After the events of The Avengers, Steve Rogers AKA Captain America (Chris Evans) is still struggling to adjust to life in the 21st Century. Luckily a flirtatious Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) is on hand to help, having seemingly forgotten about her relationship with Hawkeye. Either that or she’s trying to sleep her way through the Avengers. Good luck with Hulk. Ewww. Sorry.
Thanks to Steve’s long freeze, virtually the entire supporting cast from the first movie have popped their clogs, leaving room for Black Widow and Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) to plug the gap. Also joining them are Fury’s friend in the government, Secretary Pierce (Robert Redford) and a military veteran befriended by the Captain (Anthony Mackie).
Much like Thor: The Dark World, this feels liberated by not simply being a lead-in to The Avengers. This film isn’t a foundation block for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but an extension of it, so is free to develop as it chooses. The plot twists and turns with surprising frequency, as conspiracy is piled onto conspiracy, resulting in a film that feels like the brainchild of Stan Lee and Dan Brown.
Captain America faces a similar problem to Superman in the fact he’s a pretty dull character. The unequivocally good, moral man is never the most interesting main character for a film. But where Man of Steel shoehorned in some angst to overcome this problem, Captain America: The Winter Soldier shakes up the moral world the Captain inhabits, making him doubt his deepest allegiances. The all-American dork of the first film now questions authority and acts with autonomy. Yet Steve Rogers remains the most boring Avenger, even if Evans does his best, and certainly looks the part.
With the Nazis of the first film fairly thoroughly defeated, the Captain has to find enemies closer to home, resulting in a plot that centres on internal wrangling at S.H.I.E.L.D. rather than big, international villains. It’s a bold move, but one that really pays off, as there’s still plenty of the chaotic carnage of a big superhero movie. Captain America’s fighting style is surprisingly graceful, and makes sense of the CGI madness.
Those worried about the unaccountable power of S.H.I.E.L.D. in The Avengers will be pleased to find the spying organisation in the spotlight, with its tactics thrown into question and its power contested, sort of like Enemy of the State with superheroes. Crucially it knows when to be light and when to be serious and provides yet another solid Marvel movie. It’s remarkable that a franchise which puts out at least one new addition a year manages to maintain such high standards, and now the second wave of solo movies is out, we can finally start counting down to The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Bring it on.