Many people are complaining about market saturation when it comes to superhero movies, and not without reason. The continued success of pretty much every film of that kind has led to a scramble by major studios to get as many properties out as they can. This year alone, we’ll get second iterations of Captain America and Spider-Man (itself already a reboot of a fairly recent trilogy), a seventh X-Men film, another reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (already a 90’s trilogy and a recent attempted animated reboot) and the launch of a relatively new IP with Marvel’s outlandish Guardians of the Galaxy. Next year will see a sequel to The Avengers (itself now an amalgamation of at least four other franchises), a reboot of the Fantastic Four franchise (after two dull recent efforts) and an intriguing take on Ant-Man. 2016 is also looking busy, with a third Captain America film already confirmed, as well as the Batman/Superman crossover, an eighth X-Men film and a third Spider-Man. They’re not going away.

Marvel Studios have been a lot more canny about this than they get credit for. They’ve made the bold step of attempting to unify their characters into a consistent world, itself a pretty radical experiment that has paid off handsomely, and rather than churning out identikit movies that are all tonally and thematically the same, with no real repercussions (something they couldĀ easily do, given their roster of some 4000 characters), they’ve made a serious effort to make each franchise feel slightly unique (though obviously stuck in the confines of what constitutes a mainstream action film, I’m not saying they’re gonna give Avengers 3 to David Lynch or anything). What’s most impressive about their latest film is not only how much it vastly improves on its predecessor (the first Captain America was probably the least interesting of all their recent work), but how it manages to be arguably their bravest and most radical film so far.

Tonally, they’ve gone for a 70’s paranoia conspiracy thriller feel (helped by the casting of Robert Redford, possibly a nod to the likes of Three Days of the Condor), with bursts of realism that are genuinely surprising. There’s an action scene in the middle of the film that is basically a pure car chase, brutally violent and shocking, something you’d expect from Michael Mann rather than a family blockbuster. It gets more serious – the main threat of the film is a government-sponsored drone targeting system, designed ostensibly to take out enemy combatants but predictably used for more sinister purposes and eventually a huge danger to its own citizens. There’s more – not only does the film make the official authorities the biggest threat, rather than some foreign danger, it seems to actively endorse whistle-blowing and the likes of Edward Snowden, suggesting that individuals should follow their own moral code rather than blindly follow patriotic propaganda. All this, in a film called Captain America?

Not that it’s all serious preaching, far from it. The action sequences are all expertly choreographed, from small fights in a lift to large-scale destructive events, so there’s more than enough eye candy for people looking for that. There’s also a consistently well-judged sense of humour running through the film, from wonderfully demented set-pieces like a preserved bunker full of 1970’s computers run by a malevolent AI to brilliantly subtle details – our lead has a hilarious blink-and-you’ll-miss-it list of things he needs to catch up on having been frozen for 60 years, and there’s a Pulp Fiction reference on a tombstone that is really quite brilliant. There are some flaws here – the titular Winter Soldier plot is irritatingly never quite resolved, and there’s a bit too much buildup for a sequel, but overall this is a remarkably accomplished and brave film with its choices, and one of the best examples of a sub-genre that is going to be with us for quite a while yet.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER
Making the villain the American government's use of surveillance and the military industrial complex10
Making the heroes Edward Snowden figures10
Still managing to entertain as an action film and amuse as a comedy despite all of the above9
The usual superhero silliness8
Failing to resolve many of its subplots due to what has now become an overarching meta-narrative across various franchises6
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
  • The female characters talk to each other
Bechdel Test Failures
  • They only talk about men
9Overall Score

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