There was a time when epic, comic-book based blockbusters were a real movie event. But now, after the barrage of caped films over the past few decades, they can be a little hit and miss – oscillating between cringe-worthy camp and genuine brilliance. Thankfully, for fans of the ‘man out of time’, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, falls much closer to the latter.
The film follows on from Captain America’s previous outings in The First Avenger and Avengers Assemble, with our all-American super-soldier working for shady espionage agency SHIELD, and still trying to get his old-fashioned head around modern government and warfare. Along for the ride are some old faces, several new ones and the eponymous villain – an enigmatic, biomechanical killing machine who has been assassinating his way through history.
What unfolds is essentially a 1970s espionage thriller, with some blue-tights in the middle of it all. The out-of-time theme plays well into the character of Steve ‘Captain America’ Rogers himself, as the traditional values of our hero clash with the modern world, adding the kind of depth that Marvel films often lack. Indeed, Winter Soldier dodges the kind of mistakes often made by Marvel. There is no clanging ‘MacGuffin’ driving on the plot, and the balance between humour and drama is spot on, with just enough levity added to the proceedings without it collapsing into full-blown comedy (I’m looking at you Iron Man 3).
Still, there’s something lacking at the heart it all. Where other superhero films have been able to break out of being mere popcorn entertainment and offer a truly resonant cinematic experience, Marvel has never quite hit the mark set by others. Nevertheless, Winter Soldier is a confident step in the right direction, and easily places among Marvel’s best. At the centre is a fantastic performance by Chris Evans who manages to portray the sincerity and geniality of Steve Rogers, while drawing out some grit and intrigue. Considering Captain America was widely mocked as the most boring of Marvel’s stable, this is a near-superhuman achievement.
Jon Fuge is a writer based in London.