The Movie Waffler New Release Review - <i>Captain America: The Winter Soldier</i> | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America finds himself on the run from crooked SHIELD agents.

Directed by: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Starring: Chris Evans, Frank Grillo, Sebastian Stan, Scarlett Johansson, Cobie Smulders, Hayley Atwell, Dominic Cooper, Robert Redford, Samuel L Jackson, Emily VanCamp, Anthony Mackie, Toby Jones, Jenny Agutter, Garry Shandling

Having been living in present day Washington DC for a few years now, Steve Rogers / Captain America (Evans) is struggling to adapt to civilian life. He befriends a fellow veteran, Sam Wilson (Mackie), who runs a support group for other soldiers facing issues adapting to peace time. Rogers' issues with tranquility are short lived however when he finds himself targeted by crooked SHIELD agents. With fellow Avenger Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow (Johansson) tagging along, Rogers goes on the run while attempting to solve the mystery of who has masterminded the infiltration of SHIELD.
Around this time last year, Shane Black's Iron Man 3 showed that, in the right hands, the superhero genre could make for an effective piece of entertainment. Sadly, the next installment in Marvel's ongoing series, Thor: The Dark World, returned to the charmless fare we had become accustomed to and Captain America: The Winter Soldier is yet more of the same, making the exact mistakes Black so carefully avoided in his successful stab at this universe.
When it comes to pulling off a superhero movie, it's all about finding the humanity and vulnerability in the larger than life protagonist. Black achieved this by removing Iron Man of his precious suit, turning him into just another regular guy, Tony Stark. CATWS repeats the basic on-the-run structure of Black's film but there's nothing you can strip away from Captain America to make him vulnerable in the same way. The only difference between Captain America and Steve Rogers seems to be his star-spangled suit.
As a result, we never feel our protagonist is in any real danger. In comics, it's usually the family and friends of the heroes who are placed in danger, as we can relate to mere mortals a lot more easily, but Iron Man 3 aside, Marvel's cinematic offshoots don't feature regular people. CATWS takes place on the Eastern seaboard of the US but it may as well be set on the moon. Aside from Stan lee's obligatory cameo and an electronics store clerk who is rather cruelly mocked for his appearance when compared to hunky Steve Rogers, I can't recall one speaking character who wasn't employed by SHIELD in some capacity. The media also doesn't seem to exist in the Marvel cinematic world, all hell can break loose on public streets and nobody bats an eyelid.
A few nights ago I watched a double bill of Filipino midget spy movies (don't ask) and looking back, despite their awfulness, they didn't make the basic storytelling errors you'll find here. Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (responsible for not just Thor: The Dark World but also last year's insufferable Pain & Gain) don't seem to write second drafts. How else can you explain the amount of plot inconsistencies foisted upon us here? Characters employ skills that could have easily gotten them out of earlier predicaments, with no explanation as to why they waited until the third act to reveal such a useful ability. We're told a weapon has to reboot each time it's used, despite having seen it deployed several times in quick succession without rebooting just moments before. In the opening minutes, Captain America jumps out of a plane without a parachute, so why make a point of staging so many fights at high altitude later on when we know such elevation is meaningless to the character? 
Most inexcusable is the appalling lack of basic world knowledge. At one point Johansson's Russian describes a bullet as "Soviet" made (the film is set in contemporary times), while the screenwriters also seem to imply that Kiev is a part of Russia, a particularly timely error. The only piece of world history the film-makers seem aware of is 9/11, which they're quite happy to allude to in the film's generic and overlong climax. We've seen this in several recent blockbusters but it's never been quite as explicit as here, with an aircraft crashing into a skyscraper, leading to a shot of a plume of smoke seen from across the river.
It's bad enough that we don't give two hoots about the characters involved but the set-pieces are as bland as they come. The Russo brothers are completely out of their depth working on this scale, having previously directed a variety of sitcoms and the 2006 comedy You, Me & Dupree. With close-ups and quick cuts abounding, I can't recall a greater waste of the 3D IMAX "experience". Why anyone thought they were the ideal choice to helm a $170 million action movie is beyond me. If they were hired for their experience in comedy it's wasted here as Markus and McFeely's gags are of the tiresome "let's poke fun at New Jersey" variety.
There's an arrogance about Marvel's ongoing Happy Meal, collect 'em all approach to movies. Thanks to the success of The Avengers, they've found themselves straddled with characters that, Iron Man aside, they can't find anything interesting to do with so just throw out poorly written and blandly executed movies, knowing the public will shell out for a ticket even if it's just to see the post credits stinger and get a taste of what they'll be wasting their ten bucks on this time next year. It's time Marvel devotees wrote a letter to the bullpen behind this cynical marketing exercise.

Eric Hillis