Are the movies in The Avengers franchise tied together or not? Are Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Captain America all part of S.H.I.E.L.D.? Have they not all sworn to protect Earth from evil forces? I’m asking because when Captain America: The Winter Soldier presents a scenario where S.H.I.E.L.D. is compromised, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is attacked out in the open and millions of people may be killed, it seems like a good time for Iron Man to swoop in for a couple minutes and save the day rather than depending on Captain America (Chris Evans) and his shield, accompanied by Falcon (Anthony Mackie), whose primary contribution seems to be flying around and dodging bullets, and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson).
Or, are we meant to assume that in each standalone Avengers adventure, the rest of the team has gone on vacation or is indisposed? Iron Man is busy with Pepper Potts, Thor is dealing with something important on Asgard and the Hulk has the sniffles. I wonder, because they are mentioned in this movie. In fact, Robert Redford, as S.H.I.E.L.D. head honcho Alexander Pierce, tells Nick Fury to make sure Iron Man shows up at his granddaughter’s birthday party. So Iron Man is available for parties upon request but not available to protect the organization he’s associated himself with? Okay… got it.
These questions are important because we’ve now had three Iron Man movies, two Thor movies, one Hulk movie, one Avengers movie and this is the second Captain America movie and it just seemed they had something to do with one another, which causes confusion when those associations are ignored in the face of a serious threat to not only mankind, but the actual organization they’re all associated with. However, if you’re able to overlook this silly plotting then Captain America 2, for the most part, is actually satisfying for its 138-minute running time.
The opening moments are the best the film has to offer as Captain and Black Widow (Johansson) work with the S.H.I.E.L.D. strike team to carry out a covert black ops mission, rescuing captives on a S.H.I.E.L.D. sea vessel hijacked by an Algerian mercenary. The stealth mission is carried out largely in silence, a satisfying alternative to the use of explosions and destruction these summer blockbusters are used to delivering. Of course, that will come later, but to kick things off I enjoyed seeing something a little different.
For that matter, The Winter Soldier is dramatically different and vastly improved on the first Captain America feature. That said, while it’s easy to see how it follows up Captain America: The First Avenger, it’s not easy to tell just where exactly it fits into the Avengers timeline. It only mentions the events from The Avengers as it reveals one of the film’s main plotlines and never makes mention of the events in Thor: The Dark World. It is, however, rooted in Captain America’s past as familiar faces begin to play a large role in the events that are about to unfold.
Directors Anthony and Joe Russo show flashes of great storytelling, working with a script from Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely that isn’t nearly as silly as the first Captain film or pretty much any of the other Marvel movies for that matter. Winter Soldier is perhaps the most grounded Avengers film yet as the only real “super” powers on display are the Captain’s super soldier speed and strength (which does occasionally reach ridiculous heights), but even that is about to be matched by the film’s titular villain.
The Winter Soldier (played by Sebastian Stan), whose roots I won’t reveal for anyone heading into the movie not already hip to who this guy is, is really a secondary character. I’d say he may only have about 15-20 minutes of screen time in the entire feature as he serves as more of a weapon than anything else, but if the stinger at the very end of the credits and the tease just before the credits begin to roll are any indication, he’ll be back in Captain America 3.
In fact, not only is the Winter Soldier’s return suggested, but Doctor Stephen Strange is teased and I’d be surprised if Captain America 3 didn’t feature the return of Frank Grillo as Brock Rumlow (aka Crossbones). Of course, not before the Captain returns in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, which is the post-credits first (yes, there are two) stinger.
There is little to say about the performances, though Redford didn’t stick out like a sore thumb as I thought he would and I’m sure we’ll be seeing even more of Emily van Camp as Agent 13 in the future, as her role here is rather limited. And I liked the addition of Anthony Mackie, more for his personality than for his character, who is a bit dull when it comes to the action.
Outside of the opening moments impressing me, I also have to give composer Henry Jackman a shout out. Jackman has never really impressed me with his scores until last year’s Captain Phillips and with Winter Soldier he doesn’t necessarily knock it out of the park, but as far as blockbuster scores are concerned, he offers up a very satisfying contribution to the overall production, making the stereotypical action sequences during the film’s finale far more entertaining.
All of this is to say with Winter Soldier, Marvel Studios keeps the wheels of the machine turning, but I guess, at the very least, they’ve offered up a satisfying new episode. Though like pretty much all the episodes in the Marvel cinematic universe, I don’t have any need to see it again as it follows the same old pattern, it only does it in a way that’s a little more competent once you accept the fact the rest of the Superhero Rat Pack isn’t going to help out even though it’s their house burning down.