I went into the theatre showing the new Captain America sequel with very low expectations, even though I am a massive fan of Marvel’s push for web-work filmmaking. The truth is most fans of Marvel films tolerate them at the moment because of the promised pay-off that is the Avengers. To say that I was pleasantly surprised would be an unforgivable understatement.
In 2005 Marvel Studios was feeling pretty silly; it had just sold the film rights for its two biggest superhero franchises (X-Men to 20th Century Fox in 1994 and Spider-Man to Columbia Pictures in 1999) and the worst part for Marvel was that both were incredibly successful. Marvel realized it wanted to make lots of money too, and decided to turn its licensing company into a production company. That’s right, Marvel Studios was growing up and leaving home.
The beauty of Marvel’s approach to comic-book films was that they were going to approach it in the same way they would a comic book. They decided to do what every comic book fan had been dreaming of since Donner’s Superman: they were going to build a universe where all the heroes of individual movies would join forces to take down an otherwise unbeatable enemy. When The Avengers was finally announced the entire comic book world erupted into anarchy; there was rioting in the streets, comic book stores were being turned over and no mother’s basement was safe from the uncontrollable excitement of comic book nerds everywhere. It started with a fantastic critical success: Iron Man (2008), followed by a number of lukewarm “mehs”; The Incredible Hulk (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), Thor (2011) and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). But by the 11th of April, 2012, the time had come: the premiere of The Avengers was being held at the El Capitan Theatre. Nerds everywhere waited with bated breath, praying to the gods of Asgard that it wouldn’t be the Phantom Menace of superhero movies. All the big names had come out to see history be made, except Kevin Smith (who never made the plane ride for some reason…), Steve Ditko (who the hell knows where he is?!), and Stan Lee (who was probably off doing a cameo in another film). The hopes of every comic book reader’s dreams rested on the all-too-capable shoulders of Joss Whedon (our lord and saviour) and as the credits rolled the decision had been made. As we all know, The Avengers was an absolute success both critically and financially with a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a box office revenue of a billion and a half dollars. The success of web-work filmmaking has since changed the film industry forever. All you have to do is look at any big film franchise at the moment to see the effect that The Avengers has had: X-Men is merging its past and present timelines in X-Men: Days of Future Past, Star Wars is making the characters of episodes 7, 8 and 9 convene in episode 10, and DC Entertainment is trying to cram half of the Justice League into Man of Steel 2, a.k.a. Batman vs Superman [I’m not even including Sony’s plans for the Sinister Six and Venom (well actually, I suppose I am)]. With this success I was excited to see how Marvel would decide to follow; they released Iron Man 3, which was a fantastic character journey film, and Thor: The Dark World, which I don’t really care about. The question was, is Captain America: The Winter Soldier going to be like The Avengers or The First Avenger?
What I got was an unforgettable experience, that – dare I say it – might be even better than The Avengers.
With my mind set on seeing Avengers: Age of Ultron, I went into Captain America: The Winter Soldier expecting more of the same lukewarm response I had had towards the other Marvel movies that weren’t The Avengers. What I got was an unforgettable experience, that – dare I say it – might be even better than The Avengers. I find myself facing an internal struggle trying to rank the two films based on their merits; for most intents and purposes Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a better film, however, it will never come close to having the impact that The Avengers has had (and will continue to have) on the world. Seriously, it is going to be the flipping Star Wars of our generation; you will show it to your kids and say ‘this was the balls when I was your age!’ and they’ll look up from their VR time-travelling internet chip and say ‘looks fake,’ then just as your heart is about to break they’ll say ‘it’s pretty freaking awesome though!’ and then you’ll high-five and go out for ice-cream which will be downloaded into your brain via the super-internet.
Now I’m a huge Marvel fan – no doubt – but even I’ve got to admit the Captain is a weak character (there is a reason he was side-lined by a badass playboy and a giant green man-child in The Avengers). Firstly, he’s too American; Audiences around the world don’t give a crap about a hero whose superpower was given to him in what is considered the American way… steroids! Secondly, he takes orders without questioning authority; he’s a soldier, not a hero. The beauty of Captain America: The Winter Soldier is that the entire film is about him discarding these old values to do what is right. It was hinted in The Avengers that SHIELD is (realistically) a somewhat corruptible power, and that serves a great premise for ethical ambiguity between Captain America (Chris Evans) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Other characters are at their best in this film, including Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Alexander Peirce (Robert flipping Redford!) and what will most likely be the next Avenger (not going to give anything away).
The narrative is so ingeniously interwoven that it is quite hard to explain without spoilers. It is incredibly well paced, making it seem that not a single frame is wasted. The story feels like a tribute to a sci-fi corporation thriller like Robocop, and like Robocop, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is sometimes quite visceral with its violence (probably the most violent Marvel movie since Blade). This violence is handled in style though, with a feeling that it is necessary for tension in the narrative and not just cathartic pleasure. The story is mature in the sense that it doesn’t shy away from addressing some really relevant political arguments between the values of freedom and security.
Let’s talk Marvel’s cinematic universe; do you need to see The Avengers and/or Captain America: The First Avenger before watching this? As long as you know Captain America’s origin, it’s not impossible to watch without first seeing The First Avenger, however, given the involvement of SHIELD in this film I would certainly recommend seeing The Avengers in order to provide some context. Do you need to see this before Avengers: Age of Ultron? Yes, this film has quite a profound impact on Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and is worth watching before delving further into it.
Although I am too hesitant to concede that it is better than The Avengers, there is absolutely nothing to complain about with this film. As far as blockbusters go, it gives you everything you could ever want: fantastic story, fantastic characters, fantastic pacing, fantastic action, fantastic visuals, fantastic humour, fantastic, fantastic, fantastic. I know I should be picking this film apart, pointing out its flaws and explaining why it’s not as good as The Godfather, but the truth is that I just don’t want to; that’s not the film it is trying to be and it would be unfair to review it as such. Basically I’m telling you to go see this freaking movie, you won’t regret it.