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Review – Captain America II: The Winter Soldier (12a) [2014]

Captain America 2 - title banner

Star Rating: 3/5



Music Composer:

Titular characters are usually (and unsurprisingly) the main characters in their films. Bruce Wayne/Batman is the lead character in Batman Begins, Conan is the central performer in Conan the Barbarian, and Tony Stark/Iron Man is the dominant personality of the Iron Man franchise. Yet, in some movies the titular character is usurped by a member of the supporting cast. This is what happens in Captain America II: The Winter Soldier, and in this case it makes for a better spectacle.

Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) bent over a computer, uploading data as part of her mission.

The saucy Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) bent over a computer, uploading data as part of her mission.

Captain America II is the third instalment of Marvel’s ‘Phase II’ and takes place two years after the events of The Avengers Assemble I. With military and spy technology having evolved, Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) has become increasingly uncomfortable with how SHIELD is operating. Believing that there is something underhand at SHIELD, Captain America and his fellow Avenger, Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), go on the run to find out who or what might be behind SHIELD’s worrying change of direction. And that is when they come up against the powerful Winter Soldier…

Captain America II is a significant improvement on Captain America I. Its storyline is much more enjoyable and it justifies its 136 minute running time. Unlike the lacklustre and simplistic plots of Captain America I, Iron Man III and Thor II (the latter-two films being the previous two instalments of Marvel’s ‘Phase II’), Captain America II’s storyline tries to be complex and raises some thought-provoking moral dilemmas. Issues, such as the use of drones, and how far government agencies are permitted to use technology to gather intelligence about its citizens (and foreign ones) are matters that are greatly relevant to the present era, and the film should be commended for bringing them up.

However, Captain America II lacks the stamina to maintain these complicated themes as the film goes on. This is because the movie does not have the maturity of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, so it falls into laughable stereotypes and senselessness; all of which is a shame to a degree, yet do not affect the film’s entertainment value.

The part-masked and super-powerful Winter Soldier, whose identity and motives are unknown to SHIELD.

The part-masked and super-powerful Winter Soldier, whose identity and motives are unknown to SHIELD.

Chiefly, this is because of the role of Black Widow, played wonderfully by Scarlett Johansson. Black Widow has appeared in Iron Man II and The Avengers Assemble I; nevertheless, it is only in Captain America II that Black Widow is given proper screen time to express herself and she does not disappoint. In a similar vein to the Joker in The Dark Knight, Christian Bale’s Dicky in The Fighter, and Loki in Thor I & II, when Black Widow is not on screen viewers long for her return. It is not just due to her skin-tight costume, her excellent kick-ass skills, and Johansson’s tantalising good looks (although those are inordinately influential); it is Black Widow’s astuteness, savviness and (somewhat) enigmatic personality that makes audiences want to see more of her, since she keeps one guessing as to what her agenda is throughout the movie. (Indeed, it’s pity that there is not more of her.)

Black Widow undoubtedly overshadows the titular Captain America. This is not surprising since Captain America is the least talented and the least interesting of all the Marvel heroes. Captain America is merely the archetypal soldier without a bad bone in his body, which (as lovely as it sounds) makes for dull viewing (which was probably why Captain America I was so boring and why the directors included Black Widow this time around). This is not to say that Chris Evans does a bad job with the material he’s been given; it’s just that the material doesn’t have enough substance to it and wastefully does not develop Captain America’s character. The same is true for Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), while the villains (none of whom I’ll name for fear of spoiling the film) are even less fleshed out and significantly more trite.

Trite is also how one can describe the dialogue in Captain America II. For the heroes, the dialogue is lazily written; for the villains, it is pitifully comical.

Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), in full garb, ready to take out his (and America's) enemies, alongside the Falcon (Anthony Mackie).

Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), in full garb, ready to take out his (and America’s) enemies, alongside the Falcon (Anthony Mackie).

But dialogue aside, the many (but thankfully not too many) stunts and action scenes are well choreographed. Those, in addition to the decent CGI and the uplifting music score, make Captain America II an enjoyable watch.

All-in-all, Captain America II: The Winter Soldier is an entertaining comic-book hero movie. Its attempts to be complicated, both on a plot and on a moral level, may become silly as the movie goes on. Yet, the film holds its audiences interest throughout its over two-hour running time. Unquestionably, this is because of Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow. In Captain America’s own movie, Black Widow steals his thunder (pardon the Thor pun), so much so that the film should not be called Captain America II: The Winter Soldier, but Black Widow: The Savvy Avenger.

PG’s Tips

Review – The Avengers Assemble 3D (12a) [2012]

Star Rating: 4/5

The Hulk, Iron Man I & II, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger were all made to ready audiences for The Avengers Assemble, the culmination of Marvel’s superhero comic-books turned movies. But could throwing together a bunch of supernaturally-gifted souls work in practice? The Avengers Assemble demonstrates the folly of those who doubted the project.

Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) at SHIELD, puts the Avengers Initiative into motion to save (or avenge) the world from Loki.

The film kicks off with Loki (Tom Hiddleston – Thor, Midnight In Paris, Black Wings Has My Angel) opening up a portal to Earth. After seizing control of the minds of Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner – The Town, Mission Impossible IV, Mission: Impossible V) and the scientist Erik Selvig (Stellen Skarsgard – Angels & Demons, Thor, Romeo & Juliet), Loki steals the Tesseract, the translucent and supernaturally-powerful cube that belongs to King Odin of Asgard.

Fearing the worst for Earth, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson – Star Wars I-III, Iron Man I-II, Captain America II), the director of SHIELD, reactivates the ‘Avengers Initiative’ to bring together a group supernaturally gifted individuals to save the world against foes beyond man’s conventional capacity. Natasha Romanov/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson – The Prestige, Iron Man I-II, Her), Bruce Banner/the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo – Shutter Island, The Kids Are Alright, Thanks For Sharing), Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr. – Iron Man I-III, Sherlock Holmes I-II, Due Date), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans – Fantastic Four I-II, Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America II) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth – Star Trek, Thor, Snow White and The Huntsman) all answer the call.

Despite their differences, the group must co-operate in order to defeat the onslaught upon Earth that Loki shall unleash with the power of the Tesseract behind him.

The villain, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), smirking as he tells Nick Fury that nothing can stop his plans from coming to fruition.

There is nothing remotely complex, original or realistic about the storyline for The Avenger’s Assemble. Nevertheless, it is greatly entertaining. It has plenty of action scenes and an amusing clash of egos (of Godly proportion) between Thor and Iron Man.

Without being a comedy, the film is littered with banter and jokes. This is because (thankfully), like in This Means War, none of the actors in The Avengers Assemble take their roles earnestly. Bruce Banner and Tony Stark would have looked utterly preposterous if they had tried to seriously discuss astrophysics before turning into a green beast or donning an iron costume.

The Hulk and Iron Man might be the most dominant characters in the film, but director Joss Whedon gives each member of the cast a chance to shine. He gives them all a back story as well. This does not mean that the protagonists in The Avengers Assemble are any less divorced from the society that they have promised to defend; and nor does it mean that they have the depth of the Bruce Wayne of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy or some of the mutants in X-Men: First Class, such as Charles Xavier, Erik Lehnsherr and Raven. Yet, it ensures that Whedon’s comic-book heroes are not mere kick-busters in ludicrous outfits either.

The Avengers in action. Captain America, the all-American hero wearing the stars and stripes, leads the group as they attempt to defend the world from the metal monsters coming from outer-space.

Irrespective, though, of whether the narcissistic Tony Stark has come to like his assistant, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow – Iron Man I-III, Contagion, Thanks For Sharing), as much as he likes himself, or if Bruce Banner explains the injustices that have led to him turning into a green monster when he gets angry, the special effects are consistently brilliant throughout The Avengers Assemble. Again, there is little new to behold (the highly destructive flying caterpillars have become standard among alien invasion movies since last year’s Transformers III), but the effects assist the action scenes remarkably well. Even the 3D works a treat!

Over-all, The Avengers Assemble is a thoroughly entertaining and humorous movie. It has an affable group of protagonists, who all seem to have great chemistry on set, plus fantastic fighting scenes and superb special effects. The film might not be original or complex, and it certainly has no deep moral message. Yet, The Avengers Assemble is everything that a light-hearted, comic-book, superhero movie should be. Bring on the sequel!

PG’s Tips