After the ensemble kerfuffle of his last outing, Cap’n Am must contend with a fracturing S.H.I.E.L.D., conflicting loyalties and the louring presence of a pallid, metal-armed assassin type harshing his 21st-century buzz. There to bolster his brawn are Black Widow (playing second banana – again), gadgetry of varying daftness and some fun cameos.
Perhaps the best surprise is the change in Marvel’s least interesting Avenger: without a Tony Stark or Loki hogging all the charisma, he carries the film nicely, even down to the smug one-liners – at least in the first act. Later the tide of running, swooping and bashing (he can do quite unsportsmanlike things with that shield) swamps him a little. It’s all about as fast-paced and flippant as you might hope, with a plot at once straight-shooting and nicely twisty, a balance of massive set pieces with lithe one-on-one scraps with the smart-aleckery tuned down slightly since Whedon’s outing.
The narrative’s key conceits – identity, loyalty, totalitarian control and intrusive surveillance weighed against good old American-brand freedom – are sometimes more meat-headed than meaty, but it wisely chooses to spend more time cheerfully smashing things than philosophising. A well-oiled rollicking good time.
Captain America: The Winter's Tale (Captain America 2: The Return of the First Avenger) | Directed by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo (USA 2014) with Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson. Starts March 27
Originally published in issue #126, April 2014.