Friday, April 4, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America (Chris Evans) adjusts to modern life by doing what he does best: being a soldier. Now working under the tutelage of S.H.I.E.L.D. he teams up with the likes of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and takes on missions set by director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). But some persistent tentacles of the past just can’t be totally severed. As all of them are caught unawares by a conspiracy decades in the making, they are forced to fend for themselves and trace the root of all their dilemmas, leading them to a not so distant past that has apparently survived to haunt them in the present. The plot thickens with the reemergence of Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), not as the best friend Steve once knew, but as a brainwashed assassin for hire known by the moniker Winter Soldier. The two comrades face off amidst a changing landscape that will change the Marvel Cinematic Universe forever.

The first Captain America movie sure was a tricky one. How will the generation of today receive a superhero movie set decades ago, effectively detaching itself from them by virtue of an irreconcilable generation gap? But then the film was released and managed to be successful by existing in a world separated from the rest of the MCU by several decades. Coming up with a sequel is even more problematic. How are you to continue the storyline of a character whose exploits already ended tens of years ago?

But then the Avengers happened, and the most logical choice is to link Captain’s story with that of S.H.I.E.L.D. Besides, once a soldier, always a soldier, right? In a way, this seems like a downgrade for the character because he has been absorbed by another Marvel storyline that is not totally his, but given the lack of options for a plausible plot, this is perhaps the best way to go about it. The good thing about the film is that despite all this, it still retains its identity as a Captain America movie. How so?

Well, the villains might have changed in terms of form and appearance, but they are still the same ones he had been battling so far. This will come off as a shock to many because you just don’t see it coming, but the subplot is handled in such a way that it does not feel that contrived at all. If at first you thought that this film does not do Captain America any favors because he is thrown in a storyline that is not his own, you will realize that it is actually the other way around, and you’ll appreciate the unpredictability.

Nick Fury and Black Widow being included in the main cast is inevitable given their relationship with S.H.I.E.L.D. However, it is the clash of contrasting personalities and belief systems that makes the rapport among the three of them so great. While there is obviously some palpable chemistry between Evans and Johansson, it is their characters’ conflicting ideologies (a hardcore idealist and a pragmatic realist) that make them work so well as a pair, not to mention the witty and playful banter.

Natasha Romanoff might not get her own film, but she is better off as a support character who will always be remembered for her wit and cunning. How can you not admire someone, who is not even that super, going head to head with a menacing assassin sporting a metal arm? She even manages to outwit him several times! She has been a crowd favorite since the Avengers. She doesn’t outshine Cap here, but serves as a good replacement for Peggy (Hayley Atwell) who is already too old to lift a finger in this sequel.

All in all, Marvel has done a good job with this sequel, not just by sticking to elements which are unique to Captain’s world, but also by giving it enough gravitas to affect the MCU as a whole, which rarely happens in the other films in the franchise. With the subplots of these films becoming more and more dependent on each other, Captain America: The Winter Soldier does everyone a favor by aiming for greater cohesion and laying a good foundation for Marvel’s future ensemble offerings.

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