“Captain America retires! ” Such scandalous news made headlines in the American media a few days ago. Chris Evans, one of the key players in the Marvel-inspired film universe, announced that he’s abandoning acting indefinitely in favor of directing. The reason for this quite common change of heart is certainly not shame: his latest performance as the shielded hero in Captain America: Winter Soldier is more than merely “neat”.
Fans of the smoothly shaven, arise-from the-frozen captain do not have to worry about the fate of their favorite hero – or his presence in the upcoming Avengers films. Evans clearly indicated that fulfilling all obligations to Disney is his priority and the resignation refers to any new acting possibilities outside the comic book universe only. This means that soon he’ll reunite with the Russo brothers, who took the scepter from Joe Johnston and contracted two parts of Captain America, starting with The Winter Soldier. The Russos, writers whose extended background in TV and comedy include Community and Arrested Development, have brought a pinch of humor and unpretentiousness to the explosive action flick.
Earlier adaptations of other stories from the Marvel stable proved that audiences find such comedic infusions appealing – the example of Iron Man comes to mind as it clearly shows that even action sequences can benefit from humor and wit. In Winter Soldier, it blossoms especially in the main character’s construction and his relationship with the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). Pop-cultural nuances explode from the screen like an intense splash of color every now and then, as both the dialogue and staging are filled with references to the idiosyncrasies of American culture.
The ridiculously ripped Steve Rogers is a cross between John Wayne-ish traditional values spiced up with a dash of camp aesthetic (those white cheeks and glossy lips!) and the fitness-clubby aesthetics of Jersey Shore and the like. Not only have the Russos expanded the franchise’s nuanced base of female characters – led by the sexily tomboyish Johansson – they’ve also equipped their protagonist with a wonderful sense of kitsch. Despite numerous, potentially dangerous traps the film always remains conscious of its pop-cultural vibe and handles it skillfully.
Winter Soldier‘s craft is spectacular, albeit noisy. Everything that such a bombastic production needs is there: the fight scenes are dynamic and imaginatively staged, while the editing tries to be inventive but retains a respect for the classical rules of tension-building. CGI is dressed to impress and has what is perhaps the most desirable use of it in popular cinema – it looks expensive and creative, but remains believable within the frame of the onscreen reality. It becomes a great background for the storyline: the dramatic potential of floating cars, crumbling wings of giant aircrafts, or bodies ingested by flames are all fully utilized. Similarly, urban space has also been wisely incorporated – including a riveting chase scene in the streets of Washington.
There are many pros, deriving from the Russo brothers’ TV-provenience. But there are cons as well. The action is continuously speeding up and as a result becomes too episodic, allowing the Winter Soldier, its equally crucial protagonist, to almost dissolve in the constant stimuli attack. It seems the Captain America and Black Widow characters ate up all the intellectual forces, leaving the film’s anti-hero rather flatly and stereotypically sketched. A pity, because the story itself – and the Winter Soldier’s characteristics – offered a wide range of possibilities. Instead, the character is a soft-headed bully, who from time to time, sheds a tear and makes a sad face.
This one-dimensionality is disappointing, as ambiguity is a dramatic starting point for this story and satiates most of the film and its characters. It is the conflict of values and clashing understanding of key terms that lead to the final confrontation of extreme visions, after all. The Winter Soldier’s blandness is a true loss, moreover because in other cases the much needed inconclusiveness has been effectively woven in some of its characters, including Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford ) as the head of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Overall, this task is a success for Steve Rogers and his patchwork-y team. Apparently the story does not stick to the original comic book exactly, but certainly works for the viewer who is not familiar with the paper prototype. The purpose of big productions like Captain America: The Winter Soldier is not only to provide entertainment; but to vitally facilitate the bonding between viewer and characters, who will soon return in the next franchise installment, only waiting for the audience to line up before the screening room. As for myself, I’ve been successfully “bought” and am now awaiting the next – and indeed announced in the extra scenes after the end credits – chapter of the Marvel saga. And I am not alone.