Following on from Joe Johnson’s tedious and toothless origin trudge Captain American: The First Avenger (2011), as well as seeing its title character being outclassed, outgunned and overshadowed by Joss Whedon’s Avengers Assemble (2012) ensemble, only a true believer would have held out much hope that Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) was going to be one of Marvel Studios’ best offerings to date. Steve Rogers, aka Captain America (Chris Evans), is now found adjusting to life after being kept on ice for half a century whilst running missions for Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) S.H.I.E.L.D., alongside his leather-clad Avengers comrade Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson).
After discovering that a rescue mission wasn’t all that it initially seemed, Rogers begins to question S.H.I.E.L.D.’s integrity and to contemplate life as an average Joe. However, when the real threat reveals itself, America’s one and only super soldier once again steps up to the plate. Anyone that knows the Cap character understands that the biggest challenge any writer/director has is making him tough. Johnson and screenwriters Chris Markus and Stephen McFeely failed to achieve this in the first outing, giving us little sense of his resilience. Markus and McFeely are on screenwriting duty again, this time teamed with the Russo brothers, who formerly brought us such all-action blockbusting spectacles as Welcome to Collinwood (2002) and shaggy dog stories like You, Me and Dupree (2006).
The mind boggles indeed, but whether it’s luck, fate, the ingestion of large quantities of psychedelic drugs or the influence of seasoned Captain America scribe Ed Brubaker. Miraculously, the Russo’s have managed to produce the best Marvel standalone that is almost, but not quite, as solid and spectacular an effort as Whedon’s epic Avengers. Considering this is by far the biggest film the duo will have been involved with, the Russo’s skill and assuredness is almost supernatural. From the one-on-one combat scenes to the grandiose set-pieces, it’s difficult not to be impressed and occasionally awe-stuck. Most importantly of all, they’ve managed to find that magic sweet spot between Cap’s superhuman physical prowess and his vulnerability.
As for negatives, some will complain that the Winter Soldier isn’t exactly a worthy foe, or that the characters of The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Alexander Pierce (a gleeful Robert Redford playing against type) are not adequately fleshed out. However, any critic that really goes to town on those points would merely be masking their shame at having enjoyed another cursed comic movie. For all those Marvel completists out there, make sure you sit all the way through The Winter Soldier’s end credits for a sneaky peak at Whedon’s upcoming Avengers Assemble sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron.