Knowing the levels of paranoia and conspiracy out there is a healthy thing to cultivate. It's one thing that Captain America has not yet gotten used to after being unfrozen and this film is his journey into that cloudy light with his merry band of mischief makers.
The question is, "What price freedom?" and who should stand at the heap of ashes to watch the world burn to the ground so you can rebuild it the right way? Pretty much a coming of age tale for Captain America as he gets his bearings on the new world order.
The action, especially in close quarters, is snap brutal, with nice fluid flourishes. With the right amount of lip to them they pack the punches with a measured style as they're not just cracking one-liners all over the place. There are a lot of power kicks to the chest. A lot. It's bound to be some kind of drinking game, taking a shot every time a boot sole meets a sternum. It looks so satisfying a manoeuvre.
The mix of action and humour is most evident in Nick Fury's escape as he has to deal with the controls of a S.H.I.E.L.D. vehicle while taking fire and car flips from all angles. Samuel L. Jackson makes light work showing off how cunning and resourceful Fury really is in the thick of it.
Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Sam "Falcon" Wilson (Anthony Mackie ) hold their own alongside Captain America and at times you're watching a blended buddy film from either side. Johansson fills the quiet with snark and a conflicted sense of being, looking for redemption. Mackie is charismatic and doesn't drop the enthusiasm or energy once as he plays catch-up with the rest of the established players, fitting right in.
The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), at least the Russian one, is too quiet, too wiped to give over anything more than a blank slate. As a killing machine, it's a bland use of character as it doesn't get beyond that mystery. It's clouded and left to develop elsewhere, some other time. Another sleep to waken again to the refrain of "For a little while". The flashbacks try to reckon that, but it's fleeting.
Scenes such as when Steve Rogers pays a visit to Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) add a touch of humanity and circle back on the film's emotional beats. We see how Steve deals with being in a world where all that he knows and trusts is falling out of his reach. Through it all his strength and resolve show how true his character is in such a delicate and changed political landscape.
Viewers of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will also hear the sound of coins and shoes dropping all over the place when the turn happens. Leaving you to ask if this is why the show has been spinning its wheels for so long. Seems so, and it's got that "everyone you know might be a Skrull" vibe to it, and the HYDRA reveal keeps the real-world flavour of this branch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe grounded in its version of a spy-fi film.
Captain America might have given the orders in The Avengers at The Battle of New York, but it's here in The Winter Soldier where he turns the screws from being a pawn and S.H.I.E.L.D.'s most lethal tool to a real, confident leader.
Reviewed on Wednesday, 16 April 2014