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Film Review – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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Captain America (Chris Evans), Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson and new recruit Falcon (Anthony Mackie) face a new foe in the form of the Winter Soldier as terrorist organisation Hydra rears its ugly head in the most unlikely of places.

Another week, another Marvel superhero flick. The genre is walking a very well worn path by this point and many are starting to feel a little bit numb to its formula. Captain America: The Winter Soldier could well have been the straw that broke this series’ back, but fortunately there’s enough new and interesting in there to ensure Marvel’s stock remains as high as ever.

Captain America: The First Avenger, Cap’s origin story, took place in World War II, but naturally (considering what happened at the end of that film and in Avengers Assemble) we’re now in a modern day setting. And we have modern day themes as well. The Winter Soldier examines themes of privacy, intrusion, drones, and other similar ideas that feel incredibly relevant when you take a glance at the news of today.

The problem with having a modern day setting is that it removes one of the key elements that made the first film work: the period World War II setting. That’s not to say this film doesn’t work, but it feels a little less unique.

However, despite its current themes and setting, the film actually feels more akin to a 1970s spy or espionage thriller, or even a Connery/Moore era James Bond film at times. Stick the Cap in a tuxedo and you’ve got yourself a Bond film. Apart from the guy who has massive metal wings and can fly everywhere, obviously.

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That would be Sam Wilson, or Falcon (played by Anthony Mackie), who’s one of the new characters introduced in The Winter Soldier. Falcon is a decent addition and along with the inclusion of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow as a main character completes an interesting and dynamic central trio.

Then there’s the Winter Soldier himself as the film’s central villain (or is he?). One aspect of the past few Marvel films where they’ve dropped the ball is with their villains, in that they just aren’t that villainous. Both Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World featured very weak villains, but they’ve upped the game somewhat here. The Winter Soldier is both menacing and also has an air of mystery surrounding him which adds up to a much more threatening villain than we’ve seen previously.

Much of The Winter Soldier is actually much slower paced and plot heavy than you’d expect from a Marvel film and this plays very much in its favour, although younger viewers may not appreciate this as much. However, true to form everything goes ballistic in the final third and we get the obligatory 20 minute action scene with everything being blown to smithereens. Obviously, with superhero films, this formula is the natural one to follow, but it would have been nice to stray from this for a change.

Whilst The Winter Soldier could, and perhaps should, have been the point where we tire of Marvel superhero films, it’s actually one of the stronger entries in the whole franchise that should see him have more equal footing alongside his super-peers when it comes to next year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Pros

  • The Winter Soldier is an excellent villain
  • Interesting and more involved plot
  • Dynamic central trio of heroes

Cons

  • Final third a little too formulaic
  • Loses some of its identity with shift in time period from the first film

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Avengers Assemble

Avengers Assemble shouldn’t have worked; it had no right to work. Trying to fit Thor, Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America and others into one film and do each of them justice without it being either unnecessarily long or a downright shambles simply should not have worked. But it did. It worked better than anyone really thought it would and has raised the bar so high that other superhero films are going to have to go some way to top it.

The Avengers

First, a caveat. I love superhero films and have read the odd comic, but i’m certainly no fanboy. I couldn’t care less if Captain America technically wasn’t in the original Avengers or if Loki’s eyes are the wrong shade of whatever – there’ll be none of that here; this is simply a film review. Anyway…

A film version of The Avengers had been in the offing for a while. The post-credits scene in Iron Man in 2008 gave us our first glimpse, with each subsequent Marvel film teasing a little more. Since then we’ve had The Incredible Hulk (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), Thor (2011), and Captain America (2011) giving us the backbone of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Add to that assassins Black Widow and Hawkeye, SHIELD agent Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), and Loki returning as the films antagonist, and you’ve got a fair few characters vying for screen time. There was the worry that the film would turn into Iron Man 3 Plus Others, but Joss Whedon has done a phenomenal job in giving each of them adequate screen time and an integral role in the story.

Thor, Iron Man & Captain AmericaGranted Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) probably is the most central of all the characters, but each and every one of them gets their time to shine, with even Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) having a much more important role than many may have suspected. Also, for those wondering if Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) had anything to do in the film following from his virtual no-show in the trailers, let’s just say his role might surprise a few people. Everyone has their chance to be a hero and contribute to the greater cause, and Whedon, proving to be rather adept at handling an ensemble cast, deserves a massive amount of credit for ensuring no-one gets overshadowed.

With probably the most expensive exposition in film history, spanning five films, Avengers Assemble doesn’t need to go into the characters too much, just enough to give us a recap of who they are and where they’ve come from. Instead we’re thrown pretty much straight into the characters’ conflicts with each other and left to wonder whether they’ll resolve them in time to stop an impending alien invasion. Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man don’t get on, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Iron Man don’t get on (in fact, Tony Stark manages to rub most people up the wrong way at some point), and everybody is frightened of pissing off Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo).

It must have been an incredibly daunting prospect trying to write a script of this magnitude and complexity, but it’s been handled with aplomb. The pacing is excellent and the dialogue is sharp throughout, with the perfect level of humour to balance the action. Everyone from The Hulk to Loki manages to draw a laugh at some juncture, and there are enough ‘fuck yeah!’ moments to fill ten other films. Rarely has another film of this ilk managed to intertwine all the necessary elements of a good blockbuster as well as this.

LokiTalking of The Hulk and Loki, it is probably these two characters that really stand out above all others. Mark Ruffalo has stepped into Edward Norton’s shoes as Bruce Banner, and it’s hard to see anyone else now in that role. Ruffalo excels as the slightly awkward, always on the edge Banner, and when he finally ‘goes green’, it’s handled brilliantly. Previous Hulk films haven’t really lived up to expectations and if the same happened here, it could really have dragged the film down. However, seeing Hulk smash and crash his way through New York is nothing short of exhilarating.

As for Loki (Tom Hiddleston), we knew pretty much what to expect due to his role in Thor, but he turns it up a notch here, and somehow manages to be even more evil, conniving, creepy, and pathetic all at the same time. Some questioned whether Loki could carry the antagonist role by himself, but he did so with style, and much credit must go, not only to the script, but also to Hiddleston, who showed he can amply handle such a big burden.

At nearly two and a half hours, Avengers Assemble isn’t a short film, but you’ll be surprised at how quickly it flies by. It’s fast and frenetic and full of over the top set pieces, but at the same time retains a human element that’ll just for a moment make you forget the characters include a Norse god, a genetically enhanced super soldier and a guy in a flying robot suit. For those who like superhero movies, this is a dream come true, and for those who aren’t fussed either way, just go and check it out – you just might like it.

Words: Chris Thomson

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