From The Cold War To The Comic-Book Store. Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

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Marvel’s ambition of an interconnected blockbuster film universe continues apace with sibling directors Joe and Anthony Russo’s Captain America – The Winter Soldier.

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).

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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).

Pleasingly Captain America – The Winter Soldier works well on every level. It’s a fantastic, incredibly satisfying standalone film, but also adds to the bigger picture in ways that the other films have yet to do so. To say much more would be to say too much, but, cryptically speaking, avenues are opened here that are set to have major effects on the future direction of the wider Marvel franchise. The universe feels all the richer for it existing, while the Phase 2 trait of the films contained within branching out tonally and creatively (Iron Man Three is as much a Shane Black action-comedy) is present here, with the shape of Captain America – The Winter Soldier one very much in keeping with a 1970s conspiracy thriller. This debt to the conspiracy thriller was one often advertised during the production of the picture, and while the source material for this specific iteration of the Captain America character (Ed Brubaker’s seven year run on the book, that began in 2005) is very much grounded in that tradition, the idea of a 2 hour-long Marvel movie capturing that same tone seemed ambitious to say the least. As was the case with Iron Man Three and the MacGuffin known as Extremis, Captain America – The Winter Soldier takes a well known comic story and tweaks it just enough to make it work on-screen. Herein a happy compromise is reached, in that it is both at once faithful to the spirit of the original text and an fresh experience for even the most ardent of comic-book fans.

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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.

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