If somebody asked me how to describe and review Captain America : The Winter Soldier probably the first thing I’d do is pause. The second thing I’d probably do would be to go “um”. In many ways I feel this response says everything you need to know about Captain America : The Winter Soldier.
Since I’m bothering to write up a review though I’ll try (and likely fail) to put things more eloquently. So here we go. Watching Captain America I never felt bored but then I never really felt entertained either.
With blockbusters or franchise films the temptation is to describe them as being like empty calories or fast food. You enjoy it at the time but they aren’t really filling. This isn’t the case with Captain America though.
The film didn’t feel like insubstantial fluff but neither did it seem like a proper meal. It was like a heavy pie or cake that hasn’t risen fully in the oven. It was stodgy.
The problem is that there is little in the film to truly anchor you to the action. Captain America isn’t an especially interesting or cool superhero. He is vanilla. This is fine if either you have a great plot or great villain, ideally both, but Captain America doesn’t really have either.
The plot has events but it never really shocks you. Characters drop in and out. They disappear for a time and then reappear. If you have seen actions films previously or really any films these entrances and exits are not in the least bit surprising.
So if the plot isn’t delivering then you look to the bad guys to hold your attention. To bring a sense of threat and charisma to proceedings. To introduce a little anarchy into the system. The villains completely fail to do this.
Robert Redford is doing a great impression of a man scooping up a really big paycheck. Even when he shoots a poor maid who forgot her phone his heart doesn’t seem to really be in it. Or maybe I just can’t find Redford menacing.
The semi-titular “Winter Soldier” is incipiently threatening with his cool robotic arm but then is neutered by the reveal that he is the long lost (brainwashed) best bud of Steve Rodgers. Whilst the traitorous mercenary is so forgettable that I can’t remember his name.
The most interesting villain is the Nazi scientist AI who not only feels genuinely evil but also has a retro “Wargames” style aesthetic which I enjoyed and the film (credit to it) actually calls out. Sadly though he is only there briefly and basically functions as Basil Exposition.
As I said though I wasn’t bored. The actions trucks along at a fast enough click to keep you paying attention. Captain America shield smashes and pancakes more disposable bad guys then you can easily count. Plus there is a cool new sidekick with metal wings and a jetpack.
Added to this are Nick Fury and Natasha Romanoff. Two genuinely interesting characters who just steal every scene they are in. Not only are Jackson and Johansson great actors but their characters hint at the more nuanced and darker film that I wished this film was. Johansson in particular was mesmeric (and no I’m not being pervy although she is gorgeous). She acts circles around Chris Evans. I haven’t seen such a mismatch of acting talent since I caught an old episode of King of Queens which had Byran Cranston and Kevin James in the same scene.
This of course is part of the problem though. I was more interested in a side character and a supporting character than I was in the main protagonist or antagonist. This then brings me to the end of the film which is of course a huge battle scene.
Like the film it is by the numbers. I only mention it because, something puzzled me. The Winter Soldier is shooting Captain America who looks to be unable to switch out the targeting microchips. It is check and mate.
Except. Wait a minute. One moment the Winter Soldier is slaying a helpless Captain America. The next Captain America is rallying to switch out the microchips and save the day. We cut back and now the Winter Soldier is prostrate under falling debris. WTF?
It’s possible I missed something but if I did so did the person I went with. At worse (and its unlikely) something was missed. At best the editing was shoddy and writing poor. I mean it is never good if your hero is saved by falling rubble. And it is even worse if said lame ending isn’t shown on screen.
So overall it is fair to say I wasn’t wowed. As a Marvel film it was better than Iron Man 2, 3 and Captain America 1 but worse than Thor and Thor 2. It was very average. I should say though that when Nick Fury is dead but (spoiler) not really dead a young eight year old child was sobbing very audibly in my packed screening.
I mention this because, that audience member was obviously really taken with the film. I reckon 7-12 boys would love this film. I know I would have. As a bonus I think that it is pitched at and suitable for that age group as well. The violence is mild, bloodless and (crucially for 7-12 year old boys) frequent. For parents there is no swearing and I don’t remember there being any porny Michael Bayesque shots of female cast members.
So there you have it average. It does nothing really well and nothing really badly but, for the most part it holds your attention.