When I was really young, I loved Superman as much as any kid of the male variety. I assume it comes with the dude DNA. But it didn’t take long before I grew out of it. Everything about Superman was just too simple. He was so all powerful that there were never any real physical threats. And he was so pure, there was never any inner turmoil or conflict. It was a strong assumption of the same attributes that made me never pay any attention to Captain America.
But in the lead up to The Avengers a couple of years ago, I thought I should watch the movies that all worked as its intro, so I churned through Thor, the Ed Norton Hulk and the first Cap movie in an intense binge, and was surprised by how much I liked them all, especially Captain America: The First Avenger. But what I loved most about that movie, was the WWII setting. And after finding Cap the least interesting character in The Avengers, I wasn’t in any hurry to see his next movie, set totally in present day. So, how do you make the idealistic, honourable, always-does-the-right-thing, good guy interesting? Easy, you turn the world against him.
On a mission with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Steve Rogers (AKA Captain America), begins to realise that his employer S.H.I.E.L.D, lead by Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury, might not have the same idealistic, honourable, always-does-the-right-thing, good guy intentions as himself. This is where we meet Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), a suit, high up in the World Security Council, who’s about to launch three massive air battle stations that will stop criminals and threats, before they commit crimes or become a threat.
This is a little too ‘big brother’ for Rogers. Soon, Fury’s being attacked, Rogers and Black Widow are on the run, and it turns out that S.H.I.E.L.D has been steadily infiltrated by a group of baddies known as Hydra, for last few decades. Also, there’s a bad guy named the Winter Soldier, who’s really just more of an annoyance than a formidable villain. Buggers me why he gets his name in the title.
Without the WWII setting, without the support of Iron Man, Thor and the Hulk, without a big, famous bad guy from the comics, Captain America: The Winter Soldier really delivers. Chris Evans as Cap nails the tricky balance of all American 40s hero, and modern day, super hero. While the skin tight cat suit can take some of the credit, Johansson’s more than just a bombshell. She makes Black Widow a really fun ass kicker. New addition to this Marvel movie universe, Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson (AKA the Falcon), bounces of off them both perfectly. And as an unnamed World Security Council member, Alan Dale gives me a great excuse to link to my review of Houseboat Horror.
The brothers Russo, Anthony and Joe, seemed like a weird, out of nowhere pick to direct something this massive. Before now, they had two movie credits to their names, the totally under seen and under appreciated Welcome to Collinwood, and the understandably under seen and since forgotten, You, Me and Dupree. Their major successes had been on the small screen, most notably with the totally awesome Arrested Development and the totally overrated Community.
At first, I couldn’t figure out why a studio would take this chance on such an important, tent pole movie by giving it to these two TV veterans. Then I realised it’s not such a wild choice. Arrested Development and Community are both so heavily reliant on meticulous timing to make their jokes work. The kind of meticulous timing that’s needed to pull off big, action set pieces.
The hiring of the Russo brothers also points to another decision the big studios seem to be getting increasingly right with comic book movies. They’re less and less being given to big budget hacks like Michael Bay and Brett Ratner, and more and more being given to not to just comic book nerds, but real film nerds. The kinds of film nerds who worship the 70s cinema of people like Scorsese, Coppola and Friedkin, and bring that 70s grit to these glossy, modern behemoths. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is big, loud, dumb, fun, action. But it’s big, loud, dumb, fun, action done right.