2011’s Captain America wasn’t quite up to scratch when comparing to Marvel’s other pre-Avengers Assemble movies. Although Cap. is the leader of the Avengers in the comics, his debut outing lacked a bit of something that made Thor and Iron Man special. His moral compass and buff physique couldn’t match up to Tony Stark’s arrogance and opulence or the God of Thunder’s charisma and strength. He really didn’t embody many fantasy qualities warranting him the title of superhero that comic book fans revel in.
Joss Whedon’s masterpiece, Avengers Assemble changed all of that though and has helped Steve Rogers in more ways than one. Firstly the jump forward in time of 70 years at the end of the first movie has been very beneficial to the Captain. Obviously it was predominantly used to allow Chris Evans’ creation to be included in the Avengers universe, but it has also helped because similarly to Thor, he is now able to play a fish-out-of-water. There are also ties to his past in The Winter Soldier, which are gradually revealed throughout the tightly wound plot. There are some early touching nostalgic moments with a trip to a Captain America themed museum and a heart-breaking scene with a now geriatric Peggy, suffering from Alzheimers, his former love from The First Avenger. Surreptitious moments also litter the film and are drip fed to viewers as Robert Redford’s insidious S.H.I.E.L.D director Alexander Pierce is brought in alongside Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury.
The other way that Whedon has helped Cap. is spiritually; with his influence on the script. There are many more one-liners and zippy quips from various characters. The writers, Chris Markus and Stephen McFeely may have written both this and The First Avenger, but they now no longer seem obliged to tone down the fan-boy references and in-jokes because Whedon has pretty much laid down the blueprint and written the book on them. He also directed the mid-credits scene at the end, which gives us a tantalising set-up for his Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, due out next summer.
Of course, bringing Rogers forward seven decades is of a slight detriment too. With everyone dead or dying from the first film, the Cap. has no established side-characters or anyone to bond with or fall back on. This leads to lesser characters from the universe, namely Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Nick Fury coming to the forefront. We are also introduced to Anthony Mackie’s Falcon this time round. This does initially lead the film to feeling like a poor man’s version of The Avengers, because none of the characters are really that “Super”. However this actually works to the films advantage as they are all utilised brilliantly into a plot that feels much more cold-war conspiracy-thriller than Action/Adventure movie. The underplaying of the first hour also helps the set-pieces in the finale stand out more and the movie definitely doesn’t forget its explosive roots in this aspect.
This time round it’s the Russo brothers in charge of proceedings and they show a certain knack for big budget blockbusters. With their previous two films Welcome to Collinwood and You, Me and Dupree not exactly screaming action genre, they were actually given the gig by the producers based on their work on TV comedy, Community. They direct with aplomb and show that they have adhered to the recent trend of filming longer fight sequences with less jump cuts, revitalised by the fight scenes in The Raid. This makes for some excellent hand to hand scenes, especially when Cap. is fighting the villain of the piece, the titular, Winter Soldier. Some of the work with his shield is also incredible in its ingenuity and absurdity.
It must be fairly restrictive directing a film with such a noble following and rigid template set in place by the producers. Getting the balance right between giving the characters enough time to blossom and story to shine, but also to develop the over-arching narrative to build to the next film can be hard. This could cause the film to seem episodic and serve only as filler, but thankfully at no point does the film fall into either category. The acclaim from early previews has led to Marvel already signing up the duo to direct Captain America 3. This is the first time that returning directors have been involved in a sequel since Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 1 & 2.
So Marvel have done it again, with The Winter Soldier once more an improvement on its predecessor in the Avengers Phase 2 series of films. The studios have managed to constantly continue the story whilst still keeping the movies fairly varied and not veering into the formulaic. Next up it’s the real gamble, their attempt on the space opera, Guardians of the Galaxy.