A few years ago Marvel had a tough challenge. They had to convince a modern audience who had grown skeptical, and spoiled, quite frankly, that a clean-cut, patriotic boy scout could be their modern-day superhero. Admittedly it was a tough sell.
Marvel responded by taking the audience back to when Captain America was created, the 1940’s, so the character would not stand out from his era of creation. The result was Captain America: The First Avenger, a pulpy, serial style film that served as a great origin story for our titular hero. In his second solo outing Marvel handed the directing reigns over to new directors and decided to dramatically change the tone. The result? It feels as if the Captain has grown up.
From the first punch, directors Anthony and Joe Russo (Community, Arrested Development) let you know that you will feel the impact of this film. Gone are the montages of the Captain’s battles: this film shows you every bone breaking move in his arsenal. The action style leans closer this time to The Bourne Identity than Indiana Jones and in turn that increases the tension. Chris Evans is back as Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, and he owns the role this time around.
The supporting cast is a delight to watch on the screen as well. Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker) plays Sam Wilson, a former paratrooper and military counselor for veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. The moment he and Rogers meet, Wilson locates the source of the Captain’s pain and a bond is immediately forged between the two. A bond based on common experience and losses on the battlefield. This does not feel like a classic sidekick archetype, these two are both experienced and carry extraordinary skill sets. The camaraderie and chemistry between the two feels true, and they complement each other well in combat and out of costume. It will be fun to see where the writers take these two in future installments.
Scarlett Johansson returns to her role of Black Widow and adds to the previous characterization in many ways. Initially she serves as a conduit to help pull Roger’s into the modern world. Over the course of the film we get to see many of the ways that she is a unique player in the spy world. However she sums up her character to Roger’s perfectly when she responds, “Who do you want me to be?” She is a chameleon and has played on both sides of the war. This is a reminder that while she is a member of the Avengers, she clearly doesn’t operate within the normal lines, giving Roger’s another reason to be distrustful in this paranoid climate.
Robert Redford brings gravitas to the production with his portrayal of Alexander Pierce. In what could have been a hammy role Redford grounds Pierce, a high-ranking SHIELD agent, creating a character with understandable motivations. Due to Redford’s own filmography in political thrillers, his inclusion makes the genre feel more substantial. Giving subtext to what could have been a very one-note role.
The film has the vibe of a 1970’s political thriller blended with a modern action film’s flair and spectacle. The result is astounding. One of the major successes of the movie is how they use Roger’s honesty and integrity to anchor the viewer to his perspective. Throughout all the espionage, double crosses and political intrigue, we know that if Roger’s isn’t trusting the powers-that-be, then the sense of paranoia must signal something real. And does it ever get real…
This film has a driving pace that finds a way to breathe in several places before sucking you back into the action. Meanwhile, lurking in the background is an unstoppable force…the Winter Solider. Much like the shark in Jaws, the Joker in The Dark Knight and maybe most aptly the Terminator, Sebastian Stan’s character jarringly appears on-screen at the least opportune times for our hero and other unfortunate victims. Add to the fact that he is cybernetic, one-track minded and seemingly invincible to all that attack him and you have a classic force-of-nature villain to contend with. While Stan’s line delivery and emoting with his mask off leaves more to be desired, he is an undeniable physical presence in the action set pieces.
The Russo Bros attention to detail is what really holds the film together. There are many different agendas in Marvel’s cinematic universe and the filmmaker’s have successfully found a way to address loose plot threads from other films, while opening up the world to a whole new series of possible directions. The film operates on a few different levels and is the Marvel movie most deserving of multiple viewings. The film does not spoon feed the viewer and it offers real world commentary in a way that other Marvel films have not dared. This film is far from style over substance. This is undoubtably one of Marvel Studios most mature films and should be a new benchmark for the quality we should expect.