This review will contain spoilers. Consider yourself warned.
I’m a fan of the new Marvel comic book-based movies. Admittedly, I got into them late: I didn’t see the first Iron Man film until the second had been released, I didn’t see the Thor films until after the Avengers came out, and I still haven’t seen the Hulk movies. I also haven’t read the comic books. Still, having now seen them retrospectively, I have rather enjoyed them.
Whilst Captain America, played by Chris Evans in the film, has never been my favourite comic book hero (that’s probably reserved for Batman) I didn’t think the first movie was as bad as often cited. In the first film the audience is made to feel for the ‘Cap’ because he started not only as a pipsqueak trying to fight for his country, but also because once he finally got that serum and could enlist he stood for truth and right and the ‘American Way’, as epitomised by the ‘Greatest Generation’ of WWII. Sure, there’s a lot of nostalgia for that time in the first film, but it’s not overdone. At the end when he is shown frozen and thawed, it sets the scene to make Cap one of the most interesting moral characters of the era.
In Joss Whedon’s Avengers (or Avengers Assemble, for the British audience) Steve Rogers, the Captain’s ‘secret’ identity, is seen to be struggling to adapt to the modern age. It is even more prevalent in The Winter Soldier. Whilst the struggle to adapt is not, in and of itself, particularly interesting (it reminds me of how older people often don’t embrace new technology like young people do), the way Rogers handles it is fascinating. Not only does he keep a list of ‘things he’s missed’ — including the Star Wars films and music from Marvin Gaye — he really has issues with the changing attitudes. In one of the key moral issues of the movie, Rogers says that his generation often compromised their morals (experimenting on humans, for example) to ensure their freedom; but that society today is compromising their freedom for ‘security’. There’s an old Ben Franklin adage about that. He also has issues forming any sort of lasting relationship because almost everyone he knew or grew up with is dead and he doesn’t have much in common with the people of today. It’s these little character bumps that make the character worthwhile and fun to watch.
The main premise of the movie is that S.H.I.E.L.D. has developed new heli-carriers with the ability to detect threats before they happen, so can be eliminated before they actually do damage. Under the guidance of Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury character, whose intentions are theoretically good and noble, these carriers would be more of a ‘last defence’ than a ‘first resort’. After a coup where Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce becomes the leader of both S.H.I.E.L.D. and a re-constituted HYDRA, however, these weapons reverse that status, being now a ‘first resort’, showing the lengths HYDRA (and perhaps S.H.I.E.L.D.) will go to ensure order for the masses. Pierce also uses Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes, AKA the Winter Soldier, as his own personal assassin to anyone who gets in his way to establishing this new world order. Both are ruthless villains that won’t let things like ‘morality’ or ‘people’ stand in the way of achieving their dreams.
With the help of Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson/Falcon and a few select loyal Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (alas, no one from the show), Captain America must solve who has betrayed S.H.I.E.L.D. and stop them from killing tons of innocents. The group must also come to terms with if the organisation is worth saving due to its corruption and loss of moral direction. It’s part 70’s spy thriller, part comedy, part action-adventure and part social critique, all rolled into one. It’s one of the best super hero movies in recent memory, and has consequences for the rest of the Marvel universe (possibly including a spinoff television show). I’m looking forward to how they’ll continue everything in the next Avengers film (and beyond).
The metaphors in the movie speak volumes about modern culture. It shows soldiers dealing with the after effects of a war, as with the PTSD psychological effects (also touched upon in Iron Man 3) and also survivor’s guilt and their lack of career opportunities upon returning to civilian life. It deals with issues of trust and friendship, and the limits of those qualities. Additionally, the movie, intentionally or not, delves into the Snowden/NSA spying quandary. With the ability to listen in to anyone’s phone conversations, internet usage and basically whole personality, the movie takes the premise to the extreme. Since most of our lives (for better or worse) are online or monitored in some way, would it actually be possible to determine people’s choices before they make them? It’s like the old philosophical question: if, knowing what you do now, would you go back in time to kill Hitler before he came to power (were such a thing possible, obviously)? If the general populace thinks about these sorts of things after the film, great, but my guess is they won’t. The film still succeeds as entertainment, which is obviously it’s main goal.
I’m intrigued to see how this movie affects the other franchises in the Marvel universe, so I’m already eagerly awaiting the Age of Ultron and rumoured Black Widow movies. There will of course be reviews of those in time. For now, I’d give this an 8.5 out of 10.