Director: Anthony & Joe Russo
Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Samuel L. Jackson
After two incredibly underwhelming releases, it’s safe to say that the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s “Phase Two” was on the verge of becoming something of a bust. Not commercially of course, with Iron Man 3 and Thor The Dark World raking in a combined 1.8 billion(!) at the worldwide box office, but from an artistic point of view, Marvel Studios really needed to prove that they could still provide the great storytelling that had permeated their first phase of movies.
Enter the Russo Brothers, Anthony and Joe, who would unleash what a lot of critics and fans alike (myself included) are still calling the best Marvel movie of all time with 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Perhaps more than anything else, what the Russo Brothers proved here is that comic book movies can be a lot more than clichéd “road to redemption” superhero fare or bombastic action blockbusters. Instead, what we have here is perhaps the finest Bond movie not to feature the man himself in the form of an action-packed espionage thriller that managed to keep both fans and casuals entertained without sacrificing its comic book roots.
It doesn’t hurt that the Russos turned out to be absolutely fantastic at action choreography, and whether it’s the opening sequence where Cap and his team take down GSP’s Batroc the Leaper and his ship full of mercenaries, the assassination attempt on Nick Fury, or the “lift scene” – for my money one of the coolest scenes in the history of the MCU – there’s no denying that this is an utterly kinetic and dynamic movie from a visual standpoint.
The characterisation is impressive too, with Evans doing a surprisingly good job of showing Cap’s struggles adjusting to the modern-day S.H.I.E.L.D. agenda. Never really known for his acting chops, Evans provides us with an impressively layered performance which manages to make his by-the-numbers boy scout hero an utterly compelling lead.
The cast is kept fairly tight, with new addition Anthony Mackie fitting in well as fellow military man Sam Wilson/Falcon, Samuel L. Jackson getting perhaps his best material to work with so far as Nick Fury, and Scarlett Johansson’s quasi-flirtatious banter and and gradual bonding with Cap giving story a lighter edge without having to resort to slapstick or inappropriate gags.
In terms of villains, the Winter Soldier himself is an interesting creation, particularly as he isn’t actually the main “bad guy” here, and only really serves as a weapon to be aimed by S.H.I.E.L.D./Hydra boss Alexander Pierce. The grand reveal of a still-alive Bucky Barnes was probably the least surprising in MCU history, but the Russos still gave the whole thing the gravitas it deserved, and the ‘unwilling assassin’ storyline is still being paid off almost eight movies later.
The overall plot is a fairly straightforward one, with Hydra surreptitiously infiltrating S.H.I.E.L.D. over the years, finally tipping their hand as S.H.I.E.L.D. launch a trio of tactical Helicarriers and planning to wipe out select targets around the globe with a coordinated strike. It’s a typically Bond villain-esque scheme, and it also comes hand in hand with one of the few criticisms I have about the movie.
It’s a bit of a double-edged sword, but the Russos do such a great job of establishing their grounded style, tone and aesthetic that it actually ends up feeling a little jarring when the more comic-booky aspects creep in. The third act Helicarrier shenanigans feel a little at odds with the cloak-and-dagger approach of the movie to that point, and things do stray a little too far into Bond villain silliness on more than one occasion (see: A.I. Arnim Zola’s extended “I’ll tell you every detail of my evil plan because you’ll never escape my clutches” monologue, for instance).
In spite of these niggles, this is undoubtedly a film which, on any given day, could easily stand atop any MCU’s fan’s “best Marvel movies” list. And the knowledge that the Russo Brothers are at the helm of the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War fills me with a huge amount of excitement on a number of different levels.
Most importantly, to me at least, Winter Soldier isn’t afraid to take itself seriously, and while far too many other Marvel movies seem to feel the need to follow every moment of gravitas or character development with a “sorry guys, we know this is all silly” wink to the camera, this is a film that is more than happy to let its story speak for itself. An upper echelon MCU movie by anyone’s standards, and a definite high point on the Road to Infinity War.
You can check out the rest of our Road To Infinity War reviews by CLICKING HERE.