Anybody who has seen any of the previous movies from Marvel Studios will have a good idea of what to expect with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. This is the second stand-alone film and the fourth overall to feature Chris Evans in the role of WW2 soldier Steve Rogers who has been reconstituted into the beacon of patriotism, strength and righteousness that is Captain America. As is the case with all sequels that emerge from the Marvel production line, Captain America: The Winter Soldier has been constructed in accordance with the ‘bigger is better’ ethos that seems to shape all superhero sequels and a narrative that, by and large, follows a very specific pattern and leaves the audience fully aware of what is going to happen. There are no surprises in the scale of the destruction or in the trajectory of the various characters, so if you can overlook the predictability of it all, it is easy enough to sit back and marvel (no pun intended) at the spectacle that unfolds.
The action kicks off two years after the events of The Avengers, with Steve Rogers continuing to work for defence agency S.H.I.E.L.D. and struggling to adapt to life in contemporary society, let alone the responsibilities that come with his superhero status. Summoned to retake control of a S.H.I.E.L.D. ship that has been commandeered by Algerian pirates, Captain America is joined on the mission by Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). However, when Rogers discovers Romanoff extracting data from the ship’s computers, the subterfuge and double crossing begins. From this point, there is little that isn’t signposted along the way and anybody paying attention should be able to work out exactly what is going to happen and who is going to be responsible. As soon as we meet Rogers’ new neighbour Kate (Emily Vancamp), we know she is not who she claims to be and as soon as we see Rogers reminiscing about the loss of his best friend Bucky Barnes – who was supposedly killed in Germany more than 70 years ago – we know that he is going to miraculously appear somehow and, sure enough, Bucky (Sebastian Stan) proves to be none other than the Winter Soldier himself.
Of course, when senior S.H.I.E.L.D. official Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) enters the frame, his absence from any of the previous films immediately sets him up as the one responsible for undermining Project Insight; three permanently deployed plane-helicopter hybrids linked to satellites and designed to serve as protection from potential threats anywhere in the world. When Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) discovers that Pierce is working for HYDRA, a group determined to use the new technology for less altruistic purposes, he becomes a target, somehow surviving myriad machine gun attacks during an elaborate car chase before eventually being gunned down in Rogers’ apartment by The Winter Soldier. With Fury seemingly dead (although it is obvious that this is just a ruse) Rogers is branded a fugitive and teams up with Romanoff and newfound friend Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) – who attaches an elaborate exoskeleton and wings to emerge as The Falcon – in an effort to expose and extinguish Pierce’s plans. Our trusty trio of heroes engage in all manner of spectacular action sequences, including an impressive fight scene in an elevator that features Australian television regular Callan Mulvey, but there is never any doubt about what the outcome is going to be. Coby Smulders returns as Maria Hill, with the likes of Toby Jones, Hayley Attwel, Jenny Agutter, Neighbours alumni Allan Dale and a bloated Garry Shandling also featuring in small roles.
The directing duo of Anthony and Joe Russo (You, Me and Dupree) keep it all moving at a rapid clip, with any attempts to contextualise the drama given short shrift. The film does raise questions about whether both freedom and security can co-exist and also touches on moral quandaries such as the use of pre-emptive strikes as a legitimate means of defence. However, none of these are really explored in any depth as such philosophical musings must make way for the next bout of CGI wizardry which, to be fair, is pretty darn impressive. At the end of the day, this is spectacle writ large in which the good guys win, the bad guys are duly dealt with and we just have to accept that hundreds of people will be killed in the crossfire.