking at things, this isn’t freedom, this is ‘protection’ via threat; this is freedom withheld, not freedom experienced. And in his old-fashioned way, this is something he has to do something about. Hmm. Go Steve!
SHIELD’s head honcho is Alexander Pierce, a charming, persuasive, calm, trustworthy executive. Hell, he’s Robert Redford. Who wouldn’t trust Robert?
But as Steve is warned by his superior officer Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson in his usual badass mode), “trust no-one” (not that those words are clichéd or anything). In this moral story about trust, it becomes more and more apparent that SHIELD and Pierce are thin disguises for NSA, Prism, GCHQ and CIA surveillance and abuse of power. Steve realizes, as SHIELD turns on itself, eliminating all potential threats and hunting down both him and his band of trustworthy allies, that the military industrial complex has become not the protector of the people, but its nemesis.
It’s up to Steve and the gang – ex-KGB spy, Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson), honest Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), Sam Wilson, the Falcon (the under-rated Anthony Mackie) and of course, the almost eliminated Nick Fury – to pick apart what is essentially the State turned rogue villain.
And they do this by revealing all its secrets on-line, a la Edward Snowden. For all its muscle-bound heroics, the grand finale of this surprisingly political blockbuster, lies in the dual destructions of three super drones, their guns aimed at the elimination of twenty million innocent civilians and in the release of so called state secrets, which really is exposure of the mass surveillance and snooping of the institutions developed to protect citizens.
Of course, it is a summer blockbuster, so there’s a – somewhat gratuitous – super strong villain, Steve’s old 1942 friend, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan, who you may remember from “Black Swan”), returned also from that icy glacier as Pierce’s killing machine. And there’s lots of explosive action, including a beautifully choreographed center-piece chase scene when Nick Fury’s truck is chased through the streets of Manhattan by the (corrupt) NYPD
Directing credits go to brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, a sort of cut-rate Coen brothers. They don’t manage to get much out of Chris Evans, whose acting style is as muscle bound and stiff as his body. He’s clearly from that school of acting that includes Brandon Routh (the characterless new Superman) and almost all of the cast of “300: Rise of an Empire” where speaking lines of dialogue in a credible way approaches some sort of ethical breach.
Robert Redford doesn’t fare much better. I’m not sure he read the script before he did his first take, and you do get the impression that he’s as surprised as us to find himself in a summer blockbuster. At least there’s the ever-delightful Scarlett Johansson revelling in her role as a sort of sexy female Bruce Lee.
Also sharing directing credits is Joss Whedon, who is credited with “post-credits scene”. Let me explain. I left the cinema, as I usually do, as soon as the credits began rolling. Fortunately I thought I’d dropped my keys and swiftly returned to my seat…only to find that the credits had stopped and an entire 5-10 minute coda had been attached to the movie. In it we see what’s become of the evil Bucky Barnes (don’t these guys ever die) and we’re introduced to his new X-men type companions. Captain America part three is probably even now being shot somewhere in deepest Pinewood studios.
That is, if the NSA don’t find and embargo the script first