In keeping with the rules laid down in Shane Black’s Iron Man Three, Captain America – The Winter Soldier very much takes place in a world that exists in the wake of “the events of New York”, the often referred to situation that viewers played witness to in Marvel’s The Avengers. The result of a years in the making plan of cultural assault, The Avengers as a commodity blended several smaller franchises in to one, creating a work (and a formula) which has had a pretty profound effect on the Hollywood studio system, at least in blockbuster terms. Multi-stranded, cleverly woven epic canvasses driven by a deep mythology are being groomed by every major player in Hollywood, with the likes of the X-Men, Star Wars, Spider-Man, Superman and Batman no longer contained by 90-minutes worth of celluloid (or digital equivalent).
In the same way that audiences are being geared towards habitual adaptation for this brave new world of synergy, the films themselves exist in a curious vacuum in which the very definition of what a film can, or should be is called in to question. Filmmakers such as the Russo brothers are producing works that feed to a larger unit, but also need to exist and work on their own terms. This isn’t always successful, as was proven by last year’s Thor: The Dark World which never really worked as a form of wholly satisfying entertainment (though it was far from a disaster).
The aforementioned conspiracy thriller that is Captain America – The Winter Soldier is wide-ranging and plot heavy. In the wake of “the events of New York” Steve Rogers continues in his attempts to adjust to life in modern times, while S.H.I.E.L.D, newly expanded to place Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce at the front and centre, surrounded by series mainstays Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson, look to adapt to, and make sense of, a world forever changed. And then there’s the eponymous Winter Soldier… Political mind-games intertwine with grand action set pieces, with echoes of the West’s response to 9/11 and Cold War paranoia fused together to form a tightly wound allegory that on paper reads as though it is ready to uncouthly unravel at any point, though there’s nary a sense of that in the picture itself. A real sense of confidence runs through the movie, with well-crafted characterisation, a satisfying narrative angle and impressive spectacle running in tandem to create a superior blockbuster experience.