The thing about Marvel movies – which becomes a lot easier to spot once you realise they’re now Disney movies – is that they’re basically all the same. The stories are somewhat different, the characters have different superpowers and are played by different actors, but the core values of the films are pretty much identical: one hero, with a couple of sidekicks of lesser power, becomes entangled in a somewhat mysterious plot run by a sinister bad guy who’s kept a secret from the hero for much of the film (otherwise the hero would just go beat the bad guy up), with the destruction-heavy action sequences balanced out by a lot of mildly funny quips from the good guys. Any differences on top of this formula are superficial at best – Thor has a romance subplot, Iron Man has a bunch of different super-suits, Captain America is a man out of time – and they’re increasingly downplayed as the suits at Disney refine the formula down to a point where they can plug any character, any actor, and any creative team in to churn out the required amount of profit.
So within those parameters, Captain America: The Winter Soldier has the following tweaks: Chris Evans is spot-on as Cap, coming across as both the ultimate nice guy and someone willing to do what’s right whatever the cost. Scarlet Johansson is excellent as the slightly more morally dubious super spy Black Widow; as a whole the casting is one of this film’s strong points. Story-wise, this contains zero surprises – despite the film’s best efforts to convince otherwise – and while the whole “has SHIELD turned bad?” storyline occasionally threatens to have something to say about today’s surveillance society, it cloaks it all in so much muddled manufactured drama any larger meaning is non-existent.
This film’s big strength outside of the cast are the action sequences, which are more impressive than usual for a Marvel film. Either CGI has gotten cheaper or the budgets have grown; for once this feels close to a real A-list action movie rather than Marvel’s more usual “save most of the money for one big fight at the end” approach. But for all this film’s numerous strengths, it remains a Marvel movie, and that feeling of having seen it all before is not one this ever manages to shake off.
Written by Anthony Morris