Where Encino Man looked to adopt a caveman to the modern world, did they believe they would have any impact on the formation of Captain America: The Winter Soldier? In its brief opening, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) produces a list of culture he should experience now that he finds himself awakening in the flourishing modern metropolis of 2014. An exciting time to be alive, or so I’m told, Captain America: The Winter Soldier wishes to cement itself as a strong, independent bit of the Marvel Cinematic Universe puzzle and that it does, with fumbling style and ineffective grace, but a wholesome core and good competent fun making up for it.
Experienced as an action flick, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is entertaining enough to warrant the big-budget necessary to bring this vision to life. It is nothing unique, but for Marvel, the surprising, darker moments are there to be revelled in. Shaky cameras make up many of these fight scenes, the old Paul Greengrass syndrome in full effect there, but the wider lenses and arching camera work is effective and engaging. Still, cutting more than that infamous Taken 3 scene is a real disappointment, especially since with more control these scenes could have been marvellous. They present a harsher side to the whole superhero business, where death feels commonplace and frequent. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) firing a few clips into unnamed villains, and Captain America slapping that shield around as if it were a deadly frisbee, with a lust for blood and a knack for snapping bones.
That is the underlying, strange beauty of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It is surprisingly violent, and at its core, the magnificent part of the Russo Brothers’ efforts here is that they have attempted an action film. Car chases, gunfights and moments of brief but eventful tension between Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and guest villain Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford). The tensions and sudden bouts of action are a fresh and exciting prospect, but under the boot of the brand, they have no real chance of presenting character-driven flair. If anything, it is rather stark to see a depth to Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) now that their buddy-cop show is going through the caricature-like motions. Stan is given a bit of depth to play around with as the villainous memory of Rogers’ failures, while Mackie plays fourth fiddle to Jackson, Johansson and Evans. All the cogs keep turning, spinning away comfortably enough to make even Frank Grillo look good.
While the thinly veiled Hydra and Captain America core comparisons are there, it is the fun Captain America: The Winter Soldier has with them that makes it an enjoyable experience. Its story is the usual set of dumb double-crosses, but there are strong moments of action, the build-up of fan favourite characters and a decent bit of chemistry between Evans and Johansson. But those moments are surprisingly futile at times, with the Russo brothers proving themselves as relatively contemptible creators, who cannot keep their camera still or fixated on one topic, for the same reason vloggers cut every five to ten seconds. To keep their audience from wandering off and doing something better with their time.